Choosing a puppy
Once you have decided on a breed of dog, you need to pick out your puppy. This may be quite difficult and should not be rushed. Its a decision that will change your life for the next 15 or so years, so you should take your time to ensure you make the right one.
Don't choose the runt out of pity. Runts tend to be shy, and are smaller and weaker than their litter mates. They may develop health problems in later life, and probably have a shorter lifespan.
Male or female?
Firstly, you should decide whether you want a male (dog) or female (bitch). Take these points into consideration:
1. Size. Depending on the breed, there can be quite a difference in the adult height and weight of males and females. Females are generally smaller.
2. Disposition. It is often thought that females are generally less-headstrong and more easily trained than males. This really depends on the breed you have chosen, and you should check with an expert.
3. Family Size. If there are children in your family, they need to be taken into consideration. A large dog can easily knock small children down by accident. Similarly, a very small dog could be injured by an over enthusiastic child. Size varies between sexes.
4. Habits. Males and females differ in their behaviour. For example, the behaviour of a female will change as she comes into season (and this happens twice every year), and you will have to beware of male attention. Similarly, un-neutered males will chase after females in season, some even jumping fences to get at them. These problems can be overcome by neutering (males) or spaying (females). Toilet behaviour varies too - females crouch to urinate, killing off patches of grass. Since males cock their legs, damage to the grass is less. Males tend to be more aggressive than females.
But which one?
Once you have decided on the sex of the puppy, you need to find the pick of the litter. You should always see the pups with their mother. While the general temperament of the dog is determined by its breed, personality varies greatly within the litter. Some pups will be more outgoing, some aggressive, some timid. So, how do you choose?
If it is your first dog, and you don't have much experience, ask someone who does to go with you. They will be able to give you a few pointers. Here are some tests you can do:
It is best if you can carry out the tests in an area which is new to the puppy. After each test are several possible results. By recording the results and totalling them, you can assess the temperament of the pup.
Test One: Attraction to people - put the pup down on the floor and walk away. Turn and kneel down, then call the puppy to you. Does he:
a) come readily, jump on you and bite/mouth your hands;
b) come readily, tail up, happy, and jump/climb on you;
c) come quickly, with tail held level or down slightly;
d) come hesitantly, holding his body low to the ground;
e) refuse to come and sit looking scared?
Test Two: Following - put the pup down on the floor and walk away without doing or saying anything to him. Does he:
a) follow closely, tail up and biting your shoes;
b) follow closely, tail up;
c) follow hesitantly;
d) follow with tail level/down, or crawl;
e) not follow at all?
Test Three: Retrieval - Throw a toy or attractive object where the pup can see it. Does he:
a) chase it and bring it back, but not allow you to have it;
b) chase it and bring it back to you;
c) chase it slowly and bring it back, letting you take it away;
d) ignore it;
e) take it and run away with it?
Test Four: Trainablility - crumple a piece of paper into a ball, and scrunch it above the pup's head to get his attention. Tell him to sit, while moving the ball over and behind his head. If he sits, praise him and give him the paper. Repeat this a couple more times. Does he:
a) jump up and try to get the paper;
b) jump up the first time, but then sit;
c) sit the second or third time;
d) sit, then lie down;
e) walk away - doesn't want to do it?
Test Five: Social Handling - sit down with the pup and stroke his head, body and feet. Stop and await his reaction. Does he:
a) jump on you, bite your hand or growl;
b) paw at you, wriggle and try to get on your lap;
c) wriggle and lick your hands;
d) roll over exposing his tummy;
e) struggle to get away from you?
Test Six: Dominance - put the pup on his back and hold him there for 10 seconds. Does he:
a) struggle hard, try to bite you, growl/cry;
b) struggle and cry;
c) struggle then calm down;
d) not struggle much or at all, lick your hands;
e) not struggle at all, whimper/urinate?
Interpretting your puppy's score
3 or more a)'s - a very dominant pup, which may have aggressive tendencies in later life. Not the best choice for a first-time owner or a family with children. Will need firm training.
3 or more b)'s or a combination of a)'s and b)'s - an outgoing and dominant pup, who will need an experienced owner. Although not best for a family with small children, he should be OK with older kids.
3 or more c)'s - an adaptable pup who should do well with children if properly socialised. A good choice for an older couple or first-time owner.
3 or more d)'s - a submissive pup who will need lots of positive and gentle handling. Socialising is very important. A good choice for an OAP.
3 or more e)'s or a combination of d)'s and e)'s - a very shy and antisocial pup. If he scored an a) along the way, he may bite out of fear. Not for children or an inexperienced owner. Will need lots of work and love.
These tests are only a guide. They should give you an overall idea of the puppy's temperament. Some breeders do routine temperament testing. If the breeder has already tested the pups, ask to see only the ones that fulfill your requirements. If the litter is at a rescue centre, find out as much as you can about the pups' background.
He's cute, but he'll grow up!