My UW students just took their last exam, and along with grading all 150 of them, I’m off with Jim to pick up the pup tomorrow. He’ll be nine weeks, a male Border collie of excellent herding lines who are also carefully bred for health and temperament. I’ve known his dad for years, always considered him a “bomb proof” dog–so much so that he was the first dog that Will was allowed to be in physical contact with after a year of classical and operant conditioning to turn his dog-dog aggression around.) Some background:
Two days after Lassie died I was online looking at rescue sites and shelters. I’ve never done that before, always needing a long time to let the other dog go. I’m not sure why I did it after Lassie died. Her death was profoundly difficult for me; the loss of her was hard enough, but a decision I made at the end turned out to be the wrong one, and she died on her own, and not well. I should’ve put her down the night before, but I didn’t, so she suffered at the end and I had promised her I wouldn’t let that happen. I felt physically ill about it for days and no doubt my internet search was in part about finding something to ease the pain. Three days after she died I found a little, sorrel and white fluff-ball dog, the kind I call an “oxytocin pump” on my local shelter’s website. We went the next day to donate unused medications, and I told Jim if we were lucky the dog would already be adopted. I knew it probably would be, dogs like that leave shelters within hours if not days, and it was indeed already reserved for a new home. “Whew” I said to Jim, dodged a bullet there–probably not too wise to get a dog 3 days after Lassie died. And I would’ve taken it if it had been there, no question about it.
Since then, I’ve been looking on-line for months, waiting for just the right dog to appear, the plan being to end up with a total of 2 Border collies and a small, fluff ball dog as the canine residents of Redstart Farm. I wasn’t planning on a puppy, but heard about a litter from two solid dogs with great temperaments and super herding skills, met the parents, had long talks with owners of 3 year old dogs of the same breeding.. and here we are, about to bring a new little life into our home.
I had 5 pups to choose from, 2 females and 3 males. Overall, a female would have a lower probability of getting into competitive interactions with Will, but his best friends have been smaller, submissive males, so I decided I’d take either sex if I found a pup I really liked. I thought you’d be interested in how I chose. As many readers know, there are many “temperament tests’ out there (tho’ really they are “behavioral assessments” or “personality tests,”) and I used a combination of standards tests and measures that I’ve used for decades. My own opinion is that although no tests of a young pup are as predictive as we’d all like them to be, they are better than throwing your hands up in the air and choosing based on coat color or a pretty face. It helps that I’ve done hundreds of these in a similar way, and my belief is that doing it so many times to so many different kinds of dogs surely must provide some wisdom… at least, one can always hope.
Here’s what I did: The pups were in an EX pen in a grassy area.
ONE: I took one pup out at a time, and put them down about 20 feet away from the pen, and then clapped and moved away from the pen. I hadn’t planned this to be a test of “bold/shy” but it was windy and noisy and we had to pass barking dogs in a kennels, and it turned out to be a great way to compare the pup’s responses. My pup (we called him Tri Male) was only one of 2 who stayed with me. He actually did baby outruns around my feet and tried to stop my forward motion, all open mouth and happy. Three pups ran back to the pen, ears flat, one other pup stayed with me, seemingly oblivious to everything but staying with me. (Good sign of boldness and interest in being with me? Maybe! (Maybe not!) Good sign of herding potential from Tri Male? (NO… I know of absolutely no way to test herding interest or ability in a young pup! The behavior often doesn’t show up until 7-9 months, so I would never make any guesses about herding ability at 8 weeks.)
TWO: We moved to a quiet area, I let the pups sniff a bit, did some petting, and then tossed a crumpled up piece of paper about 2 feet away. Tri Male followed it, picked it up and brought it back 2 times in a row. One other pup did the same, 2 tracked it and touched it with their noses but didn’t retrieve, one paid no attention at all. (Retrieving a good sign of willingness to work as a team? Maybe, maybe not. Good sign of interest in objects and potential for lots of object play… maybe…)
THREE: I gently rolled the pup over onto its back, and held it down with my hand on its chest. I scored intensity of struggles as 1 to 5, 5 being most vigorous, 1 being none. Tri Male struggled “3” for 3 seconds, then stopped, went quiet, relaxed and looked at my face. He was only one of two who stopped struggling, but he had no signs of fear or appeasement on his face when he did so, he just looked relaxed. (Good sign of frustration tolerance? Maybe… )
FOUR: Teach sit with food lure. All pups behaved the same. They loved the food and were all sitting easily within seconds. No differences here, great responses.
FIVE: Gently restrain and open mouth 3 x in a row. Most pups squiggled so much that I couldn’t divide my attempts into “first, second and third” (and had to struggle myself not to just lie down and laugh). Tri Male was the only pup who I could record 3 different actual “mouth opens” and we recorded him as “No struggle lst attempt, 2 out of 5 for the 2nd attempt, 4/5 3rd.”
SIX: Let explore on their own for 2 minutes, then called come (“pup pup pup” + hand claps) without moving:
4 pups ignored me completely (including Tri Male), one pup (a sweet, slightly shy female) responded and came over. All pups had moved under a large tree (in the shade, we were in the sun) and seemed obsessed with a scent in the leaves.) Tri M totally ignored me until I came closer.. no way to know if he was ‘not forgiving’ me for the mouth handling, or wanted to stay in shade and distracted by the scents.
SEVEN: Got pup’s attention by going closer, then called to come by clapping, calling and running away. Ran back and forth 4 times, about 6-8 feet each time. All pups followed perfectly. (Sign of all being Border collies? … I think I can say a definitive yes here.)
EIGHT: Startle response: threw bait bag down beside them, about 2 feet away from pup’s head. Noise loud, but was on grass so not as loud as if on hard surface. I did not do this with the slightly softer female, seemed too much for her, but did with the other 4 pups. Tri Male startled briefly without flattening, then approached and sniffed. (Good response and recovery to potentially frightening event? Maybe….)
NINE: All back in EX pen, adult dog let out who ran to pen. All pups approached, one female with tail up and over, almost touching her back, all others with tail horizontal, including Tri Male. Adult dog began to run fast, vigorous circles around pen. Four pups followed, running in circles inside the pen, except Tri Male, who moved to the center of the pen, with big eyes and flat ears. He eventually lay down in a crate and went to sleep while the others were still up and active. (Sign of being easily stressed by .. what? Other dogs? Rapid movement? Hummmm…..)
