Pick The Right Puppy! Breeder-Judge shares 50 years experience picking puppies - what balance really is, fault fallacies, a puppy can’t grow into it...




E. Katie Gammill, AKC Judge, Exhibition Editor - April 2009


Selection of the “right” puppy depends upon whether one is looking for a “show” puppy or pet puppy. What is the difference? Since there are so many “opinions” as to what makes a “show” puppy let’s start with two testicles or a uterus, and if there is a size disqualification in the standard, a puppy that indicates it will mature within that range.


E. Katie Gammill, AKC Judge/Exhibition Editor, TheDogPlace.orgProspective owners may choose the puppy that stands back and watches, or they are drawn to the boisterous puppy that attacks, chews, and “rough houses” with them. Both may come with their own set of problems, the first needing extra socialization and the second regarding aggression issues. This is why temperament testing is popular.


Puppy buyers may not realize that a dedicated breeder, breeding for a specific trait to enhance a breeding program, has priority of choice. Isolate the puppy or puppies you want to keep and DO NOT SHOW ANY PUPPIES THAT ARE NOT FOR SALE! This eliminates questions such as “What is the difference in that show puppy and this pet puppy?” It is easier for the buyer to concentrate only on the puppies from which they can choose.


Now, in picking your puppy, you must not allow a particular color, sex, or breed characteristic to take precedence over the correct choice. Far better to consider the soundest puppy with breed type that moves good coming and going. Then look for a great attitude and a puppy that is “together” both physically and mentally. Color and sex should be secondary.


If you plan to show, roll a ball down a hall way and watch the puppy chase it. If he or she tends to “cow hock,” face reality. Crooked legs do not encourage a judge to reward a blue ribbon. Watch puppy from the side. If the front legs hike up to the chin, there is no shoulder layback and neck.


Having been in dogs (and horses) fifty years, believe me when I say “If it doesn’t have it, it won’t grow it! “ If it does have it, it may go through strange stages as it matures, but it will fall back into what it was initially. It is normal during the teen age years for the shoulder to “go forward” and the front legs to appear as it they are “coming out of the same hole”. This is a growth pattern. With maturity, the shoulder should “fall back", the legs will once again widen, and the proper sound front returns. These dogs will normally settle size-wise IF one is willing to wait.


When a no-neck, straight front dog goes oversize, the possibility of settling back is little to none. The compensation for the bad front is an over angulated rear which will not follow through behind. One might see the rear set so far behind itself that the dog appears giraffe-like. Some call this “style” and some judges reward it. This makes it neither right, nor desirable for future breeding stock. I am convinced various breeds of both horses and dogs were created by “enhancing faults” and accepting such under a new name. Designer dogs are an example.


There are crooked legged dogs being shown today. Many breeders, picking on a single nuance, such as eye, foot, ear, coat, color, and muzzle put the entire dog as risk and push a breeding program into a specific direction. Upon removal of the rose colored glasses, the breeder may find they are in a “hole” of immense proportions. What is the saying? “If you are digging a hole for yourself and it doesn’t look good, QUIT DIGGING!”


Basically, what we SHOULD search for in a litter is a balance between TYPE and SOUNDNESS. Unfortunately, many of today’s choices reflect a “balance” between front and rear. Two wrongs do NOT make a right! That makes as much sense as the statement I coined years ago - “Rather than addressing faults today, breeders tend to just adjust them.” Obviously some people have the ability to pick less than stellar puppies, as they appear in the Group Ring with regularity. Visible faults on an eight week old puppy do NOT improve with age. IF a puppy is WRONG at that age, it won’t grow out of it. Granted, it MAY grow hair to conceal it, but that won’t fool a good judge.


People who keep a single specific trait and allow a poor rear or front into their breeding program set precedence for future generations. They will pay for their folly in the brood box. The offspring will be the ruination of the delicate “balance” between type and soundness.


