Articles Index/Buying and Selling
When faced with the momentous decision of choosing a puppy from a litter, one thing in particular must be kept in mind. You are looking for perfection! You may not find it, but that is what you are looking for. Even the puppy that appears to be nearly perfect at two months of age can develop something undesirable in its physical appearance as it grows up.
Running young pups on for show can be a heart-breaking business with many disappointments. Selling one you have put much time and care into, and probably love very much, is not for those who have a weak constitution. I always think when selling one at six months of the tremendous amount of pleasure that dog will give someone else. After all, I am not the only person in the world who can look after a dog well; and the dog benefits from being the only one, getting all the love and attention.
There are several obvious pitfalls when picking a puppy and one of the most common is making up your mind before they are even born which sex or color you are going to keep. If you want a good one for yourself, then choose the best regardless.
Moving on from there, you must remember few litters contain a show dog, let alone a champion. Just because the parents are champions, or you have used a top stud dog, you don't necessarily get a top show dog.
Temperament is the most essential thing whether you are evaluating a litter for show or as pets. The most perfect looking Norfolk is useless without being happy and animated.
Good pups of any breed are rarely produced indiscriminately. Much thought goes into researching the pedigrees of the potential sire and dam, and then the correct feeding of the dam throughout pregnancy has a bearing on what the offspring will look like. Evaluating a group of pups correctly depends entirely on how well the puppies themselves have been fed, as assessing poorly weaned or wormy pups is extremely difficult.
Experienced breeders have some idea of which pup has show potential at birth, just by noticing how short-backed it is, where the bones are placed, how the head looks, as there is a certain quality about the best ones even at this stage. From then on, pups grow in bits and pieces until around eight to eleven weeks.
Watch the pups constantly from the age at which they first begin to leave the nest for temperament. I have found that it can often be the lazy one who takes his time to rise to his feet and come to see what is going on who has the right show temperament, and not always the first one out of the box as is often quoted. They do not hang back or hide in a nervous way either. Their feelings and emotions do not swing the extremes so often, they are sensible and emotionally stable. If these things are coupled with an abiding interest in everything and a tail position which seldom deviates from the vertical, then you have the right temperament.
The pup who always rushes out first and fusses around your feet, tail wagging in a fast and furious fashion, can be hyperactive at a later age and difficult to keep weight on. Their emotions soar from excitement to worry or despondency, being seldom satisfied by anything for very long, making them a moody and unpredictable show dog.
So having assessed the temperament, look for the cobbiest, shortest looking pup with the heaviest bone and substance -- this is not necessarily the largest pup by any means. Notice which one is balanced overall with no part out of proportion to another.
Now stand the puppy on a table, check over the head; is it generally square-looking when viewed face on? Has it a broad, slightly rounded skull; deep stop; dark eye; short, strong muzzle with no sign of narrowness; good bite (although some overbites can correct)? Look again from the side angle; has it a short muzzle with a definite stop?
As far as possible, the pup must be perfect for even the smallest deviation from the standard at this age will be exaggerated in the adult. Check the lay of shoulder; does the head virtually sit on top of the shoulders? If so, it will have too short a neck later on. How straight are the front legs? The slightest turn at this age is bad news. Is the topline level with a high set tail; do the hindquarters have the correct amount of angulation; is the hock short enough? Feel the spring, length and depth of the ribs. Is the loin short? Are the legs and back both short? If one is obviously longer than the other, then as an adult the dog will be incorrectly balanced.
Place the pup on the floor and notice how he moves. Can you see the elbows moving out from the body when he comes toward you? If they are noticeably in any way, they are incorrect. Do the hocks flex well when seen from the side; do they move too close together when moving away from you? Feel the bone; does it feel so fine you could snap it like a matchstick? If so, it is too fine. If it has a thick, rounded feel, that is good.
If you are examining a male, don't forget to check gently for both testicles. They can usually be felt by ten weeks, though some descend later on. Check for missing teeth. Check the texture and quality of the coat -- generally speaking, the smoother the coat on the legs at this age, the harsher the coat will be. However, a completely smooth looking puppy may be too short-coated when adult, with no eyebrow or whisker at all and a rather thin, though harsh, topcoat. Neither do you want an over-profuse coat.
Last of all, check the feet. They should be firm, rounded, high-arched cat feet, not thin and flat.
Now stand back and once more assess the puppy as a whole; don't just look at the faults or the virtues, but notice what the overall picture is. Sometimes a fairly serious fault is put back into perspective when the animal is seen as a whole, and sometimes a pup with an outstanding virtue such as a good head does not look right because it is not a well-balanced pup or has a very poorly made body. Sometimes a rather plain puppy, without any major faults or virtues, can grow into an outstanding adult, so it is well running on.
Two other essentials to assess are elusive: style and quality. They are quite impossible to describe easily, but if a pup "hits" you as soon as you see it, it has these two qualities whatever else it lacks.
Having run your pup or pups on, do be objective about them when they are six months. In my experience, for every three run on, only one will make the grade, if you are lucky, so if it is not good enough, sell it as a pet. A poor specimen will not do you or, if you bought the pup, the breeder any good whatsoever. Looking at it from another point of view, remember that the quality and reputation of your breed depends totally on the quality of the dogs you, the exhibitor, shows.
ANTIC, Fall, 1994
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