Selecting a puppy that’s right for you!
By Elisabeth Catalano, CPDT, CDBC
You’ve decided to get a puppy, very exciting!
Now you have to pick one out to take home; that’s exhilarating and scary at the same time. There is so much to think about and to plan for. The hardest, and probably most important thing, is to find a puppy that is the right match for you, your family and your lifestyle.
I am assuming that you have done your homework and researched breeds. I’m sure that you have considered the individual needs (i.e., exercise, grooming, mental stimulation, veterinary care) of each particular breed or breeds if you are getting a mix. I know that you have thought about your lifestyle and determined that you have the time (lots of it), energy (tons) and commitment (unwavering) to devote to a growing baby from a different species.
You have a plan which includes: pet sitters, veterinarians, trainers, day care, exercise, nutrition, potty training strategies and crate training. If you don’t have a yard, you located safe fenced places (no dog parks for puppies!) to exercise your growing puppy properly. You have chosen to get your puppy from a breeder or a shelter.
Finally, your homework is done! You have determined the right breed or mix thereof, that will be a nice fit. And now, here you are now sitting on the floor playing with several cute, fluffy, fur balls that are bouncing around like ping pong balls and tugging at your heartstrings. I know you want to take them all, but your job is to find YOUR puppy! The puppy that will be your very own heartstring tugger.
If you are like most people, you are selecting a puppy as a family companion. You might also be searching for a working partner for canine sports like agility. Regardless, it is important to consider the puppy’s personality when making your selection. It is important to remember that every puppy is different each will have his own set of likes, dislikes, and needs. Each may be suited to entirely different lifestyles. Also important is the fact that puppy behavior can be a snapshot in time. Things can change considerably while they are growing, even from week to week. If you are able to visit with the pups frequently, keep notes on the puppies at each visit so you can review your overall impressions when it comes to decision time. Think of this as data collection, be scientific!
Now it’s time for fact finding. Be an observer. Let the puppy tell you who he is and what his likes and dislikes are and what his needs will be. That will help determine if you are as right for him as he is for you. Here are some things to consider:
Look for the puppy that seeks you out with minimal encouragement. A puppy should approach softly and solicit interaction. Kisses are a plus but beware the puppy that runs up and immediately uses his mouth. All puppies use their mouths, but if it is the first thing they do, you will have your hands full. Unless you are looking for a wrestling partner.
As hard as this is, don’t take the shy one. The puppy that stays away from you and the group and looks sad is heartbreaking, but also not a good fit for a pet, especially if you have kids. Don’t let your heart lead you on this one! It will be a long hard road with this puppy unless you are willing to become very well-versed in behavior modification techniques.
Pick up the puppy and cradle him/her in your arms. There is no need to put them on their back or use force, just cradle them gently. Do they relax or fight? The puppy may struggle a bit but then should calm down. The puppy who continues to struggle and fight may prove to be a handful when it comes to handling for nail trims, grooming or vet visits.
Engage the puppy with a toy. Is he interested? Puppies who like toys will be easy to amuse and exercise. For dogs with a future in sports activities, loving toys is a must. An interest in toys means that the puppy will find play with you just as reinforcing as, or maybe even more than, getting a treat! Food is great reinforcer, and I use it all the time, but playing creates a bond between you that a cookie just can’t compete with.
Take the puppy for a walk away from where he currently resides to see how he will react to a new environment. How does he handle everyday things like seeing people, dogs, hearing noises and watching passing vehicles? The scared puppy who wants to immediately go back home and hide. promises lots of work and $$ spent in training. So will the one that acts aggressive or pushy. Look for the one that boldly goes where no dog has gone with curiosity and calm!
What is the puppy’s reaction to seeing novel things? Does he investigate or hide? Puppies can sometimes be tentative with new things and a little unsure but what is important is that they are able to overcome that initial hesitation with curiosity and begin to explore. Don’t force the puppy to investigate; he must make the decision to interact on his own. Remember, we want him to tell us who he is, not who you want him to be.
Let the puppy chew a bully stick or rawhide. Can you pet the puppy while he does this? There is no need to try to take things away from him that can cause problems. All we want to know is if he is comfortable with you being near when he has something he likes. If he stiffens, growls or moves away from you, this can indicate that the puppy has some tendencies to guard resources. While this can be worked on with patience and training, it would not be a puppy I would select for a home with kids.
How does the puppy interact with his litter mates? Playful and soft or rough and unyielding? This can tell you about how he may interact with other dogs. Which is useful info if you are adding to your canine family or planning to have him around other dogs in the future. Having a dog that can interact appropriately to the cues of other dogs means your new companion will be social.
How does the dog interact with children? This is critical even if you don’t have kids of your own. After all, we live on the planet of children! If you have kids or grandkids, you want a puppy that will adore them and not just tolerate them. Children should never be allowed to overwhelm or tease a puppy, but if the child is interacting appropriately and the puppy seems uninterested or moves
away, he may not be the right fit.
There are lots of really good resources out there for you. You can get two free downloadable books by Dr. Ian Dunbar: Before You Get Your Puppy, and After You Get Your Puppy. They are available at www.dogstardaily.com/free-downloads.
You can also visit: www. animalbehaviorassociates.com/bookraising-behaviorally-healthy-puppy.htm. They have wonderful resources for
pet parents. I wish you much luck on this wonderful journey in picking out your new puppy! Enjoy it! I’ll see you in Puppy Kindergarten!