Question of the Week
Grass Valley, California
We breed an achondroplastic breed, Dandie Dinmonts, a detailed breed where a lot can go wrong. We make the first cut at 10 to 12 weeks, based on front assemblies and length of body, two virtues that if not in evidence deems them a pet. If we are lucky enough to have a puppy or two worthy of going forward, we run those puppies on to four and a half to five months of age, when their bite is set. In the latest litter there were two promising males, so a friend helped us out and took one of the boys for us while the other stayed with me, and both have made the grade.
I make my evaluation of puppies at eight weeks, as they seem to be in the same proportion as they will be as adults provided no injuries, etc., occur. However, since gait is so important to me, I start the litter out at six weeks with a half-mile walk. Mom is on leash and puppies running free. We increase the distance every couple of days until they are going one mile by eight weeks of age without an adult dog. They are usually tired enough to trot on the way home so I can evaluate their gait. Also, leaving Mom home the personalities can change. I love the ones that are confident enough to go exploring. And when choosing a lead-dog prospect for my team, I keep the one who likes to be out ahead of me and all his littermates.
As a serious breeder of potentially show-worthy Collies for more than 45 years, knowing that puppies can change in quality so very much, I kept the better ones until at least 12 weeks old.
I kept my name on the puppy as co-owner until it completed the championship.
Many were placed with no money changing hands; the championship was more important to me.
Of course, the final litter was so special, I kept all seven of them, accomplishing a championship on only one. Any others were shown so sparingly, they were not champs.
But, again, unless a puppy exhibited some major conformation flaw, 12 weeks was a desired age for placement.
Providence Forge, Virginia
Because my breed's ideal (Lakeland Terrier) does not conform to "normal" dog proportions, it takes months to be certain that a prospect will be truly outstanding. As an earth-working terrier bred to kill foxes underground, the ideal specimen has a large head in proportion to the body in order to have punishing jaws, a "reachy" neck for maneuverability underground, and a short, compact body for endurance to reach the hills where the fox dens are, and stamina to make it back to the farm. As the old advertising slogan goes, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." So I pick out the best pups in the eight- to 12-week stage, and run them on and pray they hold their quality. There is a growth spurt around seven to nine months that can turn a potential superior specimen into a generic terrier. Instead of a strong-boned dog with proper head-to-body proportion and reachy neck, you have a dog with an outline like an Airedale. That's not to say that dog isn't capable of winning groups and BIS with the right handler and grooming, but it is not an ideal Lakeland. You don't necessarily discard it from the gene pool, but you keep looking for the ideal in the next litter and the one after that ...
After 50 years in my particular breed (Samoyeds), I find that eight weeks is the drop-dead decision day. After that time, they tend to do the high in the rear, change to high in the front, wiggle bottom stages. Make the decision and trust in your pedigree. Don't forget about good animal husbandry.
Generally, we sort through, making the first “cut” of puppies by around 10 weeks. The rest depends on the litter, but seldom do we make final decisions before 12 weeks. Even then, sometimes we will run on a puppy or two until five months. We try hard not to because the work becomes insane. Briard raising is quite intensive because of the socialization needs of many of the individual puppies. On top of that, we leash-train, crate-train, and “out and about” train every puppy before they go.
Thankfully we have fantastic help from friends who will take multiple puppies for a weekend or a week just for a change of scenery and diversity in social contacts.
All of this is organic and can vary from litter to litter; therefore, the timeline varies also.
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
I evaluate at eight, 10 and 12 weeks. Puppies that are clearly pets leave at 10 weeks; promising puppies stay until 12 weeks and are again evaluated and another “cut” is made. I then keep those puppies or puppy until the bite comes in. Those puppies usually stay for a year. They are crate-, leash- and house-trained, and ready to go if they don’t make the final cut at a year.
While it sure would be nice to have the time and facilities to grow out puppies until six or more months, the reality is that I, like most breeders, just cannot.
