Dog Temperament Assessment Checklist

All dogs are daily works in progress and can have their temperaments changed for the better. Every dog needs calm assertive leadership with the exercise and structure which serve to positively shape temperament and personality.

“Temperament” means a dog’s current nature. It is his or her disposition, personality, makeup, constitution, and personality and encompasses mind and spirit. These traits are not locked in, but a collection of habits which define the dog’s state of mind and being TODAY.

Our Canine Temperament Assessment Checklist is meant to fairly evaluate a dog through a series of on-leash interactions. It should be conducted by a professional canine behaviorist, not the lovingly biased owner. The items are not an all-inclusive list, but will give you a good starting benchmark. Measurements are real life, not pass/fail. They fairly show a dog’s current strengths and weaknesses.

This tool is useful for current pet dogs. It is invaluable for assessing the temperament of rescues and puppies being considered for adoption before bringing them to your home.

Canine Temperament Assessment Checklist

(1) Human Presents Self as Confident, Safe Authority Figure

In a boxed type setting, human walks towards dog to take his space and slightly back him up. This creates an assertive authority the dog probably sees for the first time from a human, but is instinctively canine familiar. Behaviorist uses energy, body language and eye contact to present self as thea dominant leader who is friend, not foe, and expects dog to take the follower role.

___ Acceptable/Desired

The dog is calm with submissive surrender. He responds in a soft, friendly and relaxed fashion with respectful obedience. He typically goes into a sit or down position on his own with eye contact which shares that he is ready to follow.

___ Needs Work

Dog’s body language becomes overly excited or cautious, tense and still. OR he may flee with fear if not leashed. OR dog avoids authority but shows no aggression. OR dog becomes defensive with lunging at the behaviorist but then quickly pulling back with no eye contact.

___ Danger Zone

The dog’s body is stiff with a frozen posture. He may growl or snarl with teeth bared, hackles raised and eyes glaring at the behaviorist’s face. He may try to lunge to attack and harm if the confrontation continues. OR the dog may become panicked with fear, and would try to flee, hide and disappear if not on leash.

(2) Toy Possession

Using a toy or ball with a rope attached to one end, the behaviorist engages the dog and then begins pulling back on the rope to remove the toy/ball from the dog.

___ Acceptable/Desired

Dog gives up easily with a playful attitude. He may show slight resistance to having toy removed but gives in with a slight correction, letting go of any interest in the toy.

___ Needs Work

Dog becomes possessive about the toy and shows strong resistance but no aggression. He threatens to keep the toy but doesn’t follow through, or he attempts to move the toy out of the behaviorist’s reach, often with vocal noise.

___ Danger Zone

Dog may growl, freeze, or snap when human retracts the toy, becoming aggressive with intent to harm the behaviorist.

(3) Human Touch and Handling

___ Acceptable/Desired

Dog softens with petting and engages the behaviorist with licking, muzzling, attention seeking, and/or rolling over. OR dog remains neutral, possibly moving slightly away. OR dog accepts touch but does not seek more.

___ Needs Work

Dog gets over-stimulated and mouthy, placing paws on the behaviorist. OR he becomes skittish and avoidant, particularly with hind quarters and tail sensitivity. OR dog is actively avoidant, extremely stiff, or overly jumpy.

___ Danger Zone

Dog aggresses with follow-through intent to harm and injure the behaviorist.

(4) Food Possession

First, behaviorist offers a bacon-shaped treat and allows the dog to take it. Second, this is repeated but the treat is gently pulled back and removed as the dog begins to bite. Third, the treat is dropped on the ground, covered by the behaviorist’s foot when the dog starts going to it, with the behaviorist pointing backward/sending dog back. Fourth, when dog is eating the treat, the dog’s body is mildly touched and handled by the behaviorist who then removes what is left of the treat from the dog’s mouth.

___ Acceptable/Desired

Dog remains indifferent or friendly. OR dog becomes confused, looking to the behaviorist for clues about what happens next.

___ Needs Work

Dog gives low growling type noises, hoards, and/or threatens to retain but doesn’t follow through. He may paw at the treat and get pushy for it by overly focusing on the treat and refusing to make eye contact with the behaviorist.

___ Danger Zone

Dog tries to aggress with intent to harm and injure the behaviorist.

(5) Reaction to Correction Outdoors On Leash

Behaviorist walks dog near people and distractions.  Dog is allowed to sniff and/or become interested in something for a few minutes. Behaviorist then silently gives a slight tug on the leash to re-gain dog’s attention, focus and eye contact.

