I’ve closely watched and kept records on the progress of hundreds of pups. Those records clearly and conclusively show that it is absolutely impossible at 8, 10, 12 weeks of age to pick out the best pup or pups, no matter who you are or what you know.
~ John Wick, The Tree Dog Encyclopedia
Betsy and I are often asked our advice on how to pick the best puppy. After 17 years of breeding, raising and training puppies, we have an answer. While it’s simply not possible to know precisely what an eight-week-old puppy will become, we think that if you follow these three steps, you’ll be happy.
Choose the right breeder. Choose the right litter. Just pick the puppy.
#1. Choose the right breeder.
Within breeds, there can be tremendous differences between any two litters produced by any two breeders. And while a great dog can come from anywhere, consistently top-notch dogs come from breeders with vision. Betsy and I are now producing our sixth generation of English setters and fourth generation of pointers. This depth of knowledge enables us to make comprehensive breeding decisions which result in puppies with predictable traits.
We continuously evaluate our own dogs, especially on ruffed grouse and other wild birds. When we go outside our kennel, we’re never impressed by pedigrees and titles; rather it is imperative to see and appraise the dogs personally.
Our commitment is to breed setters and pointers with outstanding instinct, talent, conformation and temperament.
#2. Choose the right litter.
A breeder should listen carefully to your preferences and requirements. Some distinctions for us are setter/pointer, male/female, retrieving instinct and hunting style.
At our kennel, Betsy and I like to show puppy buyers the dam and sire, grandparents (if possible) and any other relatives, including puppies with similar breeding. After some discussions, the choice becomes clear.
#3. Just pick the puppy.
This is the easiest part. Since at eight weeks of age it’s impossible to definitively know what the puppy will become, any puppy should be ideal—no matter the picking order, no matter whether it’s the first pick or last. Choose based on color, markings, relative size or just pick the puppy that most appeals to you.
Finally, remember this key part. What the puppy eventually becomes will depend to a significant part on how it is raised, developed, handled and trained.
Dogs, like us, are more than their genome. No animal develops in a vacuum: genes interact with the environment to produce the dog you come to know.
~ Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog