History: The puppy tests published in several training books were
originally developed by Clarence Pfaffenberger, a respected dog behavior
expert, in the late 1940's, to help Guide Dog trainers decide which
puppies in their litters would be selected as Guide Dog prospects. The
reason these tests were needed was because it is very expensive to raise
a puppy to the age at which the formal training is begun for Guide Dog
work. They could not afford to raise whole litters and only have a
small percentage then qualify for the job of Guide Dog, so he developed
these tests to select the pups that would be likely to have the
confidence, concentration and stability to take on this role.
These tests were to be given on the 49th day because that is the exact time that he determined that pups could begin to learn, and he wanted to test innate temperament, not temperament modified by training.
"Learn" in this context refers to the ability to modify their behavior. We socialize our puppies to bring out the most that they can be, but before their 49th day their brains have not developed to the point where they can control their responses. The cuddling, begging for attention, running to the food bowl is a result of their innate personality enhanced by socialization. But until after the 49th day, they cannot learn a different way to respond. For example, at two weeks, a puppy discovers that if she stands on a littermate she can flip out of the puppy half of the whelping box and get to mom. If I don't like this behavior, tough, I can't teach her to change it because she is doing what she is doing because she is the way she is. Just as her littermates, who see her doing this, choose to try it themselves or stay in the safety of their side of the whelping box, because of their innate personality or temperament. After the 49th day, I can teach her not to pop out of enclosures on her own whim by either a negative consequence or a positive motivation (training). Thus, after 49 days, I can alter my little adventurer into a more socially acceptable and safe little citizen. Or she might teach the rest of the litter to escape........!!!
That is learning.
There are consistent times when puppies cross the line between not being able to do something, such as not being able to hear on their 20th day and being able to hear on their 21st day, and not being able to learn on their 49th day and being able to learn after that. Some developmental changes, such as the eyes opening, vary from a week of age to two weeks of age, but the time at which they begin to hear is consistently the 21st day. By the same token, Pfaffenberger discovered that the age at which puppies can actually learn is consistently after the 49th day. For this reason, the 49th day is considered to be the optimum day to test. The brain is at its maximum development before learning has altered the innate temperament. Innate temperament is important because it is what a dog reverts to under stress.
But if a puppy is sick or just not his/her usual self that day, obviously another day will have to be used. And if a hurricane is coming through Houston on my litter's 49th day, I can be flexible and wait until it is over to test. ;-) Although my tester, Julie Kinsey, once did brave rising waters to get out to my farm to test a litter on schedule!
These original tests were successful in their purpose, and when discovered by obedience people, were copied, sometimes well and sometimes not, by every dog training author under the sun. Thus some tests work and some don't. Also, some people are better testers than others, just like some people are better better obedience trainers than others. If the training doesn't work, is it the fault of the training or the trainer? The same applies to puppy testing.
Julie Kinsey and I have tested every Tri-umph litter since 1984, when she selected her Tri-umph Russian Roulette CDX, I selected Tri-umph Russian Sable UD (titles put on by Nancy Pantusa because Sophie did not get big enough for the conformation ring), and it was decided that Russian Bear, Russian Fox and Russian Caviar would not be required to do obedience. Their owners can attest to the wisdom of that decision. ;-) I sent the tests to Kathy Shannon of Wyndfal Corgis to give to her litter of 8 on the 49th day to help me select my "perfect" foundation bitch, and the voluminous notes she took have been saved as a memento of her dedication to this effort. I used them to select the recently deceased Ch. Wyndfal Tri-umph I Do I Do UDTX, HC, VC, (Sukey). 'Nuff said?
The tests are not perfect, as has been pointed out, a puppy can have a bad day. Experienced testers often get truer results than first-timers, just as in anything. Any result Julie and I come up with that is in sharp opposition to behavior I have observed is retested on another day. But remember the behavior observed in a litter is group behavior, and the behavior tested is individual behavior. Don't some people act differently in groups than alone (some better, some worse)?
I want to emphasize here that group behavior is very different than individual behavior. Puppy testing brings that out every time, when properly done. How a puppy reacts and interacts in his litter is partly dependent on pecking order and the size of the litter and the physical size of the puppies relative to each other. No matter how closely I observe my litters, I can never predict exactly how each puppy will react to the tests. And the tests have proven over the years to be more accurate than my observations.
The most common error made in testing is the interpretation of the results. Sukey did not "naturally" retrieve and gave a low growl when turned quickly on her back. Why did I take this obvious reject home and call her my obedience dream? Because I knew that Pembroke corgis (I don't know about Cardigans) quite often do not retrieve without training and I wanted a corgi with a touch of fire because I am very alpha and I can intimidate a dog that's not, if I'm not careful. I rarely keep a soft or sensitive dog, they are not easy for me to live with (and vice versa). She did show brilliance in her recall (leaping, bounding, kissing on contact) and was an automatic heeler (walked naturally in heel position as soon as she was on her feet). That willingness to please was what I wanted. This is what puppy testing is all about. In other hands, Sukey might have been too much (for a less alpha trainer) or too little (for someone expecting an automatic retrieve). She was what I needed and wanted and I discovered this in her out of her litter of eight through temperament testing. Also, in spite of this little display of temper as a pup, Sukey, who lived her life for 14 years as alpha bitch at Tri-umph, never once was aggressive with another dog...but she did give a few dumbbells he!! ;-)
I, like many breeders, take the time and trouble to conduct these tests and use them as a guide to successfully matching owner to puppy buyer. Anyone whose interest has been piqued can find out more on this subject and Clarence Pfaffenberger's other behavior studies by reading his book, "The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior," Howell House Books. Then correspond with me privately, or on the list, to give me your reaction to what he discovered many years ago when researching for Guide Dogs and the U.S. Army. I'll bet you like and respect what you read!
Marian Johnson Your
Tri-umph Corgis at Fox Orchard Farm