Project Puppy: Take a test drive

Once you have your general list started on paper, plan to visit local dog training schools to make a more specific assessment of types of dogs that you might consider most suitable for your family. This is a great place to meet loads of puppies and adult dogs, and to learn a bit more about training and socialization prior to bringing home a new pup. You can also stop by local dog parks and dog events so you have the opportunity to become familiar with lots of dogs of different temperaments, shapes, and sizes.

A shelter or rescue group is one of the best places to find a canine companion. These pups were abandoned by someone, but that is no fault of their own. Puppies are surrendered due to the fact that people are often unprepared for the effort it takes to raise them or because people are negligent in regards to spaying and neutering their dogs which results in unwanted litters. But, with love and guidance a formerly abandoned puppy can become your best friend.

Local shelters have hundreds of mixed and purebred puppies waiting to be found by their new family. If you have your heart set on a particular breed, even the most rare has groups that focus on finding new homes for that specific type of dog. If you decide to choose a pup from a breeder, find someone whose top priority is to produce dogs with good physical health and temperaments, above their looks. Puppies should be raised in the home, their living quarters should be clean, and they should have had plenty of handling and socialization with the family and visitors by the time they are 8 weeks-old. Ask the breeder about any potential health issues the breed may be prone to (they should do genetic testing when available), and meet as many adult dogs from their line as possible (they should be friendly and well-mannered). Genetics plays a large part in behavior. So, getting to know one or both of the parents will give you an indication of the general temperament of this canine family. Also, carefully observe all the pups in the litter to get a sense of the range of personalities. Of course, the final decision is based on spending plenty of time with an individual puppy. Carefully observe how a puppy interacts with you and the environment. All puppies are cute, but beauty is as beauty does. That is, their temperament and personality are of paramount importance. Consider how the pup reacts to the following:

  • When you enter the room.
  • When you attempt to engage them in play.
  • When you attempt to engage them in play with a toy.
  • Being held and handled all over his or her body.
  • Being brought into a new area of the house or yard.
  • Unexpected, loud noises.
  • Interacting with other animals (especially a dog you already have).

A puppy temperament test will not result in any absolutes in regards to the dog’s future behavior. However, genetics is at the core of a dog’s personality and behavioral tendencies and the temperament of a puppy will remain with him or her throughout their lifetime. This is the foundation of who they will become as an adult dog.

In addition, the environment a puppy is exposed to will have a great impact on future behavior. For example, the difference between a Golden Retriever that is raised in a loving family that focuses on socialization and motivational training and a Golden Retriever who was allowed to sit idol through puppyhood and adolescence with little or no regard for training or socialization is likely to be dramatic.

Young puppies are usually remarkably flexible in regards to their behavior. However, inadequate socialization and training mixed with a temperament that is not a good match for a family can quickly lead to normal dog behaviors becoming serious problems that put the canine/human relationship at great risk. With that said, one of the most important parts of your search is to find a modern, reward-based trainer to assist you in providing your dog with an education based on fun for all. Take a look at the trainer search page at www.APDT.com to get started.

The search for a puppy can seem as daunting as finding a suitable partner in life. But, once you have found your puppy, your heart will be filled with love and you are sure to enjoy many years of the joys that come from having a canine companion by your side.

Andrea Arden is an animal behavior counselor, rescuer, author, speaker, and a resident pet expert on the Today Show. For more information, check out her website, AndreaArden.com.