top of page

Puppy Aptitude Testing:

Choosing a Puppy That Best Suits You

"No matter what the dog looks like, one first has to be able to live with him. Never pick a puppy for looks alone."

Picking the Perfect Puppy

The concept behind puppy testing is that a puppy's brain is neurologically complete at 49 days of age—that is, he emits the brain waves of an adult dog. Yet his brain is a blank page, minimally affected by experience and learning. Aptitude tests are performed at 7 weeks of age reveal the raw material of the puppy's individual temperament. At this age, puppies have learned to use the inherited behaviors that make them dogs, but they have not yet had a range of experience to influence the test results. In other words, they have not yet learned any annoying or undesired habits, so an experienced tester can objectively evaluate their personality and temperament.

If testing is done later, say at 8, 10, or 12 weeks, it's compromised by intervening experiences that may influence a puppy's responses. It then becomes difficult to ascertain a true reading of behavioral tendencies. For example, by 16 weeks a puppy may be well on his way to learning the annoying behavior of ignoring the "come" command. Or, he may have been exposed to situations during a "fear period" that affect his willingness to please, follow, approach strangers, or retrieve objects.

Puppy aptitude testing evaluates a puppy's behavioral tendencies ranging from social attraction (degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence), to retrieving, to sound and sight sensitivity. The test parts are done consecutively and in a specific order. The "scores" are tallied and a pattern of inherited behavioral tendencies becomes visible. Remember, it's not a pass or fail system, and no puppy test is absolute. But when applied correctly, puppy aptitude tests provide breeders and trainers with an objective approach for evaluation and understanding individual behavioral tendencies—a window, so to speak, into the puppy's future. For example, is he bossy? Bold? Independent? Does he charge into a room full of energy and self-confidence? Is he aggressive? Is he timid or aloof? Nervous? Is he inquisitive, curious, fearful or timid?

Many breeders characterize a puppy as sweet, faithful, lovable, quiet, and so forth, but such words don't give much objective information on the puppy's temperament, inherited tendencies, or working ability. In other words, how your puppy is likely to perceive and interact with the world as an adult dog. For example, a high-drive, high-energy dog may do well with an energetic, type-A owner who likes to hike, jog, swim, and so forth, but will most assuredly clash with a sedentary or novice owner. An extremely noise-sensitive dog may do well in a calm environment but would surely be terrified in a dynamic dog sport environment. Likewise, a fearful or shy dog is not likely to flourish in a home filled with rambunctious, noisy kids.

What can I do?

The first step to placing the right Conquistador K-9 Presa Canario with the right owner is to complete a personal consultation with our professionally trained Conquistador K-9 staff member. During your consultation it is best to know what your daily life includes and what you envision it to be like with your new Conquistador.  Being honest about the things you hope for in your new Conquistador will only assist us in helping you to select the correct puppy for you.


Puppy aptitude testing will help to evaluate a puppy's inherited behavioral tendencies, but it's important that you look at your own personality too. Are you outgoing? Quiet? Are you active, or more of a couch potato? Do you jump out of bed full of energy, or do you require a double latte before facing your day?

Keep in mind, the puppy you choose will be with you for 12 or 15 years. Be smart. Do your homework and pick a puppy (or adult dog) who meshes with your personality and lifestyle. Understanding a puppy's inherited behavioral tendencies will go a long way in making your life—and your dog's life—more enjoyable.

​About the Conquistador K-9 Puppy Aptitude Process...

One of the first things to come to light when looking at different types of  puppy temperament testing, is that there are several inherent problems.

(1) What is a “good” temperament?

(2) How much of a puppy’s temperament is hereditary?

(3) How much influence does environment have on the puppy’s temperament?

(4) How can we accurately predict temperament of the adult dog?


What became obvious after a time was that in general, “good” temperament means that the dog is well-suited for the owner’s preference and purposes. “Good” temperament in a dog for a quiet, inactive older person in an apartment will be different from “good” temperament in a dog for a military K-9 corps handler. Because of this, it is more useful to define traits or components of temperament and what one can expect from combinations of traits, rather than to say this temperament is good, this one is bad.


In choosing a puppy an understanding of what traits suit the owner and handler is essential.  An understanding of the traits themselves and what traits were genetically selected for in the different breeds is also important. The tendency to freeze when scenting a bird is selected for in Pointers, the tendency to “eye” and circle has been selected for in Sheepdogs, the tendency to hunt by sight in Greyhounds, and so on. These tendencies, although undeveloped, can be observed in most dogs, but selective breeding has enhanced them. In addition to these breed traits, there are basic traits found in every dog which are good indicators for how well the dog will adapt to living with humans.


William Campbell, Dog Behavior Consultant, has listed behavioral traits which are common to all breeds and which influence temperament. 1. Excitability vs Inhibitability.

This trait is an inherited tendency which in the excitable dog makes him extremely responsive to external stimuli. Field trial retrievers are selected for this trait because they need to be constantly aware of the hunt, the fall of the bird, etc. The inhibited dog shows more self control. This dog is more easily trained to react only upon certain cues. Campbell cites the Schutzhund German Shepherd as an example. The balance between excitability and inhibitability is a poised, assured dog. The extreme of excitability would be a wild uncontrollable dog. The extreme of inhibitability would be the withdrawn, rigid, and lethargic dog.

2. Active vs. Passive Defense Reflexes.

This trait is the inherited tendency to react to stress by biting, freezing, or running away. The dog with passive defense reflexes can be induced to bite only with difficulty or under extreme duress. The field trial retriever has been selected for passive defense reflex so as to avoid killing wounded birds, etc. On the other hand, the Schutzhund Shepherd has been selected for active defense reflexes so he can easily be trained for protection. This is combined with his tendency towards inhibitabilitiy and allows the owner to train the dog to attack only in specific situations.

3. Dominant vs. Submissive.

The dominant dog is one which would grow up to be the pack leader if he and the other puppies had been left to grow up on their own in the wild. He shows the behavioral tendency to dominate. This trait is expressed by biting, page  growling, mounting, direct eye contact, walking with head up, tail up, hackles up, etc. The dominant dog will have first pick of the food, places to sleep, etc. Dominance has been selected for in Fox Terriers, originally bred to drag foxes from their dens. As Campbell points out, the dominant dog may challenge his human master and needs consistent, firm, calm handling. Lack of leadership on the owner’s part with such a dog will result in the dog’s assuming leadership. A dog’s attempts to lead in today’s hectic, complex society usually result in maladaptive responses such as overprotectiveness, nervousness, refusal to obey, and interfering with owner’s interactions with other people. Submissiveness is evident in the dog which accepts leadership. This is expressed in behavioral terms as nudging with the nose, pawing, tail down, ears down, lack of fighting, crouching and rolling over on the back, lack of eye contact, submitting to command. This dog can be influenced easily by the leader. This trait has been selected for in spaniels who were originally bred to crouch while hunters shot or netted the birds.

4. Independence vs. Social Attraction.

The independent dog is not interested in human beings. He may be poorly socialized or simply a loner. This dog may work or hunt well on his own. This trait was selected for in the Basenji, for example, a dog which originally hunted alone with a bell around its neck; the humans followed the sound of the bell to the game. The socially attracted dog shows interest in people, enjoys being petted, follows human being easily, and in general wants to be where they are. Poodles have been selected for this trait. They are tuned in to people and make good pets for this reason, which may explain why they have been number 1 in registrations for the last 18 years. It is obvious that the combination of traits or tendencies with which a puppy is born will go into its temperament. The particular combination will result in a dog more suited for some things than others. For example, just because the dog has active defense reflexes doesn’t mean he will be a good guard dog. If he is highly excitable and very independent, this dog may respond to any and all stimuli, be unresponsive to training, and also bite under the slightest stress.


In addition, Humphrey and Warner in their book Working Dogs suggest two other important inherited characteristics. It is obvious that the combination of traits or tendencies with which a puppy is born will go into its temperament page  


1. Sound sensitivity.

The sound sensitive dog shows excessive fear, crouching, urinating, running away when confronted with a loud or sharp sound; the dog may overreact to gunshots, shouted commands, etc.

2. Touch sensitivity vs. insensitivity.

The touch sensitive dog will be difficult to train with the standard training collar because the correction snap sets off the dog’s defensive reflexes (biting, freezing, running away). The touch insensitive dog shows little response to physical stimuli. A mighty yank on the training collar yields little if any response. Touch insensitivity was selected for in the pit-fighting dogs, in order for them to continue fighting despite severe wounds. What is commonly called a “hard” dog is often a combination of dominant, and touch insensitive. This dog shows a strong tendency to lead, and will be difficult to train. When the owner attempts to assert himself through a corrective snap on the training collar, the dog doesn’t respond because it cannot feel the collar. To get results, the owner will have to resort to more forceful methods of correction, or use a different stimuli. An owner of an Irish Setter was once heard to say in despair, “The only thing that damn dog understands is pain. You have to belt him with a 2 x 4 to get anything through that thick head of his.” The dog turned out to be dominant, and touch insensitive. The dog did not respond to the correction which he never felt unless it was unusually harsh, which in turn made his gentle owner feel terribly guilty. Food turned out to be a more successful stimulus to get her dog to obey commands.


