When most people consider adopting a puppy, they are easily drawn to their looks and purchase a puppy on impulse, but this is rarely a good idea. When breeds were originally developed they were done so with an emphasis on breeding for certain traits and characteristics and each puppy is also unique to the other. It’s important to consider these characteristics when matching a puppy with your lifestyle and needs.

At 42-49 days of age (when the puppies brain is fully developed), we perform a Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) using the Volhard testing method. This will give you some insight into characteristics that are better for things like companionship, playmate for the kids, protection, special activities, or a combination of the above.

Puppy Testing Categories

The Volhard Puppy Aptitude test uses a scoring system of 1 – 6 and consists of 10 tests. These tests are done consecutively in the order listed below. A score is given for each category specifically and scored separately from the others.

The scores are not averaged and in no way deem a puppy as a “winner” or “loser”. It’s more about understanding a puppies traits to match the right puppy with the right home. The tests are as follows.

Social Attraction – degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.

Following – willingness to follow a person.

Restraint – degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and ease of handling in difficult situations.

Social Dominance – degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.

Elevation – degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.

Retrieving – degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with Social Attraction and Following a key indicator for ease or difficulty in training.

Touch Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to touch and a key indicator to the type of training equipment required.

Sound Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms.

Sight Sensitivity – degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, children or squirrels.

Stability – degree of startle response to a strange object.

Testing Ground Rules

  • We test at a location unfamiliar to the puppies. Usually in the same house but in a room where the puppies have not been.

  • Puppies are tested one at a time.

  • No other dogs or people are around except for the scorer and the tester.

  • The puppies do not know the tester.

  • The scorer is a 3rd party and not someone interested in selling you a puppy.

  • Puppies are tested before they are fed.

  • Puppies are tested when they’re at their liveliest

  • Only the first response will be counted.

How the Test is Performed

During testing we maintain a friendly upbeat attitude. We try to get each puppy to interact and bring out the best him him or her. Below is how each testing category is performed and the score/response for each:

Social attraction – The owner or caretaker of the puppies places it in the test area about four feet from the tester and then leaves the test area. The tester kneels down and coaxes the puppy to come to him or her by encouragingly and gently clapping hands and calling. The tester must coax the puppy in the opposite direction from where it entered the test area. Hint: Lean backward, sitting on your heels instead of leaning forward toward the puppy. Keep your hands close to your body encouraging the puppy to come to you instead of trying to reach for the puppy.


  1. Came readily, tail up, jumped, bit at hands

  2. Came readily, tail up, pawed, licked at hands

  3. Came readily, tail up

  4. Came readily, tail down

  5. Came hesitantly, tail down

  6. Didn’t come at all

Following – the tester stands up and slowly walks away encouraging the puppy to follow. Hint: Make sure the puppy sees you walk away and get the puppy to focus on you by lightly clapping your hands and using verbal encouragement to get the puppy to follow you. Do not lean over the puppy.


  1. Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot, bit at feet

  2. Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot

  3. Followed readily, tail up

  4. Followed readily, tail down

  5. Followed hesitantly, tail down

  6. Did not follow or went away

Restraint – the tester crouches down and gently rolls the puppy on its back and holds it on its back for 30 seconds. Hint: Hold the puppy down without applying too much pressure. The object is not to keep it on its back but to test its response to being placed in that position.


  1. Struggled fiercely, flailed, bit

  2. Struggled fiercely, flailed

  3. Settled, struggled, settled with some eye contact

  4. Struggled, then settled

  5. No struggle

  6. No struggle, strained to avoid eye contact

Social Dominance – let the puppy stand up or sit and gently stroke it from the head to the back while you crouch beside it. See if it will lick your face, an indication of a forgiving nature. Continue stroking until you see a behavior you can score. Hint: When you crouch next to the puppy avoid leaning or hovering over the puppy. Have the puppy at your side with both of you facing in the same direction.


  1. Jumped, pawed, bit, growled

  2. Jumped, pawed

  3. Cuddled up to tester and tried to lick face

  4. Squirmed, licked at hands

  5. Rolled over, licked at hands

  6. Went away and stayed away

Elevation Dominance – the tester cradles the puppy with both hands, supporting the puppy under its chest and gently lifts it two feet off the ground and holds it there for 30 seconds.


  1. Struggled fiercely, tried to bite

  2. Struggled fiercely

  3. Struggled, settled, struggled, settled

  4. No struggle, relaxed

  5. No struggle, body stiff

  6. No struggle, froze

Retrieving – The tester crouches beside the puppy and attracts its attention with a crumpled up piece of paper. When the puppy shows some interest, the tester throws the paper no more than four feet in front of the puppy encouraging it to retrieve the paper.


  1. Chased object, picked it up and ran away

  2. Chased object, stood over it and did not return

  3. Chased object, picked it up and returned with it to tester

  4. Chased object and returned without it to tester

  5. Started to chase object, lost interest

  6. Does not chase object

Touch Sensitivity – the tester locates the webbing of one the puppy’s front paws and presses it lightly between his index finger and thumb. The tester gradually increases pressure while counting to ten and stops when the puppy pulls away or shows signs of discomfort.


