I had the honor to be invited up to Wellington, Colorado to learn from French Pastoralist, Benoit Voisin, an SCC judge, who was teaching at Terra Del Norte's weeklong herding symposium. When I arrived they were finishing up a French Style herding weekend with the German Shepherd Temperament Test and The German Shepherd Herding Aptitude Test.
Any dog can participate in the GSDCA temperament test, but for German Shepherds it is test that helps certify the genetics of breeding dogs.The goal is to show that a dog can handle novel or startling experiences and recover from them, that the dog has some understanding of friendly stranger vs dangerous stranger, and that the dog is willing to walk over novel textures.
The test consisted to greeting a neutral and friendly stranger, facing novel sounds (a penny can and a 'gunshot'), and walking over novel surfaces. The last element was an encounter with a sketchy stranger that elevated to full on aggression, wielding a stick and yelling at the handler. Each section is carefully controlled, with distances and rules spelled out.
The dogs at the trial were largely the tending breeds (German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Shepherd, and tervern, and Beauceron). The tested dogs I saw were all beauceron and German Shepherds.
I watched for several hours as dog after dog saw or heard (or felt on their feet) unexpected stimuli, started (especially when the umbrella was snapped open) and recovered, and the judge urged handler after handler to invite their dog to overcome their concern and approach the novel object, or noise.
When I arrived home, intrigued by the test, I discovered that the German Shepherd club says they largely copied their test off of the Doberman Pinscher club, and the American Temperament Test Society largely mimics both tests.
I looked into the AKC test and found, that sadly, like most things the AKC does, it was done poorly. The AKC test allows for more variation in the test items, but allows three items per challenge type, and in the video demonstration they come far too quickly for the dog to process and could easily overwhelm a dog, leading to trigger-stacking. There are also no rules for distances from the dog when things occur.
What I liked about the test done by the German Shepherd Dog Club was the time between elements, as well as the insistence that dogs be on loose leash, and other than urging the dog to explore each element, there are to be no cues. This permits the dog to feel free to choose behavior, and allows ample recovery time between experiences.
The GSDCA also performed a herding aptitude test, issued by Benoit, who is an incredible handler. Most dogs did well at both aspects of the tests.
So, what would passing a test such as this tell you about a dog, knowing that we can train dogs to accept novel experiences? It says that the breeder cared enough to put in the work, and the money to trial the dog. It shows that the dog is strong enough, even with training, to handle novel experiences in a new location, and it shows you that the dog is aloof or friendly to friendly strangers. These, of course are all powerfully important to pet and working dogs (as the annual panic over 4th of July fireworks can attest!)
Going forward, I will urge all of my students to ask about such testing for dogs they purchase, as well as look into similar testing for their own dogs.