Monday, June 6, 2011

Picking the right puppy for you: it's all about energy

Do you have the right home for Reese? Check out her adoption profile!
Last week, I wrote about how my friends Alan and Allison worked to gain the trust of my fearful boy, how experiencing Sensi's calm temperament and good house manners encouraged them to get their own dog, and then how they did — they brought home a puppy, and two weeks later, returned it.

So, let's talk about how they chose the puppy.

It was a Saturday afternoon when they stopped by a pet store. Outside, a rescue organization had a litter of 10-week-old Beagle/Labrador mixes.

Reese tuckered out after a long day at the park
"Her sisters looked totally like labs," Allison told me. "Some looked like yellow labs, others were all black, and then there was Reese."

Reese is a beautiful puppy and she'll make a gorgeous, regal adult dog. She is a chestnut color with a white streak down her face and chest, white paws and a white tipped tail.

"She just connected with us instantly," Allison said.

The couple had seen some other litters that day too, but didn't feel that connection with any of the other puppies. Reese immediately gravitated toward them, crawling around in their lap and wanting to play. And so, the deal was done — they were taking Reese home.

Over the next two weeks, they learned things about Reese that had them second-guessing that first impression. She was a high-energy puppy, very focused on her nose and very deep into the puppy mouthing stage.

Without much of a yard for the puppy to romp around in, the couple was relying on walks to work out her energy. It wasn't enough. Reese was going stir crazy. With no other dog around to help out on the mouthing front, she was proving to be particularly challenging in that regard.

For Alan and Allison, who'd been dreaming of a dog like Sensi, doubt began creeping into their minds that Reese was the right dog for them.

A couple weeks ago, they made the decision final — leading to the tearful phone call where Allison told me, "She's just not the right dog for us."

She was right. Alan and Allison have expressed time and time again that they want a calm, mild-mannered, human-attentive dog. Reese was a high-energy dog and, in keeping with her hound heritage, independent and strong-willed. She is practically the opposite of my dog, who I'd describe as low-energy and very dependent on his social bonds with humans.
Beautiful Reese during our 'Picnic in the Park' exercise

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

"Looking back, I'm thinking, 'OK, she had already been worn out from being outside all day with her brothers and sisters,'" Allison said of first meeting Reese. "She was the only one with energy left, she was kinda picking on her brothers and sisters. It was hard to see her energy level in the moment, but now I'm thinking, 'She was the high-energy one, she was more dominant than her brothers and sisters.'"

This truly is a common mistake made by puppy and dog shoppers alike. The high-energy dog is so easy to connect with — he runs up to you, he jumps in your lap, covers you with kisses. Who wouldn't feel like that dog was screaming, "Take me home! I want to be yours!"?

But the question remains, are you a high-energy dog person? Do you want a dog that needs vigorous daily exercise? Is there something about your lifestyle that will help you meet the needs of that dog — be it another high-energy dog for the puppy to pal around with, a yard where you can work out energy with some good long games of fetch, etc.? Or, are you going to take that high-energy dog home only to find it is bouncing off the walls and driving you nuts?

She was responding to her new name, Reese, very well
In the case of Reese, a home with another adult dog, a yard and an active family is perfect. (If you can provide that home, check out Reese's adoption profile. She's listed as "Bubbies" but some focus exercises had her responding to "Reese" quite well by the time Alan and Allison returned her). Alan and Allison are active, but they're lacking the first two things on the checklist. It wasn't going to work out and frankly, it's in the benefit of both the humans and dogs that she went back to her foster home — where she happens to have an adult dog and a yard to help meet her needs.

A high-energy puppy, even if it doesn't appear so here!
The lesson is two-fold: 1) Make sure you're not falling for a dog simply because you feel it "connected" with you by jumping, licking, etc., and 2) It can be really tough to pick out the right energy puppy.

Yesterday, Allison and I were out shopping and came across another rescue group in front of a pet store. We stopped to pet the dogs and look at the puppies. Standing beside the puppy pen, I noticed one little lady slowly took a couple steps toward me. I put my hand down and she stuck her nose through the wires to sniff it, then continued standing there, looking up at me. Meanwhile, her rambunctious brother hopped over and jumped up on the wiring to lick and paw at me. It would definitely be easy to overlook the mild-mannered puppy who simply stood there and sniffed me for the rambunctious puppy who wanted to jump and lick and seemed to be yelling, "Pick me up! Pick me up!" at me. (Ironically, this puppy was the only one of the group who had so far been adopted!) But this is where you have to know what kind of dog you want in your life. If what you want is a calm, low-energy dog, you've got to set aside those emotions raised by the jumping puppy and pick up the mild-mannered one instead. My bet is that one look in her sweet, quiet eyes and you'll feel just as connected with her as you would the jumper.

Puppy shopping and dog shopping in general is tough because it's such an emotional thing. We go into it with our hearts, not our heads. But it is by using our heads that we'll save our hearts from aching in the future over having made the wrong decision, and realizing it's too late.