And so, after a half hour of talking, Jim and I decided on Tri Male. Overall, it looked like a lovely litter. One male and one female were super sweet and affiliative, and one female is going to be a pistol, the kind of dog who pushes your buttons but you still love like life itself. They all seemed like good, good dogs, but Tri Male had the best overall score of the bunch, doing great on 7 out of 9 tests. The only possible red flag was his last response to the circling dog, which I won’t pretend didn’t worry me. However, based on the fact that 1) his other responses were excellent, 2) he comes from solid stock (although every dog is different, so I didn’t want to make too much of that), and 3) okay, I love his face (another post will come someday about how much looks should matter.. if at all), I decided to take him. That last response could indicate huge trouble (easily stressed by a commotion and inability to recover quickly?) or nothing at all. How much do we make of one incident, either positive or negative? There’s only one way to find out, and you know what that is. . . (FYI, Tri Male ran in circles with the other puppies when the same scenario occurred a few days ago. Yeah!)
Meanwhile, back on the farm: Crates are ready, puppy food is on the counter . . . and it turns out that Jim will need surgery, ASAP, on his arm. Ah life, never a dull moment, hey? No more photos of the pup yet, but we’ll take tons over the weekend. But here’s a photo I took a few days ago on the road to the farm, a perfect image of what it looks like here now. Yup, it really is that pretty out here.
nan marks says
Wow what a gorgeous picture. Looks like the kind of day that makes you want to toss a few things into a knapsack–(book, notebook, pen, lunch/dinner) whistle up your dog and walk off into the hills with no plan to return.
Congratulations on the wonderful new addition to your family and thanks for the thoughtful sharing on the puppy test. I’ve always done rescues and only raised one from a pup–keep wondering if I have another puppy in me but I admit there is a part of me that really craves it so I’ll look forward to living vicariously through yours.
Ohhhh – I could just sit and stare at that photo for hours! Instead of the building outside my office window… Sigh. Guess I shouldn’t complain. At least I have a window!
But back on topic, Your puppy testing is fascinating and I’m sure it beats my method hands down – that being taking the last pup left in the litter. Granted, my method did work beautifully two out of three times. That third time has been a heck of a journey though so I can see that there is value in testing. Still, it’s really difficult for me to imagine doing those tests in a meaningful way myself. What do you recommend to lay people hoping to choose well when confronted with a litter? Is it a good idea to hire a behaviorist to help make the choice? Can a lay person really do a good job of testing pups?
I’m really sorry to hear about what you went through with Lassie. If we only had special glasses to improve our foresight.
Nice simple set of tests. I wish we had employed these when we were fostering Mason, but his face got the better of us and now we have problem dog on our hands. We’ll fix it though and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have gotten so interested in dog behavior. Besides, there’s no way the rescue would have been able to deal with him. That’s my silver lining and I’m sticking too it :).
My girlfriend says she “done with puppies,” but who is she kidding! A bundle of chunky fur ball in her arms and I’d be saying hello to dog #4.
That last picture really makes me hate the fact that I’m reading this post inside my office. At least I got a window…but freeways just aren’t as relaxing.
I really enjoyed reading your puppy test and have printed it out for future reference. When I got MeMe form Lab Rescue at the age of 6 months, I didn’t have any idea on how to test. i was concerned because she was so submissive and went belly up to everyone as her way of greeting people. I took her to the vet the day after I got her and was told she would be OK because although she was shy, she did go up to people and greet them ( and immediately flipped over on her belly) As she got got older she began to bark at all new visitors with an offensive pucker. I have worked for 2 years now to overcome this and she is better but not at the place I would like her to be. I wouldn’t trade her for anything now but wish I had had a better sense of how to test and what to look for.
Good luck to Jim
You can’t post the pictures of your pup fast enough for me!
So sorry to hear about how things ended with Lassie. I know it is no consolation really, but we all do the best we can with these dogs we love. Sometimes we make mistakes and have to live with regrets but they love us anyway. So, if you haven’t already, please try to forgive yourself. I know, easier said than done. We had a dog get really sick while on vacation – for a variety of reasons, we needed to leave her in a specialty hospital 2 hours from our home. They called us in the middle of the night to tell us she was dying. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over leaving her there to die without us.
But, by mistakes, we learn – and since then, I’ve slept in my car and in the lobby of a vet clinic to make sure my dog would not die alone if it came to that. And next time, as always, you will do the best you can to make the right decisions.
On a brighter note – oooohhh puppy!! And what a beautiful picture of where you live. Such a blessing.
You AREN’T suppose to pick a puppy on looks? Oh no!
I confess, when I saw the three puppies posted on the rescue site with their mom, I was immediately drawn to the one with the gorgeous split face. The other girl had a very plain black face with minimal white, and the boy was a smoothie (wasn’t sure if I wanted that). I was the first to meet them and tried to keep an open mind, but I knew I wanted the split face because I love that look.
Mind you, I was terrified at the prospect of getting a girl (she would be my first) — I actually tried to make myself take the smooth boy, but ultimately the rescue person & I both agreed that the split-faced girl picked me. Lucky me, I guess!
I’ve been fortunate enough to keep in contact with the people who adopted the other two puppies and it does, more or less, sound like I ended up with the right dog — Although I think the smooth boy would have been less challenging. lol
Did you do a similar personality test with Willie (that is, if you got him as a puppy)?
Ouch! Sorry to hear about Jim’s injury and need for surgery. I hope things go smoothly and that his recovery process will be an easy one.
Thank you for sharing some of your grieving moments over Lassie. I have a lot of death anxiety about my 4yo Aussie, my first dog as a “grown up.” It helps to read about other people’s experiences. As other posters have written, it helps with the preparation as our loved ones age and/or fall ill.
Ane thank you for sharing your puppy test with us! It was very systematic and methodical. I recognized 3 in there that I used when picking out my 2nd Aussie (though nowhere as systematic!). I went back to the same breeder and described all the qualities that I loved about our adult Aussie. Based on my description, she selected one for me. When I met the litter, I spent 2 hours playing with two puppies, one that the breeder picked out and another one that caught my eye. My “tests” were based on how much physical affection each pup could tolerate, her recall, and her retrieving ability. Because we have a human toddler at home and because our adult Aussie possesses all 3 of these great traits, we needed a pup who could assimilate easily into our lifestyle.
