Thursday, October 8, 2015

Picking A Winner (part 1)

This is actually the next in my series on choosing the right dog, but since this evolved into two parts, I used a different title. My mind works like that, are you telling me yours doesn't?
I'm not gonna lie, I started typing this two weeks ago and when reading it over today, I realized that it was going to be a two part post. My bad. I could have totally had a post last week and not been a slacker.
This is clearly part 1, which outlines the importance of choosing a good breeder. I am not in any way supporting breeders as opposed to rescue or adoption, just trying to help out people who choose to go that route.
When I meet with a new client, one of the many questions I ask is where they got their dog. I don't ask this so I can give a lecture on the impacts of buying from a breeder as opposed to rescuing a dog or the pitfalls of choosing a puppy from a pet store. I ask because the first environment that a dog has does make an impact on their personality. I have worked with dogs from reputable breeders, puppy mills and those found on the side of the road- the good news is that with time and patience, they can all be great dogs.
If you have the choice and you want to buy your next pup from a breeder, I'm not going to stop you and direct you to the nearest shelter, but I think you should be educated in choosing that breeder. There are some red flags that you should be aware of when selecting a breeder for your next companion and knowing ahead of time can save you a lot of headache and potential heartache.

First, why should you care about the early environment and bloodlines that your puppy comes from? The first obvious factor is genetics. A responsible, reputable breeder will have vast knowledge of the lineage of your puppy. The breeder cares about this because they want healthy dogs and they want to better the breed. Appearance and conformation are great things to be aware of and should be taken into consideration, but alone they do not make a great dog- good breeders select for demeanor too! Health concerns are another genetic factor- many purebreds are predisposed to health problems- your breeder should know about all the specifics for that breed and do what they can to avoid keeping these health problems in the bloodline. For example, large breed dogs generally will come with PennHip X-Rays, which are done to check for hip dysplasia. At the very least, both parents should have had these done.

I'm not going to delve much into the physical effects of poor breeding programs, but I will tell you that I have seen 8 week old puppies with grade IV heart murmurs and severe hip dysplasia- yes, at that age the entire litter of 9 puppies was diagnosed. These puppies were the result of extremely poor breeding; we found out during the course of the appointment that the parents of the litter were mother and her son (from a previous litter obviously). The person had no idea that this was not a good way to breed- the veterinarian explained.

As far as personality, it is very difficult to predict what exactly will happen in a given litter- it's a breeder, not a mind reader. What a breeder can do is know the two dogs they are pairing for a given litter and select them based on demeanor in addition to health and appearance. If either parent has a history of serious behavior problems, they should not be selected to breed because it could very likely be passed on to puppies.
Aside from genetic factors, the early environment that a puppy experiences can have a huge impact on who they become. Dogs who are abused, neglected or otherwise ill-cared for show that as adults.


Time for a super quick, simplistic review of puppy development.
For the first 12 days, the puppy is completely reliant on the mother for their care and can't do much more than poop, pee and nurse.
Around 2 weeks, the puppy begins to control bodily functions, the eyes open and they start to wag their tail.
Starting around 3 weeks, puppies begin to develop awareness of their environment and begin to learn some canine behaviors. At this stage, they can also differentiate between human and canine behaviors (if exposed to both).
At 7-10 weeks, most puppies are ready to wean and go to their new homes and begin learning some manners and basic cues, as well as how to bond with people and other animals (using reward based training, of course).
At 5 weeks, the fear imprint period can begin, though it typically peaks at 8-10 weeks. Scary things at this time will remain scary for a long time.
There are more development periods, but that is for another post.

These periods matter because if a puppy is in a less than ideal environment, it will have an impact on their development. If a puppy is born to a mom who is young, inexperienced and unhealthy, they may not have the care they need in that early stage when they are vulnerable and dependent. As those puppies spend more time in that stressful environment, they will learn all about stress and how to respond to it. Those responses vary from cowering and hiding from stimuli to barking, growling and biting as a response. The problem is that they may be in such a stressful place that their responses are excessive and they retain the behaviors into adulthood. Any fearful experiences are made worse by not having a good coping mechanism. If that early environment is not clean, you will have the special joy of potty training a puppy who does not mind pooping and peeing where they sleep and eat (I see this a LOT in puppies from pet stores).

It's not just scary experiences that can shape behavior- lack of experience with new things can be just as detrimental. Puppies who don't see people with hats, other animals or hear loud noises tend to over-react to these is introduced suddenly later in life.
I am hoping that by now I have you convinced to go for a good breeder if you are going to go that route.
Tune in next week for the red flags to be on the lookout for when you are selecting your breeder!


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