Selecting a Puppy

Bet I got your attention with that title.  Everyone wants the silver bullet; the magic formula for picking "the right one".

First some random thoughts:

Figure out what you NEED in a puppy, rather than what you think you want.  It's fine that you want a working dog with working qualities, but it has to fit into your house, and do well with your personality.  If you want to learn more abouts this, check out this article that I wrote several years ago about matching handlers to puppies:    The fact is, there are many temperaments of dogs that make good workers, but the fit between handler and dog has to be a good one.

For myself, I've got a dilemma.

What I LIKE in a dog:  very high energy, natural focus, quick, busy, confident, excellent toy/prey drive from an early age, natural retrieve, pushy, super confident,  fast maturing.  Hysterical is ok, hectic is ok,  handler sensitive is ok.  Basically, I like dogs that are in your face, demanding, very high drive, and a bit out of control by most people's standards.  As long as the toy drive is there, I can shape that interest into behaviors I want.  I like... cute.

What I NEED in a dog:  Calm (my household is too intense as it is).  Quiet.  Patient (I have kids).  Tolerant (kids plus kid visitors).  Lower energy level.  Slower to mature (allows for time to adapt to home), patient about confinement (will need to tolerate more crating and ex-pen time than prior dogs), not demanding (I have 2.5 other dogs to take care of). Sweet and affectionate (I want a dog that will work more for praise/play and less focus on toy, so that I can develop my skills in this area).  I need....calm. see the problem?  I sure do.  I've been thinking about it for eight weeks straight.  Keeps me up at night.

My head plans to select a puppy based on my needs, but I already know there is a puppy in the litter that fits my "wants" list.  A crazy little girl has emerged.  Actually, she emerged several weeks ago and never looked back.  She's my type of girl.

And it sounds like there might be another girl who would fit my Needs.  Calm.  Quieter.  Patient.  Likes to be held and content to do some watching rather than always moving.  Not the flashy, intense type I naturally gravitate to.

And there's a third one somewhere in between.  Compromise; there's a thought.

It also happens that there are two other people waiting for girl puppies, each with their own interests and needs to be considered.  That's not trivial, since I am responsible for assigning all of the puppies to their new homes, and I take pride in my breeding program.  In short, I want people to be happy.

I don't know what I'll do when I get there.

If I take the scrappy puppy I'll love the early training - she'll be focused, cute, and really fun to work.  On the other hand, I'll face the challenege of getting her off of toys and more focused on me.  Life in my household could be very stressful.  Soja (Raika's mother) fit this description. Her work was incredible; super flashy in everything she did - incredible drive, intensity and will to please.  But I never saw her stop moving or squeaking for the first several months of her life and I really can't have that now. Want it?  Yes.  Need it? No. Not at all.

If I take the calm, quiet puppy, I'll have to be patient with her and with myself.  Our progress will be slower.  I'll have to build up that toy interest, while working on maintaining her appreciation for personal interaction.  If I want flash (which I definitely do), I'll have to work to make it happen because it's not going to be automatic.  I'll have to develop the speed and focus that I love.  But life in my home will be a lot easier.  Training - not so simple.  Cisu fit this description.  It took work, but she made it eventually.

And then there's the middle puppy.  Have to meet her too.   Raika was the middle puppy in her litter.  I love her to bits.  But this time I want less dog and with this combination of parents it's likely I'll get a little less.

I put a lot of weight on what the puppy raiser (co-breeder) says....they know the most about them.  So that is my prime source of information.

As far as a "formal" puppy test, I do have a few things in mind:

I will look for "suspicion" towards a new person.  To test for this, I'll sit very still and watch the puppy, even after she sees that I'm in the room.  Then wait for a reaction.  Barking at me?  Running away?  growling? Ignores me?  scared?  After I see reaction I'll be highly social and see how she recovers and if she forgives. I want to see quick recovery when I become social and "normal".

I'll play tug and retrieve games with the puppy.  I can tell a lot about a puppy by how she plays tug - too in depth a subject to describe here.  If you've been to my all sports seminar, you know what I'm talking about.  I want a lot of confidence, even if that means she doesn't need me so much.  It's a bit of a trade off; you know.  Higher core confidence often means less "pack" drive.  Dogs with less confidence need you more because they rely on you.  That can make for really excellent obedience.  This time, I want a dog with major core confidence - I will take responsibility for building more interaction and relationship.  This would be Cisu.  She has many interests; of which I am only one.  That's ok.

I'll go back and forth between personal play with me and toys.  Does the puppy enjoy both?

Can I pick up the puppy and hold her near my face without an explosion of frantic behavior?  Handle her feet?  Hold her on her side?  Does she panic?  Relax?  Recover when I let her up?

