Doing It All – The Value of Puppy Testing

Green boy’s response to the sight sensitivity test (umbrella).


Doing It All – The Value of Puppy Testing

All breeders evaluate the next generation to select the best prospects to carry on their lines and to continue showing in the Conformation ring. Not all breeders assess their litters for potential as Performance Dogs, but I have found that using the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test ( is a valuable tool to gather information about each individual, which helps to match each puppy to each puppy buyer. I recently tested a litter of Flat-Coated Retrievers bred by Kathleen Stevens of Kingsbridge Flat-Coats, which Kathleen used the outcomes to change the course of one puppy’s life.

Black dog walking.
Green boy came readily, tail up.

To test a litter of puppies effectively, several factors need to be considered when the test is set up. One purpose of testing is to evaluate a puppy’s reaction to the introduction of environmental stress. Both Conformation and Performance Dogs need to handle the stress of traveling and hanging around a lot of strangers and their dogs in new settings. These dogs must be able to function despite strange sights and sounds. So, when evaluating a litter, choosing a puppy that can handle such experiences without too much fuss is the first step in one’s success. With those influences mentioned, a puppy test yields the best information about each puppy when the test is conducted in an area new to the puppy and conducted by someone the puppy doesn’t know.

In this case, I tested Kathleen’s puppies when they were seven weeks old, in her husband’s big shop. The puppies had never been there, nor had they met me (well, once when they were very young). She set up barriers, creating a large testing area which minimized their ability to go see lawn mowers and other strange monsters but still provided plenty of room to “go away and stay away” if so inclined. Our scribe and photographer were outside the boundaries of the testing area to minimize distractions. The puppies remained in Kathleen’s house until their turn for testing so that the puppy being tested would not be distracted by nearby littermates. Once the puppy was brought to the testing area, Kathleen left the area and remained quiet so as to minimize distraction. Each puppy was given a few minutes to acclimate before the test began.


Puppy Aptitude Test
Green boy relaxed while doing the restraint test.

In general, all the puppies came trotting to me tail up, confident and happy. They followed me readily; some getting underfoot, but many did not. They weren’t sure that being held down on their backs was a fun activity, but other than typical squirming I was not surprised or concerned about their responses. All but one forgave me and cuddled up to me after being released. The one who did not, changed his mind after he walked away briefly and then came back to make up to me. Good Boy!




The elevation test did not demonstrate any unusual reactions but seemed to demonstrate these puppies’ acceptance of silly things that people do. All liked to retrieve, some even got to pick up and carry wings or a small teal. Touch sensitivity was again very typical of other Sporting breeds I have tested, but the other sensitivity tests revealed one little guy who was overwhelmed by both the sight and sound test.


Dog retrieving and returning toy to tester.
Green boy retrieved and returned to tester nicely.

Little green boy yipped at the loud, strange sound and ran to try to crawl under the barrier. He was still shaken when I drug the towel around, showing no interest in it. The last test was the sight sensitivity test (opening an umbrella in front of the puppy) when he again ran to hide. We all felt sorry for that little man and discussed the right home for him. All agreed he should be in a home where he would not have to be stressed; “how about a pet home?”




Well, that would have worked, but we all know that puppies go through different fear periods as they grow. It was just odd that he was the only one displaying such a dramatic response to the sensitivity tests, so a fear period was dismissed initially as the cause. We thought it was a personality trait for this young man.


Dog responds to loud sound.
Green boy’s response to a loud sound was to cower, turn away, and go hide.
Green boy’s response to the sight sensitivity test (umbrella).
Green boy’s response to the sight sensitivity test (umbrella).

The purpose of testing not only helps to match puppies to puppy buyers, testing also helps the breeder and new owner address any strengths or weaknesses the test uncovers. That is what Kathleen did. She used that puppy test to spend the next week desensitizing green boy by sitting with him while several trees and tree limbs on her property were cut down or trimmed (thank you, stormy weather), giving him treats for being calm. She also bought and played a thunderstorm CD designed for storm-sensitive dogs, again giving him treats for ignoring the noise. He tolerated both experiences well.


Puppy Aptitude Test
Red girl also cowered, but did not leave. Instead, she turned, located the sound, and stayed.
Puppy Aptitude Test
Red girl also startled when the umbrella suddenly appeared, but rather than leaving, she investigated it.

A week later, Kathleen took the litter to another new person and another new place, and a nice long car ride for conformation evaluation. She noted that the puppies were a little more cautious than she expected, but overall did pretty well in the hands of this strange lady. The big surprise was green boy.





Not only was he more confident than the others, he was the evaluator’s pick male for the show ring. Wow! From a pet home to a show home, all from Kathleen’s handling of the Volhard puppy test information. I am so excited to watch this puppy’s career develop, knowing he has such potential that became possible thanks to early intervention. Good job, Kathleen!!!

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