Our Selection Process for Pups and Owners - And Why We Do It This Way - "See The Dog"
Updated: Jan 23
****Dog wanted for lifetime position – must be perfect!***
Most breeders place LGD pups at about this age; the pup in the photo is nine weeks old. Most breeders place single pups. This just won't work for me. I clearly state this on my website, and in many places, and yet I am frequently contacted by prospective puppy buyers and told that my policies are unreasonable or that the policy is important for some persons but not this person.
My job, as a breeder, is to advocate for my pups. In doing my job well, I also advocate for their prospective buyers; that, too, is important to me. In my world, the breeder, the owner, and the pups are all members of a team; we are a working partnership. Consider that the canine members of this team have not been asked if they want to be on this team! It is my job as their breeder to speak on their behalf.
Choice. Dogs need to be able to choose. Maybe you don't think so? Do you think you can "train" the dog to give you what you need? Dogs that are not a natural fit for the environment they are placed in must attempt to learn to cope. Some dogs can accomplish this, and some trainers can help a dog considerably in learning to do this, but why do it, why would you choose to set a dog's life up this way?
Many dogs succeed in-spite of their environment and the influence of their owner.
If I place the right dog with the right owner, I can create a natural fit for the dog and owner, not a trained fit. A trained fit must be sustained; there is ongoing work/participation required to continue to create the circumstance in which the dog can function. A natural fit is in the air and in the environment; think of flowers in the spring or a country girl living in the country and not New York City. The country girl living in New York City probably has a therapist! This country girl (me) goes outside and sits with her many white dogs to find joy.
I suspect that all of the people that inquire about pups from me care about their dogs. I believe this because in order to find me in the first place, they have probably been on my website. If that person spends about a minute on my site, it becomes very apparent that purchasing pups from me is not a simple process. If a person cares about their dogs, they probably also care about the dog's quality of life, but it takes some skill to "read" a dog's behavior and understand what the dog is trying to convey. For me, this is a lifetime goal.
It is worth noting, too, that the answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask. I have placed nearly one hundred pups/young dogs in new homes, and I still have a lot to learn about what questions to ask the dog.
Suzanne Clothier is one of my favorite clinicians to learn from with regard to understanding the emotional needs of dogs. In a recent course with her, she offered a list of considerations for people thinking of bringing a new puppy, or dog, into their home. These are all things that we look at when we decide where to place our pups, but Suzanne's list is concise, so it may provide a helpful framework here. Also of note, when I pair dogs with each other, I look for dogs who are very similar individuals.
Considerations in placing pups in a new home.
Social Interactions (People and Other Dogs)
Is the dog happy to greet strangers, or only people known to him? Does he like men better than women? Does the dog go to children? Does the dog greet new dogs with interest, or with caution, indifference, or aggression?
Is this a dog that welcomes requests from an owner, or does he prefer to work on his own?
Energy and Exercise Needs
Does this dog need a big job and lots of responsibility, or could he be happy on a small acreage with few life changes?
Specific Tolerances or Sensitivities
Is the dog sensitive to sounds or levels of activity? Is the dog sensitive to naturally occurring noise, such as thunder, occasional noise, or sustained noise, such as traffic sounds? Some types of livestock put a lot of physical and mental pressure on guardian dogs; bulls may be more challenging for a dog with spacial considerations to work with.
Specific Skills or Preferences/Genetics
Does the dog have a preference for a type of livestock? Is the dog tolerant of livestock he cares less about? Is he reactive to them?
Physical - Sex, Age, Size, Coat
Make sure these factors fit the needs of the new job.
So, to use this information from a practical standpoint, here are some examples:
A dog who is not comfortable around strangers should not be asked to work in a living situation where strangers are common, such as is required of dogs guarding areas where seasonal workers are present. I am specifically thinking of dogs that guard vineyards.
A minimally biddable dog should not be placed in a complex living situation. Dogs like this, though, are well suited to working independently. I have a friend who prefers dogs who check in with her, and then go back to work. Dogs I raise are not suitable for her, but they are suitable for people who want a lot of contact with their LGDs.
A dog with a lot of natural aptitude for guarding, and who has a lot of energy, is likely to learn boredom behaviors if he isn't given enough responsibility. A low-energy dog, also with a natural aptitude for guarding, may be perfect for an intimate setting.
A dog with sound sensitivity should not be asked to live near a highway or a gun range. A dog who is sensitive to activity should not be asked to live with children; children are inherently active and unpredictable.
Is the dog relaxed around sheep but triggered by the increased activity of goats?
In my opinion, expecting two female dogs to work together is unwise, but male/female pairs, or male/male pairs have a much better likelihood of success. Dogs of the same age are capable of the same level of activity, so they can share the management of a property well. Size doesn't matter much to me, but it does to some people. Maremmas with fleecy coats require more maintenance if they are to remain healthy and comfortable. Some owners welcome this job; for some owners, it is simply an unrealistic expectation.
Have you ever had a dog who was just a really good dog? Given what I have presented here, do you think part of that dog's success was that he was a natural fit for his environment? If you have a great LGD, and you bring home a puppy for that adult to "train," do you think your adult dog can ensure that the puppy will be successful if the environment the pup is now in isn't a good fit for him, based on what I have outlined above? That is a lot to ask of both dogs.
It takes time to really learn who a dog is. I know a lot about the character of my puppies by the time they are four weeks old, but I don't have answers to all the questions above until I have watched my pups experience life and give me feedback on how that went for them. This is one of the reasons I keep my pups until they are several months old. The criteria above are also why I do not allow buyers to select their own pups; how can they know if the pup in their arms might be terrified of something in their home environment? Sometimes I don't even know that, which is why I prefer to visit the proposed homes for my pups before I make my puppy selection for that buyer.
Yes, this is complicated. It takes participation and thorough education about dogs. It costs money to keep dogs for several months rather than placing them at nine weeks. But, here's the deal: I want my dogs to be safe and successful. There is an LGD study out there that lists their "cull" rate at 30%. I have placed close to 100 puppies; my success rate is 98%. I am proud of the work we do on this ranch with our Maremmas.
The process for selecting a breeder to work with, if you are shopping for a pup, is complex as well. People are complicated individuals. Further, the buyer likely has a specific need that he/she hopes a dog can fulfill. This aspect of matching pups with a new owner is absolutely as relevant to consider as the needs of the dog are.
Much conversation should happen between the breeder and buyer before a purchase, or sale happens. But all too often, the "voice" of the dog is not heard or is not well understood, and sometimes the dog's needs are not even considered. I worry about those dogs. Through education of both breeders and buyers, I hope the statistic of the high rate of failure for LGDs can shift; with my own pups, I can be very proactive in this effort.
I hope this blog has been helpful. Learning to understand dogs is a fascinating journey!