Puppies, Puppies, Puppies

Warren Eckstein - Written for MSNBC

THE NO. 1 RULE for selecting a puppy is to never buy one on impulse. Eckstein doesn’t believe in what he calls society’s “revolving pet mentality“: People get a puppy, and then discover that it’s too much to handle or doesn’t fit their lifestyle. The result: The pup is left in a shelter or is simply let loose to fend for itself.

While some dog breeds have certain reputations regarding personality and disposition, dog breeders have long been upset about such stereotypes. For example, owners of “pit bulls” (officially called Staffordshire terriers) have long said that their pets have been unfairly stereotyped as being mean. Most breeders believe that the dog’s environment and training is the best predictor of how they will be.

If you’re concerned about temperament, Eckstein says you’ll do just as well with a mixed-breed puppy from the pound as you will with a purebred dog purchased from a breeder. What really matters is the effort you put into your pet at home. The type of environment you provide will go a long way toward shaping its temperament.


Look for the puppy that is not the most rambunctious, or unruly, nor the most shy of the litter. The key here is moderation: The one that approaches you, then backs off, falls into the moderate category.
Physically, the pup should be plump and lively with sparkling eyes and a shiny coat. Look at his mouth. His breath should be fresh, gums pink and teeth should be white. Take a look at the other end too: The rear should be clean.
Generally speaking, if you’re choosing a puppy (purebred or mixed-breed) choose one between 8 and 12 weeks old. A younger one will not have had enough time to socialize with his brothers and sisters; an older one may have bonded too closely to them. But remember, this is a rule of thumb only. Older puppies or adult dogs can make fine companions.
Can you really tell how smart your dog is? Eckstein says you can, to some extent, by testing your puppy in simple ways. These tests can show you a variety of different things:
1. After a few minutes of playing with the puppy, turn him over on his back. A well-tempered puppy will take this position for a few moments, then start to struggle a little. Being upside-down or showing the belly is a sign of submission for dogs.
2. Turn the lights down in the room, shine a flashlight on the floor and see if the puppy follows it. This allows you to test the curiosity as well as the intelligence of the puppy. Does it follow the light? It should be curious. If it shies away or runs away, it may have a temperament that is more shy or scared of strange things.
3. Take three paper cups; place food under one of the cups. Move the cups around and see if the puppy goes back to the cup with food.
4. Hold the puppy’s front paws. If he allows you to do this without resistance, he isn’t really aggressive. If he pulls back or nips at your hands, this may mean he is more aggressive.
5. Note the position of the puppy’s tail while playing with other puppies. A tail up and wagging is the sign of a happy, fun-loving, comfortable dog. A tail down and tucked under indicates a scared and timid one.
6. If you walk away, will the puppy follow? 
7. Note the puppy’s reaction to noise - a whistle, bell or clapping. Does your pup go toward or run away from the source of the noise? Running away may indicate a dog that is timid or easily scared.
It’s very important to match a pet’s personality with that of the family, and if you don’t pick the right one, everyone can be miserable. Choosing a pet is a process based on expectations. Neither you nor your pet can get along if you expect miracles. We have to realize that no dog is perfect. Here are some questions you can ask that may indicate the kind of dog you’re about to get:
1. How large is the litter? An animal from a smaller litter will have to fight less for his mother’s milk and warmth than one from a litter of more than six or seven pups and will have fewer adjustment problems later on.
2. Which is the largest of the litter? The smallest? The size of a young animal may indicate a lot about behavior patterns. If he pushes all the others out of the way to get milk, he may have an aggressive personality. If he’s laid-back, allowing the rest of the litter to take milk first, this may indicate another problem: The pup may not interact well with other animals later in life.
3. Which puppy is the most alert? Perform the “nose test” to determine the animal that responds well. This involves the animal’s strongest sense: smell. Place a small amount of saliva on your finger and let the puppy sniff it. The longer he sniffs, the longer his attention span (the longer the better.)
4. When you’ve narrowed down the options, take the dogs out of the cage. How does he respond to your touch? Does he appear to enjoy human contact? The better he interacts with you (especially when you’re alone with the puppy, away from the litter), the easier he’ll adjust to your family when you take him home

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