So far, so good. As I type, I just returned our puppy’s chew toy to her. Our adult Aussie had tricked her out of. The gloating from our puppy is priceless. May you have many of these fun moments! 🙂
deborah ryan says
When I brought my youngest boy home, I had tested him much the same way you did Mr Tri Male, minus a couple steps. He was one of five I had to choose/look at. His breeder and I had been in weekly communication since the litter was just a few days old, ( there was 11 total } My biggest criteria was that the pup be calm yet confident. I already had a five yr. old reactive Wheaten terrier and a slightly timid female English setter who was three. Aiden is now three years old and he is everything I wanted/needed and then some. He is great with other dogs, cuddly, calm and confident,He is also the most intelligent dog I have ever owned, he Thinks, he Ponders, he Studies. I have had to be three steps ahead of him as he matured, keeping him occupied lest he get into trouble. He has been a blessing to my shy girl, she has learned to watch him for cues, and has become much more confident and comfortable in her own skin. My three have become a pretty tight little group.
Hope this little guy brings you much joy and laughter, good thoughts for Willy too, hope he comes to love the little guy and they can be best buds.
Angela Demeuse says
I’m so happy for you that your getting another dog! And how lucky that dog is to have you as his owner and be in your home! Congratulations!! I saw his picture- what a cute handsome boy, I could just eat him up myself! Looking at his picture made my heart smile! Now Will will be a big brother. I hope the transition goes smoothly for him. I’ll be anxious to see what you will name the puppy. I still think you should name him “Timmy” after your girl lassie:) I’ll be thinking of you guys tomorrow, have fun and good luck! Best wishes to Jim with his sugery and recovery. By the way, the recent picture of your farm is gorgeous! It looks like something you could send in to a Wisconsin themed calendar! Take care!
Anne J says
Gorgeous picture. I want to blow it up and tape it over my windows. I guess you know what it’s doing in central Wisconsin at the moment- snowing on my crabapple, peas and everything else.
I really liked reading about the puppy tests you did. My last puppy I went to see them convinced of the one I wanted, from pictures, and ended up taking a different one. It was the one that settled in my lap for a nap, and also the one that more boldly followed around a strange adult dog. She did turn out quite brave and still wants to be a lap sitter.
My wonderful, perfect 10-year-old German Shepherd died the day after Lassie, after a quick struggle with invasive cancer. I too had planned to have him put down, but it didn’t turn out that way — I too made a choice that resulted in his dying at home. It was both a blessing and a curse, in many ways. I couldn’t comment on your post at the time, but certainly you have my full empathy and sympathy.
I still dream about him regularly, and so many things aren’t the same here without him.
But… there is a puppy here too! And he takes up so much time (as puppies do), and is so charming and sweet and ridiculous, that life seems quite full — I laugh more in a day watching him than I had in the past six months combined.
Good luck with your new little one, and here’s to many joyous years ahead.
Wish it was my farm, Angela! It’s a neighbors, and boy would I love that much land! And Mary, such a good question about testing Will. I did a few of those tests on Will, but not all (more on that later). There were only two males and I liked Will best because at 7 weeks he was so attentive to me. The other male seemed much more independent. I did see in a few days that he was going to be a huge problem with other dogs (thus the test I set up for this present litter, it’s a new one added on because of Will!): He lept out of my arms AND his collar when he heard dogs bark at the vet clinic for his first check up, he was pathologically afraid of a Bichon puppy in the clinic lobby (seriously, a Bichon puppy), and was so obsessed by the smell of other dogs that I had to pick him up and carry him into the lobby. He didn’t look interested, he looked literally obsessed (and stressed). I remember saying “Oh No, I am screwed…” Why didn’t I take him back? Ah, that’s a long, long post unto itself!
Congrats on the new puppy!! Thats so exciting!
Thank you for the great puppy tests they come at a pretty perfect time! We are currently waiting for our new puppy to get old enough to go meet them… 2 weeks old on Monday!! Last puppy we didn’t really have any particular tests, I tried but got sucked in by the cute puppy faces! 🙂 Can not say we regret it at all, but going to try to be more systematic this time!
Sorry for all you went through with Lassie. Its so hard to know when the time is right and if you are making the right choice.
Good Luck to Jim with his surgery!!
Lisa R. says
Best Wishes to you, Jim, Will and Sushi on your new addition. Wow, is he good looking! A very exciting time; look forward to hearing all about it.
I know the new puppy will bring you many new joys. I hope Will takes to being a puppy teacher.
Thank you for sharing your feelings about losing Lassie. I also lost a dog this year. The burden of making good decisions on a dog’s behalf is almost too much to bear. In the end, there’s probably no such thing as a “good” choice when we’re dealing with life and death.
I feel sorrow when I think about each dog that I’ve lost. The only comfort I take in their short life spans (compared to mine) is that it’s allowed me to invite yet another dog into my life.
No dog will ever take Lassie’s place but you now have a new pup to fill holes in your life you never knew you had.
Best of luck with Jim’s surgery and the new pup.
Lacey H says
That you love his face matters – in that it makes it easier when things are hard otherwise: if he wants to herd people, dog and cat but isn’t thinking of sheep at the moment, for instance. Puppies (and some adult dogs) can locate a lot of mischief. When I finally find a home for my present foster dog, it will be someone who loves her cuteness and so can put up with her slightly-aloof style.
Rose T. says
Congrats on your new puppy.
Wow, I learned so much from your tests! My “test” has been “Will this dog try to eat my cats?” But then I ended up adopting a rescue pup who didn’t even meet that criteria (she’s getting better, though). What can I say? I’m a pushover. My crew (three 2 yr old Lab mixes, one 8 yr old cocker spaniel, one 12 yr old dachshund) miraculously get along quite well. It was touch-and-go there for a while with the newest Lab and the dachshund. JoJo thinks everyone should play with her, kitties and doxies included, and she’s quite persistent. She focuses more on her Lab sisters these days, much to my relief.
I can’t wait to hear more about your puppy and see more pictures. I hope Will likes him! And your kitty, too!
