WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR IN DOG:
A female pup from a conformation/show line, with temperament being #1 desired quality followed by strong history of longevity in line. This in addition to obvious health clearances. With regards to “temperament”, looking for a super “Zen”, “go with the flow”, “bomb-proof” dog who isn’t phased by anything or any environment. But also energetic and driven enough to attain high obedience levels through training to complement the “Zen” temperament and accompany me in my active lifestyle and eventually travel adventures around the world.
This is precisely what we try to breed for. We take great pride in our mission to raise courageous, confident puppies, and we have worked at and studied this extensively. So let me give you my two cents about what you might want to look for.
Having a "bomb-proof" dog depends on a few things. First, of course, the breeding must be between confident dogs. With most hobby breeders you'll never see or know the sire, so there will be an element of faith to that. But you should be able to see and assess the dam. If you can find a breeder who specifically breeds for confidence, you are halfway there.
Second is how the puppies are reared from day 3 of life through the 8 or 9 weeks of age when they go home. (We keep puppies to 9 weeks of age specifically because we think that extra week is prime time for making courageous, confident dogs, and with proper socialization.) I'll address that in a bit.
Third is how you rear the puppy from the day you get her until 12-14 weeks old.
After that, their propensities are basically set. The combination of genetics + how they are reared until 12-14 weeks of age will make your dog what she is. After that, it's just tinkering around the edges, and only some traits respond to tinkering. So here are some things you might look for in a breeder when searching for a puppy:
We begin making bomb-proof puppies at 3 days old. We put the puppies under stress beginning at this early age through early neurological stimulation and early scent introduction. Somewhere on this forum is a video of me demonstrating this. Our feeling is that puppies must be abused (<-- "abused" is a joke, but the point is that they must be put under stress) from a very early time. This stimulation actually affects the way their neurons connect as their little brains develop, and assists in myelination of the cranial nerves. Puppies are born with incomplete development of their brains, and the development of the postnatal brain, and particularly the progressive myelination of the cerebral white matter, can be affected by the puppies' very early environment. A little myelin goes a long way for early brain development in puppies. This is where early neurological stimulation and scent exposure can assist. So, if you find a breeder who does this, that may be a plus for you, and it will indicate that the breeder is interested in rearing confident puppies.
Make sure your puppy stays with her litter for 8 weeks or longer. Sending puppies home too early, say at 6 or 7 weeks rather than 8, increases the chance that they will be fearful and reactive as adults. Simply staying with their littermates helps build self-confident dogs. We keep pups to 9 weeks for this reason and others (such as socialization benefits).
Some folks believe that baby puppies should be shielded from any fright or challenge that might stress them. We believe the opposite. We know that to gain confidence, puppies must do things that are hard for them, that take them out of their comfort zone. Puppy equipment that is too easy for the puppies after 4 or 5 weeks of age is cute but not developmental. By six weeks of age, puppies need situations that are physically and mentally difficult and a little bit stressful. Pups need to struggle to gain confidence, whether getting on a platform, sliding down a slide, or wading in a stream. A pup may have to try a dozen times, perhaps over several days, to climb up on a platform. He may whine, cry and even howl. He may give up or fail, over and over. Yes, he will get stressed and it will be hard on him (and you) but if we allow the puppy to solve the problem himself, he will become more coordinated and confident. If we make it too easy or if we rescue him, he will not. Independent success and achievement create confident puppies.
The breeder should change the puppies' environment regularly. Because of the way puppies’ brains develop, challenges need to change regularly. Puppies quickly habituate to things and when they do, development stops. So a good breeder will change up the puppy pen, moving items around and rotating things in and out almost daily.
We take entire litters on something we call "adventure walks," which are not only lots of fun, they are great
for developing confidence. Taking puppies out for off-leash walks over moderate terrain helps them develop confidence and proprioception. We try to get off the path and go cross country with litters beginning at 6 weeks so they meet and overcome challenges like ditches, hills, fallen trees, stone walls and more. In doing this, we never rescue puppies unless they are in danger, but we allow them to solve their own problems. It is vitally important that they be allowed to become stressed, but not rescued, and that they have to solve their own problems. Of course, we keep them safe, but otherwise, they are on their own. These walks also help in developing the following instinct, so that they want to follow their humans later on. A breeder in a city may not be able to do this kind of walk, but they can find substitutes.
We also use APET temperament testing, which takes us two days to complete for an average sized litter. This will reveal the pup's propensities. Some traits are tweakable, others are not. Some aspects of a puppy’s temperament can be changed through training, development and socialization experiences but other traits are stabilized before a puppy goes to its first home. Your puppy should be matched to your home and lifestyle in terms of managing its stable traits.
Now, all these things aren't the only way to choose and rear "bomb-proof" puppies. But the principles are universal. The more of these kinds of things you can find in a breeder, the more likely you are to get that "bomb-proof" puppy.
But it doesn't stop with the breeder. When you get your puppy home, you should (while keeping her safe from parvo, etc.) expose your puppy to every situation you possibly can before she is 12 weeks old. At somewhere between 12-14 weeks, the window for helping your pup become "bomb-proof" closes. So it's important to work diligently with your puppy during that period. We make sure puppies meet at least 100 people of all kinds (tall, short, fat, thin, old, young, disabled, black, white, Hispanic, with glasses, with beards, bald, in wheelchair, etc., etc.). We put their feet on every conceivable surface. We take them to loud and scary places (factories, railroad tracks, fireworks, etc.), and we expose them to as many "safe" animals as we can. It's very important to do this before they are 12 weeks old, before that developmental window closes.
And as your puppy grows, she will go through two to three developmental "fear periods." It is important during these times that you not coddle or rescue your pup, nor to force her, but allow her to work through her fears and insecurities, so long as you keep her safe from harm.
Sorry this is so long. But I hope it helps in giving you an idea of the kinds of things you might want to look for in a breeder, and what you should keep doing when you get your puppy home.