___ Acceptable/Desired

Dog easily and compliantly responds to behaviorist. OR may be slow to respond but does so with increased correction intensity or a different type of correction.

___ Needs Work

The dog eventually responds but it takes multiple repeated corrections. OR is unresponsive, ignoring corrections. OR drops with fear into a defensive posture. OR stubbornly fights corrections.

___ Danger Zone

Dog aggressively tries to attack the behaviorist, attempting to bite and harm if given the chance.

(6) Dominance with People

Approach in #1 is repeated. Then behaviorist pushes down on the dog’s shoulders using hands or forearm, maintaining pressure for a moment.

___ Acceptable/Desired

Dog melts with slight pressure and becomes submissive.

___ Needs Work

The dog remains unresponsive but neutral. OR he stiffens up and may turn his head strongly to the behaviorist, feeling uncomfortable with the situation.

___ Danger Zone

The dog growls or snaps at the behaviorist in a dominant manner. OR he aggresses on the behaviorist with the goal of creating harmful injury.

(7) Other Dog Introductions

Behaviorist first introduces test dog to another stable dog through a fence or at a distance. Then test dog is walked back and forth by stable dog a few times. Then test dog is allowed to greet other on a slack lead. Sniffing is permitted for a few seconds, then the dogs are separated and re-introduced.

___ Acceptable/Desired

Test dog is interested in and social towards the other dog. He shows soft relaxed body language and may approach neutrally or with a play bow.

___ Needs Work

Test dog remains uninterested and aloof, not engaging the other dog. OR displays rude posturing and vocal interaction with possible growling, slight lunging and hackles up but becoming controllable with behaviorist’s correction.

___ Danger Zone

Test dog displays offensive or injurious and harmful aggression to the other dog, and quite possibly redirects aggression towards the behaviorist as well.

(8) Other Dog Food Issues

Dog is introduced to another in the immediate but not reachable area. The other dog is offered a treat while the test dog is ignored. Then the two dogs are brought closer together and treats are dropped for both.

___ Acceptable/Desired

Test dog ignores treats while other dog eats and does not interfere. He takes treat from the ground at the same time as the other dog when offered to both, and is in no way forceful.

___ Needs Work

Test dog dominantly threatens to keep his treat plus pushes other dog for his treats as well with bullying just shy of attacking. He may growl, posture or guard his treat in a dominant threatening manner.

___ Danger Zone

Test dog aggresses on the other to keep or obtain treats with growling, posturing and attempting a physical attack. He may aggress towards the behaviorist as well to try to harm and injure.


General picture and observations of professional behaviorist’s experience with the dog during the on leash interactions.

___ Acceptable/Desired

Dog is happy-go-lucky, calm, stable, relaxed, friendly and easy to handle. Shows no signs of stress. Is not an attention seeker, remains neutral instead.

___ Needs Work

Dog is cautious and slow to engage. May show signs of stress. Is pushy, unresponsive, challenging and disrespectful. May be jumping on handler, mouthy, barky and dominant.

___ Danger Zone

Dog aggressively interacts with people and/or other dogs with clear intent to inflict harm given the chance. OR has rock bottom crushing fear, and is checked out, shaking, wanting to hide and disappear, and avoiding interaction altogether.

If your dog is in the “Needs Work” zone, let alone the “Danger Zone,” please enlist the help of a professional.  For more information and to learn more, visit the Houston Dog Whisperer website.

Dogs and Rattlesnakes

Relying on rattlesnake training for your dog can give you a false sense of confidence.

This training conditions a dog to back away from warnings a threatened rattlesnake may make before striking:

  1. Its motion, and
  2. Its metallic click-click sound.

While any training you share with your dog furthers his growth and strengthens your bond, you should not put stock in sight-and-sound rattler training for keeping your dog from being bit.

Snakes hibernate late fall only to re-emerge around early March. This is when they are most active with feeding and mating. The bite of new toxic baby snakes presents the greatest risk. Tip: If you see lizards in your yard and garden, the snakes are out.

The easiest way to identify if a snake is venomous is to check its head shape. Non-venomous snakes have sppon-shaped rounded heads. Venomous snakes have triangular shaped heads.

With most rattlesnake bites, Fido has no clue that the “stick in the path” he is traipsing over is a snake, let alone ever even seeing the snake in the brush he pounds through. Instead, the snake becomes stomped and strikes with lightning speed. If you ever drive over a rattlesnake, watch in your rearview to see it striking upwards in the air.

