My mom would tell you that your puppy will pick you. That you should just sit down and see which one wanders over to you, or which one curls up for a nap in your lap. Or say the name you want to give your dog and see which puppy responds. She’d also tell you that a puppy that lets you flip him over and hold him in your arms on his back is a great dog. And that, if your puppy is a golden retriever, he will grow up to be the same color as his ears. She would tell you to talk excitedly, whisper quietly, shout happily or speak sadly and see which pup tumbles over to hear what you have to say.
I was decidedly less zen about the choice.
I would tell you to determine the type of dog you want. Active? Calm? Assertive? Submissive? And then use the Volhard test to narrow down your selection BEFORE employing my mom’s soul-mate/puppy-fate instructions. The Monks of New Skete (these awesome monks who have written a few great dog training advice books) use this test to place the german shepherds they breed. You basically put a 7 week old puppy through a series of activities, calling him, opening an umbrella near him, dragging a dishcloth around him, etc and rank his reaction on a scale from one to six. His scores will define the personality you can expect from him when’s he grown up. (You can also use a truncated version of this test to see the personality of older dogs if you are adopting!)
For me, determining the dog I wanted was easy. I wanted a big guy. A lazy guy. Easily trainable, non-aggressive, block headed, dopey and lovey. Mostly I just wanted a good dog. Honestly, I wanted Suds reincarnate. If you knew him, you would too.
It seemed to me that a puppy who consistently slept a lot, more than his litter-mates, and scored a lot of fours on the Volhard test would be the one for me. I say “consistently” slept a lot because I know that sometimes you’ll see a bounce-around-the-room puppy right when she’s winding down. Or calm puppy who just got up from a nap and is ready for 15 solid minutes of frolicking. It is definitely important to visit the litter a lot, and be sure each pup has on a different colored collar to make sure you know which one is which. They DO have VERY telling personalities at that age!
I couldn’t visit the litter until I took my puppy home, they were in New Jersey I was halfway across the country, so I enlisted a crew to investigate the litter for me.
My mom, my dad, my mom’s friend Gail, her daughter Emily, my aunt, my cousins, my cousins’ friends, etc. (I had a pretty huge puppy picking brigade) visited the litter at least once a week for me. We’d video chat while they played with the puppies.
Around week 7 they did the Volhard test for me. They weren’t really steadfast believers like me, and hadn’t done all the reading I had, so they weren’t 100% on the ball. For instance, I don’t think anyone brought an umbrella to Volhard Testing day. But both of the big males in the litter scored well, so, in the end it was just up to my mom’s puppy choosing techniques. And I just had to choose, which one would be the one we would love for the next decade or so?
The hardest part about choosing one puppy is that, in choosing one, you reject all the rest. That’s how it feels. And, really, that’s how it is. All those watery little eyes look up at you and you can’t help but love each and every one of them. It makes it almost impossible, but you just have to accept that fact and make the choice. You are allowed to love them all. But only one can go home with you. (Ok maybe two…)
And there’s always that question in the back of your mind, what if that other puppy would be a better dog? But don’t worry, I have the answer: there’s no such thing as a better dog. There is only your dog, and everyone else’s. Once your puppy is yours he’s yours, and just that makes him the best dog for you. So you just have to make the choice, and once you know he’s yours it gets a whole lot easier. That’s a big fat lie. It gets really really hard. But at least choosing will be over and you can get down to training and 3AM potty breaks.
Ultimately Bender just ended up being the one my aunt and Gail fell in love with on choosing day. I guess your heart just kind of tugs you slightly more in one direction than the other. He was the calmest, snuggly-est one. And once they felt that tug they just went with it. The next day my parents visited and felt it too.
Is he big? Yes. Lazy? Somewhat. Easily trainable? When you have treats. Non-aggressive? For the most part. Block headed? Yes. Dopey? Yes. Lovey? When he wants to be. Is he Suds reincarnate? Not yet. Is he a good dog? Of course!
He’s not exactly what I was expecting. He’s a lot harder to live with than I thought he’d be. But he’s still a puppy, and puppies are energetic and stubborn. More importantly, he is teaching me to be selfless, patient, fiercely loyal, and more cognizant of the world around me and around him. He’s making me redefine my parameters for unconditional love. Would a different puppy have been a different experience? Of course, but Bender is my dog. And he is the best dog there is.
So anyway, my advice is just to do all you can to determine the puppies’ personalities but, really, you can’t go wrong.