Do you have the right home for Reese?
Again, Reese will do best in a home with other adult dogs who will play with her and teach her all about doggiedom. She would also benefit from having regular access to a decent yard to get out some energy with puppy-zoomies and fetch — she's a natural retriever already. Reese is a perfect fit for an active family. She seemed to enjoy herself most on long walks in the park. She is super-friendly and had been great with meeting new people and children. As of two weeks ago, she was very deep into puppy mouthing. However, she has been staying with a foster home since then that has an adult dog and I'm sure this has helped her immensely on that front. Reese is a strikingly beautiful dog. If you're interested in adopting her, contact Whiskers Cat Rescue and Canine.


  1. Stories like this just break my heart. I know your friends meant well but I am thinking of Reese and not them. She doesn't understand why she was taken back to her previous home.

    This really breaks my heart and I hear of situations like this all of the time.

    People need to RESEARCH breeds they are attracted to BEFORE they even consider adopting a dog. Even if it is a mixed breed it is made up of other breeds that they should investigate FIRST. It isn't fair to the dog.

    I am sooo going to share this and pray that Reese can find herself the "furever" home that she deserves!

  2. Luckily for Reese, she has a great foster home and was thrilled to return to it. I think she really missed her adult dog pal while she was with Alan & Allison — they talked about how Reese was instantly glued to the adult dog there as soon as they brought her back. She may not understand what happened, but dogs don't tend to analyze things anyhow, and she certainly reacted with happiness and excitability when returned.

    What would have been truly heartbreaking is if they'd kept her and she developed behavioral problems as a result. Then, you wind up with an adult dog that doesn't fit into your home, isn't getting its needs met and isn't a likely candidate for being rehomed because of its behavior issues.

    I believe they did the right thing to return her.

    She's beautiful, she's still a very young puppy, she has had good training thus far and I'm confident she will find a great home.

    It is important to research breeds before adopting, but it's also important to remember that each dog is an individual and there can be a great variance in temperaments within a litter. My dog is a perfect example — he is a very low-energy, fearful pit bull who is very gentle with small animals and small dogs, has no breed-standard dog-dog aggression but is likely to react with fearful aggression to large animals. A pit bull, by breed standard, should be a high-energy, confident, human-loving and dog-aggressive breed. So there ya go — the breed isn't always going to predict the temperament. That's why it's important to recognize what temperament and energy you want in a dog, and to learn to evaluate potential dogs based on that criteria.

  3. These kinds of stories make me angry. A dog is not something you pick up at the store and then return because it doesn't fit. If your friends wanted a low energy dog they should have adopted an older dog from a shelter. Everyone wants puppies but nobody actually wants to deal with them. Puppies are baby animals, of course they're going to be high energy and playful, and to think otherwise tells me your friends aren't ready to care for any dog, not just this particular dog. Writing that Reese was "thrilled" to be moved to another family is bull. Change can be very stressful for a dog and moving around from house to house isn't going to do her any favors.

  4. I do agree with you, anonymous. But no matter how much you talk to folks about selecting a puppy for energy and temperament, in the moment, they go with their heart.

    I don't think it's bull to write she was thrilled to return to her foster though - it's where spent all but what? Three weeks or so of her life? Change is stressful, but I think she was under far more stress moving to her home with my friends. Moving back she reclaimed her adult dog friend and had a yard to work out her energy with her pal. Personally, I think all puppies are better served by having an adult dog around. Having the adult companion for a little while longer probably helped her loads with developing good mouthing and social skills, which will help her stay out shelters in the future.

    Returning a puppy is never a good thing. But we must allow humans to make mistakes, requesting of course, the same mistake not be made twice.

  5. I know I'm very late in coming across this post, but I just wanted to comment on how enormously helpful this story has been. My husband and I are considering adding a puppy to our family trio. We too, own a pit bull that appears to have the same exact temperament as Sensi. Our girl is 8 years old, and to say that she loves people is an understatement. Her excitement and need for licking and loving everyone is over the top, but we love that about her. Other dogs however, is definitely on a case by case basis. She's fine with my in-laws female cocker spaniel (although she's not okay with other females-just males), is afraid of my brother in law's cat, does not like my sister's elderly female I said, it's case by case. Like Sensi, she's low energy, and a bit fearful of certain things.

    We do know she's the queen bee, and we're not sure if she'd be okay with us bringing a small prince into the picture. We're afraid she'll reject the puppy we choose(which would be another pit bull). Fortunately we do realize how energy and personality plays an important role. So we are aware of how important those traits fit in with our home.

    She's also very protective of us. We have an alley separating the houses behind us, and there's a border collie she's not fond of, mainly because it usually barks at my husband and I. There are many other examples of how protective she is, but the accounts are too long to share.

    We've seen her interaction with puppies and it's always been positive. Bringing one home however, may yield different results. We've discussed how important it is in our training to make it abundantly clear to the new pup that our girl is the pack leader (pardon the dog whisperer lingo). Sad part is, we won't really know unless we go for it!

    Either way, I think this is leading me to believe it's not the right choice to add to our family right now. I'm not completely off of the idea yet, but again, this helped immensely. Thanks for sharing it with the internet world!

    I'm glad Reese was placed in a good foster home. As you said, she's still very young and impressionable. I hope she has found her permanent, loving home.