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Picking a Puppy


I want to pick my own puppy.

I hear this statement often and it is usually followed by: I have read all the books and articles and know all about putting the pup on its back to see how submissive it is. And I know that the one sitting in the back that will not come to me is too shy and the other one that is wrestling with another pup and making it cry is too aggressive. So I am sure I will be able to pick just the right one. And besides, this one here LIKES me. It came right up and has been chewing on my shoelaces since I got here. Must be the pup for me.

The truth is that MIGHT be the perfect pup for you. But so might the pup who will not lie on its back, the one asleep in the corner and the puppies who are tussling with each other.

How pups act at any given moment varies with the environment, their mood, how long it has been since they ate, who recently had a nap and who needs 40 winks, who is just full of piss and vinegar right now and needs to let off steam, etc.

But how pups play with each other is no indication of how they are going to play with you.

Good breeders live with their pups and study them from the moment they arrive. They see which ones tend to want more attention, which ones are more adventurous, which prefer things calm and quiet. (A really good breeder will not even consider placing a puppy that is overly aggressive or backwards until it is much older and she has had some time to figure out if the attitude is a temporary phase the pup is going through or a permanent state of mind. Pups, like children, go through many stages in the development of their temperament and behavior; some pups simply are not suitable for placement when the rest of the litter is.) Good breeders get some information from YOU about your family and lifestyle, your dog experience and what you want from your relationship with the new pup. They can help steer you to the right pup for YOUR situation... but more important, they can steer you AWAY from the pup that is not.

As to personalities, pups simply do not have them. They eat, sleep, poop and learn to play all at the same time and generally in the same manner. If you had 7 human babies in a room together, you could not tell anything about their personalities either. Even when pups are 11-12 weeks old, they are usually ALL pretty much the same. There is always one adventurous one... usually a girl... who wanders away from the pack first and consistently... and one who is smarter than the rest... learns to hide under the bed as soon as I start calling "puppy, puppy" to get them to come to me so I can put them back in their pen... and one who wants to be picked up as soon as it sees me... and one who wants to be picked up on ITS terms... but those pups are seldom the same ones from week to week. Those are just stages they all go through.

Same with size. The smallest pup at birth is usually in the middle of the pack by 4 weeks and the largest at birth is in the middle with him! To some people it seems like there is a big difference between a 30 pound and a 40 pound dog, but there really isn't... it IS more than the difference between a 60 pounder and a 70 pound dog but a lot less than between one who is 10 pounds and another who is 20. It's percentages. I simply cannot predict which pups are going to be the bigger ones at maturity... any more than parents can look at their toddlers and know which are going to be a 6'6 adult (my second oldest son) and which 5'7 (his brother who is a year younger.)

And when it comes to temperament differences between the sexes, most of that does not exist. However, you must look at what a breed was developed for in the first place... working and hunting breeds, for instance, were bred to DO something and generally it was the MALES who did it while the females stayed home to raise pups... people working with dogs do not want females in season distracting males who are supposed to be pointing out game or retrieving it or chasing bad guys through city streets. Breeding males were chosen for their ability to work with their human partners and get the job done... females were more likely to be picked based on their size, coloring, number of pups they had in each litter, etc. With small or toy breeds, BOTH genders were supposed to be good PETS and breeding animals were chosen for their cuddliness, lush coats, sweet faces, etc.
When it comes to "terriers," the different breeds were all created to go after vermin of various type and size, and USUALLY they were supposed to work without human control or intervention. This resulted in an attitude of "I know what I'm doing and I don't need your help!" which is still prevalent today. It means that terriers in general do not pay a whole lot of attention to their humans, especially when in hot pursuit of a gopher, the neighbor's cat or your 6 year old's Mini Lop. Fortunately, adding Poodle seems to mitigate a lot of this tendency.

Sometimes a client will tell me they want 'a black female' or 'a really curly coated male' or 'the biggest/smallest in the litter.' I get a lot of requests for 'the runt.' A runt is not just the smallest pup in the litter… the smallest pup in the litter is usually a different pup every couple days. A runt has other characteristics, some of which may indicate health problems. Happily, I cannot remember the last time I had a litter with a runt in it. More often than not, people pick THEIR puppy from photos… something about the way one holds its head or the blaze down its face or the fact it refuses to face the camera tells the person THAT is their dog. And to be honest, those pups turn out to be the perfect pet for that family just as the pup another person spends an hour choosing in person does.

The motto at Mountain Summit is 'I make the pup, YOU make the pet.' This is because you have control over what happens with that puppy once you take it… YOU decide the care and training it will receive. It is YOUR efforts that show up in the end. Puppies are not born Lassie or Eddie,

but every pup has the potential to be exactly that kind of companion and friend.

And about this holding the pup on its back business ... like most breeders, I routinely hold my pups on their backs from the time they are first born. They are used to it and seldom object when they are older. It has nothing to do with them being submissive.