Use Puppy Temperament Testing
to Choose the Perfect Puppy of Your Dreams

by Janice Jones    |Last updated 11-22-2021

Puppy Temperament Testing is Part Two in our series of How to Pick the Perfect Puppy.  You are ready to choose the perfect puppy, but not exactly sure how to go about it. 

Well, this article will cover behavioral traits and little tests you can do to help determine if the puppy is right for you.

If you have not read our first article in this series, picking the Perfect Puppy: Health Issues, we recommend you check it out before proceeding.

I am going to assume that you have:

  1. Picked the breed of your dreams or are at least looking at just a couple breeds
  2. Found a breeder you feel you can trust and work with
  3. Done a little background research on the breeder and dog breeds
  4. Ready to visit and pick out a puppy

Puppy Temperament Testing Overview

There is no such thing as the universal perfect puppy.  A perfect puppy is healthy, and his personality fit within your lifestyle and is compatible with your personality. 

Therefore, in other words, to find your perfect puppy, you must know what you can and cannot live with in terms of personality traits of dogs.

Dogs and puppies within a specific breed have similar traits based on their breeding history. 

Some for example are more likely to dig (those dogs that were breed to burrow into holes to search out vermin), chase (those that were used for hunting small prey), run (breed for hunting and chasing) bark (guarding) and so forth. 

These are all characteristics that are seen in small breed dogs.

Once you have determined the breed of your choice, the next step is to determine which puppy within the breed will be the best match for you and your family. 

There is a wide variety even within littermates when it comes to temperament. This is where puppy temperament testing comes into play.

There will be shy and bold puppies, active and lazy puppies, and those that are smarter or faster.  There are those that are more independent and those that are clingy. 

Some dogs love to be with other dogs, whereas others want only human companionship.  Some puppies want to be around other puppies but most want to be a part of a person’s life.  

Anyone who has raised a family knows just how different each child is even though all the siblings share similar genes.  Dogs are no exception.

By the time a puppy is seven weeks old, you will be able to determine real differences within the litter. 

At this point, the puppies may still all look alike, but their personalities have begun to emerge.  This is a good time to look at the litter to determine which behaviors might be more desirable to your situations. 

Decide what is best for you before doing any formal or casual puppy testing.  For this, you must first look at your own situation:

Puppy Temperament Testing:  Ask Yourself these Questions:

Are you:

  • A First time puppy owner or lifetime dog lover with experience in training (Some puppy behaviors might be more difficult to overcome for a first time buyer.
  • A person who wants a show potential puppy? (Some show potential puppies might have characteristics that would be less desirable in a companion dog.   
  • Someone who wants a puppy just for a pet or companion
  • Experienced Dog Owner (There are behaviors that can be corrected with training but may always be present at some level.)

The Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) is a formal Puppy Temperament Testing System that can be done on puppies at the age of 7 weeks of age. 

This is a system of tests, each scored separately with the purpose to find the right puppy for the right home.  It is based on a variety of criteria and tests certain canine drives such as the prey drive, pack drive, defense fight or flight drives. 

To perform this test, you would need to have two people present who are unfamiliar to the puppy and done in an area away from the other litter-mates. 

The PAT is observing and puppy temperament testing ten different areas of behavior:

Social Attraction:  How confident the puppy is when interacting with people

Following:  The willingness of a puppy to follow a person

Restraint:  How dominant or submissive a puppy is when being handled

Social Dominance:  The degree a dog will accept a person as the dominant leader

Elevation Dominance:  The degree to which a puppy will submit to a situation where he is not in control such as at the veterinarian or groomers

Retrieving:  The puppy’s willingness to do something for a person

Touch Sensitivity:  The puppy’s degree of sensitivity to a human’s touch

Sound Sensitivity:  The puppy’s degree of sensitivity to sound

Sight Sensitivity:  The puppy’s degree of response to a moving object

Stability:  The puppy’s startle response

If you are not interested in formal testing, you can still look at a variety of behaviors that will give you a good indication of what the puppy might be like as an adult. 

Remember, that ultimately, less desirable behaviors can be altered by proper training, but even the seemingly “perfect” puppy needs training and socialization to maintain and improve their behavior. 

We have tried to simplify the Volhard Test so you can use some of the methods when you visit a litter of puppies.  If the puppies have just awoken from a nap, give them some time to awaken fully before coming to any conclusions. 

Puppies that just wake up are still a little groggy.  (They are not the only ones).  Remember, if you want something more accurate you will want to use The Volhard Test.)

Steps to follow in Puppy Temperament Testing

Before choosing one puppy to evaluate, watch all litter mates interact with each other and with you or other people in the room.

Which ones like to explore on their own? 

Which ones are the first to come to you or the breeder? 