I would love to hear about how you manage the puppy’s interactions with Will. I fostered two puppies (8 wks old) last summer and didn’t do as good of a job as I’d hoped in managing their interaction with my adult dogs. All three of my Labs were at first terrified of the puppies and then annoyed by them. Now, one of my Labs is very grumpy with all puppies. The puppy-play, jumping-up-in-your-face behavior really sets her off. She’s very good about giving cues (growling, showing her teeth, trying to walk away) to the offending puppy, but puppies just don’t understand what those cues mean, it seems. Although I do not think she’d hurt another dog, she scares the life out of them when they don’t respond to her “back off!” cues. I watch her carefully, of course! I wish I had handled the situation with the foster puppies better so that we wouldn’t have this problem now. Clearly, I have a lot to learn!!
Please do not be so hard on yourself over Lassie. I know her passing did not go as you would have liked it, but it was because you were trying to give her the best possible chance to continue her fabulous life with you, Jim, Willie, Sushi and all the animals at your farm.
Congratulations on the new puppy! In a way I am jealous of having the new “fur ball” and the “clean slate”. Because of my job/living situation, I can’t get a puppy. I do not have the ability to be home most of the time and do the every 3-4 hour “got to go out” routine. If you grade an exam every time you take the puppy out, you’ll be done with grading in no time :).
Very interesting on the tests you used to select the puppy. Did you have have Will and the puppy meet before making your final decision? What problems or behaviors to you anticipate from Will towards the puppy and how will you manage them?
When we were growing up, and introduced a second dog to the house, the puppy (or dog) just showed up. The incumbent didn’t have any say in the matter. Our dogs all adapted very well. Growing up our dogs were not trained (at least by today’s standards) and for the most part were mixed breeds (fwiw) with acceptable behaviors for a family from the 1980’s.
Because I am a single dog household, I had more flexibility in selecting a dog. My girl Abby (adopted from a shelter at 18 mo, now 5 yr old) is very good, I can’t complain, I can only brag about having a great dog that I can take out .. out to lunch, out to the baseball game, and pretty much anywhere dogs are welcome. It has taken work and it has been rewarding for both of us. However, I can’t help but think about what it would be like to have a puppy with all the dog knowledge I have gleaned over the past years. (I try to keep from cringing when I think of all the mistakes we made with the puppies we had as kids).
I had a feeling you’d be getting a new bc puppy. He looks adorable. My two aussies are 2 and 4 now and I had two different experiences picking them. For my 4 yr old I used a book to “test” him – I had the pick of 5 puppies. My 2 year old the breeder picked based on talking about our needs and desires for our puppy. I have to say the breeder did a better job than I did! I love them both dearly but my pick is my “special” dog – (took a year to get him to not startle at things). He is however the sweetest (if not the smartest) and cuddles the best! I think the tests are probably best done by an expert such as yourself….
Remind yourself how sweet that face is in the middle of the night when he needs to go potty and wants to get out of his crate! (I remember thinking “why did I want another puppy?). I slept on a dog bed for two weeks on the floor by his crate with my fingers between the wire.
To Debra, re puppy tests: Sounds like two lucky dogs! I love that you brought up the importance of a good breeder helping to choose the right dog. I neglected to mention that I spoke at length with the breeder about the pups, and took everything she had to say very seriously. But I wouldn’t give the breeder more credit than yourself, Debra… these ‘tests’ are no different than final exams for my UW students: what do you know right now, this moment, and how well can you perform this minute on this particular day? As such, they are all limited in their predictive value, and what comes out of it may, or may not, tell us what we want to know!
congratulations on getting your puppy today! I
Renee S. says
Very interesting set of tests. Hopefully Tri Male will settle right in with you guys and you will have many interesting stories over the years!
Would you recommend these tests for adult dogs, like a shelter dog? I ask because I’m planning to get a shelter dog within the next couple of years, and I’m not quite sure how to figure out what kind of personality it has. Shelters are stressful situations for dogs, and I’m wondering how to test whether the dog and I would suit each other.
Axle & Skylee's Mom says
Congratulations on your new puppy!
Great information. I’ve used tests 3, 6 and 7 in choosing a puppy. In the future I will add the other tests when choosing a puppy.
Good luck to Jim, I hope his surgery and recovery go well.
Trisha, Congrats on your “new guy”. What a face! I concur with you on the importance of trusting a good breeder. I have a friend who breeds collies. The personality and temperament qualities she saw at two weeks of age in her last litter, have been spot on in the two she kept with who they are now at six months. Best wishes to Jim for a speedy recovery!
Valerie Curry says
Oh how wonderful to have a new puppy; I am so excited for you. This gives me the perfect opportunity to tell you the experience I have just had in getting a new pup. I even remarked that I wish I had someone like you here to see this situation. I have a 16 lb female Boston Terrier who will be 4 in another 3 weeks. She goes everywhere with me, is amazingly smart and of course, spoiled rotten… a true diva. She is wonderful but does not give me some things that I need from a dog (she would not take walks or even face the direction I wanted to go) as I am aging and have some health problems… it is important for me to have daily exercise and walk and I also planned on getting a pup who could be trained for some assistance work as well. I chose a beautiful Australian Shepherd pup… he was amazing… nothing fazed him, he was happy go lucky and smart as a whip (not to mention adorable) And now comes the interesting part… the first day together he went near the Boston to sniff her… she lifted her rear leg and allowed him to sniff then went totally stiff and fell over on her back… but stayed stiff with all 4 paws stiff up in the air. After that anytime the pup would go near her she would get very stiff, tremble violently, and foaming drool would come out the sides of her closed mouth… it was horrible. After 4 days we took the pup back to the breeder (me sobbing all the way) The day the pup was gone my Boston did a complete turnaround… she started walking around the property with me the way the puppy had. The second day she started asking to go out the gate and take a walk and she has walked every morning since. Today (5 days after pup return) she went on the porch and got the toy the puppy played with and brought it to me to play with her. She stays really close to me most of the time. It’s as if she wants to show that she can do everything I got the puppy for… am I crazy? Does she really understand all that she seems to? Is this common? My husband says she was afraid of being replaced and losing her “mom”… I really don’t know what to think… Just thought I would share an experience that I have never had before. Valerie
I love hearing about your puppy tests, but I’ve had three puppies in my life and in each case the breeder decided for me, more or less. I have a list of requirements and a list of preferences. With my last puppy, the breeder had a male selected for me, and then told me that she wasn’t sure the pup was going to end up the way I wanted, but I was welcome to visit, look, etc. and decide myself. Since I’m a complete pushover for puppy breath, I retreated without seeing the puppy and told her I’d be happy to wait. So then I waited for the next litter, which was basically sold before the mom was even bred (only 2 out of 7 were available after the litter was whelped) and the one I got is a complete delight. But my impression in keeping up with most of her littermates is that everyone is pretty delighted. And I’d seen a lot of her breeding for two years early and had been impressed by the temperament of all her dogs.
