Is Puppy Aptitude Testing a Valid or Useful Tool for Evaluating Livestock Guardian Dogs?
I know that Temperament Testing is very popular among companion dog breeders so out of curiosity I took a course in Puppy Aptitude Testing last year. It was very interesting but after doing much research, observing my own dogs and multiple litters of puppies I’ve bred and trained, as well as talking with breeders and trainers of LGD’s that I greatly respect, I decided that choosing a LGD puppy for a particular job/home based on how it behaves at exactly 7 weeks old is ridiculous. So many things go into the shaping of a LGD and many of those things haven’t even happened to a 7 week old puppy, so how can that one test be the be all, end all of choosing a puppy? It can’t.
But the idea still persists and some non-LGD breeders and trainers, not understanding that LGD behavior and training are very complex, still try to push this PAT idea, insisting that we need to test pups at 7 weeks old to determine if they are LGD’s or pets. Again, a ridiculous idea. Not all LGD’s guard the same and how a puppy behaves at 9 weeks or 9 months doesn’t automatically predict how it will behave once mature. And a puppy that chases stock occasionally or even kills a chicken or two is not ruined for life. LGD puppies often go through a rough "teenage" stage and then, like a lightbulb coming on, they suddenly mature into calm, dependable LGD’s. What can affect that switch is not some test done when they were 7 weeks old but everything they've been exposed to before and after that.
Another thing non-LGD breeders don't get is this: "play drive" is not the same as "prey drive". All LGD's love to run and play and chase to some degree because they are dogs and because they are practicing skills they will need as LGD's. Every one of my Maremmas loves to chase me on my ATV, they all chase each other, roughhouse and play fight. If a strange sounding vehicle comes down the street they all race along the fence line, CHASING it. Like they would chase a predator. Your LGD won't catch many predators by walking calmly. They need to practice chasing. 😆
Maybe the misunderstanding is because almost all breeders of non-LGD's place a large percentage of their puppies in companion homes. Whether this is because there really are such wide differences among puppies in a litter in their breed or simply because they don't have enough homes looking for working dogs I do not know. But some of them do use PAT to determine which pups go to which kinds of homes. Whether this testing is a valid tool for their breeds I can't say. I can say, as of right now, I don't feel it's a valid tool for placing LGD puppies. Or for Maremmas, anyway. Maybe one day I'll change my mind but there are only so many hours in a day and I prefer to spend my time doing things I feel are more productive with my puppies.
Most non-LGD breeders seem to place pups at 8 or 9 weeks old, so maybe the 7 week temperament test is the best tool they have. I keep my puppies a minimum of 12 weeks and often much longer. I have a lot of time to observe my puppies as they grow and mature.
Can a LGD puppy “fail” as a LGD? Certainly. But if it’s a well bred dog from proven working parents from proven working lines who have consistently produced puppies who matured into excellent LGD’s then how likely is it that the puppy is “badly bred” or “doesn’t have the aptitude” for guarding livestock? I’d say it’s pretty slim and that there’s something else going on. Improper socialization, training and management by the breeder OR the new owner. I firmly believe it takes nature and nurture to produce an excellent LGD and that you can screw up an otherwise well bred LGD by poor management and training at any step of the way. But not doing a PAT at exactly 49 days is not going to ruin a LGD or spell doom and gloom for its future.
I don’t breed pets. I breed Livestock Guardian Dogs. Period. A few of my pups have gone to companion homes and most are general farm dogs who are very loved and serving a dual role as LGD and family dog. But I'm not selecting puppies specifically for LGD's or pets because I don't breed for pets. In fact, I believe the same traits that make a good LGD are usually also traits that can make a good companion dog, in the right home. After all, if a dog can't be trusted with chickens are you really going to trust it with children?! I'm not!
So while Puppy Aptitude Testing may or may not be a useful tool for some breeds (and that's a highly debated topic) I don't feel it's all that helpful for LGD's. And from what I can gather the research says the same. But who knows, maybe someone will do more studies on the topic and prove me wrong. If so I'll be the first to sign up to test my litters. For now I'll be relying on other tools, such as the CARAT course I'm working on completing. That seems much more useful than PAT and can be applied to pups or dogs of any age.
Normal PLAY Behavior of LGD’s
Two year old Olaf and his 8 month old daughter, Polar, exhibiting normal “play” behavior of LGD’s. Maremmas, like most LGD’s play rough and hard. This is their normal way of burning off that excess energy in an appropriate manner (not directed towards the stock) and it’s also a way for them to practice fighting with potential predators. And this is also a prime example of why all LGD’s need a working partner and need to live WITH that partner 24/7. If your LGD doesn’t have an appropriate outlet for play such as this, they are much more likely to engage in inappropriate play with the livestock.
Polar and Olaf are both adult LGD’s now who are both excellent with stock of all kinds. Part of why they matured into such excellent LGD’s is because they were properly managed as puppies, getting both lots of exposure to livestock of all kinds from birth, and getting plenty of time to just be dogs and have fun.
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Hi I'm Kim. I have been an avid animal lover all my life but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding registered Mini Nubian & Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and MSCA registered Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowledge of these amazing creatures with others.