Dog Tests to Help You Pick a Great Dog for Your Home (Part II)

Don’t Choose a New Dog With Just Your Heart or Gut Instinct

The Ball Test

Keep the Tests Fun for You and the Dog

Taking a new dog into your home is a huge decision, and one that will have consequences (positive or negative) that you will deal with for years to come.  So why do people rush into this decision without taking proper precautions?  The tests that are provided below for you won’t weed out every single problem dog, but they do give you an advantage over just choosing with your heart.  If you have any questions about what is written below contact us, or leave a comment.  We’ll be happy to help you.

How to Test to See if a Dog is Trainable

The pin test- Arguably one of the best tests of a dog’s temperament is the “pin test”.  This technique is designed to test whether or not a dog will be open to learning new things, or will be resistive to training.  It should be noted that this test is considered best used with a puppy between the ages of 5.5 -6.5 weeks old to predict future behavior; however, I have found that it also works well with older dogs to see what is their current level of compliance.
Here’s how it works:
  • Carefully place the dog or puppy into the down position.
  • Roll them onto their side and gently restrain them from moving

What to Expect:
Almost all dogs will struggle after a few moments to get up, as dogs don’t like to be restrained like this.  The winning candidate should struggle for a few moments, and then relax on his side.  Beware the dog that continues to struggle for more than one minute.  This suggests that they will be resistive to training and learning new things.  If you happen to be the lucky person that finds a dog that doesn’t fight at all, and happily lays there wagging his tail… Unless you’re looking for a working dog (tracking, narcotics, protection, etc…)  this is great.  You’ve found a dog who is trusting and will most likely want to please you, but don’t expect this to be a high energy/high drive dog.  If you’re looking for a dog that will want to play all day, you may want to keep looking.

How to Test a Dog for Food Aggression

The Food Test- This is a two part test.  The part should be conducted with a human, and the second is just a repeat with another dog.  One frustrating thing that I hear time and again is owners who boast that they take food from their dog’s bowl or mouth to prove that they can… to the dog and themselves.  Not only does this hurt the relationship, it’s dangerous.  Don’t do it.  Your job as their leader is to give not to take, and if you haven’t defined a “team” type of relationship yet with the dog in question they may feel the need to guard what is sustaining their life.  Instead test food aggression like this:

From the Hand- With the dog in front of you offer a treat.  Did they take it?  Did they back away from you?  Did they snap it out of your hand, or gently take the treat from you?  The best reaction comes from the dog who will gently accept the treat from you while showing no signs of fear.  If they passed this test, move on to the next step.

From the Bowl-  Grab a handful of food and carefully place the food in a bowl that is sitting on the floor beside the dog.  If there is no sign of aggression, carefully reach your hand down to the dog and offer him a treat or more food from your hand.  If he accepts this, reach down into the bowl, grab some food and immediately lift the food to his mouth to give it to him.  No signs of aggression?  Great.  If he barred his teeth or showed any sign that he resented you getting close to his food, that’s a warning sign.

For the dog phase of this test simply move another dog close to the food bowl while the dog being tested is eating.  This can be safely accomplished by keeping the dogs separated with a fence, but please know that fences in between dogs can incite aggression too.  Watch for any sign that the dog is wary or any sign of aggression.  The winning behavior here is a dog who simply shows awareness of the new dog’s presence and keeps on eating.

How to Test a Dog for Toy Aggression

The Toy Test (Multiple)-  This is a repeat of the same test above in a different manner, but there a couple of variations that you’re going to want to try.  Offer different types of toys:  a tennis ball, a Kong toy, and a stuffed animal make a well rounded offering.  What’s next?  Play with the dog!  Have fun with them, and watch their behavior throughout play.  While most of these toys are non-threatening, a tug toy can elicit some traits that you wouldn’t otherwise see.  We don’t recommend trying this without a professional observing the behavior because it’s easy to create problems with a tug toy, or even to misread a reaction from a dog.

Once you play for a while and there aren’t any warning flags, bring in your dog and have them play together.  Be careful to watch for any early signs of problems and separate the dogs quickly if needed.  While you shouldn’t keep a hold of the leash as tension in a leash can create aggression, it’s a good safety measure to keep the leashes on the dogs and let them drag on the ground.  If a fight does erupt unexpectedly, you’ll want to be able to break it up without putting your hands on either dog.

Confused?  We’ll Help You.

We know that a lot of this can be pretty overwhelming, so for years we have offered to help clients run through these tests prior to taking a dog home.  In addition, before you bring a dog home take a look at our free guide on “How to Bring a Dog/Puppy Home”.  This covers all of the basics and will help you set your home up correctly before your dog ever steps a paw in your house.  Please contact us if you have any questions, or simply leave us a comment below and we’ll be happy to help you.

Andrew Wildesen
Owner- The Canine Training Center
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