Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Temperament Test - the recap

This isn't Phoenix. I don't have the gal's name but her dog had some Schutzhund/protection work and took a very dim view of the weird stranger. The stranger was wearing a bite sleeve under his raincoat, just in case. Most of the dogs did not have such a strong reaction.

Here’s a recap of the temperament test at ABMC nationals last week.

During the pre-test briefing, we got details about each sub test that makes up the overall temperament test. There were 7 separate sub tests. Each dog completed each test station before the next dog began. Three evaluators observed from a distance and scored each dog’s reactions.

We were not allowed to talk to our dogs once our test had started. The chief evaluator explained he wanted the dog to be “in control” and if we were talking to our dogs, encouraging them, soothing them, scolding them, etc., the handler would be in control. The dogs were on 6 foot leashes and were to have all 6 feet available to them at all times. We could not assume any “obedience heeling position” and could not give any kind of leash “correction.”

The test was meant to imitate a “walk in the park.” Apparently this park was located in the ghetto as it involved gun shots and a threatening stranger. The only thing missing was a loose dog running amuck.

While we could not talk to our dogs, there were 2 sub tests where we could talk to the inanimate object that was the focus of that test if we needed to get our dogs to come investigate it. One was a noisy bucket of rocks and the second was an umbrella. So, no talking to the dogs but we could chatter away at the bucket or the umbrella.

The dogs were scored on a scale of 0 to 10 on each sub test, with 0 being failure and 10 being okay but not really desirable because it would indicate a very intense reaction. The “best” score would be 5, 6 or 7 on each sub test. The evaluator said he wouldn’t want to live with a dog who scored more than one 10. The test is meant to evaluate baseline temperament. The dog could startle and that didn’t count against him - the evaluators were more interested in how quickly the dog recovered and went to investigate whatever had scared him. There were 3 ways to fail: extreme aggression, obvious avoidance and panic from which the dog could not recover.

I really wanted to watch several people do it before it was our turn, but as it turned out, the order in which you registered was the order in which you ran. I had registered second. Go figure.

Off we went. It was raining. We were on a grass field. Since I couldn’t talk to Phoenix, he could do as he pleased. It pleased him to sniff. A lot.

Sub test #1: friendly stranger greeting. This woman was definitely friendly. We exchanged handshakes, commented on the weather and parted company. Phoenix sniffed and ignored her totally.

Sub test #2: friendly stranger wants to pet my dog. She walked briskly toward Phoenix, both arms extended, saying loudly, “Oh what a beautiful dog! I want to pet your dog!” and reached out over the top of him. Phoenix (still sniffing) was not terribly impressed but he did stop sniffing long enough to go see her and leaned on her and let her pet him from top to bottom. I actually felt a little sorry for her, having to stand in the rain and pet wet dogs.

Sub test #3: We approached a blind where a hidden person was rattling rocks in a galvanized metal bucket. It was loud! Then they popped out from behind the blind and set the bucket in our path. Phoenix drug me across the grass and nearly dove into the bucket. Good dog. I don’t know what he thought was in there but he couldn’t get to it fast enough. Apparently I am not feeding my dog enough if he gets that excited about a bucket of rocks.

Sub test #4: Three gun shots. Well, there would have been gun shots if the starter’s pistol had worked. It didn’t. Maybe the pouring rain had something to do with that? They substituted a wooden noise maker but I never heard it (I stood with my back to the gun shots/noisemaker and Phoenix was too busy sniffing.) He may have heard them but apparently dismissed them easily. I wasn’t concerned about this anyway, since Nix had a rifle fired over his head numerous times during the Great Raccoon Hunt of the Winter of 2009 and was totally unfazed. Long story.

Sub test #5: Umbrella. This probably got the strongest reaction out of him. The fellow in the chair popped the umbrella and Nix hit the deck. RED ALERT! BATTLE STATIONS! If I could get a drop on recall like that in the ring, I’d love it! The evaluator told me to talk to the umbrella to see if Nix would come investigate it. It told the umbrella it was beautiful and smelled like liver cookies and would be fun to tear up. Phoenix was all over it.

Sub test #6: Walking over plastic sheeting and an x-pen laying flat on the ground. Keep in mind it’s raining and the wind is blowing. The plastic sheeting was held down on the corners and sides with a few bricks but it was billowing in the wind. Phoenix trotted over it, no big deal, and paused to have a drink in one of the puddles collecting on the plastic (all that sniffing makes a guy thirsty). Ditto for the x-pen.

