Choosing Your Dog
The journey to doggy happiness starts by choosing the right dog for you. I know it is very tempting to simply choose the cutest puppy you can find, and you may feel like a kid in a candy shop when choosing a puppy, but you need to step back and look at the big picture.
Love is understanding, and to truly understand your dog we need to take you back to their ancestor, the wolf. This will help to explain the meaning, the timing and the significance of your dog's behaviours.
So let's start at the beginning. Choosing your puppy is one of the most critical decisions you will make during the ownership of your dog. The wonder of dogs is that there are 500 different types of dogs, and among them there are thousands of lines of breeds that all have different idiosyncrasies.
It comes down to combining your needs and wants of a dog with the attributes of various breeds to get the ideal match. The better suited you and your dog are, the more fun and happy your time together will be.
What to Consider When Choosing the Right Breed For You
Exercise level – the primary point that most people identify as being important for what makes a dog suit their life and environment is that your dog's activity level suits your activity level. How much will you exercise your dog? They all need some form of exercise, but this varies greatly from breed to breed, so it is important to match the dog's level with your own. You don’t want to deprive your dog of something as important as exercise, or it may manifest into other issues later on.
Environment – this is the next big consideration in my mind. Really look at what you have to offer a dog: family size, house size, land size, urban, rural, other animals? They need a contained environment, especially in their younger years when they are curious, prone to wondering and following their nose. Obviously a larger area is better for a larger dog, and a small toy dog will be quite content with a smaller area. But that also relates to how often they get to go walking, or get out and about.
Size – this is also very relevant to your lifestyle - what suits you? A giant breed or a small toy breed? Choose a dog that you like and that also fits the first to considerations we just looked at.
Temperament – do you want a very independent and self-sufficient dog? Maybe they're at home while you're at work - or would you prefer a very affectionate and loving companion dog?
Trainability – do you want to spend a lot of time training your dog in agility and obedience, or would you rather a fun playful cuddly dog or even a hunting dog?
Physical Traits – do consider there are some breed specific ailments that should affect your choice. Certain breeds are prone to various congenital medical and psychological problems, such as cleft palate, blindness, hip dysplasia, fearfulness and deafness, to name just a few. If you are choosing a pure breed dog, it's important to either choose an excellent breeder to ensure they don’t have these congenital defects, or choose a hybrid (cross breed) where you will benefit from hybrid vigor. To breed pure breeds, breeders "line breed" which can cause negative recessive traits being thrown up far more often.
The advantage of hybrids is that you often get the best of both breeds, and out-crossing like this improves general health and psychological benefits. Often higher levels of trainability, among other things, are seen as an outcome.
It’s important to choose a good knowledgeable breeder to ensure you don’t get congenital defects. Also to be able to look at the parents and related dogs to get the best insight into the type of dog your pup will grow to be is of great importance. A good breeder will begin house training and socialization, be able to give you good nutritional advice, and tell you more about the breed and its qualities.
Choosing Your Pup From the Litter
Whether you have chosen a hybrid or pure breed dog, there are a some important things to look out for:
- Confidence and Activity Level - when you first visit the litter, it is important to observe the pups' interaction with each other before you alert them to your presence. You should be looking for an outgoing pup that is neither excessively submissive, nor dominant with the other pups.
- Sociability and Temperament - when you first interact with the puppies, look for ones that approach you with their heads held high and tails wagging. These are signs of socially well-rounded pups that have had the right start in life.
- Pick up each of these pups and test their reactivity. They shouldn’t struggle excessively or nip and vocalize, and they should settle relatively quickly in your arms.
- Also manipulate their feet, tails and mouths to check they are not overly reactive to being poked and prodded.
- Another good test is to hold them down on their backs for 30 seconds. They shouldn’t bite or react excessively, but should actually relax into a submission under your moderate pressure. Be careful not to choose the fearfully shy pup of the litter. We tend to fall for the underdog, but this fearfulness trait is very difficult to change and is worth avoiding.
- The ideal pup should want to be with you and follow you around and play with you when initiated.
- Health - the pups should be well-rounded have a healthy coat - not too skinny and not too fat.
- Examine the pup physically and check it doesn’t have an under- or over-shot jaw. Its eyes, ears and genitalia should be clear with no discharge or inflammation.
- Of the two or three pups you have narrowed down, take them aside independently to test their vision and hearing. This can be done by clicking, clapping or dropping something on the ground behind them. Test their sight and hearing accordingly.
A good breeder should have all the applicable papers proving the pups are of the highest quality. However, I would always recommend a quick vet check just to be one hundred per cent sure with your final decision with regards to health and medical concerns.
Taking Your Pup Home
Something that most people don’t consider is how important it is to get your dog at 7 – 8 weeks old. This is the beginning of the FORMATIVE PERIOD, and is the most important time in your dog’s development. The best thing you can do for your dog is to get it at this age. For the wolf (and dog alike), this is the transition period and it is the time when the pups leave the den and start to meet the rest of the pack. You and your family are in essence "the pack", and building that relationship during the formative period is when you can make or break your pup.