Choosing the right puppy

By: Betsy Brevitz, D.V.M.

Author: Canadian Living


Choosing the right puppy

By: Betsy Brevitz, D.V.M.

You may know what qualities you're looking for in a family pet, but how do you pick out those traits in a rambunctious litter of puppies, or a lineup of madly barking dogs at an animal shelter?

You talk to the people who care for the dogs; you compare the dogs' behaviour with one another; and then you give each dog you're interested in a simple temperament test. Following are two basic tests a new dog owner can use to check out a potential canine companion: one for puppies up to about six months old, the other for puppies and dogs older than six months.

Puppy test
Take the puppy to a quiet area, away from his mother and littermates. Most novice dog owners will find a dog that is neither too skittish nor too dominant the easiest to train and bond with. In each example below, the responses are ordered from fearful to dominant. The "moderate," or preferred, response is in italics.

1. Set the puppy down and let him walk away from you, then crouch down and call him back to you in a friendly, happy voice. Does he put his tail down and stay away? Walk over to you and wag his tail? Run over to you and jump up or bite playfully at your hands or feet? Ignore you and explore the room on his own?

2. Pet the puppy from his head to his tail. Does he cringe? Roll over on his back? Nuzzle your hand or wag his tail? Nip at your hand? Walk away?

3. Roll the puppy gently onto his back and hold him there with a hand on his chest for 8 or 10 seconds. Does he yelp, cringe, or tremble? Struggle to stand up for a few seconds and then calm down? Flail and struggle wildly and bite or growl?

4. Drop a set of keys on the floor to make a sudden noise. Does the puppy cringe and cower? Startle, then look curiously toward the noise? Bark loudly or "attack" the keys? Ignore the noise?

5. Gently squeeze one of the puppy's toes. Does he yelp or jerk his foot back wildly? Pull his foot back calmly? Growl or bite at your hand?

6. Put a small amount of canned dog food in a dish and set it in front of the puppy. When he smells the food or starts to eat it, pick up the dish. Does he shy away from your hand? Look up at you? Jump up at the dish? Growl or bark?

(Think you're ready to own a dog? Get expert tips from world-famous dog whisperer Cesar Milan here!)

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Adult dog test
The goal is to find a dog that is friendly and trainable without being skittish or aggressive. Cross off your list of potential adoptees any dog that reacts aggressively to you or anyone else at any stage of the temperament test. Aggressive behaviour includes staring; standing stiffly at attention, possibly with a raised, slightly wagging tall; lifting or twitching the lips to show the teeth; growling, even if the tail is wagging; and snapping or biting. If you are unsure of yourself around dogs, ask an experienced dog handler to evaluate the dogs for you.

In each example below, the responses are ordered from fearful to dominant. The "moderate," or preferred, response is in italics.

(Considering adopting a dog from a shelter? Click here for tips and advice.)

1. When you first look at the dog -- in a dog run, or brought to you by another person -- does the dog back away from you? Approach you in a friendly manner, with a slightly lowered head and wagging tail? Stand stiffly at attention and watch you?

2. Put the dog in a flat collar (not a choke collar) attached to a four-foot leash. Walk around the room and see if the dog will follow you. Does he plant his feet and refuse to move? Move toward you when you call him in a friendly voice? Lunge against the leash or bark wildly?

3. Stroke the dog's back. Does he flinch or cower? Wag his tail and stay close to you? Move away from your touch or ignore you?

4. Ask someone to make a sudden noise, such as by hitting a metal desk or chair. Does the dog cower and try to run? Startle, then look toward the noise or at you? Bark wildly or lunge at the noise?

5. While petting the dog, run your hand down each leg to the foot and pick the foot up for a moment. Run your hands up the dog's neck to his ears and stroke them. Does he flinch and jump when you try to touch his feet or ears? Allow you to touch them without making a big fuss? Struggle or growl when you try to touch them?

6. Put a small amount of canned dog food in a dish on the floor. Let the dog smell or start to eat the food, then push the dish away from him with a broom or long stick. Does he cower? Watch the dish move or follow it to continue eating? Growl, bark, or attack the stick?

7. Take the dog for a walk outside with a flat collar and short leash. Does he seem skittish or frightened? Happy and excited? Does he lunge against the leash or bark continuously?

Observe his reactions to other people, cars, and animals. Is he nervous? Interested but controllable? Hyperactive or threatening?

Click here to see aggressive leash behaviour.


Excerpted from Hound Health by Betsy Brevitz, D.V.M. Copyright 2004 by Urbanhound, LLC. Excerpted, with permission by Workman Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Choosing the right puppy