Whether you’re interested in adding a purebred from a reputable breeder to your family or looking to rescue a shelter pet, I’m here to tell you that what you see during puppyhood is what you get. A human-canine mismatch has little to do with the dog itself, but the particular dog and the family in which it ended up. When selecting a puppy, it’s important that you do not make your decision based on physical appearance, size, coat type or seemingly outgoing personality alone. 

Temperament should be the No. 1 factor in determining if a puppy will be the ideal family dog for your home. You also need to consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to raising and training a puppy, how busy of a household you currently have or anticipate having and where you ultimately see your dog fitting into your lifestyle. The ideal time to test a puppy for temperament is around 7 weeks of age. Below are the traits a canine expert like myself looks for when doing family dog selection for a client: 

Social Attractiveness
In this test item, we look at how dependent, or independent, a puppy is on human attention. Everybody loves the little puppy that follows them wherever they go; yet keep in mind that the puppy that stays glued to you like Velcro might be the puppy who has anxiety about staying home alone if your family is out for long periods of time. Often overlooked is the puppy that is neutral, or quietly playing with a toy in the corner, while all the other puppies are jumping around, trailing behind a person or crying to be picked up and snuggled. If you’re a person who is home all the time, or intends to take your dog everywhere you go, then choosing a puppy with high social attractiveness could be ideal. 

Retrieve Drive
In this item, we test a puppy’s natural ability to retrieve an object for a human. This may or may not be important to the average family, but it’s certainly important if you aspire to do competition obedience with your new puppy or intend to exercise daily in your yard by playing fetch. 

Touch Sensitivity 
In this test item, we want to know whether puppies are going to be a bite risk during adulthood if, for some reason, they are handled too roughly. For a family, it’s ideal to have a dog with little or no touch sensitivity. It’s especially important that a puppy that will be going to a home with small children has a very high touch tolerance. We can expect that a dog in a home with small children is going to have to put up with more stress and pressure like hugging, grabbing, petting and snuggling than a dog who will live in an adult-only home or a home with older kids. 

Noise Sensitivity 
In this test item, we look to see if a puppy has the confidence to recover from a sudden loud noise, or if it shuts down in fear or potentially panics and runs. This helps us determine how sensitive a puppy will be to household noises, or even city noises. If you have a busy, loud home, then you ideally want to select a puppy with low noise sensitivity. Dogs that aren’t noise sensitive can enjoy hanging out in just about every setting; even if spooked, they have a fast recovery time. 

Movement Sensitivity
In this test item, we look to see how aroused and excited a puppy will become when presented with movement. Dogs that are naturally movement sensitive tend to want to put their mouths (and teeth) on anything that moves. This includes running children, cats, birds, squirrels and maybe even bicycles or cars. A dog with high movement sensitivity is not ideal for a home with small, active children. 

Sight Sensitivity 
In this test item, we want to see a puppy’s response to sudden sight stimuli. Will it become startled, then go explore the object? Or will it freak out and try to hide? The perfect family dog is confident around new objects, people and things. Even if initially startled, dogs should show quick recovery time and be willing to overcome their fears. A puppy that shows fearfulness during this part of exam may be a very “spooky” dog in adulthood, which is not ideal for a well-balanced family pet. 

Restraint 
In this item, we test how a puppy handles stress through restraining it against its will. Whether a puppy lies on its back, calmly looking up with you with loving eyes, wondering, “Are you going to let me up now?” or it struggles, growls and bites should be a huge factor in determining what type of puppy you’re actually signing up for. A puppy that does not tolerate restraint will be a very difficult dog for the average family or dog owner to manage and should be left to experienced owners. 

Whether you decide to select a puppy from a breeder or a shelter, the same assessment items should be used to make an educated decision about which puppy is right for your family. To find a professional who can conduct a puppy assessment for you, visit the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers online at ccpdt.org.

 

Dee Hoult, CDBC, is top dog at Applause Your Paws Inc., a 10,000-square-foot dog-training facility located just 10 miles north of Pinecrest on 74th Avenue and Bird Road. Hoult is one of less than 200 trainers worldwide who holds a Canine Behavior Certification from the International Association of Applied Behavior Consultants (IAABC). She can be reached via email at dee@applauseyourpaws.com
or by phone at 786.529.7833. Visit Applause Your Paws online at dogboardingandtrainingmiami.com.