I recently had the opportunity to do temperament evaluations on two litters of eight week old puppies. The first was a litter of PBGV puppies bred by Cheryl Champion and the second was a litter of working English Cocker Spaniels bred by Kim Malmer.
Temperament evaluations on puppies are not an exact science. In my former job as program director at a service dog organization, I had the opportunity to perform hundreds of these evaluations over the years and in many cases to follow the dogs throughout their working lives. What I learned from this is mainly that this type of evaluation is most useful for identifying extremes in behavior and determining if there are areas where some extra work and socialization would be beneficial. The best time for this type of evaluation is usually between 7 and 10 weeks. Younger puppies aren’t developmentally ready to show some of the behaviors the test is looking for. If the test is used for older puppies, some modifications like a larger space may be needed.
The evaluation I used with these litters is based on a test used by many assistance dog organizations. There are other tests available that are also useful and effective.
Both litters were raised in highly enriching environments and are out of stable parents who compete in performance events. In this post, I will share a video of one of the PBGV puppies with commentary about what we are looking for in each portion of the test. My next post will feature a similar video of one of the Cocker puppies. Not surprisingly, there were big differences between how the two breeds approached some of the challenges.
PBGVs are not typically a breed that most people would consider for a high level performance dog, but I’ve had quite a bit of success with this breed and have definite thoughts on what I would want to see in a future sports puppy. One thing that is not reflected on this evaluation is structure, but this is absolutely critical to consider, especially for high impact sports like agility and hunting. Temperament evaluations should be used in conjunction with other tools when making placement decisions, not as the only factor.
The two primary behavior characteristics that I consider when evaluating a PBGV puppy for a performance home are confidence and sociability. Hounds in general can be softer and more environmentally sensitive than other breeds, especially more than some of the working breeds. Trainers and handlers who have the most success with hound breeds understand this, but starting with a more confident puppy will make things much easier. While PBGVs were bred to work independently, success in dog sports requires a biddable dog who genuinely enjoys interacting with people. I think sometimes there is a mindset that more independence is desirable and expected in hound breeds, but you really can’t hunt with a dog who runs away every time the leash is removed. If I was evaluating older puppies or an adult, food motivation would be a dealbreaker trait for me, but that’s pretty easy to modify in young puppies. Interest in toys would be nice, but retrieval isn’t typically a hard-wired trait in scent hounds.
There’s a common misconception that success in performance events is only about training and not who the dog is. Yes, a good trainer is likely to get farther with a dog that a bad trainer, but there are parts of a dog’s behavior that are simply a reflection of who they are as a dog. Recognizing that and making the best possible match for each puppy is an important part of a breeder’s responsibility.
Huge thanks to Cheryl and Kim for allowing me to share videos of your babies, to Krissy Schaeffer and Dave Esherick for helping with the evaluations, and to Elf for being a very patient neutral dog.