We evaluate our puppies for 7 straight weeks instead of depending on a temperament test that evaluates how a puppy happens to be doing in a 5-10 minute test. The most widely used temperament test is the Volhardt test. It is a good test for many breeders, but we've found that for breeders like us that make great efforts toward providing an enriching environment, its use is limited. For the Volhardt test to be used as it was created to be used, puppies need to be raised in a typical breeder setting with limited environmental exposure outside the litter area. Otherwise the results are scewed and give the impression that puppies are more confident than they really are. For example, the touch sensitivity section of the Volhardt test evaluates a puppy's response to having his paws held. You hold them and count the number of seconds before the puppy pulls his paw away. A middle of the road puppy will allow his paws to be squeezed for 3-6 seconds. Because our puppies have had their paws held weekly since birth during nail trimmings, all of them (without exception) will allow you to squeeze them much longer giving them the lowest score on this exercise. The same holds true with the sound sensitivity where you bang a pot and record the puppy's reaction. Someone has intentionally dropped metal bowls close to our puppy pen since puppies were 3 weeks old. By 7 weeks, our puppies will react as if they were by nature very confident puppies when in actuality, they have just overcome some of these more basic fears. This test for our puppies will not give a true evaluation of a puppy's inborn temperament.
For us, the Volhardt test has taken on a new purpose. We use it to evaluate areas where we might need to work with particular puppies. For instance, if a puppy shies away during the portion of the Volhardt test where you pop an umbrella up, we'll work with that puppy on overcoming that fear. A couple of years ago, a DVD called Puppy Culture came out teaching how to raise your puppy from birth to 12 weeks. We absolutely love this DVD and were so happy to hear that others are using the Volhardt test for the same reasons as us.
So how does Summer Brook evaluate puppies? The evaluation process starts at birth as we observe which ones fight for the mom's tits the hardest and which ones wiggle most in the scales while we weigh them. The evaluation process becomes more intensive at about 4 1/2 to 5 weeks when we begin taking them to various places in our home and exposing them to things they've never experienced. We learn even more about the puppies as we begin training them to go in and out a doggy door and to navigate steps. We evaluate as puppies grow how they interact with littermates and how they handle being separate from littermates. We have to know how each and every puppy reacts to everything we do in order to know how to move each puppy forward. The doggy door training alone indicates which puppies are the leaders, which ones are fearful, which ones are slow, which ones are cautious. We also notice how each puppy first approaches steps, how they respond to noises, which ones stay closest to us, which ones sit and wait for the competition of littermates to diminish before climbing in a lap, which puppies are friendliest to strangers, which puppies resist a crate, which puppies are most aggressive to get food, and the list goes on. Our job of evaluating puppies is never ending until our puppies leave us. It's not as easy as going through an entire litter in an hour with one test.