On Picking MY Puppy

Posted on 10/29/09 17 Comments

Okay, sometimes my blog is a bit frustrating.  Yesterday was one of those days. I scheduled a post to come up tomorrow and (even thought the date read Oct 30th) it showed up yesterday (on the 28th).  So that is why some of you may have read a post that was there for a few hours but then gone. Don’t worry it will be back tomorrow (and it is a good one:)).

Now onto how I pick my puppies. I hesitate to write what I am going to write today because I don’t want any of you to think this is a iron-clad guarantee to get your next superstar agility dog.  Let me stress this is my process, it does not need to be yours and it may not work for you. I used to do puppy temperament tests with every litter I was considering for my next puppy. If I was really serious about the litter, I did a test at 5, 6 and 7 weeks of age.  You know the tests, the ones that evaluate the temperament to see if a  7 week old puppy will retrieve a rolled up piece of paper or if how well it recovers from stress. I used to base much of my decisions on these tests,  not so anymore,  I didn’t even do one with Feature.

Let me say that those puppy tests may (or may not) be a predictor of what is there to start, but environment (ie your training) is the deal breaker for a great dog regardless of what the temperament tests reveal at 7 weeks. One of the reasons I don’t even do those tests any more is because I feel I am a good enough trainer and can train the things I want. Yes I will make sure the puppy is at least stable. I want to start with a  puppy that is happy and not fearful but I will just evaulate that as a generality as I see the puppy romping about and interacting with people. Anything else, I can train in or out what I like or don’t like.  That may not hold true for all of you, which is why this is my process but it needed be yours.

My first step is to find a litter with a pedigree of dogs that I know and admire. I am talking not only about performance but also health history. If that is possible that is awesome, however I won’t rule out a litter just because I not familiar with all of the dogs in behind it. 

Next I see if there is one puppy in the litter that tugs at my heart. I generally don’t have to look for this puppy as it will find me.

Before I make my final decision (as close to 8 weeks as possible) I look at the structure of the puppy. I haven’t always cared about structure but Buzzy changed my mind about all of that. When I did his puppy evaluation test I listed all of the structural weaknesses I saw at 8 weeks (they are all there today). Does this mean a puppy with less than stellar structure can’t make a good agility dog? Not at all, I have had 3 dogs with major structural flaws and between the three of them they won 8 National Championships. You can not account for the heart and how hard a dog will try for you. That is an intangible quality that not all dogs possess (but which Buzz has in spades). The thing that good structure gives you though, is a better shot at longevity without break down. 

There are no guarantees, but it sure helps if you start with good structure because then, in theory at least, you don’t end up with unbalanced stress on one body part as it does more work to make up for a structural weakness in another area. Ideally, with sound structure, you will have less breakdown, injury and greater longevity in competition (with everything else being equal). What I have observed and many agree with me on this, what you see at 8 weeks is what you get when the puppy is an adult. This is shown clearly in the two photos of Feature below. 

Feature at 1 year and 8 weeks of age.
Feature at 1 year and 8 weeks of age.

Now for the big suprise, you guys are in for a real treat. I asked structure “guru” Helen King to write a guest column here on my blog for all of you. She agreed and it will come your way tomorrow. I bet it will be one to bookmark for ever! I think Helen is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to evaluating form and function. It is not about what makes the prettiest show dog but rather how the structure of a dog translates into performance issues down the road. Tomorrow Helen will give some tips on structure evaluation.

Today I am grateful for that fact I haven’t always paid attention to the role structure plays in performance dogs allowing me to select some of my great dogs with my heart rather than my head.


  1. Kelsey says:
    Friday, August 5, 2016 at 10:04pm

    Hi Susan,

    I am fairly familiar with temperament testing of puppies, but what are some good ‘tests’ to try on a competition puppy (herding breed) that help determine their overall biddability? I find the biddability of a puppy is the most difficult to determine.

    Thanks for your help!


  2. Lia says:
    Friday, November 13, 2009 at 1:30am

    As a dog lover, agility lover and shelter dog rescuer, I have always had to wonder why so many agility folks make such an effort to find their next “perfect agility dog”. Seems to me the priorities of these folks are skewed. I thought agility was supposed to be about having fun…right? So what is up with this intense quest to find the “perfect agility dog”? Why not just attempt to excel to the greatest possible level with one’s current dog?
    I am disgusted by how many people are out shopping for border collies in an attempt to to have the easiest to train, easiest to “Q” with, and fastest possible dog on the agility course.
    Most people pick a puppy for LIFE…not for running the agility course.
    Most people see nine or so puppies and think…”okay, which temperament of these nine puppies would do best in my home”….not, “which of these nine puppies is going to earn me the most “Q’s” and have the fastest running a-frame?”

    I sincerely wish more people would head down to their animal shelter and choose from the countless number of willing and able, highly-biddable dogs there for their next pet/agility partner.

    I choose to train my own dogs because I have yet to find a trainer who really does focus on fun. I have people coming to ME for lessons because I have a variety of breeds/mixes which all came from shelters at different ages and yes, we have done well in in our trials.
    Most if not all of the “successful” and sought after trainers in my area run border collies.
    I believe in the old theory that those same trainers ought to be able to also train some of the more stubborn breeds. Fine, have a border, an aussie, a golden, even a JRT, but take on a hound, a complete guess-mix, a spaniel, an extra large or tiny breed, as well.

    Wouldn’t it be great if more people who wanted to play, even excel, in agility went to their local shelters more often and left some of the “top” border collie breeders who breed solely for performance sports with a couple of extra puppies around? Surely then they would be breeding less than a dozen or more litters per year.


