You’ve decided to get a puppy! Fantastic! Now the real work begins, choosing your pup. It is a given that you should research, research, and research again. Look at the temperaments, energy levels, history, training requirements, grooming requirements of lots of breeds to find one suited to you and your lifestyle. There is no point in picking a border collie puppy, however cute he is, if you are hoping for a dog who will be happy with a 20 minute stroll once a day. You must research, and thoroughly. But when you have decided, and you’ve booked yourself in to view a litter, what should you look for in the pups you see?
It’s extremely difficult to ‘guess’ what the temperament of a dog will be like based on their 5/6 week old self! Pups change hugely in the first few months, certain pups leave the litter before others, possibly giving the remaining pups time to come out of their shells a bit more for example. Once they are home with you, every interaction you have with your pup will shape how he will be in the future. So, largely, it’s a bit of a guessing game! But there are things you can broadly keep in mind.
Your breeder is absolutely key!! If you trust your breeder, you should trust their opinion. Tell your breeder what you are hoping for, what kind of lifestyle you have and what your goals are with your pup, they will know their pups inside out and know exactly which one is likely best for you. If you trust your breeder, the health and genetics of the litter will already be covered and you shouldn’t have any doubt about the environment the pups are kept in, the habituation to household noises and the socialisation the litter has had up until your visit. I will presume you have covered this prior to arranging to see the litter. It is always a good idea to visit the litter a couple of times, if possible. Your breeder should understand and be quite welcome to this. A puppy who is pretty sleepy after a meal when you visit on one day may be bouncing off the walls the next time you visit! It’s very difficult to judge a pups temperament based on a 20 minute meeting.
We all know it is essential to see the mum (and if possible) dad, the importance of this is fairly well understood. You may have heard people say ‘let the pup choose you’, and this is a lovely and romantic way of choosing a pup, however all this is really doing is purchasing the boldest and pushiest pup, with the more gentle pups being at the back not getting a look in. You may feel the bolder the pup, or the more energetic the pup, or the more bouncy the pup, the more of a well rounded dog he will become. Again, this is not always the case, he may be a lot of fun at this stage, but is that bouncy little ball of fluff going to be easy to settle once he is in your home environment? You may have your work cut out for you. If you like a challenge and have the experience necessary, go for it! The pup at the back who is playing politely, or investigating calmly, may be easier to manage, handle and easier to train in the long run however.
So, what are we looking for?
- Inquisitive – we want a pup to be interested in you, investigative of you, show intrigue in you and your smell, and have a relaxed and friendly approach whilst checking you out
- Responsive – we want a pup to be responsive to your soft/friendly tone of voice, we want him to acknowledge you, we want him to respond appropriately if you encourage play and interact with you
- Tactile – we want a pup to accept slight handling, we will undoubtedly give the pups a cuddle, we want a pup to be fairly relaxed about this, responsive ideally, and have no issue or not notice you gently touching his feet/ears whilst you are cuddling. Slight evasion or mouthing isn’t unexpected or abnormal, we’re looking for relative tolerance throughout however
- Social – we are looking for our pup to interact with us, we are new and interesting after all, but we also want him to go trotting back to his litter mates and his toys etc to have a little fun too, whilst we encourage curiosity and intrigue in guests, we don’t want a pup who is reluctant to be put down again after a cuddle!
- Play style – it is completely natural for pups to rough and tumble during play, we want this kind of interaction between littermates, they learn vital social skills they will take through life at this stage! However we don’t want to see a pup being overtly ‘bullyish’, we encourage interaction and play certainly, but not over rough or boisterous play which may be detrimental to the other pups
- Calmness – often a puppy will soon calm down once away from his littermates, so once you are having a cuddle or a bit of 1-2-1 time with a pup to get to know each other, have a look at his behaviour out of the social environment of his littermates, we are looking for a pup who is easily focused and willing to engage with you, not too desperate to escape back to his littermates!
A lot of behaviours you see, even at such a young age, are hugely breed dependent. Different breeds have very varied play styles, some breeds are naturally more aloof than others, some are less tactile than others and some are less boisterous than others. Take this into account, and ask owners of the breed you choose what they looked out for when choosing. What is ‘normal’ for your chosen breed? What did they like/dislike about the litter? Anything they would do differently? Anything they would change about the choosing of the pup?
Between the breeder, and the parents of the litter, you can hazard a pretty good guess as to what the pups MAY be like. Not ALWAYS, but we try our best and hope don’t we! There are no guarantees, a dogs temperament in the long run is down to a multitude of factors, only one of which is his genetic make up and his breeding environment. Yes, it is a big factor, but there are many others too.