121 CHOOSING THE PUP
CHOOSING THE PUP - reducing disappointment and vets' bills
"Other persons in selecting a well-bred dog create a circle of flame and place all the pups in the middle of it, and they believe that one to be the best which the mother first runs up to save. Others make observations of puppies while they are sucking milk; and for this reason, if any of them adhere to those dugs of the mother that are nearer the heart, these they judge the better on account of that position and to be more spirited..."
I know of owners of dogs from what can be termed the broad-mouthed breeds who are genuinely surprised, and dismayed, when the pup they bought from a 'reputable breeder' displays in due course a crank tail and a pig-jaw. In her valuable book Bullmastiffs Today (Ringpress 1996) Lyn Pratt writes, on choosing a pup: "Look at the muzzle carefully. Is it the same width under the eyes as it is at the end? If it is, there is every chance that when the cheeks develop, the head will be good. A short muzzle in a very young puppy will look even shorter when the cheeks develop. Run the tail between your index finger and your thumb. It should be straight from root to (the end of the) tail. A short tail, or a crank tail, may be heavily penalised in the show ring. Do not believe any breeder who tells you that gentle massage will smooth away any kink. It will not." That such a breeder exists is worrying.
Irresponsible 'volume' breeders so often get away with it too. The Springer that sired over 100 litters without having any health clearances; the lurcher breeder producing 1000 pups each year; the Breed Club committee officers who direct every enquiry after a suitable sire for their bitch to their own stock however unsuitable the proposed mix of genes; these instances do not reveal dog-lovers but dog-exploiters. Yet so many proposed measures to curb some of these potentially harmful practices are attacked in the dog-press as being anti-dog; they usually sound to me more like anti-nasty human activity. But until we have a culture in which breeders deserve respect, demand the highest standards from their fellow breeders and truly exist to improve their breed rather than their bank balance, change will prove elusive. Meanwhile, not only is the 'man in the street' exploited but dog as a species too. I know of few books on dogs which cover puppy-purchase at all comprehensively; happily a number of magazines on dogs have remedied this and I salute them for this alone.
Look for lively clear bright eyes, a healthy pleasant-smelling shining coat, clean skin and ears, well-formed stools after excretion, a full complement of sharp little teeth (better judged in some pups at eight weeks), a pup heavy for its size but without a sagging belly. A healthy pup has no ribs or hipbones protruding, no discharge from the eyes or nose. Do not buy a pup with runny eyes, diarrhoea, a cough, bare rims round the eyes, an inguinal hernia (a lump in the groin) or an umbilical hernia (a lump around the navel), both of these being hereditary faults. Ensure that the breeder will take the pup back if, in a male pup, both testicles do not in time descend. Imperfect males can often have hormonal imbalance leading to temperamental disturbance. Your favoured pup should move firmly on all four legs. The smallest pup may be the most appealing but also the most weedy or sickly. Make your choice on those factors you have selected beforehand; never choose on impulse, gut feeling, pure hunch or choice-fatigue, where you choose irrationally because you're fed up with the time it's taking. Fifteen years of feeding an unwanted dog is an expensive mistake!
Ignore all the old untruths: a dark eye is not preferable to a light eye from a vision point of view; a light eye does not connect with a flighty temperament; a tail out straight behind does not always indicate a strong back; if you throw a lump of liver in with the whole litter, the pup that gets it may be the greediest not the most enterprising; if you tease a pup with a fresh rabbit-skin, it could over-react through hunger or under-react because it's overtired! Check the mouth and bite of the pup! You can see whether a pup is over or undershot very early in its life. Ask to see the parents. Check their 'bites' and their coat texture, both are directly inherited. A bad mouth and a poor coat are dreadful faults in a working dog. Fifteen years with a pig-jawed dog, whose coat in the rain is soaking wet to the skin, can seem longer!
The relative size of the ears, tail placement, set of ears and the proportions of the neck do not change with age; large ears, low-set ears and tail and especially a short neck will go forward to the adult dog. The pup's coat should not appear soft or fluffy, but dense, wiry, hard and close-fitting. An open coat does not change with age and offers no protection from the elements. Never choose a pup on colour or markings alone. We all like a handsome typical dog, but a handsome cripple is not going to please even the least demanding owner. Coat colour sometimes defines the breed and I am not advocating any overlooking of mis-marked or unwanted hues in pedigree stock; once some colours, like black and tan, are in your breeding stock it is the devil's own job to get rid of it. It is important to look at the whole pup and strive to envision the future adult dog; some people are brilliant at this, but it needs a mental check list to fuel it. And the old adage 'you get what you pay for' punishes all those mean-minded purchasers who want something for nothing; they pay later! Feeding a dog alone costs a great deal of money over the years and vets' bills do not lessen with the years. What is the sense in throwing good money after bad? Why not invest wisely?
A shy, snappy, cowed, trembling, sick or stunted pup is easier to spot than one with anatomical flaws; that is why the choice should be based on a technique rather than a casual visual survey. If you are seeking breeding material, then judgement is always going to beat luck. Checking the pup from nose to toe, lifting it up, testing it with sudden noises, watching how it moves and relates to its siblings, seriously examining the pup with your brain as well as your eyes and ensuring you have the space and time to do this, reduces the chance of poor selection. It is not difficult to go home with a hound-eared, Staffie-chested, Pug-eyed, Poodle-coated, Basset-legged, swine-chopped but endearing bundle of joy. But if you want it to grow into a handsome dog you are proud to own, dream on! Fifteen years is a long time to live with an embarrassment, however much the children adore it. Plan your pup; select on known criteria not on passing whim or the look in its eyes. It is how you look at it with your eyes that justifies the choice. Not one of us surely wants to be 'sold a pup'!