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.
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.