Trisha, what’s your opinion — how much emphasis do you put on finding a specific puppy versus finding the right breeder? If the tri-male had been spoken for, would you have found another puppy from that litter or walked away? Best wishes to Jim from me as well!
How interesting! The only testing I did on the puppies in Copper’s litter was to see if they’d come to me when I make smoochey/clapping noises (they all did) and to make sure none of them freaked out from a slightly startling event (none did). Beyond that, I had several detailed conversations with the breeder about what I was looking for and why. She recommended a pistol of a female puppy for me that I ended up not taking, although had I not already owned Izzy I’d have loved to have had her. I was worried about two female dogs (puppy and my existing “issues” dog Izzy) being more likely to have issues than a male puppy. Of the males that seemed like they’d match up with my active lifestyle per the breeder, Copper turned out to be the only yellow, and since I had my heart set on a yellow lab I ended up choosing based on color, which when you get right down to it is a pretty silly reason, but oh well – lucky for me it has worked out perfectly.
Thank you so much for posting this! I am fostering a litter of 8-week old Mexican mutts (Mama appears to be a very old purebred or nearly-purebred Beagle, who knows what Dad is?) and I am considering adopting one of the pups. There were seven pups to start with, one was stillborn, two died the second night, and we were left with one girl and three boys. Based on the temperaments that we have seen from the very beginning, we set one aside for ourselves, just in case…but now we’re trying to decide whether we’re really meant to be a two-dog household or if we should just stick with one.
It’s kind of scary to consider adopting a puppy from a Mama of such unknown background. All I know about her is that she probably had a very stressful pregnancy (life is not kind for an old, toothless, pregnant Beagle on the streets in Mexico). I was (and sort of still am) concerned about the effect of such a stressful in-utero experience on the puppies, but at least three of the four puppies seem to be really well-adjusted. Maybe I’ve set the bar low? The female puppy is definitely going to be a spitfire, but the three boys all seem good. The one we might take is the quietest, friendliest, most interested in us, and is naturally polite. Our older dog (a three year female old husky/lab mix) is not thrilled about his presence, but she allows him to approach her and sleep with his head on her anyway.
So…I think he’s a good fit for our family, but now will look at him through the lens of your tests and see how he does. Thanks again! 🙂
Sarah H. says
I am an enormous fan of yours and have been reading your blog for a while, but this is my first comment ever! Boy, I hope I don’t end up sounding like an idiot…
Firstly, I am so sorry for the losses of Lassie, Luke, Tulip, and Pip – the dogs I have so enjoyed reading about. I know how heart-wrenching it is to lose a dog and my heart goes out to you.
Secondly, congratulations on your new addition! I look forward to pictures and many posts about the new bundle of joy, particularly because I will be adding a puppy to my household in the late summer! The baby will be joining my pack of three (plus a revolving door of fosters)… Tess, a five-year-old Jack Russell terrier; Sully, a four-year-old Jack Russell terrier; and Izzy, a four-year-old Basenji/Jack Russell mix (our best guess, as he is a rescue dog of unknown background). This new puppy will be a Jack Russell as well and hails from the same old Irish lines as my beloved Sully. Puppy comes from a terrific breeder – health testing, personality profiling, the whole nine yards – and I am tremendously excited and also a bit nervous. This will be the first puppy I raise completely on my own, and I have many plans for the little guy or gal… especially considering that the puppy is not even due until July 6th! Anyhow, I am very much anticipating reading what you have to say on the matter of puppy-raising.
Thirdly, a comment on the testing of the puppies that you recently performed – BRAVA to you! The breeder that I got Sully from practices the Volhard method of “temperament testing” for puppies when they reach seven weeks of age. I am fascinated with how this all works and have seen, time and time again, how eerily accurate these tests seem to be when practiced by a seasoned professional and dog person. My breeder is highly skilled at matching puppies with appropriately suited families, and after seeing this take place many times over, I am hard-pressed to find a better way to select your new puppy than temperament testing. Of course, the initial results are not “set in stone” by any means and the puppy can certainly be affected by various changes in environment/household experience as well as the degree of training that he or she receives… but a temperament test of the type that you performed can tell a person a lot about the innate personality of the puppy and gives the potential buyer a decent baseline about the puppy’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, my Sully scored an average of 4.5 (mostly 5s) on the Volhard scale when he was tested at seven weeks of age. My breeder told me this meant that, lacking proper socialization, Sully would be more likely than most to grow up very shy and fearful. It also meant he would likely do well in a quieter environment and was a fairly “soft” dog who would not respond well to harsher corrections. All of these observations were extremely true… but I went to great lengths to socialize Sully as a puppy, and I am happy to say that the boy is completely outgoing and loves everyone he meets. No shyness or fear within him at all, though he does harbor a healthy respect for the vacuum and seems highly offended when any human, ahem, breaks wind. Additionally, Sully does not need much in the way of correction… a slightly raised voice in a disappointed tone, saying, “Sully, what did you DO?” prompts him to flop over, show the belly, and look at me through slitted eyes. I can only imagine the damage I would have done had I tried to “dominate” the boy!
I apologize for the length of this comment and commend anyone who has continued reading this long. I just wanted to say that I wholly believe in temperament/personality testing for puppies and I probably will always choose a puppy this way, if I can help it. Excellent post and a great resource for the lay person when faced with choosing one puppy from a whole litter of completely adorable faces!
Congratulations on your new puppy! I wept with you when Lassie passed; I hope the goofy enthusiasm of a new pup helps fill a part of the hole she left.
