Your New Dog: How to Select a Puppy

In my last post I discussed some things to consider when choosing a dog that will best suit your temperament, interests and lifestyle. In this post, let’s consider the ways you might acquire your next (or first) dog.

There are a few ways you might acquire a new dog:

  • A stray dog wanders into your life and tells you that he is your new pet— like it or not. I knew a guy who was chosen by 30 pound yellow mutt that was probably part cocker. He was an old dog when he found Gary. Gary was not the best doggie-daddy. He did not groom the dog, and he fed him whatever was cheapest on the grocery shelves. But the dog did have a safe home where he had his most basic needs met. When Gary died in a fishing accident, the dog was adopted by one of Gary’s friends.
  • You find a dog – as I did “Fred” who was running down the double-yellow line on Highway 97 just outside of Okanogan, Washington. Unlike Fred whose doggie-daddy was elated to be reunited with his dog, you are unable to find your “Fred’s” people. Of the options open to you (surrender him to the shelter, give him away, keep him, etc.), you decide that your “Fred” is a keeper.
  • You actively seek your new dog by combing Craig’s List or some other classified. You pay the “rehoming fee” – and hope that this dog was not actually stolen from someone who is desperate to find his or her missing dog.
  • You decide to give a rescue dog a shot at a good life. I have some friends who went this route and found a “cute mutt” that was really a purebred Australian Cattle Dog. He was subdued and depressed when they first met him, but a few days after his liberation, he was reconstituted as a dog aggressive nightmare. I met them in a dog training class where, over the course of 4 months of instruction and 100% devotion from these people, this little guy turned out to be a really swell, devoted little dog.
  • You buy a puppy.

Today I’m going to discuss the issues you will want to consider when starting with a puppy.

You you have 3 months from the day you bring him home to train this dog

See the eyes? Lots of energy in this little dog– Time to get on your toes– and STAY on your toes!

Not long ago, I met a woman who had acquired a European-bred German Shepherd puppy from a “breeder” who had just imported a breeding pair and hatched her first crop of pups. At $1,800 each, her investment would be paid off within 2 litters. The breeder sold the pup to this woman who had 3 little kids and who was living in an apartment that did not allow dogs, so the pup was to spend some part of the day with the buyer, and the rest of the day at her in-law’s home in their backyard. When I met the dog, he was 4 months old and wildly out of control. As he was out of working lines, the dog was already programmed to be trigger-happy and aggressive. It was a wreck with absolute tragedy hanging just off stage. Fortunately, the woman decided that this was not an appropriate dog for her or her family and as the dog approached 6 months of age, surrendered the dog to the trainer A responsible breeder would have screened the new owner—and in this case, would have refused to sell this dog to such a prospect. As it was, she told the woman the dog would be a wonderful family pet. She even told her that the dog would love to have the kid’s pet rabbit as its best friend. (Yeah, right— Right through Thumper’s Last Supper.)

A responsible breeder will screen you for suitability. If you’re buying a working breed, that breeder will want to know whether you’re planning to do competition (herding, agility, barn-hunting, Shutzhund, Ring Sport, etc.). If you’re just after a “pet” this breeder may very well turn you away as the dog will require an outlet for his energy and honing of his instincts in order to reach his full potential and/or not become insanely frustrated due to being unable to express his native drive.

If you’re buying a “pet” dog, a breeder should assess the litter and choose a puppy for you that is best suited to your lifestyle. If he has no puppy suitable for you at this time—or if your needs are a mismatch for the breed you thought you wanted—this breeder will lay it all on the table and tell you that this breed is unsuitable for you.

A responsible breeder will give you a guaranteed for the health and soundness of the dog. This breeder will also require that you sign a contract in which you agree to surrender the dog back to the breeder should you be unable to properly care for the dog in the future.

If you find a pup whose breeder does not screen you, this should raise red flags. If the breeder is in it for the money alone, then there is little probability he has paid much attention to genetics, testing, temperament assessment and other factors that a responsible breeder attends to. My advice: Keep looking.

I had German Shepherds from the time I was a kid up until 2001 when I got Alice. I loved my Shepherds, but the one thing about them that made me crazy was that they all “micromanaged” me. They were a little clingy and inclined to take charge of things when I really did not need the back up. I began searching for a new breed when my Shepherd, Echo, was 5. (Echo was arguably the best dog I’ve ever owned and the ambassador for the GSD breed.) I found the Bouvier at that time. Every Bouvier owner I spoke to said the same thing: Shepherds were too clingy and were micromanagers. Bouvs had the positive traits of the GSDs but were more independent. Each cautioned: One must be an experience working dog owner before owning a Bouvier. Each emphasized that the Bouvier is NOT a breed for novice dog owners. (I agree!)

If you think you’ve found a breed you want to own, contact at least four breeders and discuss your impressions of the breed as well as your personal information—your lifestyle, past dog experience, your reasons for wanting a dog and this breed. LISTEN to what each tells you—the good, the bad and the ugly—before making a commitment to owning a dog of that breed. This is a choice you will live with for as many as 8-20 years. So make sure you know what you’re getting in to.

Next Post: Selecting a Shelter Dog

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