How to pick a puppy?
In this blog post I'm going to try to explain how I pick a puppy depending on what I'm looking for in a dog taking into consideration breed, temperament and attitude in the litter you are going to pick from.
Let' start from the first big distinction that is pet or sport/working.If you are looking for a pet or you are looking for a potential sport or working dog there is already a big decision to make about the breed you are going to pick or the lines you are going to pick choose.
If you are looking for a pet you need to ask yourself how active is your life and how much time do you have for the puppy? Even the most intelligent breed doesn't train itself so the time and the money you need to take care of their training, that at times can carry on for a couple of years before you can slow down and start relaxing, it's something to take into consideration.
Do you have children that will need to interact with the dog in a safe way? Do you have a secure field you can use until the dog is trained off lead to allow your dog to use their energy? Do you have money for a dog trainer or dog training classes if you are picking a demanding breed? Do you go away often and can take the dog with you for long walks, beach running, exploring and getting tired? Do you want to take the dog to the groomer often or you want an easy coat to take care of? How much space do you have in the car? All these questions will help you understanding which is the right puppy for you.
I see a lot of Border Collies that have several behavioural issues because their life is not fit for a working collie coming from a farm. They are a clever breed and some times they are easy to train but that is not true for every single puppy. Each breed has lines and each lines has been shaped by the breeder/handler to suit their personality and needs. Some dogs will be soft, others will be tough, some will be sensitive and so susceptible to noise sensitivity if they live in an urban set up, some will have bad temperament as not all puppies you buy will be raised properly and the first two months of their life is SO important to define their future nature.
I talk about Border Collies as they are my breed and I know them well. I'm a Border Collie nerd and I have a mental database on lines, health and temperament and I know exactly what to look for in which lines. Can you say the same when you enquiring about a litter you find on a selling website? Have you researched enough before committing?
If your time and life is not suited for a dog bred to work all day, my suggestion is to look into those breeds that have not been bred for generations to have stamina and high energy.
You start to understand why picking a puppy is not easy?
When you go to see the litter, what are the you looking for before you agree to buy a puppy? The two parents are your most important part. If the stud dog is not available as the owner of the female doesn't own the male, I would ask for videos and a description of the temperament. The criteria I look for into the parents of my future puppy are:
- Noise sensitivity
- How they are around dogs, people, strangers, other animals
- If they are willing to please the owner, if they are vocal (I don't want a dog that barks constantly)
- If they have an happy attitude towards life
- If they follow you around or if they are independent, if they are good eaters (I can't have a dog that doesn't want to train for food).
There are criteria that are more related to sport like physicality, how quick they change direction both by responding to a cue or just by naturally changing pace, how much prey drive they have, how much attention span on the handler (natural eye contact or general listening) and of course then all the physical characteristic I'm looking for in a sport dog like straight legs, good angles, nice compact body (I don't like long dogs) and health tests.
Why is important to know all of this about the parents? All these characteristics have most of the time a genetic base. It's also important if you can find out, to know about previous litter, litter mates of the parents, relatives. Some temperament issues can be hereditary and you don't want to hope that a pup with parents that have a bad temperament will turn out good just because you know what you are doing, training wise.
After you have assessed all these characteristics in a the parents, how do you pick the puppy in the litter? It depends on what kind of dog you are looking for.
I want a puppy that has good attention span, that can play with anything you offer him, that will follow a treat, that will seek out human contact and will get all excited about it, that will like to be picked up and stay in your lap without wiggle too much, that is not afraid of sudden movements or noises, that is not shy or scared of things coming into the environments and that won't bark at them but observes with a purpose of gathering information before taking any actions. Yes I take my time observing a litter and If possible multiple times, at different age until I have to make a decision on which one is MY puppy. Puppies change in time that's for sure but a lot of their characteristics are already there at 5-6 weeks and if you look carefully you can spot them already, or so it was for all my dogs if I look back at them as puppies.
Finally but not less important you have to research on health tests not only of the parents but also of relatives and litter mates if available. When we talk about working breeds we can't always find health tests available but we can find litter mates or other relatives that have bred and have been tested or that produced progeny that have been tested, in your own country or abroad.
When you are going for a cross breed I would ask the same especially if the two breeds have similar genetic health issues, I would want to know that at least the genetic panel has been carried out of both dogs and there is not the risk of some nasty genetic illnesses that could be avoided with a simple blood test. A breeder that doesn't test doesn't have your puppy future at heart and I would stay away from those breeders.
I know that some will say, what if I'm going for a rescue? You need to be aware that not knowing parents, previous life, genetic and health issues you will be playing a Russian roulette. It's not for everyone, depending on life and needs but thankfully there will be a lot of people that can take a chance and go for the unknown and work with what comes to them and most of the time that will turn out as good as going for a reputable breeder.