I may train the puppy to do something; maybe get on a platform with a clicker or start a dumbbell retrieve.  How long will she play the game?  does she seem to enjoy the problem solving?  does she show frustration or a calm demeanor?

If there is time I'll take them somewhere one at a time and look for generic confidence towards a new environment.

I'll do a quick test for sound sensitivity (drop a spoon in a metal pan).  I'm not sure if this really shows much, but it cant' hurt either.

The question, of course, is what do I want to see.  I don't know.  Those frantic crazy ones....way fun to train.  The calm, patient ones....way fun to own.

At root, it comes down to where I want to put my energy.  And then there's the issue of comfort's always comfortable to get what you've had.  At least you have a head start when you run into issues.  Maybe I NEED something different.  A whole new sit of issues to keep me up at night.

Hard decisions with ramifications for years to come.


Madeline Gabriel

I enjoyed this article, too! I’m currently waiting on a Flat Coated Retriever puppy. (1st breeding didn’t take so I decided to wait until the breeder tries again this fall with the same match-up.) I’ve always been a “pick a cute dog that likes me and make it work” kind of person, coming from a shelter background and knowing, as a dog trainer, that I probably CAN make it work.

This time around, though, it’s a family dog and it was very interesting for us to go through a similar thought process of sorting through what each person wants and what our family needs in a dog. I was really pleased that we came up with a breed and (after a LOT of research) a breeder with dogs and philosophy that is an excellent fit for us. I cannot wait for our puppy!!

Having said all that, if this breeding doesn’t work, I think we’re going back to the original thought of finding a cute mixed breed puppy in local foster and taking the time to help the foster family socialize and work with that litter to make up for any deficits. But that Flat Coat! I just love him so much already and he’s not even conceived!

Talent and Puppies « Denise Fenzi

[…]  Indeed, I selected her knowing that my needs would create some training challenges (see:   On balance, she has a terrific package, and it’s my job to develop the whole thing. […]

Sherry in MT

Excellent and thought provoking post. I plan to send it to anyone that I know looking to get their next puppy! For me NEED overrode the WANT. In part what Ellen talked about (living with the dog 24/7 vs playing/training) but even more – to respect the dogs I already had and their needs (most of them are seniors) and my availablity/ability to manage a frantic/crazy type personality on a day to day basis AND give my seniors the support and living conditions they deserve. So it’ll take more time to train but on the other hand, that is teaching me a lot more creative training methods than I might have gotten otherwise. Each dog is individual and each trainer is as well, as your linked post points out!


Great article…I too will watch as time unfolds. Good luck either way as I know you will do an awesome job.



It will be fun to hear the follow up on this. I probably shouldn’t hazard a guess, but I’ll stick my neck out and say you’re going to pick the wild child. Thanks for re-posting your puppy matchmaking article from years ago. I loved that article. I’ve since followed it as a model for years. I like to leave two pups unaccounted for when I make matches at 8-10 weeks so I have some wiggle room in the matchmaking process. If I start out by taking the same number of reservations as I have puppies I worry I’ll subconsciously justify a match I don’t feel 100 pct about. By taking 2 less reservations than I have puppies it’s a good bet I’ll have a highly suitable prospect for each owner who reserved in advance. Then I look for the right matches for the other 2 pups later. This way =usually= no one is disappointed [after waiting months] to learn there is not a good enough match for them.

I’ve found myself in similar dilemmas when choosing my own pups though my circumstances and factors differ considerably from yours. In the past I’ve generally deferred my pick until after I matched all the other placements since most of those folks intended to do things with their dogs I likely would not be doing. My skills are focused on breeding dogs capable of doing all the things their prospective owners would like to do. Usually I end up with the comparatively calm easy pup which is okay because it’s a good fit for my family and my existing dogs and cats. But it’s been too long since I’ve had an exuberant wild child. I miss living with a dog who makes me grin from ear to ear while accidentally busting my lip open .. sadistic as that may sound lol. Recently I selected two pups from a co-breeder and this time I decided to go for what I want. Otherwise I’m afraid I’ll inadvertently deplete or lose some of those delightful and coveted wild child traits in my genetic inventory since I haven’t purposefully selected for those traits [in what lives at my house] for a long time.

Looking forward to the introduction of your new girl .. maybe the crazy little girl who emerged weeks ago and never looked back ;-P I know it’s been many years since you’ve raised a puppy, kids are a little older now, and you more than most are equipped to shape the crazy girl into the type of dog you need for your family and existing pack. But if picking her leaves someone without a match that makes them ecstatic .. imagine you’ll defer and take one of the other girls. Either way I know you’ll have one awesome partner.

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