Friday, 5 August 2011
How Soon is Now?
You may as well ask "How soon is now?" as try to get a straight answer to the question "How do I choose a puppy?" Every breeder will have a different answer, but it's worth bearing in mind that whilst breeders want their pups to go to the best homes possible, they also want to sell them, all of them, as quickly as possible. The longer you are left with a pup, the harder it is to sell. The easiest pups in the world to sell are those that aren't yet born, the hardest is a 20 week old dog puppy. So breeders may not be the most impartial source of advice on this subject.
As a breeder. I need to buy in pups as well from time to time to ensure that my bloodlines don't converge too closely. So poacher turns gamekeeper.........
Drake is a case in point. He's 16 weeks old and totally unrelated to the bitches in my kennel. Hopefully, he will be my next stud dog. So like most potential buyers I have to go out and assess a pup's potential at 6 weeks, which is too early to tell anything except it has a leg at each corner and isn't completely brain dead.
I could see Drake was smart from the word go. But more importantly, something just spoke to me! I firmly believe that you have to like a dog in order to bring out the best in it. So, your pup may have the most impressive pedigree, but if you don't like the character, you're in for a trying time when it comes to training. Gut feel has an important part to play.
Everybody differs when it comes to what they are looking for from a pup. Ask any established breeder or trainer and they will probably say that they want the most dominant, fastest-going, biggest-personality pup in the litter. This is great if you are an experienced trainer, however if it's your first pup, you may want something a little less hard-going.
The one thing that everyone agrees on is that the pup cowering in the corner is not the one that you want. Quite a few years ago, I bought a lab on impulse (I thought that I wanted a peg dog – hang on – I thought I would look good with a peg dog!). My eye was pretty inexperienced then and the so-called breeder persuaded me that I wanted the pup that was hanging back from the rest of the litter. "She's the one I would choose" he said "That's the dog that thinks about things." What a load of bollocks!! The dog turned out to be gun shy and a complete waste of space. Totally my fault - I put it down to experience, saw that my wallet was quite a bit lighter and vowed never to listen to anyone but myself when it comes to choosing a pup and that most definitely includes my wife and kids!
Each dog has a different character; some are very strong-willed, whilst others are more biddable. What you want depends upon your experience as a trainer and how you want to work your dog. Whilst the core of the training you will expose the pup to will remain the same from dog to dog (basic obedience, house training, socialisation and on to more complex training issues) how you achieve this will depend upon the character of the pup.
All dogs need discipline and need to know their place in the pack hierarchy. Dogs see you and your family as part of a pack. If you are not the pack leader, a dominant dog will challenge you, in order to be "top dog"! - This is one of the most common reasons for dogs "misbehaving." The type of discipline that an individual dog needs, depends on its character - a hard-going, oppositional dog needs a stronger form of discipline that a soft, submissive dog.
By far and away the most difficult dog to train is one that is hard-going, but who reacts badly to being told off. His dynamic character is likely to bring him into opposition with you more frequently; however, if he sulks every time you bring him up, you potentially have a problem. In an ideal world a pup with good but not excessive drive and a happy-go-lucky disposition is a great start for both a novice trainer and one who is more experienced.
In real terms, if you can pick out a pup with these qualities @ 6 weeks old, you are far more qualified to write this than I am.
There are lots of old wives tales about how you should choose a pup, most of which are complete crap;
Take all the pups out of the whelping box and see which the bitch picks up and puts back in first, as that's her favourite. This may be the case, but if you take all my pups out of the box without permission you will be unceremoniously told to fuck off and don't come back! Also, at eight weeks the bitch doesn't want anything to do with the pups – she hates them all. Believe me so would you if you had 8 kids all with needle sharp teeth, all trying to chew your boobs at the same time.
Choose the pup that first comes to you or shows some interest in you. Not bad advice – at least the one that comes to you doesn't currently hate you.
Make a loud noise, choose the one that doesn't run away – see above re: not coming back
Choose the boldest pup – ask yourself do you really want the boldest pup? I always thought I did until I was chatting with Mark, a mate of mine who has been a shepherd all his life. Mark has probably forgotten more that I will ever know about dogs – he is amazing. I've picked up and beat with Mark for the past eight years. He's a hard-nosed bastard – not in a vindictive way, but in that way that people are who have lived outside for most of their life and who have used dogs as a tool of their working trade. I've only seen him ruffled once and that was when his dog was killed by a car. He carried the dog back to his car, turned around and got on with the business of picking up. Mark is truly an "old school" dog man.
"You daft bugger, what's tha want t'boldest pup for?" I had to say I didn't know, but it was what I'd read. He then called me an unspeakable name! "Think about it like this" he goes on, really getting into his stride "A litter is like a load of soldiers in a hole being shot at. Your bold pup, being a daft bastard, sticks his head out of t'hole first and gets shot. Lot of fucking use he is! You don't want the one tha's shiteing itsen either, what you want is the one who tell t' bold one to go and have a look." In effect, he was saying boldness doesn't always equate with intelligence. A lesson we should all remember from the school playground.
In actuality, choosing a pup is a shot in the dark; characters change as the pup matures - what was a hard pup, may mellow with age. In the real world, we have to work with the materials that we are given, so unless you are prepared to move the pup on and start again, my tip is:
Stand back and take a good long objective look at your new dog. Be honest and realistic. Not all dogs are capable of being FT Champs and not all owners are capable of training potential champions to a high level. You and your dog will be much happier if you work within your limitations. Aim for success and the chances are you will achieve it. Don't set your heart on something that is simply not achievable.