I was very interested to read of your puppy testing program, in part because I’d done a lot of researching on puppy temperament testing when I first set out to find a Border collie pup nearly two years ago. I had visions of screening an entire litter to find the one with the “best” temperament for our needs. That ended up not being the way I ended up acquiring my current Border collie “pup” (now nearly 15 months old). And yet I have absolutely no regrets in having abandoned this vision.
After musing over your last blog, I feel I have a few caveats I’d like to add, lest an unwary prospective puppy owner arm themselves with puppy testing suggestions while they run off in search of unsold litters of seven-week-old pups to screen in hopes of identifying “the pick of the litter”. Please note that although I speak mainly from the perspective of someone who loves Border collies, I do think there are some aspects that apply to other breeds.
First – how likely is any individual to find a well-bred litter of pups in which none have been spoken for by the time they reach seven weeks of age (the age at which most puppy temperament tests are conducted)? In the case of working Border collies from parents with good sheep working (“herding”) skills (which I will argue is the only sort of Border collie that should be bred), many pups are spoken for even before they are born. To be sure, there are plenty of pups from “sports” or “back yard” breeders who will have a surplus of unsold litters of this age. This is especially true of “high volume” sports breeders, who may breed six or ten litters per year. This is exactly the sort of breeder I’d recommend anyone run, not walk, away from. A companion pet – or a working Border collie, or your next agility dog – should be raised from birth in a home, not in a kennel stressed from birth by being surrounded by barking dogs. In my opinion, it should receive a lot of socialization from birth, as well as exposure to vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, all the normal stimuli of life in a home. I just don’t see how anyone raising ten litters a year can provide pups with this sort of individualized attention. If you want a well-bred pup who has been raised in a home, you’re likely to discover that the breeder only raises one or two litters per year. They may only have ten dogs total, because that’s the upper limit of the number they can spend time training (or otherwise interacting with) each day. You won’t find instant gratification in contacting them to find they’ve got an unsold litter of seven-week-old pups from which you can choose. You may have to wait quite a while. You may find you’re fifth or tenth on the waiting list for their next litter.
Another reason why I’m “down” on sports-raised Border collies is that they have not been bred for working ability. “Working lines” are not the same as “working bred”. An ISDS National or International champion three generations back is not the same as a “working bred” dog, whose parents have demonstrated their ability to work sheep or cattle, either in demanding circumstances on a ranch or farm, or by succeeding in sheepdog trials at a high level (and no, this does not mean AKC trials). An ability to work sheep is something you won’t find even in every individual from the best-bred Border collie litter. If you don’t specifically select for it, it’s a trait that’s very soon lost. Just ask anyone who’s tried to train their conformation-bred Border collie to work sheep. It’s almost invariably a disappointment. Instead, what you may get is a dog who has lost a trait that’s very important in working sheep: self-control. Call it an “off switch” if you like, but a dog that’s raised for great contacts in racing around an agility field won’t necessarily possess the self-control needed to “lie down” instantly when faced with a burning desire to work the sheep it’s facing. That’s the sort of self-control and biddability I want in a companion animal. An active, intelligent dog, to be sure, always up for fun, but also one happy to be a couch potato while the family is watching a movie.
It’s not a question of whether or not you’re looking for a pup that’s going to make the next champion at the USBCHA trials. (Most of us aren’t). It’s a question of getting a pup that truly possesses not only the intelligence, but also the biddability and the temperament that makes for a dog that would also make a great companion animal, agility dog, a dog who will excel in obedience – whatever you decide to “do” with it (if anything).
I ended up opting to stay away from my local “sports” breeder. Sure, I could have checked out the whole litter and come away with the “pick”. Instead I spent several months researching breeders of “working bred” Border collies. I ended up finding a breeder with a litter of very well-bred two-week-old pups – with only one left unsold. They were sufficiently distant that I couldn’t visit them, and had to operate on faith, and on the reputation of the breeder. I described our family setting and experience, and told her I was looking for a companion dog – that temperament was of prime importance, more than working ability, though the only sort of Border collie I felt I wasn’t prepared to handle was a shy/fearful dog. As it turned out, the person with the “number one” pick dithered between the pup I ended up with and the one she eventually selected. Both were the breeder’s two favorites in the litter. So did I end up with the first pick? the last pick? All I know is that I ended up with a dog with a lovely temperament who is everything I sought in a Border collie.
I have no regrets over having steered away from the local “sports” breeder. I have since met half a dozen of her dogs, and I haven’t liked a single one. There’s something missing in all of them, that essential spark of connection to their human that “makes” a Border collie to me.
So to anyone thinking of visiting litters with many pups to choose from, armed with your lists of “how to choose a puppy”: think of, instead, doing what several readers here have suggested, and going with a breeder’s recommendation. But if you’re going to do so, you really have to do your homework. Don’t simply judge a breeder by their website. In my case, looking for a Border collie, I found two sources to be EXTREMELY helpful. One was the US Border Collie Club website: http://www.bordercollie.org/buyersguide.html . They have a lot of very useful guidelines as far as what to look for, and what to avoid, in a breeder. I also benefitted hugely from the “Border Collie Boards”: http://www.bordercollie.org/boards/index.php . Search for “breeder” and you’ll find many very thoughtful threads discussing what makes for a good breeder of Border collies, and how to find one.
Ask, also, why a breeder has bred that particular litter. Think twice if the first answer has to do with qualities only valued for “conformation” (show ring). Temperament and health should be at or near the top of the list in any litter of purebred pups. By breeding for looks above all else, we’re now seeing some lines of Golden retrievers who bite.
Remember, above all, in looking at purebred dogs that registration is not a stamp of quality. In the case of Border collies, an AKC registration (or dual ABCA/AKC registration) is virtually a guarantee that the breeder isn’t breeding for the right attributes.
Hey Dr. McConnell,
An off topic, but burning question: what type of camera do you use?!
Thanks so much,
Trisha, A big congratulations to you on the new arrival. What a looker! Enjoy the puppy breath and all the adorable puppy antics. My best to Jim and a quick recovery.
I’ve been the puppy picker for several of my not as dog savvy friends, and in that job I can reliably pick the easy going dog that is neither too shy or too bold. The kind of dog that can work in a number of situations but doesn’t really need to have a specific job. I love to see the way they work together in a litter and how they react compared to one another.
