The puppy dilemma
Choices, choices, choices… By Roderick Emery.
So how do you finally pick a new dog from a litter of universally adorable puppies? Time was when the accepted wisdom was to look for the adventurous character. Lean into the whelping box and snap the fingers. The pup that was first up and over and investigating was the one for you. Eager, dynamic, inquisitive, busy; that was what we were looking for. Was. I have spoken to many dog owners over the years – and dog breeders and handlers, and trainers, as well as a bunch of keepers who all have a couple of spaniels at least, and whose opinions I value above all others if I am honest, and their advice has changed.
The modern opinion is that the busiest dog in the litter may not be the best choice after all. Nor is it the case that the pup lying flat on its back in the corner of the box taking no interest whatever in proceedings is the one either. The current thinking is that the busy adventurer will be headstrong and may – may – be harder to train. Or perhaps that should be to restrain. Might be competitive too, even possessive. Probably be a good hunter though, possibly a top beating dog. Striver. Work till it drops. That sort of thing. Old – or rather young – dozy in the corner, on the other hand, will be calmer, more biddable, relaxed. Good in company. Might be a great peg dog at that. If that’s what you want.
So what do we want? Well, we want a friendly, agreeable dog that isn’t going to run us ragged. It must sit on a peg with me betimes, but it must hunt when we are beating or picking-up. It must fit in comfortably at home and also fit in when we are in public or in company. In other words a bit of both. Which gets us nowhere.
Under a bit of pressure, most of the folk whose views I value will admit that a dog is probably as much a reflection of its domestic life as it is the product of its genes. If it lives in a relaxed and friendly environment, chances are it will be relaxed and friendly. And if you train it right, it will probably do as it is bidden. So there you go. You pays your money and takes your choice.
I’ll tell you how to choose a puppy. It’s easy. Smell. Just sniff ’em. You’ll soon find out which is the one for you. You won’t want the one that radiates fear from every pore because that will be no good to you. It won’t go into the woods alone, it will cry all day the minute you leave it behind; and it will scream every time another dog goes near it. And probably wee all over the shop into the bargain. And you definitely don’t want the one that stinks of aggression. It’ll be a scrapper for sure and will chew everything around it to bits. It will challenge you and it will challenge me. And we are DEFINITELY not having that.
But of course you can’t smell, can you? Because you are not a dog. You could let me choose one for you, of course, but would you be willing to trust my judgement? However good it might be? What would the Batty Spaniel Woman think of me looking over her little preciouses and picking one out for you? Eh? Well, actually, you may be right. She is just about batty enough to go along with the idea.
However the simplest idea is just to pick the one you fancy and bring it home and I can take things from there. Don’t worry about a thing. I will have the little blighter sorted in two shakes of a batty spaniel’s stumpy little tail. Why? Because I am the pack leader in our house. Oh, I know he thinks he is the Alpha Male but that is merely a delusion, which the rest of us indulge. She rules the roost at home, I can tell you – just look at those curtains – and I run things when we are out in the field. I do as he suggests some of the time, because when he is showing off in front of his friends it makes him happy if I get the long runner from the copse across the stream. But it makes me happy too; so that’s alright.
And once I have explained to this spaniel what its role in life is going to be, it will be happy too. So don’t stand there wringing your hands and fussing. Pay your money and take your choice. It’s tea-time.