“But doesn’t environment play a large part in how a dog develops temperamentally?”  Anyone can easily cite a dozen examples of friendly puppies who turned out mean because of teasing cruel treatment, or misguided handlers. Other examples include wild, mistreated, or problem animals who developed into fine pets and working dogs with proper treatment and environment. The Royal Air Force K-9 Corps has a motto “A handler always ends up with the dog he deserves,” suggesting that the handler is entirely responsible for his dog’s performance, quality, etc. A dog, however, is not a clean slate when he is born; he possesses inborn tendencies and characteristics. If this were not true there would be no breed traits and any dog would be as easy to train for field trials, ratting, and guiding the blind as any other. However, it has come to light that environment plays a tremendous part in developing a dog’s potential. As Dr. Michael Fox puts it in Understanding Your Dog: “Genetic factors are transmitted by inheritance, but the traits themselves are modified by interacting genetic and environmental factors. Training and early experience greatly influence these traits…”


Clarence Pfaffengerger was able to put the critical stages of puppy development into practical application in the breeding program of Guide Dogs for the Blind. He used Scott and Fuller’s research and supplemented it with specially developed puppy tests to pinpoint the potential guide dogs in a litter at approximately 8 weeks of age. Through planned breeding, careful attention to development, and puppy testing, he raised the percentage of successful guide dogs in the breeding program from 9% to 90%. page  An experiment of Clarence Pfaffenberger’s, for example, demonstrates the importance of early socialization. After testing the population of 154 puppies who were all trained later for guide work he found: “of the puppies who had passed their tests and been placed in homes the first week after the conclusion of the tests, ninety percent became guide dogs; those who were in the kennel more than one week and less than two weeks faired almost but not quite as well; those left in the kennel more than two weeks but less than three, showed only about 57% guide dogs; of those who were in the kennel more than three weeks after the tests, only 30% became guide dogs.” (The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior.) The break in socialization between testing and placing at this critical point (after 7-8 weeks) resulted in dogs who could not take the responsibility for a blind master, while their littermates whose socialization had not been interrupted, succeeded at the task. By using Campbell, Pfaffenberger, and Working Dogs, the Volhards developed a system for testing puppies which would (1) indicate the dog’s basic temperament traits and (2) indicate the dog with the most obedience potential. All of Campbell’s tests are included since these are indicators of how the pup will adapt to living with human beings.


There are three tests which are from Pfaffenberger to indicate the attitude the puppy has for obedience work. (Pfaffenberger describes a number of other tests indicative of attitude for guide work where it is critical that a dog be able to make intelligent decisions in response to unexpected situations. If he is guiding a blind master, his master’s life may depend upon it. This ability is not a matter of life and death in the obedience ring, although exhibitors sometimes seem to think so.) One test is from Working Dogs, where in 1934, a test was suggested for touch sensitivity in the German Shepherd. A slightly modified version is included in the Volhard tests. The result is called the Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT), since it indicates which pup has the most aptitude for the desired task or purpose. The test is administered in a standard fashion to minimize human error. Conditions under which testing takes place are as follows:

1. Ideally puppies are tested in the 7th week, preferably the 49th day. At 6 weeks or earlier the puppy’s neurological connections are not fully developed.

2. Puppies are tested individually, away from dam and littermates, in an area new to them and relatively free form distractions. It could be a porch, garage, living room, yard, or whatever. Puppies should be tested before a meal when they are awake and lively and not on a day when they have been wormed or given their puppy shots.

3. The sequence of the tests is the same for all pups and is designed to alternate a slightly stressful test with a neutral or pleasant one.

4. There is less chance for human error, or the puppies being influenced by a familiar person, if the tests are administered by someone other than the owner of the litter.

5. Last but not least, the prospective puppy tester must have a chance to observe the parents of the litter, preferably both parents but at least the dam. If the sire and/or dam have characteristics which are not desirable there exists a good chance some, if not all, of the puppies will have inherited these undesirable traits.