&Where is it written one must keep a puppy from every litter? Some of the best breeding plans are a “BUST!” Rather than salvage a blood line you know little or nothing about, call it for what it is (PETS). Move on! Do NOT repeat the breeding of an unknown pedigree until you observe the results of the first litter at maturity. This saves time, money, and heartbreak. What I am saying is this: “IF the horse is dead, GET OFF!”


By chance, one might get that wonderful puppy! Keep it isolated when selling pets. Do not include ANY puppy you are NOT selling in with those being offered for sale. I can assure you if YOUR choice is in the group in the middle of the front room floor with the rest, YOUR pick puppy will “beat feet” right to the child who picks up on the connection and wails “I WANT THIS ONE!”


Walking into a ring with dogs bred to standard is a judge’s dream. It tests their ability to analyze and apply the standard. This entry reflects excellence regarding breed specific traits. Those choices, especially in a big entry, will reflect consistency of type. There is little joy derived from sorting a group of mediocre exhibits.


Is this why people breed for “differences” rather than conforming to the standard? Do they choose to offer a judge a reason to pick one dog over another, right or wrong? If so, this “personal preference” of deliberate manipulation destroys the intent of any breed standard. If a ring is flooded with poor examples of a breed, the judge’s job is to reward those with the most positive virtues.


The bottom line is that we should breed to standard. There is far too much “breeding to win” today and who can hit a moving target? When dogs do win at the expense of the standard, how does a concerned breeder argue with success, however fleeting it may be? The “Next Big Thing” soon comes down the pike and today’s big winner is pushed to the sidelines.


Rather than solving problems today, society twists challenges to fit current desires. Standards changed to “fit” the dog rarely have a positive affect on a breed. If we don’t accept responsibility for our breeding choices, skating on thin ice will land us all in hot water. A papoose doesn’t need an explanation when he burns his tiny finger in the fire. When it comes to breeding correct dogs to standard, “our hair is on fire”.


Perhaps this is the place to share a story as told to be by my mentor in the early 70’s regarding “How to Pick the Right Puppy.” I was born after the Depression to parents over the age of 40. I understand the desperate measures taken in this era. Stock dogs, war dogs, service dogs, and guard dogs were a necessity to society. As little commercial dog food was available, many breeders made their own dog’s diet of whatever they could scrounge up. There were larger kennels and how they survived, I do not know. Some killed livestock for food and let the dogs fend for themselves. It would be of interest to know how those kennels sustained themselves during the depression.


This mentor of long ago remains the most informed and intelligent person I ever met. She dedicated herself toward breed excellence. Through her teachings, I learned to pick a puppy during the whelping process. She taught me to choose the heftiest puppy with the tightest knit body before the puppy was dry. We looked for specifics. The rest of the litter, during her time, was of little consequence.


We never spoke of the great dogs that “might have been”. In that era, only the “fittest survived” and breeders chose wisely. Pet sales were “nil”. Lines preserved through limited breeding and quick, early decisions allowed breeders to concentrate on “the best of the best”. They quickly became expert at selecting puppies.


PICK THE RIGHT PUPPYDo not judge harshly. Faced with such troubling times, none of us know how we would react if we “walked in their moccasins.” Were these breeders playing God? I cannot answer that. The breeders did that which was necessary to preserve my breed. In time, puppy sales increased and once again, the market for companion animals increased.


The fact is, breeding dogs is not for the “faint of heart.” In today’s world people often exist in a future offering little quality of life. I do not know the answers and as age appears, I rarely understand the questions. I do know these breeders understood “dedication to a standard.”


My selections today are made during whelping and directly after birth. My initial impressions prove to be the choices I keep. Fortunately I am not forced to make life and death decisions. People deserve a “breed of choice” to fit their life style. Those before us accepted the challenge of breeding to a standard under the toughest of times.


We should not treat the words in a standard as simply a peg to hang a personal preference on. Imitating another person’s success by breeding to the current fad is an example of quick gratification. It will be short lived and long paid for. It is all about prioritizing. KNOW IN YOUR HEART YOU ARE PICKING THE RIGHT PUPPY FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.


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