It’s In You to Be Who You Are

submitted by Lucy Martin

Last week I had an amazing opportunity to help with a temperament test on a litter of 8 week-old puppies. I’m assuming most of you are unfamiliar with this concept so I’ll briefly describe our intent and process.

Our overall goal was to identify a suitable candidate for service dog work. The human client has specific needs and we were hoping to find a dog who will be trained over a period of many months to assist this person live as healthfully and independently as possible.

The traits that would best fit this specific job were decided upon prior to testing. With our ‘ideal dog’ in mind, we designed a test that would elicit a response of some kind (or not) that would reveal the dog’s innate tendencies – the responses were graded according to an agreed-upon scale. Research has shown that even at such a young age, temperament is already apparent and stays consistent over time. While skills can be taught to improve certain attributes, but the core stays the same. For instance, an introverted person can learn how to behave more extroverted, but they are still an introvert in nature.

We looked at characteristics such as energy level, confidence, resilience, sociability to humans as well as other dogs, patience, how they interacted with their environment, social tolerance – just to name a few.

It was amazing to witness a litter of 8 puppies go through the same test and each respond so differently. They truly are individuals (I’m sure all the twins of the world are screaming “I told you so!”). Even though they had the same parents and so far had shared the same environment and experiences, they still emerged as unique individuals. Sometimes it was just differences by degree; other times it was almost polar opposites.

Part of our puppy evaluation included assessing what kind of home might be best suited for each puppy, based on the test results. Ideally, each puppy will go into the home and role that best suits their temperament, where they can blossom into the dogs they are destined to be. One puppy will begin training to become a service dog, as he qualified with flying colours.

A few days later, while still reflecting on this experience, I was on an off-leash walk with 3 dogs when a surprise skunk appeared in the long grass. Their individual temperaments quickly showed up – one dog didn’t even notice the change/threat in his environment (he also doesn’t stink); another dog was the first to identify the threat and sounded the alarm but didn’t act (the lucky one with minor residue); and the last dog charged in full speed and eradicated the threat (the stinky one). So here we had one problem yet three very different responses. Each dog chose the one that best reflects who they are.

These two recent experiences have caused me to reflect on my own inherent temperament. With life comes challenges and new experiences – how do I naturally respond? And what have I learned along the way to compensate for less adaptive traits, or attributes that are valued less in our culture? Have I overridden my true self for whatever reasons (and at what cost?)?

Just like those puppies and the three adult dogs above, each of us brings a unique blend of attributes to our life situation. Ideally, we will all be living the life that best suits who we are. We will have others in our lives that nurture and love who we naturally are, relate to us in ways that are enriching, offer guidance and support when life isn’t fair, and have your back no matter what.

Because that is who we are destined to be.

Best of luck Baby O!