When picking a beginner dog for someone I do some quick temperment tests as well. One thing I like to do is just watch the way everyone reacts as the new person walks up to them. For most newbie dog owners I try to pick a dog that doesn’t run away but isn’t the boldest bounciest greeter in the bunch either.
However, the dog that I always want for myself, or at least that my fancy is most drawn to, is the fiesty, status seeking, pushy and bold female. I have to tear my eyes away, remind myself that most sane humans do not want that dog, and most definitely not my less experienced dog friends. Oh, but I do!
I hope you found just the pup you and Will were looking for 🙂
How far are the tests you recommend breed specific, do you think? I suspect that the qualities wanted in a working BC pup may not all be the same as those looked for in a small companion-breed puppy. I am afraid I have tended to go by gut reaction, tempered by a large dose of common sense. Do I approve of how the pups have been bred and raised? Do I like the parents, especially the mother? Are the pups sound and healthy? Then, how does each puppy respond to handling (especially being lifted – a toy pup who hates being lifted up is going to need some work!) and playing, and to a very mild startle? And which, if any, is the one that chooses me? Sometimes the choice is strictly limited – as Lynn says, well-bred pups are booked well ahead, and as toy dogs tend to have small litters, there may only be one or two pups available from each litter. Sophy was one of two, and has been a little star from the first; Poppy, I am almost ashamed to say, I fell in love with through a photo on the internet! I argued with myself for several days, then researched her breeding and spent an hour talking to her breeder on the phone, before driving for 5 hours to meet her. Even then I was uncertain – she was living deep in the country, and at 14 weeks was obviously going to need careful work on socialising. It has worked, though – and I have two happy, healthy, well-adjusted young dogs (both of them fluffy oxytocin pumps!). But then, most of the dogs I meet are reasonably well-adjusted, given the fairly random breeding, selection, and upbringing they have had – a tribute to the adaptability of domestic canines is in order, I think!
Wonderful news, Trisha. I am so sorry about Lassie. Go back to the post you did for me on guilt. I would be interested in knowing how you would evaluate a rescue or shelter dog. I am still dogless and the poorer for it.
Good luck with the pup and Jim!
I just saw this photo and thought of you:
Dog sticks with injured owner
Jess H says
Glad to hear about the new addition! Seams like it was yesterday that I was getting Sassy from you. She has blessed me in more ways than I can list! Thinking of you and Lassie.
When looking for a buddy for our Jasmine, we definitely wanted a happy-go-lucky male on a submissive side. We didn’t want him to challenge her in any way, and frankly, needed a break from way-too-smart queen Jasmine.
I compiled what I’ve learned from several sources into about 15 point observation and puppy assessment exercises, some similar to your. Of course we also wanted to meet the parents and talk with the breeder.
I have to say that those exercises proved quite invaluable, though J.D. turned out to be slightly more boisterous than he was in his own environment. It was a good pick and they get along quite well (after he got taught some respect). He is over 2 years old now, little air-headed, but happy guy and didn’t challenge Jasmine once, not even when she was really sick.
They are best buddies. We are glad we managed to pick a good pal for her.
He is also easier to handle, so we are getting our well needed break!
I think there’s a lot of value in testing, feedback by the breeder who has watched the pups interact from day one and providing a healthy start to life by the breeder being selective but I also feel that there has to be a heart element in the decision making process. Having the initial heart connection does help smooth over the “trying” times.
For myself, none of my dogs are those genetically calm, social, happy go lucky ones, and I did my version of the puppy test, in the end my heart told me what to do.
I have no regrets. It’s so very interesting how our personalities jive and we really enjoy life. We just work on issues as they come up, learning new ways to communicate, reframe the picture, and with each issue that gets crossed off our list, our bonds are that much richer.
Another bonus is that in overcoming our challenges, finding fun ways to communicate, I’m able to share what I’ve learned with others. So in my case, I have found life to be very interesting by going with the underdog.
I hope that eventually there will be a way to get everyone on board to work together to make a positive shift to end puppy mills etc… but in the meantime, there’s a saying something to the effect that; the things we need are presented to us. How ever long they are with us to learn from and enjoy is not up to us, so cherish each day. That’s my coles notes anyways…
If anything I wish first and foremost that there was some way to speed up the process to spread your teachings on being a compassionate benevolent person in the way we treat each other and our dogs, cats, other sentient beings.
You really made me think not only about the “teaching” or communication methods I choose to incorporate, but also in managing my expectations based on understanding the biology behind what may be motivating my guys or myself.. and also how to try to understand the emotional lives of my four legged family members. There’s so much more to consider before you take that little bundle of fur and shark teeth home!
I hope you and your family enjoyed this weekend! I wish Jim a speedy recovery! I can’t wait to hear of puppy , Will, Sushi antics and also if you have any amendments to your Puppy Primer book 🙂
Thanks for all the good wishes, and to Kate for reminding us of the importance of following your heart. Jana, care to share your 15 point test? Would love to hear what you’ve added on.
Speaking of heart and tests, I’m heart sick at the moment. In a few hours I’ll be returning the puppy. It may be the wrong decision, I just don’t know, but although he is affiliative and responsive and so cute I can hardly stand it and loves objects (all just as expected) he began mounting and thrusting (very vigorous, eyes closed, ears flat, forelegs clasped, tongue flicking) on Will relentlessly, as well as scratching vigorously after defecating… all these behaviors were done as if he were a 4 year old intact male. It seems atypical for a 9 week old pup to behave that way less than 12 hours after coming to a new home. I’ve been in agony all weekend, loving so much about him but worried about what it all might mean down the road when he is older. Mostly I want a sweet playmate for Will….. Long, painful story short, I’ve decided that I should bite the bullet and not take the risk that 9 months down the road that he’ll be challenging Will. I may take another pup from the litter, may not. Don’t know. Arggggh. Think I’m going to have to follow my heart, if I can hear it talking.
Meanwhile, Jim finds out today if he needs surgery. If so, recovery is 9 – 12 months. Ouch. What a week.
Oh, I’m so very, very sorry. What a heartbreaker! I wish you the very best in your tough decision.
