When I first started this journey in the production of purpose raised puppies, the holy grail was to find a test for a 8 week old puppy that will predict success. I have bred and raised well over 600 dogs and the grail still evades me.
I had a long conversation with a program participant about the selection of a puppy from his litter. He liked a particular pup but saw some behavior that concerned him. Our discussion distilled down to the following key points:
- Fear. A fearful puppy will most often retain fearful responses as an adult. You can train around them. You can develop strengths to hide the fear. However, for a working dog you would not want the fear to arise when the stress and pressure are at their highest in a real world scenario. Be cautious with fear and observe the difference between true fear and dog that may startle but quickly recover. Development is exposure and how the dog deals with exposure to new situations will define their aptitude for detection work.
- Behavioral pathways. We want a pup that will fit in with our training scheme and that we will not have to spend time training away behavior that will distract the dog from their task. Given the choice between a pup that I must coax and lure through an obstacle and a pup that handles the same obstacle with little or no effort, the decision to pass over the first pup is easy.
- The four quadrants (weblog 17 October 2019). We want the dog that lives most of its life and training in quadrant 1 (high arousal/high motivation seeking). Pups that spend too much time in quadrant 3 (high stress/high arousal) or quadrant 4 (high stress/low arousal) will be far more effort than they are worth.
Most importantly understand that your dog’s future is dependent on the gene x environment relationship. No dog develops in a vacuum. A young pup does not have the physical or psychological development to predict how they will perform a year later when their development is closer to complete.