Sub test #7, scary guy: I was to stop behind a line and a scary stranger emerged from a blind maybe 30 feet away. (I’m really not good at guestimating distances - you can get all the rules and specs at the American Temperament Testing Web site, www.atts.org). Phoenix was so busy sniffing he didn’t pay much attention.

Then the scary guy started lurching toward us, yelling and waving a riding crop. Phoenix took notice. As the scary guy became a threatening guy and charged toward us, Phoenix stepped out in front of me, went to the end of the lead and gave the guy a hard stare. The scary guy turned around and went away. Phoenix went back to sniffing.

We met with the evaluator after the test. This was just as important as any of the sub tests because if Phoenix had shown any aggression toward him (fallout from the encounter with the threatening stranger just a few minutes before) we would have failed. He said Phoenix had very solid, middle-of-the-road responses to all the sub tests. This is desirable, as it doesn’t reflect any extremes — either fear or aggression — and reflected a dog who is mature (really, he said that, I’m still laughing) and has basically been around the block. He called Nix a “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt” kind of dog.

Overall, the test probably didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about my dog. I had wondered how the scary stranger part of the test would go and while it is probably a good measurement of baseline temperament and reactivity, I know Nix would react differently if that guy popped up at home or if I had shown any kind of fear or emotion. As it was, I knew there was nothing to be afraid of and suspect my dog read that as well. He was probably wondering the whole time, “What the hell are we doing out here in the rain, sniffing rocks and investigating umbrellas?”


  1. Very cool! I loved the temperament test. The annoying thing about when we took it was that it was at a Rottie National, and they neglected to mention that all Rotties went first regardless of order of entry. So we got there early (a 3.5 hour drive away, each way) just to sit and watch other dogs do the test the whole time. It was warm. I even got a little sunburned. Anyway, she didn't have a strong reaction to the Bad Stranger either. It might've been because she saw him with the Rotties for an hour beforehand (it was sad to see some Rotties run away from him) but she just stared. The evaluator said it was a normal reaction; she positioned herself in between us to block me and was staring him down, gauging what he was about to do. Basically what Phoenix did.

    When I went to talk to the rocks, she looked at me like, "What the hell is wrong with you? It's a bucket of rocks."

    That's still my favorite test.

    Don't forget to add TT to the end of Phoenix's name now!

  2. Im not sure my dogs would have done so well. I think that person popping out , yelling an waving, they would have gone crazy barking and growling. Hmmm , not good I guess.

  3. Fascinating, Melinda! What temperament test is this? Is it something from AKC or another organization?

  4. Sounds like they picked a pretty SMELLY place! G Nix did GOOD!!! Not surprised!! I guess all those "Oakdale" visits pay off!! LOL

  5. I loved reading this! Thinking back to when i was working with Denise, we were on the field training whaen loki had a full on bark attack mode at a woman who was crouching behind the fence watching us. Denise knew her and asked her to stand up, that it was ok, and for me to call loki. I remember being very upset because my dog acted like cujo but denise played it down telling me that it was natural for a dog like loki (high defense drive) to be suspicious of a crouching person. Loki recalled perfectly and went right back to work. I remember thinking that my other trainer would make me correct that via leash but she ignored it. Loki is generally friendly with everyone but now and then he surprises me with some defense behaviors, albeit small. Hiking in a brand new area last week, we came across a man crouching in the river doing some sort of water experiment. I stopped to ask directions because i was a bit lost. Loki gave him a low growl, and i realized...duh, he is crouching! I played it down thoufh i did tell him no, that it was ok and we left quickly.

    I used to think going for or b title, the temperment test would be our worst, but by now, im so certain he would pass all, but maybe not #6...i would seriously have to work that in him! But with all the gun shots he hears when we walk --to control birds in the farms, well he doesnt love it but he recovers fast now and sometimes rarely notices. Loud noises and big movements, like flapping things in the wind, certainly startle him, but he does recover fast now whereas 2 years ago, it would take him a while if at all! Shows how far he has really come.

    Anyway, its nice to know that good temperment doesnt mean no reaction.
    Thanks for sharing this. Always wondered what it was about!

  6. #2 makes me crack up. When i think of our trip to lugano, theres a post on my site about it...all the Italians would come running up to loki and full on grab his face and say "Ciao! Bambino!" to him....OMG! I was like, hello? Does his intense look of biting your face off not scAre you? But loki totally dug the attention. It freaked me out at first and not something i would normally welcome, but the damn Italians are so sweet and they loved my loud mouth cracker! How could i be upset about that forwardness?