And, speaking of wishing for the best – tell Jim I have all my fingers crossed for a speedy yet complete, nonsurgical recovery for him.
Trisha: I’m so sorry to read about the puppy decision you are having to make. I can just imagine how very, very difficult it is.
I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I think it is a valuable lesson, a point you have made in the past, that sometimes the best thing to do is to give the puppy/dog to another home that might be a better fit. You have a responsibility to Will first. So, it makes sense that if you think the puppy might be a problem for Will down the road that you not take the chance. A wise, if heart-wrenching, decision.
Oh, Trisha, making a decision like returning a puppy is so wrenching. And how can one not become attached? Impossible choices.
I’d be worried, more than behaviorally, that there is something medically awry with the puppy to manifest in such a way , in one so young.
Sometimes we do just have to listen to our hearts— I can be overly analytical about everything. When it came time for me to make a decision about whether or not I wanted to take Gracie, who for 7 of her 10 months had been crated, with very little stimulation, not to mention no socialization to speak of, my logic flew out the window. I conducted no behavior tests, all I did was look in her eyes, and saw the way I was reflected there. We were rescuing each other, and we both knew it, and it was good.
Sometimes, as with everything in life, be it shoes, jeans or lovers, choosing a dog comes down to that ineffable thing called: fit.
This pup, though wonderful in many ways, is not the right fit. You can perform many predictive tests, but that is all they really are, predictions. Fit doesn’t enter into it until you are living it.
Sometimes,things that should be perfect, aren’t. While science has a certain predictability, your heart is never wrong.
Here’s hoping Jim gets good news , and is soon 100%.
So sorry Trisha – but how sensible to make the decision now, while there is time for both you and the pup to find your perfect partners. Hope Jim gets good news, and that you find ‘your’ puppy very soon.
Oh, I’m sorry he’s not working out! Maybe that soft female would be a better match for Willie.
Trisha – were you able to see how Mom and Dad behaved around other dogs? And just out of curiosity, you said 2 BC’s and a small fluffy dog – no more Great Pyrenees?
It never rains but it pours, it seems. How heartbreaking that the little guy isn’t going to be a good fit. It would be interesting to see how puppy behaved with a more calm and confident older brother. How was Will handling pups behavior? I don’t know that it contributes much to the subject but something Ranger did when confronted with the two strays that jumped the fence to be with him came to mind when I was reading this so I pass it along for whatever it might be worth. One of the strays, Shar Pei mix, showed all the signs of being a classic wanna-be-alpha. Every time Shar Pei did anything that was at all dominating or status seeking Ranger would mount him and the more he did this the more confident and relax the shar pei became. In fairly short order the Shar Pei became Ranger’s devoted follower content to let him handle things. It was very interesting to watch. Thinking about it I wondered if perhaps puppy sensed that Will wasn’t the calm confident leader pup needed so he tried to fill that role himself. Pure speculation on my part I admit.
Good luck to Jim. The waiting to find out is usually the worst part.
Love the tests you mentioned and the comments about what others have done when selecting a puppy or dog. I wonder how my Bear would have fared had I tried any of those. I totally fell for the cute face, blue eyes, and puppyness. Oops. Laughs.
Trisha, so sorry to hear of your difficult decision with the puppy. I know that must be heartwrenching for you. Listen to your heart and know that whatever decision you make is the right one. I intend health and well-being for Jim’s arm (and the rest of him as well!). And hope the rest of your week is calm and peaceful – sounds like you could use it!
Ouch – what a disappointment that must be for you. But… I am soo glad that you listened to your heart. Maybe a girl is a better playmate after all for sensitive Will.
I had to return the dog before Ronja, because after 2 days in my house it became very clear to me that this gorgeous, sweet, obedient adult Golden Rottweiler wanted to kill my cat. I kind of knew, the moment she first encountered him – from within her crate. But for a couple of days I still tried to tell myself that it was just a dog wanting to chase an unfamiliar cat, when her eyes told a very different story. Thank goddess, that – by pure chance – I had adopted her from a no kill shelter. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. Even so, I cried for a couple days until they called me to tell me that a wonderful (no cat!) household had adopted her. She was never returned to the shelter, so I am hoping for the best for that striking and loyal dog.
Who knows why it played out this way this time with your pup – but I am convinced that it will all work out perfectly fine in the long run, as you are following your heart with its big soft spot for Willi.
Will write a real post tomorrow, but short version is….. first pup went home, another pup took his place (Will chose him, not me, lots more on that tomorrow) and Jim’s bicep is 100% ruptured. Surgery next week, 9 to 12 months full recovery. Thanks SO much for your kind words of understanding about both, they were so gratifying to read; helps so much to know that others understand. First pup WONDERFUL dog, just not the dog for Will. More after I try to get some sleep!
What a relief! I remember my 2nd biggest priority was that I chose the right personality for my two beagles as a playmate. I talked at great length to the breeder about my guys, their play styles and even sent link to video’s. I was prepared to take pup back if for some reason he didn’t fit in as well.
It’s the best feeling in the world to watch them race around playing their made up games, or sharing sticks or trading balls from eachother’s mouth.
Plus it was super duper nice to have my guys take on responsibilities of teaching him patient and polite…dog manners (in a nice way). They elected themselves, it was natural to them so I was so lucky. They’ve had their squabbles which is nice to see as I think that’s important as well. Not one dog bossing the other at all times. Balance. Not dictatorship.
Even now that Keegan my aussie is double their size, when he is cheeky and knows it, he’ll actually try to wedge his muzzle into whichever beagle’s mouth to smooth things over while wiggling his tail a million miles and hour and then goes into a play bow…
Very excited for you! Poor Jim tho….
I love it that you let Will choose! Really looking forward to reading all about it.
So sorry to hear about Jim’s arm – it must be particularly difficult with animals and outside work to deal with. Are you able to get extra help in while he is recovering?
Just catching up on your blog, I realize this was over a week ago.
I am so sorry you had such a difficult time with Lassie’s death. Pleases don’t be so hard on yourself. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. You did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. You were with her and thats what mattered. I think whatever you did you would of felt you let her down in a way, but deep inside you know you were there for her. I say this looking down at my perfect 10 year old large breed mix and know one day I will feel the same ( I am hoping for another 20 years or so…).