A very valid question recently came up on an online group the other day. A question that I’ve been asked and have heard asked of others many times “how do you pick a performance pup?” This question is usually phrased in a variety of different ways but the focus is always the same. “What do YOU look for?”
Over the years my answer tended to change as my research and experiences expanded. When I first entered into the dog performance world it was all about temperament and drive. Having a soft, velcro, low drive dog myself, I could see how that was important for performance, so temperament test scores became important.
Next, came my love for the standard poodle and genetics, breeding lines, and health became tops. Spending many hours researching COI and comparing OFA, Penn Hip, and all the other genetic acronyms and interviewing breeders on their philosophies on nutrition and vaccination protocols allowed me to build a strong list of potential breeders.
Then, with my entrance into the canine rehab world, structure became paramount. Seeing firsthand what repetitive stress can do to a joint and how quickly injuries occur to poorly put together dogs made structure my main focus.
These answers never quite seemed to satisfy. Handler aside, there was still no guarantee that a puppy with top drive, excellent hips, and perfect angles was going to be a top performer. Well, if you don’t like surprises or the thrill of a challenge, do what the top performance dog owners do and hedge your bet by looking for repeat breeding. Repeat breeding will give you the best picture of future outcomes you can get. Research all the dogs in the prior breeding. Breeders like to gush about their successful litters and can easily produce pictures and titles of all the offspring. Focus in on your venue of choice. Ask the breeder why they are repeating. What did they like about the last breeding. Statistically speaking, any pup out of a performance bred repeat litter has an increased chance of carrying the elusive “performance gene”.
But with that said sometimes risk is good! I acquired my dog when she was 4 ½ years old not knowing anything about her genetics or breeding lines. Her structure at the time was fair by performance standards. Her temperament was soft and her health questionable, but now I have a healthy 10-year-old wonder with a decent array of alphabet soup after her name. Over the years she has become a confident athletic dog that can put a smile on the face of a scared boy with autism as well as keep pace on a 3-hour mountain snowshoeing excursion, my true companion. Sometimes surprises are worth the chance taken!