A Decisive Test for Judging Temperament

First published in Kerry Klips, Club newsletter of the KBTSC, June 1992
By Lonie Ward

The most important single trait that breeders strive for is sound temperament. Whether a Kerry (or any breed of dog) is a perfect conformation specimen or just a pet, the enjoyment of that animal boils down to one characteristic: its disposition. Who wants to own or live with a dog that, from one extreme to another, is either an aggressive biter or just a sad-sack wimp?

In l963, Clarence Pfaffenberger wrote a book entitled, The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior. It was the story of his work and research with Guide Dogs for the Blind. Basically, by scientific study, he was able to define behavior in the puppy who would become the ideal guide dog.

Reading Mr. Pfaffenberger’s book in the late sixties made such an impression on me (though I did not intend my new litter of Kerry puppies to be guide dogs), that I decided to test his theories. This was an involved and time-consuming endeavor, lasting from the time the puppies were 3 weeks old until they were 12 weeks old. Each and every puppy, in the detailed exercises that were logged during this period, proved Pfaffenberger and his associate’s theories absolutely correct. No two puppies in the litter scored alike. One male was so receptive to all the tests that it was hard not to give an almost perfect score, and a litter sister had to be coaxed to even respond. The remaining litter mates fell somewhere in between.

Both the high-scoring dog and the low-scoring bitch were entered (at six months and two days old) at the 1969 USKBTC Sweepstakes. The male won the Sweeps and the bitch placed Best Opposite. But true to her puppy evaluation, she detested showing. The male went on to his Championship, but in spite of her conformation potential, no amount of cajoling could ever entice the bitch to a show ring. She was eventually placed in a home with an older couple, and led a long pampered life of selfish behavior.

Edith Izant contributed an article published by the Bulldog Club on the Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT), a much simpler version of evaluating your puppy than the involved Pfaffenberger tests. Edie has tried it with puppies and relates that it’s easy and quick, but adds, “A show dog would need almost the opposite of the obedience dog­more independence.”

It is suggested that, ideally, puppies should not be tested until the 7th week, preferably the 49th day. At earlier than 6 weeks, the puppy has not fully developed its neurological connections. Another caution: if the test is conducted between 8 to 10 weeks, the puppy is in the fear imprint stage and special care must be taken not to frighten it.

Puppies should be tested individually, away from the dam and littermates, in an area new to them and relatively free from distractions. It is best to test before a meal when they are awake and lively and not on a day when they have been wormed or given their puppy shots. The sequence of the tests is the same for all pups and is designed to alternate a slightly stressful test with a neutral or pleasant one.

If the tests are administered by someone other than the owner of the litter, there is less chance for human error or for the puppies to be influenced by a familiar person.

The PAT test itself follows. How to interpret the scores is described last. Try it!


Test 1

Social Attraction. Place the puppy in the test area. From a few feet away, coax the pup to you by clapping your hands gently and kneeling down. Coax in a direction away from the point where the pup entered the test area.

Purpose: Degree of social attraction, confidence, or dependence.


1 = Came readily, tail up, jumped, bit a 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 = Did not come at all.


Following. Stand up and walk away from the pup in a normal manner. Make sure the pup sees you walk away.

Purpose: Degree of following attraction. Not following indicates independence.


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. Crouch down and gently roll the pup on his back and hold it with one hand for a full 30 seconds.

Purpose: Degree of dominant or submissive tendency. How it accepts stress when socially/physically dominated.


1 = Struggled fiercely, flailed, bit. 
2 = Struggled fiercely, flailed. 
3 = Settled, struggled, settled with some eye contact. 
4 = Struggled, then settled. 
5 = Did not struggle. 
6 = Did not struggle and strained to avoid eye contact.


Social Dominance. Let pup stand up and gently stroke him from the head to the back while you crouch beside him. Continue stroking until a recognizable behavior is established.

Purpose: Degree of acceptance of social dominance. Pup may try to dominate by jumping and nipping, or is independent and walks away.


1 = Jumped, pawed, bit, growled. 
2 = Jumped, pawed. 
3 = Cuddles up and tries to lick your face. 
4 = Squirmed, licked at hands. 
5 = Rolled over, licked at hands. 
6 = Went away and stayed away.


Elevation Dominance. Bend over and cradle the pup under its belly, fingers interlaced and palms up, and elevate it just off the ground. Hold it there for 30 seconds.

Purpose: Degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control.


1 = Struggled fiercely, bit, growled. 
2 = Struggled fiercely. 
3 = Did not struggle, relaxed. 
4 = Struggled, settled, licked 
5 = Did not struggle, licked at hands. 
6 = Did not struggle, froze.


After administering the Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT), intrepret the results as follows.

Mostly 1s: This dog is extremely dominant and has aggressive tendencies. He is quick to bite and is generally considered not good with children or the elderly. When combined with a 1 or 2 in touch sensitivity, he will be a difficult dog to train. Not a dog for the inexperienced handler.

Mostly 2s: This dog is dominant and can be provoked to bite. Responds well to firm, consistent, fair handling in an adult household, and is likely to be a loyal pet once it respects its human leader. Often has a bouncy, outgoing temperament; may be too active for the elderly and too dominant for small children.

Mostly 3s: This dog accepts humans as leaders easily. It is the best prospect for the average owner, adapts well to new situations, and is generally good with children and the elderly, although may be inclined to be active. Makes a good obedience prospect, and usually has a common sense approach to life.

Mostly 4s: This dog is submissive and will adapt to most households. May be slightly less outgoing and active than a dog scoring mostly 3s. Gets along well with children generally, and trains well.

Mostly 5s: This dog is extremely submissive and needs special handling to build confidence and bring him out of his shell. Does not adapt well to change and confusion, and needs a very regular structured environment. Usually safe around children and bites only when severely stressed. Not a good choice for a beginner since it frightens easily and takes a long time to get used to new experiences.

Mostly 6s: This dog is independent. He is not affectionate and may dislike petting and cuddling. It is difficult to establish a relationship with him whether for working or for a pet. Not recommended for children who may force attention on him. He is not a beginner’s dog.

No Clear Pattern: If you get no clear pattern (such as several 1s, 2s, and 5s), the dog may not be feeling well or perhaps has just eaten or been recently wormed. Wait two days and retest. If the test still shows wide variations (such as a lot of 1s and 5s), he is probably unpredictable and unlikely to be a good pet or obedience dog

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