One of the questions I usually ask my clients is how they chose their dog. The answers often illuminate much about the dog. I find this especially revealing when the choice involved picking a puppy from the litter. The answers generally lead me to ask other, more direct questions that are relevant for learning about the dogs and whatever issues may have brought them to see me. Here are some of the most common answers I receive, and some possible interpretations of those choices. (Exceptions abound!)
“I didn’t choose him. He chose me.” Typically, the way a puppy chooses people is by racing at them full speed, leaping into their lap, licking their faces, biting at their fingers or hair, and generally pulling out all the stops to be charming and irresistible. I find that this most often means the puppy is bold, curious, inquisitive, fearless and friendly. Sometimes they are mouthy, status seeking, and relentless.
“I felt sorry for her.” It’s not uncommon for people to choose the puppy that the other puppies seem to be picking on or the puppy who is off alone while all the other frolic together. Many of these puppies are shy, sensitive to being touched, quite fearful, and some have difficulty with basic social skills.
“He was the only one left.” This comment is hard to interpret. It may mean that the breeder has a great reputation, the puppies are very popular, and the family was lucky to get one at all, which is a good thing. I’ve also seen it mean that the breeder was giving the family the hard sell to try to unload the puppies, and there are actually a number of puppies left, but they are off in the barn or another part of the house to keep them out of sight. Sometimes it just means that this particular puppy has some trait that made it less desirable to others. This could be having less attractive markings or being small in size, neither of which is likely to have anything to do with the pup’s future behavior or how good a pet he will become.
“The breeder felt that she was the best puppy for our family.” This is an answer I love to hear. Often, breeders know very well what sort of puppy may be best for which type of home. For example, a high motivation, high drive puppy may be great for a person who plans to compete in agility, but not so great for a family with three small children. If the breeder chooses the puppy for you, there’s less chance of choosing a puppy that you may adore but that may not actually be the best fit for you.
“He had an adorable spot over his eye, just like my first dog did.” This tells me that the puppy was chosen more for looks than for any behavioral trait. This can work out fine, just as it sometimes does in relationships between people, but it does represent some risk. The biggest concern I have when I hear this comment is that the puppy will be facing unfair expectations to be the same as the other dog he resembles instead of being cherished for who he is as an individual.
“She was the only female and we wanted a girl.” This comment often tells me little other than that the family didn’t actually make a choice between several puppies. Interestingly, though, in some large litters of puppies, a single female may have developmental effects from the presence of the hormones of so many males before birth. Sometimes, lone females will have broader muzzles and faces typical of males of their breed or even grow up to lift their leg when urinating. This is not common, but it does happen.
Sometimes amusing comments come out of the conversation about what made someone choose the puppy. My favorite by far came from the friend who told me that as they left the breeder, and just before they closed their car door, they heard one of the breeder’s kids say, “There goes psycho.” The dog did not, by the way, ever show any serious behavior problems.