One of the most emotive times for people is that time when it’s puppy selection time.
To this end, this is definitely one of the hardest pages I have to write, because there is a lot to explain, and often, well, people don’t want to hear it.
Notice, I’m not even putting any cute pictures of pups on this page, because I want you to focus on what I’m writing and the message I’m trying to get across. This is a very serious discussion for me.
When it comes to choosing a pup, people talk to their friends, their mum, their relatives, and everyone has their own advice and secret way of ensuring that they get the “best” pup.
So here’s the thing: with most breeders these days who really care about where their pups go and what temperaments their pups have, they choose the best pup for you.
In the vast majority of situations, your breeder has a vast lot more experience than you do in evaluating pups and choosing which pup is suited to which environment best.
Let’s say there are 10 pups in a litter, and once, I even had a litter of 14. That’s 14 homes I need to have evaluated (I invariably will have met with many more than that, but we’ve got it down to the number of puppies), and then I need to watch all the pups for hours over a period of weeks at different times of the day in a whole range of different scenarios to see how they react. And then I often go back to the families and talk more about what I’m seeing, to make sure that everyone is on the same page. But there’s 10 peoples’ needs that I have to consider and balance and make sure that the pups are properly placed. And in everything I do for the year, puppy selection time is absolutely the most stressful time for me. It is a very serious, complex, and well thought out process.
I can guarantee you, if I have 9 all black pups in a litter, and one with a white foot, then everyone will want that puppy. And for the most part, when 9 people don’t get that puppy, they will be upset because they didn’t get “pick of the litter”.
This is made worse when mum and dad have really got the kids excited with the concept of “today we get to choose which puppy is ours!”
So a puppy isn’t a piece of fruit for sale at the supermarket that you eat once and then that’s it. That pup is hopefully going to be around for a long, long time.
Here’s another analogy: it’s no point having a boyfriend who looks like Brad Pitt, but behaves like a monster behind closed doors. (not saying you’re a bad man Brad – you’re the dream man for me! – don’t tell Royce, but then he secretly covets Catherine Zeta Jones). Anyway, I digress.
It is 100 times easier for me to place a litter where every pup is just black. I get next to no complaints at that point.
Sometimes I can say to people, “I have 3 pups that I think match your needs, come on over and choose.” It’s not uncommon for people to say at this point, “heck you choose.”
Sometimes people are very, very exacting in what they want, and to tell you the truth, the more requirements people have for how their pup looks, the less likely I am to be able to help.
Every year, for example I will have half a dozen people who say something like, “I need my pup to have the same markings as a border collie.” or recently, “I need my pup to have the same markings as an Old English Sheepdog.”
And invariably it’s that colour, or it’s nothing. Apparently. Sorry I won’t be held to ransom over colour.
At that point, I’m more than likely to say to the person, “I’m sorry I can’t help.”
And sometimes I say, “so regardless of temperament, considering you have 3 children under 10, and your wife hasn’t been part of this decision making process (I don’t even know her name, let alone met her), and you’re away from home 12 hours a day 5 days a week, and it’s your wife who will be doing the majority of the care, you are insisting on a brown puppy (or variation thereof) that may be entirely incorrect for your lifestyle and needs?” That sort of conversation happens at least 5 times a year.
Unfortunately this has also led me to the situation that pups with colourful markings are not put in the photos on facebook or on my website.
I need you to truly love the breed for what it is, not because the dream pup of your life has a white foot. Heck, the Portuguese Fishermen wanted the best working dog. They were impressed when their dog was able to help them feed the family, not if it could match someone’s decor.
There are exceptions to this for me. If you are an international breeder and are looking for a specific characteristic for your breeding lines, then I will do what I can to help you out. This also means you’ve invariably got a lot of experience with the breed and the temperament before you get a dog from me.
This is why, often, if I have a pup with colourful markings or a different colour, first preference for where that pup goes is to someone who already has one of my dogs. Then I can have a realistic conversation with that person where I can compare the differences in temperament, and they are just not nodding their head in agreement, whilst secretly not hearing anything but dreaming of how their friends and neighbours will be impressed.
So here’s what I do: first preference for people who go on the puppy list are those that say something like, “Jane we need a puppy that is going to suit our lifestyle. Temperament is by far the most important thing. You choose.”
And in return I say something like, “pups can be male/female, curly/wavy, black/brown/white, etc” – choose one of these things that is most important to you after temperament, and I will do my best to match that.”
And sometimes after I’ve had this very long conversation with people about all these bits and pieces, they look at me and say, “I completely agree Jane, so if you can get me a wavy black female with white feet, white on her chest, and some white on her ears, then that would be great!”
So why don’t I breed to “what the market wants?” I hear you ask.
There are at least 50+ different things I need to consider in the standard as to what a Portuguese Water Dog should like like. Colour is only one characteristic. If I breed to just one characteristic there are 49 other things that will lose out, plus then there’s all the health stuff I’m considering at the same time. And sometimes we are only breeding to eliminate one fault, such as when we were eliminating PRA (progressive retinal atrophy – where the dogs go blind), where we took a backwards step in areas of conformation, just to have the better health results. Let me tell you how hard this is for a breeder at times! But whenever we have a new health test come out, it is absolutely critical that we use that tool to improve our lines.
So, the other things I’m looking for include: level topline, correct tail set, correct angulation both in the front and rear, balance of angles, head structure, length of neck, movement, dentition, and the list goes on.
So here I am working behind the scenes to get all these things right, with a very limited gene pool, and already spending tens of thousands of dollars to import new stock with good health history, good structure, and diversity of gene pool, and someone says “I just want one with white feet.”
And that’s why breeders have that twitchy eye thing going on.
So sometimes I’ll direct that person to a breeder overseas who has pups that look like that right now, and they can spend the $12k+ to import the colour of their dreams. No one ever does.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. I hope it’s given you some greater insight into my position on puppy selection. Even with my vast amount of experience in this breed and dogs in general, over time, I hope my learnings continue, and I can add more value to this page.
And if you’re coming to see me regarding a pup, I really hope that not only have you read this page, but that your partner has as well, and that you’ve sat down and had a realistic discussion with the kids (if you’ve got any) about what has been covered here.
Please feel free to add your comments below or email me with questions.