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This is a question as a trainer, I will get multiple times throughout the year, but never as much as I do in the spring. And come summertime, that is when I start working with all the puppies that don’t fit within the home where they currently reside. I don’t believe in a bad puppy, or a dangerous puppy, but sometimes the owner/dog combination is just a poor fit. Many of us pick our next puppy partner purely through emotion. We choose the puppy amongst the sea of puppies based on this one came to me first, or this one is the best looking, or this one is the runt or alpha of the litter. Many owners pick a breed of dog without doing their research to determine if the energy level fits within their home. Many times these emotional decisions will work out, but often the don’t. The average age of dogs in the shelter is 18 months. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. Dogs begin to really enter the adolescents at about 9 months. Without good intervention at that time, behaviors can get really out of control. Owners will work on behaviors for about six months and without success, often give up. Many times this end result can be completely avoided by doing just a little research before making a poor choice that effects an animal’s life.
I have multiple stories of owners that made a poor choice and was able to reverse that choice. About a year ago I received a call from a family that had purchased a young puppy that they really wanted to make a part of the family. This puppy began growling at various family members and even bit their five year old child. The family wanted to make this work and we discussed several possibilities for training. When I met the puppy I quickly recognized that this puppy had a tremendous amount of determination and would require a strong and consistent owner. This puppy would challenge it’s owner every step of the way. These were inexperienced owners with young children and limited time for ongoing training. I made the recommendation to speak with their breeder and ask for an “exchange”. Very fortunately they were working with a reputable breeder. He understood their position and they were not asking for a refund but for a better fit for their family. This breeder reached out to me and I explained the family dynamic and the temperament that would likely fit best in this household. The family drove to Pennsylvania and made the exchange. Their second puppy couldn’t be more different. This puppy was easy to guide, took corrections very easily and was very engaged with family members. This puppy wanted to receive direction and wanted to please its owners. This is now a very happy combination.
Last summer I accompanied another client to test a litter of Labradors. All of the dogs were wonderful but there was one that just seemed to fit. Bella was calm, quiet, and super interested in pleasing people. I made my choice and placed Bella in the arms of her potential new owner. Bella literally melted like butter and laid quietly in this unknown human’s arms. The client said that Bella was not her choice, she noted that she liked the most assertive and bold puppy. She stated, and she was correct, that this puppy was the best looking of the litter. I explained that I am not a breeder and therefore not able to speak to the future physique of a particular breed. As she described how she preferred the bold and beautiful, my choice quietly laid in her arms. Once I pointed this out, because this puppy was so calm that the owner almost forgot she was laying there, this owner realized I was right and Bella is still with her. It is important to note that this is not a pass/fail temperament test, this test matches personalities. That breeder placed the bold and beautiful pup with an individual looking to get a hunting dog.
I’ve spoken a little about picking a puppy from a breeder but not from a shelter. I truly believe in rescuing dogs, I will work in either situation to ensure success. The difference in going to a shelter is to avoid looking at the breed. It is important to pay much more attention to the dogs energy level. When walking into a shelter, have a plan. It is easy to get swept up with emotion and pick the cutest dog and this can lead to challenges later on. This is when bringing a seasoned behaviorist with you can be valuable. Standing close to the cage and allowing the dog to learn about you also gives you a chance to learn about them. Avoid conversation and allow the dog to sniff and explore. Potential owners should realize that often behaviors within the shelter can change completely when you take the dog out of the shelter. It is always helpful to take your potential new friend for a short walk around the shelter. This gives a new owner an opportunity to really gauge the energy level, and attention span in order to make a well thought out and researched choice.
Many people call with questions about how to pick a puppy from a litter. Remember, owners have to have a clear plan prior to visiting and puppies whether with a breeder or at the shelter. If they don’t have a set of criteria and a clear way to assess them, they’ll likely come home with the first puppy they spend any amount of time with. I often hear owners say, “My puppy picked me!” They’re experience is that, when they first approach the puppy pen, one puppy comes charging up to the fence and leaps up to make contact at the top of the gate. People sometimes see this as “love at first sight.” Sometimes this “love at first sight” game plan works, but frequently, it results in spending many more hours training and coping with traits an owner never intended to have and are ill equipped in handling, thus increasing the population of dogs ending up at a shelter. Please take the time to do your homework. Speak with a seasoned professional that can give you information on the trainability and behavioral tendencies of the dog you are considering. This will make help ensure lifelong success with your new family member.
As always please reach out to Alpha K9. Alpha K9 offers two programs that I would love potential owners to use more often. The first program is called breed selection. In this program I will examine the owners energy level, if they have young children, how long are they away from home during the day, do they have experience owning a dog before, what size home do they have, how much time do the plan to exercise the dog. All of these questions allow me to determine the size, energy level, and trainability for this family. Once an owner has chosen their breed, I can do a little research for breeders. When the relationship between potential owner and breeder is set, we will head out to review the litter. I learned through my relationship with Guiding Eyes for the Blind how to complete a puppy temperament test. Good breeders welcome this test on their litter and some breeders will hire me to conduct this test on the entire litter. When dealing with dogs from the shelter, I will go with a potential owner and observe the dogs and gauge energy levels and run the dogs through some minor tests to determine if there are certain behaviors that won’t fit within an owners home.
We are always willing to talk dogs with you and love making that perfect match. Meg Caron is a certified canine behaviorist and dog trainer. She is the owner/operator of Alpha K9 professional dog training services. Meg has been working with canines in the Hudson Valley and Berkshires for over 20 years. Meg focuses on incorporating basic obedience into the home to address basic behaviors problems. Alpha K9 personal dog firstname.lastname@example.org (518) 392-0263.