  3. Abigail says:
    Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 10:28am

    I, too, am interested in why you are ADAMANT about “girls” …!!

    Another interesting aspect of getting a puppy these days is that the breeders like to have a profile of the prospective buyer and then match pup with owner themselves… As both my current dogs were shipped to me, I had only seen pictures. My younger one, tho, as soon as I saw a picture of him, a rolly polly puppy running full tilt towards the camera, and I knew I had to have him. He spoke to my heart from that photo.

    I love both my dogs, but not in the same way. I guess it’s a lot like children. Parents feel that they must love them equally, but the love may be different…


  4. Nelci says:
    Friday, October 30, 2009 at 2:49pm

    It has taken me a few days to come to the blog and express my feelings about “puppy love”. When I got Jetson, my Aussie, first agility dog and second dog in my household (my first one is my Beagle Astro), the breeder told me that Jetson had “chosen me” when he sat on my legs when I visited the puppies at 5 weeks of age. I love this dog, and my chest used to hurt from happiness when we were together and when I thought about him… BUT (and this is the part I am ashamed off), then came Cora (short for Corazón – “heart” in Spanish), who has stolen my heart!! And now I don’t feel that feeling for Jetson anymore, and all I can think off is my Cora, and she is the one making my chest hurt from happiness. So, I am afraid that in some years from now, when I decide to get my next Agility dog, she will not longer have that special place in my heart 🙁 Or that I will not love the new puppy as much as I love Cora, it is a conflict, but at least, I hope (and after putting it in writing), a beautiful one…


  5. Eeva says:
    Friday, October 30, 2009 at 8:22am

    I discovered your blog a couple of days ago, reading older messages slowly but surely. I have a new puppy in plans next spring, so this is an extremely interesting topic for me. Also, I’ve started to read again “Shaping Success”, to update myself and getting ideas of how to train a puppy to develop in my head. Feels such a big step to start with a puppy, having two 10-years-old veterans.

    It would be interesting to know why you are biased with puppy gender? What is your experience of how males and females (dogs, not humans…) differentiate from each other from training point of view?


  6. Mary M says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 7:31pm

    All this puppy talk may have influenced my decision some….we have adopted our foster girlie and I am so happy to have finalized the decision.

    She of course had no question from the time I met her that she needed to be mine. Her sister went running to someone else and this little girl came barreling up to me almost knocking me over while I was sitting on the ground first meeting her 🙂

    This was a weighted decision and I won’t know what her true structure will be until she gets to around 15 months (as we got her around 11 weeks) but from how she is growing I think things are gonna be fine. AND I have had the opportunity to begin good foundation with her….I haven’t had this in a dog for around 13 years, our others have came to us later in their lives and are wonderful dogs, but I have wondered what could “be” if I had the opportunity to begin from scratch.

    Anyway, thought I would let ya know the puppy fever is spreading! I hope to make it to a puppy camp with her but can’t do Dec. 🙁

    Thanks Susan, looking forward to the next post.


  7. Charlotte Rundgren says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 7:12pm

    Thank you Susan, I’m loving all your puppy posts and looking forward to Helen King’s input tomorrow. I currently have a litter of 10 day old border collies on the ground so this is perfect timing.


  8. Claire Duder says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 6:41pm

    Timely topic…

    I am home with a 12 day-old litter of Border Terrier puppies, trying to decide if I want to keep one, and if so, which one. Funnily enough, I saw Helen and Mel at an agility trial the week I was down in WA getting Jamie bred!


  9. denise says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 5:07pm

    I’m so delighted you’ve invited a guest blogger. I understand and agree with the importance of assessing structure in our dogs. My problem is actually knowing specifically what to look for. I don’t really know what to look for in structure and it’s hard to see past the cute little puppy faces. 🙂


  10. Naomi den Hartog says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 4:09pm

    Ah looking forward to Helen’s post. Although I just have a new puppy, it’s good to know what flaws there are and what to look for in a next puppy!


  11. Tony says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 3:56pm

    Hi Susan,
    Ok, what characteristics due females have that males seem not to have in your view. Its seems hat many agility enthusiast have a strong bias one way or another.


  12. Katie says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 3:21pm

    Perfect perfect perfect! I’m learning so much through all of this, Andrea you are not alone, I am dying of puppy love and also looking at 2011. Think of how much we’ll know by then! Thanks for bringing in an expert Susan!


  13. Andrea says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 2:57pm

    Okay we need a new topic – I already have puppy fever and my next puppy is definitely not coming until 2011 so this torture! LOL Then again I suppose its never to early to start learning and planning and I am VERY excited to see Helen’s post. Allright will just have to exercise all my willpower when looking at all the cute puppy pics you keep posting.


  14. Tony says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 2:39pm

    Hi Susan,

    Great blog, when looking at a litter of puppies do you stick with one gender or are you open to either gender?


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 2:48pm

      Great question Tony, I *try* to stay open minded but to tell you the truth, I think a male puppy would have to stand on his head and have gold bullion coming out of his butt before I would consider taking him home:)


  15. Michelle says:
    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 8:50am

    Hi Susan,
    I am once again grateful for all the great things I learn while reading your blog! Thank you! Looking forward to tomorrows post. 🙂


  16. Jan V says:
    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 3:46pm

    Thanks for your input and for enlisting Helen’s expertise. I hope to be selecting a new pup (repeat breeding of Brio’s parents) next summer and am finding this useful and enlightening.


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