Puppy tests flunk long-term checkups

From Atlanta, Ga., at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society

Popular personality tests for puppies may give a good snapshot of the little furballs’ current dispositions, but they don’t have the predictive power many owners hope and pay for.

Puppy aptitude tests assess such matters as sociability with people and reactivity to stimuli. The testers do simple things, such as gently rolling a puppy onto its back for 30 seconds, and then use a standardized scale to score the puppy’s reactions, such as flailing or lying limp and avoiding eye contact.

Pamela Reid and Nathan J. Penny of the University of Guelph in Ontario put 46 litters of puppies through tests. Their results held up “moderately well” when checked against the breeders’ observations of the puppies, Reid and Penny report.

A year after people adopted the dogs, the researchers checked to see whether the puppies were turning out as described by the tests. Many weren’t. The effects of moving to a new environment “prevent reliable prediction of future behavior,” the researchers conclude.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.