Picking the perfect puppy

More than which one is the most cute


Once breed and breeder have been selected, it's time to choose the puppy that will share your home and heart for the next dozen or more years. There's a few more decisions to make before this final choice is made

Male or female

First, decide whether a male or female suits you best. Females tend to be smaller than males, to wander less, and to be less dominant. Whichever you choose, determine that, unless you are buying a breeding animal, your pet will be spayed or neutered at six months of age. Spayed females cannot get pregnant, so there'll be no accidental litters. They also cannot get mammary or uterine cancer or pyometra, an infection of the uterus.

Castration reduces the male's tendency to wander in search of females in heat, his need to mark every corner of his territory, and his penchant for aggression and dominance. It also eliminates the chances of testicular cancer.

Temperament: Dominant or submissive

Next, decide if a quiet puppy, a submissive one, or a dominant one is more to your liking. Even though temperament, size, and level of activity is constant within a breed, there is plenty of room for individual differences. Akitas are large, dominant dogs, often aloof and difficult to train, yet an individual Akita puppy can be more or less friendly; close to the maximum (27 inches for males, 25 inches for females) or minimum (25 inches for males, 23 inches for females) size; more or less energetic; more or less dominant. The same is true of any breed, for all individuals in a breed are not clones of each other.

Depend on the breeder

By now you have a good rapport with the breeder, so count on her to help you choose your puppy. The breeder has watched the puppies grow. She knows which ones are dominant and likely to be a handful; which ones are shy and likely to need special handling; and which ones are the most curious and likely to get into the most mischief. Now that the selection process has narrowed your choices, carefully watch each puppy at play with the littermates, with the mother, and by himself. Do a few simple tests. When the puppy is facing away from you, make a noise. Watch his reaction. If he startles and runs away you can be sure he's not deaf but you may decide he's is too timid for your boisterous family.

Check out the puppies

Sit or kneel on the ground and call the puppy to you. Snap fingers, pat the ground, get the puppy's attention. If he comes quickly, he may have a strong attachment to people. If he stops to smell the flowers along the way, he may have an independent streak. If he doesn't come at all, he may have difficulty forming a bond with people. Of course, one such test means nothing. Try to visit the litter a couple of times before making a decision. Or depend on the breeder to tell you which puppies seem to have which behavior characteristics. Or both.

Pet store puppies

If you buy a puppy in a pet store, you do not have an opportunity to see how this particular puppy interacts with his littermates. In fact, the puppy may have been weaned so early that he never had a chance to learn how to be a dog from his mother and littermates. Puppies' eyes open at about two weeks of age and their ears open completely by three weeks. They can move around fairly well by four weeks. Until then, they spend little time in interaction with their siblings, and their relationship with Mom is all about food. After four weeks, they begin rough and tumble wrestling, mock attacks, playing with toys, and exploring their surroundings. If a pup is weaned at five or six weeks to be shipped to a pet store, he has not had time to develop his personality under the guidance of a firm mother and an understanding breeder. Without these limits, there's a good chance he'll become either fearful or aggressive.
[More on petstore puppies]

The homecoming

Taking him from his littermates and introducing him to a new home with new smells, sights, and sounds can be overwhelming for an eight-week-old pup, so take steps to assure an easy transition.

Make sure the pup has a spot to call his own, someplace he can go where he will not be pestered by children, other pets, or visitors. This can be a crate, a purchased dog bed, or a blanket in the corner. The crate for a puppy should be a small one; an adult size crate can be purchased when he outgrows the puppy crate.

Bring a blanket or towel from his first home and put it in his place along with a blanket or towel from your own supply. Dogs have a strong sense of smell; familiar smells will help him feel more comfortable. Feed the same food that the breeder did, or mix some of that brand in with the food you prefer to gradually accustom the pup's system to the new diet.

Confine the pup to a room occupied by an adult so you have a better chance of preventing mischief and of catching him before he relieves himself on the floor. If you are distracted, leave the pup in his crate for short periods while you work. If he is confined, your

relationship stands a good chance of getting off to a fine start - he can't soil the floor, chew the furniture, or bite baby's ankles if he is in the crate, so won't start his life in your family being scolded.

Place a crate in the bedroom of the person who is responsible for taking the pup out during the night if he has to relieve himself.

Proximity to people will help him adjust better to being without his littermates, and immediate attention to his toilet needs will make housetraining easier.

Visit a vet

Plan a visit to the veterinarian within a few days of bringing Rover home. If you don't have a vet yet this is a good time to choose a one. Bring a copy of rover's vaccination and worming record and any other medical records. Ask the vet any questions you may have about puppy care.

Otherwise stay at home

Plan on keeping Rover at home (except for visits to the vet and short trips to accustom him to riding in the car) until he is at least 12 weeks old and preferably until he's 16 weeks old. Puppies get their initial immunity to disease from their mother. As the pup grows, he is vaccinated for continued protection from several potentially fatal viruses and bacterial infections. However, there is usually a gap in protection as mother's immunity decreases and administered immunity increases to a safe level.

Pups can pick up bacteria or viruses from other dogs on a walk in the park or a visit to puppy kindergarten class or to a friend's house. Diseases can be transmitted through dog urine and feces, so a pup coming into contact with one or the other can become infected. People can bring germs home on their shoes and clothing, so beware of visiting a friend whose dog has had any of the canine infectious diseases. Enjoy the puppy. Guide him or trick him into correct behavior until it becomes habit. Play with him to help develop his confidence. But most of all, enjoy the puppy. That's what you got him for.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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