Conquistador K-9 has compiled a Presa specific Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) that is a refinement of existing PAT testing and extensive research.  Once a puppy has scored favorably on it's PAT, we will begin evaluating the candidate for inclusion in our finishing program. Initial PAT testing is applied to all Conquistador puppies too assist our clients in the puppy selection process, and as the first step in continuing testing for any of the Conquistador K-9 finishing programs. Conquistador K-9 trainers will evaluate working candidates for program inclusion utilizing overall methods in the PAWS Working Dog Evaluation, this testing will be applied through six months of age.

All Conquistador K-9 puppies will be supplied with their completed PAT and interpreted scores.


SOCIAL ATTRACTION Place puppy in test area. From a few feet away the testor coaxes the pup to her/him by clapping hands gently and kneeling down. Testor must coax in a direction away from the point where it entered the testing area.

Degree of social atraction, confidence, or dependence.

Camily readily, tail up, jumped, bit at hands.

Came readily, tail up, pawed, licked at hands.

*Came readily, tail up.

Came readily, tail down.

Came hesitantly, tail down.

Didn't come at all.

FOLLOWING Stand up and walk away from the pup in a normal manner. Make sure the pup sees you walk away.

Degree of following attraction.

Not following indicates independence.

Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot, bit at feet.

Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot.

*Followed readily, tail up.

Followed readily, tail down.

Followed hesitantly, tail down.

No follow or went away.

RESTRAINT Crouch down and gently roll the pup on his back and hold it with one hand for a full 30 seconds.

Degree of dominant or submissive tendency. How it accepts stress, when socially/physically dominated.

Struggled fiercely, flailed, bit.

Struggled fiercely, flailed.

*Settled, struggled, settled with some eye contact.

Struggled then settled.

No struggle.

*No struggle, straining to avoid eye contact.

SOCIAL DOMINANCE Let pup stand up and gently stroke him from the head to back while you crouch beside him. continue stroking until a recognizable behavior is established. Degree of acceptance of social dominance. Pup may try to dominate by jumping and nipping or is independent and walks away.

Jumped, pawed, bit, growled.

Jumped, pawed.

*Cuddles up to testor and tries to lick face.

Squirmed, licked at hands.

Rolled over, licked at hands.

Went away and stayed away.

ELEVATION DOMINANCE Bend over and cradle the pup under its belly, fingers interlaced, palms up and elevate it just off the ground. Hold it there for 30 seconds.

Degree of accepting dominance while in position of no control.

Struggled fiercely, bit, growled.

Struggled fiercely.

*No struggle, relaxed.

Struggled, settled, licked.

No struggle, licked at hands.

*No struggle, froze.

OBEDIENCE APTITUDE RETRIEVING Crouch beside pup and attract his attention with crumpled up paper ball. When the pup shows interest and is watching, toss the object 4-6 feet in front of pup. Degree of willingness to work with a human. High correlation between ability to retrieve and successful guide dogs, obedience dogs, field trial dogs.

Chases object, picks up object and runs away.

Chases object, stands over object, does not return.

Chases object and returns with object to testor.

Chases object and returns without object to testor.

Starts to chase object, loses interest.

Does not chase object.

TOUCH SENSITIVITY Take puppy's webbing of one front foot and press between finger and thumb lightly then more firmly until you get a response, while you count slowly to 10. Stop as soon as puppy pulls away or shows discomfort. Degree of sensitivity to touch.

8-10 counts before response.

6-7 counts before response.

5-6 counts before response.

2-4 counts before response.

1-2 counts before response.

SOUND SENSITIVITY Place pup in the center of area, testor or assitant makes a sharp noise a few feet from the puppy. A large metal spoon struck sharply on a metal pan twice works well.

Degree of sensitivity to sound. (Also can be a rudimentary test for deafness.)

Listens, locates sound, walks toward it barking.

Listens, locates sound barks.

Listens, locates sound, shows curiosity and walks toward sound

Listens, locates the sound.

Cringes, backs off, hides.

Ignores sound, shows no curiosity.

SIGHT SENSITIVITY Place pup in center of room. Tie a string around a large towel and jerk it across the floor a few feet away from puppy. Degree of intelligent response to strange object.

Looks, attacks, and bites.

Looks, barks, and tail up.

Looks curiously, attempts to investigate.

Looks, barks, tail-tuck. Runs away, hides.

STRUCTURE The puppy is gently set in a natural stance and evaluated for structure in the following categories: Straight front, Straight rear, Shoulder layback, Front angulation, Croup angulation, Rear angulation Degree of structural soundness. Good structure is necessary.

bottom of page