How do you evaluate your puppies?

Although this post is long; it is not the definitive writing on our puppy evaluation.

When do you decide which ones you are going to keep? What age can I get my puppy? When can I come visit the puppies? These are a few of the questions people ask a lot. The answer to the last question is - I only allow people to "come visit" the puppies when it is time to take one home. It is only human nature to "pick a puppy"- and it is the answer to the other questions that will help you understand why I can't run the risk of disappointing people.

Evaluation begins at birth, but the puppies change, and grow, and change... so I just have to observe, until they have grown enough I can start to get "real" information about them.

1st criteria: No obvious Faults

The reason I have litters of puppies is to produce my next "show dog". There is a written Breed Standard for each breed which describes the perfect specimen of that breed (it is this breed standard that judges at dog shows are using to evaluate each dog in the ring). Sometimes when a puppy is born, you know it has an obvious fault that may (will) prevent it from being a show dog. (pictured is Bianca: more than 50% white is a disqualifying fault). Those puppies can go to their new pet homes at 8wks.

Unfortunately for sheltie breeders, the genetic makeup of this breed is rather diffuse. This breed is not very old and a lot of breeds and mixes of breeds make up the sheltie. Genes don't get "diluted"- they get inherited or not (that is very simplistic and not entirely true- but for the purpose of this blog post it is good enough). One example is, as recently as the 1930's collies were cross-bred with the Shetland Sheepdog to cement more of the "collie look"- but it also added "collie size". Our breed standard says that any dog over 16" or under 13" (measured at the point of the shoulder) is to be disqualified from the conformation show ring.

2nd criteria: Measurements

How do you know what the adult height will be when they are babies? Well, sheltie breeders have been dutifully measuring their puppies for years, and growth charts have been developed that are a very helpful guide. They are not perfect, but they do give a breeder a "best guess". We begin measuring our puppies at 6 weeks of age, but we like to see a few measurements to know how they are tracking along the chart. Puppies that are over the charts at 6 and 7 weeks can go to their pet home at 8wks. Puppies that are "in-size" and quality stay longer.

3rd criteria: Testicles (obviously this applies to males only)
Males must have two testicles to be shown. The testicles can be felt as young as 7 weeks, but I don't usually check until around 8 weeks. If a male is nice, and meets the standard, but I can only feel one testicle, I may keep him until 10 weeks of age. If he is really, really nice I might keep him until 12 weeks of age. Testicles have been known to descend as late as 6 months, but I don't want to keep dogs that keep me guessing that long.

4th criteria: Do they have virtues? Do they have a temperament I want to live with? So maybe they don't have obvious faults, but do they have virtues? I like to photograph them between 6-8wks to get a different perspective on how they look. The picture above of Liza is the type of picture we take. I want to get a sense of overall structure and build. I find these pictures to be very helpful and I usually see them in a different way than I do when they are just playing. With temperament, what I want to live with might be different than what someone else would like to live with in terms of temperament and personality. It is in my best interest, and the best interest of the puppy, to try and ensure that each puppy gets to live the type of life that will make it happy and where it can be successful.

Evaluation is a process. We are constantly evaluating our puppies. We get to see how their reactions to new things change, we get to see how their bodies change. By the time a litter is 8 weeks we usually know a lot and most puppies go to their new homes at that age.

Of the puppies that stay here, there are still things that can render them "pets" and not "show dogs".

6-7 month criteria: Teeth Did all of their teeth come in straight and are they all there. Sometimes we have puppies available in this age range because of teeth issues.

Statistics say that of "show" breeders, only 1 in 8 shelties ever becomes a champion (that number is different in different breeds). When they are born, they all look like champions, but as the weeks go by- they begin to weed themselves out. By 8 weeks of age I may be down to one or two that I want to keep longer.

Height is always a factor. Pipi is a good example of that. She was tracking up the growth chart just fine- and she was very pretty- so I kept her. She quite growing at 6 months of age and didn't reach 13"- so she can not be shown.
Temperment is also always a factor. Not all dogs want to be "show dogs". It is difficult to win with a dog that doesn't enjoy the shows. It can be done, but it is not as fun for me either. I do this as a hobby and a way to enjoy my time with the dogs. I want them to enjoy it too.
So- the answer is be patient- they are changing and I am observing!!

lindalana  – (August 26, 2011 at 8:44:00 PM PDT)  

Very useful post! I was lucky to sit on litters evaluation by CARAT method. Was really interesting to see how puppy personalities got decoded- which one will be good with kids, which for performance home which pet home but only with adults etc even at 7 weeks old.
Then again sometimes you just know that that special boy or girl is going to belong with you...
Thanks for posting puppy pics!

Christy  – (September 1, 2011 at 6:05:00 PM PDT)  

Thanks for sharing, very informative. My little sheltie was born with an underbite, an obvious fault. Which made her perfect for me. To me, she is still the pick of the litter.

Food Fan Frank  – (March 1, 2012 at 2:45:00 PM PST)  

Thanks for this post! I think it's a great idea that you don't allow people to come and visit the puppies until they are ready to take one home. I love all of the pictures you included on this post as well. Very cute.

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