Picking Puppy


We're going to pick out our new Border Collie puppy today. The breeder says that he will pick out our dog for us - that it won't be up to us. This seems a bit unfair to us as I expect that as the first buyers, we should be getting pick of the litter. I understand that you'd want the pup whose temperament best suits your intended activity, but I have always believed that it is best to let the pup pick you. Perhaps it means that the pup who bonds best with you will work best for you. Where's the joy in having someone else pick your dog for you? What are your thoughts on this subject?


The problem with this is your individual perception of "let the pup pick you." Here's what I mean.

Puppy Picking: A Play in Four Parts

Act I
You go to the breeder looking for a family pet. Puppy X comes tumbling out of the room or across the yard and plops into your lap, licking your face, and giving lots of love. You think, "Hey! This puppy picked me! She must love me... there must be that mystical bond between us... she must have known we were meant to be, etc., etc." Puppy Y is off in some corner. Puppy Z is sleeping.

Act II
John Q. Public and his son go to the breeder, puppy X comes tumbling out of the room or across the yard and plops into the kid's lap, licking his face, and giving lots of love. He thinks, "Hey! This puppy picked me! She must love me... there must be that mystical bond between us... she must have known we were meant to be, etc., etc." Puppy Y is off in some corner. Puppy Z is romping with the other littermates.

Act III
You go to the breeder again, puppy X comes tumbling out of the room or across the yard and plops into your lap, licking your face, and giving lots of love. You think, "Hey! , etc., etc." Puppy Y is off in some corner. Puppy Z comes up to you but you ignore him, focusing on puppy X. You pick puppy X as the "puppy for you and only you." You plunk down your money and take her home.

Act IV
It is now a year later. Puppy X is now Dog X - wild, romping, and all over your house, chewing things up and barking at you when you're not paying attention. Dog X is digging massive holes in your backyard, nipping at the kids' heels and generally being a royal PITA. You are fed up with the dog, your kids fear the biting and your house has devalued approximately $38,000.

Would you like to guess the end of this tale?

The problem with the above scenes are the following:

1) The puppy that knocks over its littermates just to get to you and lick you in the face, is always awake when you get there, and demands the attention is more than likely the most dominant dog of the bunch, the most "high-key" pup (and a Border Collie no less), and the dog that is going to need the most attention/work/exercise. You just needed a family pet - not a herding fiend or an agility wonderdog.

2) Puppy Z might have been the one the first time that made it to you and gave you all the attention. That pup would then have been "the one for you". As luck would have it, it had just scarfed down about 2 cups of puppy gruel and was sleeping off its massive meal .

3) Puppy Y was probably the calmest of the bunch - most likely the best suited for a family home. It might not have had a strong herding instinct; it probably wouldn't have needed the massive amount of work that puppy X requires. Puppy Y would never "pick you" because she wouldn't barge through her littermates just for some attention.

4) John Q. Public and his son came to the same conclusion as you - puppy X bonded to us. And so did Sally Buyer.... and Joe Purchaser..... and every other person that visited the breeder. Puppy X was just a naturally outgoing dog - she loved everyone. She bonded to them all. You, as the individual, don't see this. The breeder, who sees these pups every day, knows the whole story.

A compatible temperament is the most important thing - more than the initial "love at first sight", more than the one who gave you the most attention.

In my opinion, a breeder should never allow a potential pet family to choose their own dog. You tell them what your environment is like, what you're looking for in a dog, and what you expect to do with your dog (activites, etc.). No one knows these pups better than they do (heck, they've raised them since they were no more than a few seconds old and they have dealt with them every day, every hour, for the last 8 weeks). Hopefully they have worked with this breed for many, many years. How many have you owned in your life? To expect to "figure out" the best dog for you in an hour visit is simply impossible. Color shouldn't matter to you. Cuteness shouldn't matter either. Activity levels are deceiving. --- Cuteness fades quickly. Color matters little when the dog is too hyper for you. And the pup may have just been playing for several hours just before you arrived - its relative calm nature now is only an illusion.

Besides, since the pups' immunities are not up and running, you shouldn't be handling every pup in the litter. And any old Tom or Mary shouldn't be touching the pups at all. Who knows where their hands have been? Or their feet? A breeder's dogs should already be spoken for and a good one would never sell to just anyone who wanted one. Never is it "First come, first served." Nor to the highest bidder. You should never be able to come and "pay and be on your way." The process of purchasing a pup should take weeks, normally months.

If I were you, I would certainly go along with my breeder making the choice for me. If you don't trust him/her to make the best choice for your family, then they shouldn't be your breeder.

And exactly what is "pick of the litter"? I've heard this for eons but most people use it to mean something different. Most people imply that it is "the best puppy" - but that can't be right, any more than there can be a "best person." There are dogs better suited for particular things but that would depend on whos the dog is going to as to which pup is the pick of the litter. If you mean the "best pup for you", then who better to determine that than the one who knows the pups.

Actually, I think the joy is in getting along with your dog. In rescue, I see hundreds of cases (OK, maybe I'm exaggerating) where the people "picked the perfect puppy for them", "felt that special bond", and "fell in love at first sight" and are now giving up the dog because they just don't get along or aren't what they expected. Nothing crushes warm feelings faster than unfulfilled expectations.

By the way, you can pick up your copy of Puppy Picking: A Play in Four Parts from your local Border Collie rescuer. They've got lots of puppy Xs.

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Page last updated April 1, 1997. All material Copyright 2001 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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