Monday, January 11, 2010

The Personality of a Service Dog: Temperament Testing

Sit, down, stand, stay, leave it, come, loose leash walking, waiting patiently at doors - by the time our service dogs-in-training are one year old, they should know all of these skills. And to make sure they know them, we test each dog when they turn one year old.

On Friday, we held our 12-month evaluations for the dogs that are between 11 and 13 months old. This testing allows us to see the progress the dogs have made and discover skills and behaviors the dogs still need to work on. This is also the time when we start to make decisions on whether a dog will continue in the service dog program. Some dogs' skills may be better suited to other lines or work. For example, SSD Honeycrisp (renamed Chloe) and SSD Penny (now called Jade) are now working for the UN, sniffing out explosive devices. Both of these dogs were too focused on their sense of smell to be successful service dogs; however, that same sense of smell makes them perfect for their present position with the UN.

During the 12-month temperament test, we evaluate the dogs in cued and un-cued attention, self control, recall, shaping skills, basic obedience and interactions with other dogs, animals and people. We will compare their results with their results from their 8-week evaluations, so we can see their progress.

Our dogs get evaluated throughout their lives. We test their temperament when they're eight weeks old. Our puppy raisers also complete the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire), which is a standardized evaluation of dog temperament and behavior. Puppy raisers answer questions about how the dogs typically respond to common events, situations and stimuli in the environment. The C-BARQ compares each dog's scores to the scores of other SSD dogs, as well as other dogs in a similar category. This questionnaire is especially helpful because it flags any scores that are untypical, so we know what areas a dog needs to work on. (Note: The C-BARQ is not limited to service dogs. Pet owners can take the questionnaire for their own dogs.)

On Friday, we evaluated 12 dogs from the Old West and Hill Top litters - Oakley, Cimarron, Stetson, Denver, Zane, Journey, Thunder, Star, Sky, Sunshine, Hawk and Misty Morning. We also retested one dog that had already been placed with a partner but needed a reevaluation. We will be comparing their results with the results from their 8-week tests, so we can see how they have improved. Usually, we see great improvement, thanks to our wonderful puppy raisers!

In one of our next posts this week, we will share some of the highlights of the dogs during the test.

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