As some people know, my family decided to add a new canine member this spring. The journey through picking a puppy was a really eye-opening one and left me with one bottom line piece of advice to share – pick a puppy, not a picture.
My two previous dogs were chosen the way that I think most dogs are chosen – by being cute! With our first puppy, Maddie, we were lucky and she became a sweet, albeit hyper girl, who was very loving and tolerant of the two babies we brought into our home over the next couple of years. After we lost Maddie to cancer, we adopted Ruby, a one-year-old lab from a rescue. When we met her, I hadn’t yet gone to the AnimalSense Academy and didn’t notice the signs that she was a pretty anxious girl. She has turned out to be a really great dog in our home, but doesn’t particularly like to be out in the larger world of dogs and bikes and skateboards and various other scary objects. She’s come a long way but will never be a laid back, go anywhere, take-life-as-it-comes dog. This was what I was hoping for with a new dog.
Armed with knowledge about dogs’ temperaments, body language, and potential problems, I set out to find a stable, even-keeled dog to add to our family. The first question was puppy or adult. I felt, despite knowing how much work it is, that a puppy offered the best chance to control his experiences and environment. Early, positive socialization is one of the best ways to shape an adult dog’s behavior and temperament, so I decided to try not to think about the house training, chewing and generally unruly behavior that I was surely in for and go the puppy route.
I scoured the internet looking at both breeders and rescues and shelters. One of the things that I found so frustrating was how many places wanted to pick a puppy for me or have me pick from a picture. There were breeders who were happy to take a deposit on a puppy that was only refundable if they didn’t have the gender I wanted. There was a shelter that had many cute puppies online that were spoken for before they were even available to be seen in person. I am thrilled that these puppies were finding homes, but I wasn’t interested in adding a family member that I’d never even met. It felt like getting a mail order bride! What was I looking for? Really just one thing – sociability. I wanted a dog that truly loved people. In the words of Jamie Damato Migdal, “everything else we can teach.”
Eventually, I found a puppy on Petfinder that was just adorable and available to be seen in a foster home. He was a 9-week-old Australian Shepherd, lab mix and truly couldn’t have been cuter. We took Jamie along for a dose of objectivity, and my husband and I went to meet the puppy. As we sat on the floor of the foster family’s living room, the pup was called in from outside. He trotted right on past a room full of new people to the toy bin. He grabbed a toy and lay down to chew. This puppy had barely acknowledged that there were people there. After a bit of time to see what he would do, we tried to entice him over. We made kissy noises and patted the floor. He approached us briefly to see if we had anything for him and quickly left when he realized we didn’t. Finally, Jamie picked the puppy up and held him. This puppy, quite literally, screamed. It was as if being held by a human was one of the most distasteful things he had ever experienced.
Needless to say, the search went on, and we went to see a few more puppies. Finally, we went with our daughters (don’t get me started on the perils of taking children with!) to visit some 9-week-old lab puppies at a breeder’s home. There were two boys left in the litter. We entered the basement where the pups were living and asked the breeder to take one of the pups out at a time. When she put the first pup down, he wiggled and wagged and ran straight to my daughter and I. It was as if it was Christmas morning for him to have visitors! When we picked him up and gave him pets and scritches, he nestled into our arms as if he had known us all his life. His brother was similarly thrilled to have people to love. When both pups were out together, they romped and played, but all it took was the slightest invitation for them to drop what they were doing to come and get some attention from us. We went home, slept on it and then went back the next afternoon to get the first boy.
His name is Tucker and he’s been with us for five months now. I can’t guarantee that he will grow up to fulfill all my aspirations for having a bomb-proof dog, but I certainly can say that having seen first hand the vast differences that exist in puppy “personalities,” I am certainly glad I picked a puppy who I got the chance to meet and evaluate in person, not just the cutest picture online.