All dog training needs repetitive reinforcement to “stick.” Otherwise the dog becomes rusty and forgets. One sole rattlesnake training session, or even one a year, is not enough for most dogs to  reliably learn fine tuned avoidance. Like sheep herding training, snake training tends to be more a novelty than a routine.

If your dog reliably follows the “Leave It” command, this should be used if you encounter a rattlesnake with Rover. Practice using this command in many situations including dangling and popping a baby rattle from a stick or pole. Reward with a simple treat but no verbal praise which serves to create undesired excitement vs. calm submission.

The rattlesnake vaccine alone can give you a false sense of confidence …

… if you rely on it to protect your dog from the venom of bites. “Even vaccinated dogs bitten by rattlesnakes should be considered a veterinary emergency,” per Valerie Wiebe, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “Antivenom and other types of supportive care are still recommended in vaccinated dogs as there is no significant difference in the course of therapy if the animal is bitten. Be aware that the vaccine does not insure protection against the venom.”  Read more.

If your dog gets bit by a rattlesnake, carry him if possible instead of walking or running him to the car and get him to your vet or the nearest emergency clinic pronto. Call them on the way so they know to prepare to administer emergency shock treatment plus the antivenom serum your dog is going to need as treatment. When selecting a vet, ask if they are one of the few who regularly stock antivenom serum.

 Snake-proofing your yard is a smart precaution. Rattlesnakes are found in the yards of even the most developed communities. If your yard is fenced, you can add snake protection by blocking the snakes from crawling through underground rodent holes or fence holes.

How to snake-proof yard:  Use rolls of 6′ high tight wire mesh with no more than 1/4″ separations (so baby snakes can’t crawl through). Along your fence line, dig a 3′ trench to put the mesh below ground. It will overlap your fence from the ground upwards by 3′ as well. Secure the mesh to your fence. Be aware that snakes can climb trees, so this may not be a perfect solution but will help with the greatest vulnerability. It can also help protect your dog from eating rodents who have been poisoned by neighbors and might otherwise enter your yard.

For more information, see visit the Houston Dog Whisperer.

Dogs Jumping Up on People

Does your dog accost you with a jumping “hug” each day you return home from work? Does he “greet”each arriving house guest with a lunge and jump if you forget to first put him in the yard?

Dogs jumping up on people is not an affectionate hug but instead huge disrespect.

In the animal world, canines do not greet by launching their bodies like missiles at each other. They keep “four on the floor” as they gently approach with sideways zigs for the handshake sniff. Jumping on another is disrespectful dominance.

Dogs who jump up on people have usually been rewarded with human affection for doing so as puppies. Our adoring laughs, hugs and baby talk told junior that we desire this behavior. While your kids were probably unsure about this jumping, junior shared what he viewed as his charms with them and guests alike.

Pint sized junior’s jumping cuteness became a problem as he gained size and confidence. That additional 50 pounds of thrust now makes children cry, knocks over grandma, and becomes out of control lunging on the walk. This dog has learned that it is his job to claim ownership of all, and he does so through jumping. Whomever touches the other first in the animal world is the leader, the touchee the follower. Dogs do not negotiate or compromise but challenge instead. There are no shades of gray.

Tips for handling a jumping dog:

  • Do not separate him in a crate, the yard or another room. This conveys to the dog that you are weak and not worthy of respect. He becomes frustrated in being denied his job of dominanting each human, which only makes him want to do so more.
  • Practice creating calm submission when there are no people around. This is the state of mind and being of an obedient dog. Only test your training with people after you can take your dog to calm obedience without fail.
  • Create a comfortable place for your dog between the kitchen and tv where the family hangs out. This is a big comfy bed which serves as his own lazy boy chair. He has to know where to be if he is not to be lunging at and jumping on people. Practice sending him to his place and draining his energy so that he associates his lazy boy with calm relaxation.
  • Exercise your dog with a walk and feed him before guests arrive. A dog with pent up energy is frustrated and easily becomes over-excited. A dog who has enjoyed positive physical and mental challenges plus has a full belly is in a natural rest state. This is the dog who you can more readily take to calm respectful relaxation even with the excitement of guests. Be sure you master the walk as the dog’s leader so that the pack hierarchy is right side up, not upside down. Otherwise your in charge dog will quite predictably take the dominant role with the arrival of people.

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