Evaluate a Dog for Suitability Before Bringing it Home

Meghan Markham- Dog Trainer Alpharetta

The decision regarding adding a dog to your household is in many ways tantamount in significance and perspective to your decision when selecting a mate. You hope that each will successfully reside in your home for an extended period of time. Therefore, compatibility is essential.

To use another analogy, consider the process equivalent to that of a talent evaluator for a professional sports team , who analyzes information about multiple candidates before selecting an individual in the draft. You wish to ensure that the dog you select has the highest probability of possessing the appropriate temperament, structure, energy level, trainability, sociability, and health to become the ideal companion for your family team.

Nevertheless, most prospective pet owners are unfamiliar with the canine evaluation process. Fortunately, there exist multiple easy to perform tests that can simplify your assessment tasks. Below are 6 suggestions for evaluating a candidate puppy or dog while at the residence of a breeder or seller or at the facility of a shelter or rescue organization. You may wish to perform one or all of the tests, depending upon the age of the dog, the amount of time you have available, and the setup of the facility.

  1.  The CPT Puppy Test  The Test is available within the Dog Training articles section of the CPT website, within the article, “Selecting the Right Dog- Part 4B Evaluating Individual Puppies.” The test is outstanding for evaluating a litter of puppies. Moreover, you can adapt the test to examine adult dogs.
  2. Acquire a History  If an adult dog, ask the seller about the dog’s behavior, especially in the areas of household manners, housebreaking, aggression, anxiety, dominance, energy, sociability, and overall temperament. History tends to repeat itself unless extensive training intervenes. Also ask about the dog’s health.
  3.  AKC Canine Good Citizen Test  The CGC Test evaluates obedience, sociability, and behavior when isolated. The test is worthwhile for trained adult dogs. If an adult dog has not had training, then you can at least perform the sociability and isolation portions of the Test.
  4.  Open Field Test The OFT for dogs places the dogs in an empty room and a room with some toys and then observes their behavior. Some OFT examinations also include responses to sounds (e.g., thunderstorms, gunfire, dropped pans) played via digital audio. The OFT measures general anxiety and separation behavior.  Please note that the OFT link is highly technical.  Therefore, you may wish to follow the simple instructions I provided within this paragraph.
  5.  NCSU Emotional Reactivity Test The ERT measures a dog’s ability to calmly handle situations, including open and closed stairs, floor and ground surfaces, crowds, unfamiliar persons, unusual persons (e.g., a drunk person or a person with an awkward gait), object startles (a dropped object and/or an umbrella suddenly opening), acoustic startles (dropped pans or grates, gunfire), and a remote control vehicle.  When accessing the ERT link, please download the PDF and then forward to page 13.
  6.  Problem Solving Tests If you desire a working dog, test the dog’s motivation for food, toys, and praise. Also, assess the dog’s problem solving abilities. Throw a ball within high grass. Does the dog persevere to find the ball? Let the dog observe you place a ball under a plastic container. Does the dog wait for you to give him the ball or does the dog persevere until he knocks over the container to obtain the ball? Place a ball inside a box with holes large enough for the dog to insert its snout. Does the dog quit? Does the dog panic? Or does the dog calmly figure how to extricate the ball from the box?

Lastly, before firmly committing to the puppy or dog insist that your contract contain a minimum 7-day trial period. During the trial period promptly obtain a thorough veterinary examination.  Then, while at home, assess the dog for sociability with family members and existing pets, assess the dog for common household situations (i.e., visitors arriving), assess the dog for out of context aggression (people, dogs on and off-leash, cats, wildlife, motor vehicles, bicycles, territory, food, possessions, et al.), assess the dog for out of context anxiety to common household and neighborhood stimuli (people, animals, appliances, vehicles, noises, thunderstorms, separation), assess the dog for playfulness and energy, and assess the dog’s housebreaking and household manners (chewing, barking, jumping, raiding trash, stealing food, stealing objects, climbing on the furniture, bolting, chasing the cat, car behavior, et al.).

When evaluating an animal establish age appropriate expectations. For instance, you should not have the same housebreaking expectations for an 8-week old puppy that you would for an adult dog. Nevertheless, unless you desire a project, severe out of context aggression or anxiety should immediately disqualify a puppy/dog of any age. Moreover, severe household manners issues should disqualify an adult animal, unless you are prepared to invest a lot of time and money in training. Moreover, if the dog is not right for your family, don’t hesitate to return the dog to the seller, rescue agency, or shelter- and do so before you become emotionally and financially invested. You would break up with a prospective mate that was not marriage material. Likewise, you should return an incompatible dog before you say “I do.”

By performing the above evaluation protocols you will obtain a greater certainty that the dog you are considering will successfully remain in your household “until death do you part.”


© Copyright Mark Spivak and Comprehensive Pet Therapy, Inc., August 2014.  All rights reserved.

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