Which ones want to play with their littermates but do not seem interested in the humans? 

Listen to see which puppies yelp the most when littermates nip them, which ones are quiet? 

Which ones seem a little too aggressive, always wanting to be on top and vying for pack leader

Which puppies seem a little too submissive?  Along these same lines, which ones seem to have the most self-confidence and which ones seem shy.

Which ones seem to crave attention from humans and stick around for petting?

Which dogs have gentle mouths and which ones have not learned how to inhibit their bite?  Send out a cry when a puppy bites you and observe his reaction.

Volhard Test: Puppy Temperament Testing

Choose one puppy to evaluate further.  The following come directly from the Volhard Test.

Social Attraction

Watch how the puppies interact with you.  Which ones come up to you immediately?  Which pups are curious, but may not be the first to jump on you?  Which ones are more interested in doing something other than coming to you?  Observe the tails:  are they up or down?


Slowly walk away from the puppies.  Which ones follow you?  Do they follow with tails up or down?


Roll each puppy over on his back and gently hold for 30 seconds.  Do they struggle fiercely, struggle a little then relax, do not struggle at all.

Social Dominance

Crouch on the floor and gently stroke him from head to tail.  Let the puppy sit or lie down while you gentle stroke his back as you crouch down. 

Does the puppy jump up at you, bite, or growl, cuddle, roll over, or moved away.  See if he licks your face.

Elevation Dominance

Pick up each puppy and hold him or her above your head for 30 seconds.  Does the puppy struggle fiercely, or does he struggle but maintain a relaxed body.  Perhaps he does not struggle at all but holds onto a rigid body stance.


Crumple up a piece of paper or use a puppy toy if available.  Throw it out in front of you no more than 4 feet and observe what the puppy does.

Touch Sensitivity

Pinch the soft webbing on one of the puppy’s front paws, gradually increasing pressure until the puppy shows sign of discomfort.  Does the puppy show discomfort immediately or does it take a while before the puppy reacts in pain.

Sound Sensitivity

Clap or bang an object loudly and observe the puppy’s response.  Does the puppy listen, try to locate the sound then bark and run towards it? 

Alternatively, does the puppy just listen and try to figure where the sound is originating.  Some puppies will hide or show no curiosity at all. 

Sight Sensitivity

Use a toy or rag and move it around the puppy quickly.  Does the puppy run towards it and bite at it?  He may try to put his foot on it to stop the motion. 

Some pups will look with curiosity with either tail up or down, but not respond and others will run away and hide.  

Startle Response

Open an umbrella and place it on the ground.  See what the puppy does.

Puppy Temperament Testing:  What does it all Mean?

According to Volhard, six different dog personalities emerge from the responses to these little scenarios using the above criteria for puppy temperament testing:

Pack Leader and Potential to Aggression

Self-Confident Pack Leader "wantabe":  Need for the Potential Show Dog

Quick Learner, active, social, but quite a handful

Perfect Puppy, easy to train, quiet, great for elderly couples, first time dog owners and families with children

Potentially Shy, fearful, submissive


Most first time dog owners should choose a dog that learns quickly, is easy to train and sociable.

Experienced owners will find self-confidence plus and shy dogs a challenge but not necessarily out of the question.

Potential show dog owners will want a pack leader or pack leader want-a-be  because they have the self-confidence to do well in the show ring.

Volhard recommends that one stray away from the independent type of dog.

Are all personalities represented in a litter:  No.  Not in my opinion, but that also depends on the breed.  You are most likely to see mostly two, three, four, and five. 

Briefly, according to Volhard, the perfect puppy for the first time buyer using their puppy temperament testing model looks something like this: 

  • They come up to you readily with tail up
  • They follow you with their tail up
  • They struggle a little when restrained then settle
  • They cuddle up to you and try to lick your face
  • They enjoy a game of retrieving an object
  • They do not cry immediately when pinched but do feel it within about 5 to 6 seconds.
  • They show curiosity about sounds and try to find where they originate
  • They show curiosity to new sights and try to investigate

Your Take Away from Puppy Temperament Testing

Remember, it takes both your heart and your head to choose the right puppy for you.  Do not be swayed only by one or the other. 

Remember too, that nothing here is written in stone.  Puppies that might be somewhat shy at the breeder’s house turn out to be outgoing and friendly when they become part of a loving family.  Active pups may settle down. 

Assertive pups with your loving touch and training turn out to be the perfect dog for you.  Independent dogs may be perfect for those who need a little personal space.

Finally, the perfect puppy can only grow into the perfect adult dog with the right socialization and training.  Likewise, a less than perfect puppy can become the perfect adult with the same attention to training.

Puppy Temperament Testing Pinnable ImagePin for Future Reference

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About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, beagles, English bulldogs, carin terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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