How to Pick a Puppy (or Not)

When I met Jasper, I knew he was not your typical happy to lucky puppy.  The vet who gave him his second round of shots called him a worried rocket scientist.  The plan had been for me to foster him, and I had not been looking for a puppy.  In fact, I usually preferred adult dogs.  But, his worry made me worry, so, I started talking to other trainers about what they thought about him.

Cydney Cross of Crossroads for Dogs met him first, Jasper sat in his crate in the car and looked at her, and processed things.  He stepped back when she came close, and when she tossed him a treat, he watched her for a bit before trying it.  When I took him out of his crate, he stuck to my side.  He was four months old.

Jasper was clearly attached to me but was not that interested in other people.  I showed off some of his tricks, and Cyd told me what a great dog he was – she loved how smart he was, how observant, and how well he focused on me.  I was relieved, and I asked if she thought that meant he would be easy to adopt out.  She told me no, he was the type of dog who might find a home quickly, but who also was likely to be returned at a year old after having bitten.  Not because he was aggressive, but because he was a worrier, and if someone did not help him with his worries, they would become fears.  Cyd suggested I keep him.

What you typically look for in a puppy is the social one, the one coming to greet people, eager to interact.  The one that hears a noise and while they might be startled, they rebound quickly.  Jasper was none of those things.  But he was smart, and he was sensitive, and with the right support, he could build confidence and overcome his worry.  Jasper would never be a social butterfly, but, he did not need to be.

I was not in the market for a puppy, but, maybe a puppy had found me.

Not sure what to do, I brought Jasper to Suzanne Clothier.  When it comes to puppy assessment, there are few with more experience, or a better eye.

Of course he hopped out of the car far less worried then expected after an hour plus drive, and while he did not run up to greet her, food soon won him over, and Suzanne got to know Jasper. We saw him with other dogs (German Shepherds were scary), with people (John was also kind of scary), we saw him when I left (WHAT MOM COME BACK!) and I eagerly awaited her verdict.

Suzanne agreed with Cyd – he was a worrier, and he was smart, and he was a bit of a project.  But she also told me with the right socialization he thought he would be an awesome dog – was I up for the challenge?

Well, we are a year in and still finding that out.


Double Trouble – A Tale of Two Puppies

Some people have asked me if I think it is better to get two puppies at once, or one. To them I tell the story of Empanada and Nacho.


Empanada and Nacho were litter mates from Puerto Rico who I agreed to foster. I knew it would be a lot, but we needed two fosters, and I figured how bad could it be? I had been fostering for 10 years, and I am a professional. Forget that I had not had a puppy in 20 years, and the times I had fostered puppies, it was for a day or two.  But it was okay, I had a plan in place and I was ready.

I prepped an ex-pen with crates and toys and a puppy friendly cover that would be easy to clean and give them good grip. It was beautiful! My husband called it the Thunderdome, oh, how he cursed it.


Pirate testing out the ex-pen.


I laid floor mat over a shower curtain liner to protect the floor, and give the puppies a non-slippery surface.

Transport got tricky and it turned out that Empanada arrived first. We had a good night, she spent the night with me near her crate so she was not alone, and in the morning I prepared for work, got her fed, pottied, and tired out. I put her in the ex-pen and left, and from there my carefully constructed plans crumbled. Well, crashed. Within a half-hour of being placed inside Empanada had escaped. I was kind of impressed, but my husband who was home with a loose puppy who proved to be part mountain goat was less amused.


This was after my husband righted the pen . . . she had fun shredding the shower curtain for sure.

I switched strictly to crates and baby gates. After just a few days we were on a great schedule and Empanada was well on her way to being house trained. I thought this would be easy! I could not wait for Nacho to arrive. I was so innocent.


They did keep each other company. They would play together and having them crated near each other (in separate crates) made it easier for them to adjust to that. Also, Nacho was a shyer fellow, and Empanada gave him a good boost of confidence – she was always off discovering new things.



But oh, the house training – Empanada had been well on her way but with the arrival of Nacho things got tricky. It seemed like while I was watching one and getting them out, the other was inevitably going. Or, if one would be chewing something and needed to be redirected, the other was pottying in the living room. It was a whirlwind of activity and someone was always peeing, pooping, chewing, wrestling with the cat or walking on the back of the couch. Nacho was not as reliable to his sister, and took longer to house train. I am not sure if that was just a part of who he was, or because where I had been able to give Empanada my full attention, with him I could only give partial.


Socialization also got tricky. Empanada had never met a stranger but Nacho would hang back and need extra support. Managing the needs of two different puppies was hard. I would be trying to hold Empanada back and teach her some manners, while also reminding Nacho that people were okay. I would have to take them out one on one with me, which required extra time. I would bring them both to the pet store in a crate, and walk around with one, go back and put them in the car, and bring the other out. I was lucky the weather allowed me to do that though, a few months later that would not have been possible.


I also had to make sure they had time to play with other dogs without the other there, and had one on one time with me and other people. I was fostering so I knew this was short term, but I still needed to give them the best start I could. I needed them to learn how to interact with people and dogs without back-up from their sibling.


I was exhausted, at one point I remember sitting on the floor surrounded by pee with one puppy trying to jump into my lap while the other was running around with a roll of paper towels in their mouth, ready to cry. When Empanada went to her forever home life became much easier.


The bottom line is raising a puppy is work, raising two is more work. It can be done, but to be done well it takes dedication, and time. So when I am asked, I say get one puppy and give them your best. I am glad I tried it though, because without having volunteered, I never would have met Jasper . . .