Yesterday I blogged about finding the source to get your puppy from. We talked about what makes a good breeder, what makes a bad one, how great shelter dogs can be, and a whole bunch of other important stuff. Where to get your puppy is the first “big question.” So you get that figured out. You show up at the reputable breeder or shelter, you look down at the pile of squirmy adorableness, and you realize you don’t know how to make an educated choice. No worries! Here to help! First, some questions to ask yourself:
What is this puppy for? If your puppy is just plain going to be a loved member of your family and nothing else, then the process is far less complicated. If the puppy is to be some kind of “performance” dog (agility, obedience, hunting, running partner, etc.) then you need to take a lot more into consideration. Obviously, if this pup is to be a show dog, you need to look at whole other set of criteria. My dogs are performance dogs so I have the most experience in this area, and I HIGHLY recommend this ebook by Helen King. You will know things you never knew you didn’t know! Go get it. In fact, even if you don’t need your dog to do anything special, this is a great way to educate yourself so that you can pick a dog that is physically sound, which is of value no matter where you are getting your puppy.
Since this blog is not called “selecting a performance puppy” or “selecting a show puppy” I will continue on with “normal person” questions. Understand that this process, as well as the process I described in yesterday’s blog, are much more complicated if you are bringing your new dog into your life with a purpose in mind.
What qualities do I like in a dog? Believe it or not, most people don’t even think about this. They want a dog. They want a “good” dog. They like X breed. Most of these things are based on past experiences. For whatever reason, people tend to stick with breeds or mixes of breeds they have the most experience with, even if upon further investigation, a different kind of dog might be better for their lifestyle. So really sit down and think about what you like in a dog. Make a list. Mellow? Sweet? Feisty? Sharp? Responsive? Cuddly? Playful? High-energy? Low-energy? Figure it out!
Once you know what kind (not just breed) of dog you want, make sure that your potential puppy’s parents are that kind of dog, if possible. If you are buying a puppy from a breeder that is reputable meeting at least the mother of your puppy will be a sure-thing. (If the breeder won’t have the puppies’ mother in the room when you meet the puppies, go find another breeder–that’s a sign that mama is a resource guarder and might bite you if you touch her puppies, which is a genetic trait, and you don’t want to deal with that). Hopefully you will get to meet your puppy’s sire (father) as well–and if he is not around, ask about him. A good breeder will know his temperament or she wouldn’t have selected him for breeding. Your puppy’s relatives (and you should meet as many as you can–aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) should be showing the traits you want in a dog. When I went to pick out Idgie I met her mother, her father, her grandmother, and her aunt. They were all friendly, they were all running loose with the puppies, and they were all spunky and active (even grandma). This helped to assure me that this was a good choice. Now, if you’re getting your pup from a shelter, don’t stress that you might not meet the puppies’ mother. But do ask about her. If she was deemed unadoptable and euthanized at the shelter, that is a pretty big red flag for the temperament of your prospective puppy. If she was adopted out already, that’s a good sign. If she is in a kennel run at the shelter awaiting adoption and you can meet her, do so. If the shelter doesn’t know what happened to her (which is possible because irresponsible people dump litters of puppies at shelters often), that’s ok. But do ask, just in case.
Once you have decided on the litter, a process of elimination will happen. This depends on what is most important to you. It is (I think) generally safe to say that if you have selected the litter wisely the choice you make won’t matter much. With Idgie it looked like this: there were 9 puppies, 8 were female and one was male. I wanted a female so that narrowed it to 8. 3 of the females were what I would consider a little shy, and I always want an outgoing puppy. So I counted them out as well. That brought it down to 5 girls that I evaluated based on structure, leaving me with the two girls that I considered structurally outstanding. From there, I let my heart decide, and Idgie was without a shadow of a doubt MY puppy. Would I have arrived at that conclusion without my process? Probably, because she has that thing that I like my dogs to have. Some people call it heart, some people call it drive, some people call it talent, I call it “beastiness,” and whatever you call it, it’s what attracts me to certain dogs. I also had the privilege of delivering the other outstanding puppy to her new owners in Wyoming, and have become friends with them through the wonders of the internet. Katie is her name and she is an outstanding working dog on their ranch. She is more sensitive than Idgie, and the ranch life suits her better than I think a performance life would, so I know I made the right choice.
When it comes down to it, go with your gut. I know that’s not very “sciency” of me, but I really believe in the power of intuition. At the end of the day, you will get the dog you’re supposed to have, so don’t stress too much. Just love whatever puppy you choose and see every challenge he throws your way as a learning opportunity and not a burden. That’s how you make whatever puppy you pick the “right” puppy.