With my breed (Standard Dachshunds), there are a few specific things I watch for as the puppies develop.
First and easiest is bite; if it is not correct as a puppy, I let them go as a pet no matter what anything else looks like. Bad bites will come back to haunt you forever if you breed to dogs that carry this.
Second is personality and temperament. Dachshunds are to be bold and outgoing, never shy. Mine are probably too bold and outgoing, but nevertheless, you have to watch each pup to make sure normal everyday things do not bother them.
Structure and balance are next on the list. You can watch pups develop their chest with the wrap-around front and correct upper-arm layback starting at about six weeks. I watch them play to see how they hold their topline and walk, trot or move about, especially when taken to a new area.
Usually at eight weeks, my line of standard Dachshund will look like a miniature version of what their adult body will be. You have to know your bloodlines to know what typically happens with coat and general maturity.
A slow-developing dog with maturity at about age three is what I like; they hold together well into their teens.
I have seen lines that develop fast, then fizzle and disappear by age two.
By nine weeks I have made my decision. The puppies I am not keeping need more one-on-one time and devotion than I can provide, and they are ready for serious potty training. My puppies are smart and ready for their new owners, so they go home usually at about 10 weeks of age.
San Diego, California
I have found that you should keep the two best and then go from there. Puppies change often while growing. At one year of age, I re-evaluate. There are still many homes available for young dogs. You just have to have the room. But my new policy is to evaluate at one to two years. I've done it in the past and been happy. Now I will always do so.
Thomasville, North Carolina
What a great question, as I think it is breed dependent, as well as dependent on in-depth knowledge of what the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were known to produce.
In my chondrodysplastic breed, Basset Hounds, I start dividing the pets from the show potentials between eight to 12 weeks of age. It’s not until 16 to 20 weeks that I narrow down the ones to run on. I won’t know if it’s a keeper until around 12 months of age. This is because Bassets, like other dwarf breeds, may have epiphyses of the long bones, including the lateral and medial sides of the ulna, radius, humerus, femur, tibia and fibula, that close at different rates. It is not unusual for a foot to begin to turn at six months of age, and then when the chest drops (frequently at well over 20 months of age) for that foot to come back into a more normal position.
Two wise and successful, now deceased, breeders once told me that “Bassets don’t breed true.” Anyone who has critically evaluated several litters and observed the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of a litter knows this to be true!
Age two. Provisional keeper pups that look clearly superior at birth are kept until at least a year as long as bite, testicles, etc., remain good. Before that you might make a mistake and miss a pup going through a gawky stage. They are often finished during that time, but that doesn’t ultimately make them a long-term keeper. Most are excellent in structure and movement, but they need to have exemplary type as well. At a year they are documented for heart, hips, patellas, eyes and dentition. If they pass all that and they’re nice but not extraordinary in type, they may be placed, especially for performance, because I keep numbers small at the house. If they pass the tests again at age two, and still look extraordinary, they stay here and are generally bred.
After the puppies are weaned and out of the whelping box and together in the next enclosure, we check first for proper structure and movement.
However, the most important thing we look for given proper conformation and movement is the "Look At Me" factor. The one that tries to get out of the whelping box first, the one that wants all the attention, the one that loves everyone who comes to visit and shows off for the visitor. That's the one: At about six to eight weeks, that one stands out from the rest.
We think that's the most important thing to look for by about six weeks old — the one who will ask for the ribbon, the look-at-me puppy.
(We don't grade the whole litter. We decide at about six to eight weeks who the "keeper" is, and the rest are designated pet quality. We've bred about 30 litters and don't sell show dogs. No need to grade the ones that we sell as pets with a spay/neuter contract.)