  1. 8-10 count before response

  2. 6-8 count before response

  3. 5-6 count before response

  4. 3-5 count before response

  5. 2-3 count before response

  6. 1-2 count before response

Sound Sensitivity – the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area and an assistant stationed at the perimeter makes a sharp noise, such as banging a metal spoon on the bottom of a metal pan.


  1. Listened, located sound and ran toward it barking

  2. Listened, located sound and walked slowly toward it

  3. Listened, located sound and showed curiosity

  4. Listened and located sound

  5. Cringed, backed off and hid behind tester

  6. Ignored sound and showed no curiosity

Sight Sensitivity – the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area. The tester ties a string around a bath towel and jerks it across the floor, two feet away from the puppy.


  1. Looked, attacked and bit object

  2. Looked and put feet on object and put mouth on it

  3. Looked with curiosity and attempted to investigate, tail up

  4. Looked with curiosity, tail down

  5. Ran away or hid behind tester

  6. Hid behind tester

Stability – an umbrella is opened about five feet from the puppy and gently placed on the ground.


  1. Looked and ran to the umbrella, mouthing or biting it

  2. Looked and walked to the umbrella, smelling it cautiously

  3. Looked and went to investigate

  4. Sat and looked, but did not move toward the umbrella

  5. Showed little or no interest

  6. Ran away from the umbrella

Scoring Summary – What do the scores mean?

Puppies are scored on a scale of 1-6. As previously mentioned lower numbers are not “bad” they are simply numbers that are associated with characteristics. The scores are interpreted as follows:

Mostly 1’s

  • Strong desire to be pack leader and is not shy about bucking for a promotion.

  • Has a predisposition to be aggressive to people and other dogs and will bite.

  • Should only be placed into a very experienced home where the dog will be trained and worked on a regular basis.

Mostly 2’s

  • Also has leadership aspirations.

  • May be hard to manage and has the capacity to bite

  • Has lots of self-confidence

  • Should not be placed into an inexperienced home

  • Too unruly to be good with children and elderly people, or other animals

  • Needs strict schedule, loads of exercise and lots of training

  • Has the potential to be a great show dog with someone who understands dog behavior

Mostly 3’s

  • Can be a high-energy dog and may need lots of exercise

  • Good with people and other animals

  • Can be a bit of a handful to live with

  • Needs training, does very well at it and learns quickly

  • Great dog for second time owner.

Mostly 4’s

  • The kind of dog that makes the perfect pet

  • Best choice for the first time owner.

  • Rarely will buck for a promotion in the family

  • Easy to train, and rather quiet.

  • Good with elderly people, children, although may need protection from the children

  • Choose this pup, take it to obedience classes, and you’ll be the star, without having to do too much work!

Tidbits: The puppy with mostly 3’s and 4’s can be quite a handful, but should be good with children and does well with training. Energy needs to be dispersed with plenty of exercise.

Mostly 5’s

  • Fearful, shy and needs special handling

  • Will run away at the slightest stress in its life

  • Strange people, strange places, different floor or ground surfaces may upset it

  • Often afraid of loud noises and terrified of thunder storms.

  • When you greet it upon your return, may submissively urinate.

  • Needs a very special home where the environment doesn’t change too much and where there are no children

  • Best for a quiet, elderly couple

  • If cornered and cannot get away, has a tendency to bite

Mostly 6’s

  • So independent that he doesn’t need you or other people

  • Doesn’t care if he is trained or not – he is his own person Unlikely to bond to you, since he doesn’t need you.

  • A great guard dog for gas stations!

  • Do not take this puppy and think you can change him into a lovable bundle – you can’t, so leave well enough alone

Top Dog Tips: Avoid the puppy with several 6’s. It is so independent it doesn’t need you or anyone. He is his own person and unlikely to bond to you.

Interpreting the Scores

Few puppies will test with all 2’s or all 3’s – there will be a mixture of scores.

For that first time, wonderfully easy to train, potential star, look for a puppy that scores with mostly 4’s and 3’s. Don’t worry about the score on Touch Sensitivity – you can compensate for that with the right training equipment.

Tidbits: It’s hard not to become emotional when picking a puppy – they are all so cute, soft and cuddly. Remind yourself that this dog is going to be with you for 8 to 16 years. Don’t hesitate to step back a little to contemplate your decision. Sleep on it and review it in the light of day.

It’s a lot more fun to have a good dog, one that is easy to train, one you can live with and one you can be proud of, than one that is a constant struggle. 

Deciding what puppy to get

A well trained dog begins with an idea of what role you want this dog to play in your life and finding a dog suitable for the job. A few reasons for selecting a dog are companionship, playmate for kids, protection, competing in performance events, or a mixture some.

Some dogs are able to fill all these expectations while others might have more limited talents.