As Mrs. Wear of the old Stoney Meadows Whippets used to say when anyone brought her a puppy and asked her if it was a keeper: “Why don’t you bring him back to me in a year, dear, and then I’ll tell you …”
I am a firm believer in that you never know how well a dog will do until you show it. Several times I’ve had dogs that I showed mostly for fun and didn’t really expect to do well with, only to find that the ringside and the judges LOVED them! And conversely, I’ve had dogs that I really liked a lot that were so enthusiastic about the whole experience that they ruined themselves in the ring or, even worse, didn’t catch on even though they did everything right.
But your question was “How long do you keep those puppies you consider promising?” Well, I don’t — most puppies go to their new homes at two months, and then you just hope and pray … I am always envious of newer breeders who say with the utmost certainty that this puppy or that is sure to develop into a top show dog. But maybe Whippets really are that much more difficult than most other breeds.
New York, New York
I pretty much know by four months, but if I am not certain I will run that dog or bitch until six months!
I learn a lot about each puppy at the moment of birth.
Some puppies just stand out as soon as they are dry and only disappoint with time — i.e., missing testicles, a blue eye, etc.
From the beginning I already know who I am keeping an eye on. I consider five weeks a touchstone of information.
By six and seven weeks, I have pretty much decided.
Formal grading at eight weeks, on an empty stomach on the table, rarely changes my mind, but I do keep those eight-week photos to look back. Eight weeks is the perfect age to know which puppies are going to be the closest to my ideal.
It has taken me a long time and lots of looking at Whippet puppies to learn I rarely make mistakes about how a dog will turn out from those eight-week shots.
I pretty much know when they are born and still wet. We evaluate at four, six and eight weeks, when the final decision is made. We still have two more weeks to change our minds, but that has rarely happened.
In the end it is almost always the one picked at birth.
Laura Coomes and Jason Starr
When we are picking our next Dane puppy, we keep until 12 weeks. We keep our Frenchie babies even longer.
Mark Francis Jaeger
We generally hang on to the promising pups until they finish their championship. But we occasionally will let a friend have one, if they agree as to the quality. We only had one this century who didn't finish, and she had both majors.
Port St. Lucie, Florida
The reality of owning a giant breed is that the ability to keep a puppy for a longer period of time is not as easy as it is with smaller breeds. I’m a Great Dane guy. Many Dane breeders do not possess the facilities to maintain a Dane for a several months. First of all, the larger breeds tend to have large litters. The smallest litter of Danes my wife and I ever bred was 10. A newborn Dane is not much different in size than most breeds. However, their growth rate is amazing. A four-month-old male is usually somewhere in the 70-pound range. One tends to learn what puppies will look like when they are older and makes picks in the litter at several weeks of age. We usually made our picks at six weeks. It certainly was not uncommon for our number-one pick to wind up as number two when they got older. For the most part deciding between pet and show quality at six weeks of age was seldom an issue. It was common for our Dane puppies to be in their permanent homes by 10 weeks or so.
Mount Airy, Maryland
I have bred Ridgebacks since 1959. For probably more than 20 years, at seven weeks we take them to Damara Bolte and Jane Lodge, who study them for some time and then they go over each, choosing who they put on the table first, second etc. I do not speak up during this time. Then when they have reached their conclusion of ranking by sex, we all discuss them and end up finally ranking them.
Since I always have people waiting, most pups leave at eight weeks unless I have determined I want to keep one. On those that we think are strong leaders, I try and place them with someone who will show. Being a judge I am not likely to co-own. However, I may make a deal on a bitch for the right to breed a female at age two, covering all the costs of testing, breeding, etc.
I retain the right on a male to breed it to a bitch I own or co-own without charge. Thus for the most part the pups leave at eight weeks so they can be raised in their new surroundings as companions.
While I may end up sometimes wrong, I am just as happy if someone else has a top-winning dog of my line.
Santa Rosa, California
I have a breed, Shiba Inu, that gets put together quite young, so by five months I can tell if it's going to be a keeper or not. Most of the time I'm right; every once in a while, it's … ah … not so much.