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“Why doesn’t he act the way he did when he was a puppy?” — John Preston Smith

Many times, when purchasing a dog, folks do get the horse before the cart. By that, I mean, they do research before buying. But, when they find the perfect litter of pups, how do they know which pup to pick? This generally leads to calling for my help in assessing the litter.

One of my favorite assessment techniques is age-old yet has stood the test of time better then the more modern forms of evaluation. In every case that I have personally used this test, and then contacted the dog owner one year later, the original test results have proven positive.

Here’s the process. Take the litter mates, one at a time, and place them in the doorway of a room they have never visited before. You stand still and remain quiet. Your only requirement is to observe. In general, you are to qualify what you see. Take notes.

The pup that backs away from the doorway will be submissive.

The pup that neither enters the room or lies down will be indecisive.

The pup that stands in the doorway, whining for his litter mates will be a follower.

The pup that bolts into the room, heedless of the unfamiliar territory, will be difficult to control and/or will be aggressive.

The pup that slowly enters the room, alert, nose to the ground, checking each nook and cranny, will be the ideal companion dog.

Put a color ribbon on each dog and label the results on your notepad.

Now, the second test. For this you will need one person for each pup…five pups, five observers.

Put all five litter mates at the doorway at the same time. See if their behavior changes. As an example:

The submissive pup will still be submissive, and his attitude may influence the indecisive pup.

The indecisive pup can easily be influenced by any of the other pups.

The follower will join whichever group is the largest.

The aggressive pup will circle the room like the antagonist he is while straining to subject all the other pups with his craziness.

The ideal companion dog will be the only constant; continuing to maintain his composure in the midst of mayhem.

And now the final test.

Close the door to the room. Put all the pups in a box in one corner of the room that they can easily climb out. Walk away from the box and sit in the middle of the room. Make notes on what each pup does according to the color of ribbon.

Who climbs our first? Who stays in the box? Who whines? Who leaves the box as if he’s an escaped convict? Once out of the box how do they relate to you; jumping all over you, nipping for attention, cuddling in your lap, ignoring you, staying just far enough away so you can not reach out and touch. You would judge the actions of these pups in the same manner as when you placed them in a doorway of a room they had never visited.

These are my favorite litter evaluation tests and are basic enough so anyone can perform a fundamental litter assessment.

Thanks for reading, John

“Purchasing a dog should not be a knee-jerk reaction to what you perceive as a want…when it is the need that is important.” John Preston Smith

Having trained more than 14,000 dogs since 1963, I have been asked certain questions repeatedly by my clients. They are five. Who, what, when, why, and where to buy a dog? Here are my thoughts.

Who to purchase a dog for? I think everyone in the world should have a dog. The practicality of this, however, is not, well, practical. I believe dogs are one of the greatest gifts our Maker has provided. But, dogs are not for everyone. Kids…yes. But disposition, character, and temperament are critical…of the dog, that is. Training for young tykes regarding the do’s and don’ts should be taken seriously. Dogs are not pillows, trampolines, punching bags, or pull toys. Children should be taught not to pounce on a dogs’ most tender possessions…his feet. Should teenagers have a dog? Maybe. Their interests are usually scattered. I recommend a heart-to-heart before purchasing a dog for young people. Will they be willing to feed, exercise, groom, train and clean up behind the new addition? For adults, dogs can be child, mate, and empty nest substitutes. However, before purchasing a dog try this. Drive through your neighborhood. How many dogs do you see chained, fenced in small enclosures, or rummaging through garbage. My take: if these dogs had been procured for the right reason, then these travesties would never have happened. No matter who a dog is purchased for it should be approached as a major decision. A decision that is costly, long-term, and emotional. Yet, consider this, where else in the world, for a mere hundred bucks, can you purchase a life-long friend?

What dog to buy? Purchasing a dog should not be a knee-jerk reaction. When you need a car do you run to the car lot and grab the first one you see simply because it’s “so cute?” Probably not. Rather, you consider size, how it will be used, the mileage, the initial cost and maintenance, new versus used, etc.

Try this: Give a lot of thought to what you need from a dog. Disposition is critical. Do you need a protection, alarm, or family dog? Is size a factor (do you live in an apartment, house, or 50-acre farm?). Single or double coat (definitely double coated if he is to be an outside dog). Many veterinarians and dog trainers can help you with understanding the characteristics of different breeds. Or you can study the “breed standard” of any dog by going online. And while you’re at it, read articles regarding health issues. Some examples: Bulldogs may have respiratory problems. Pugs may have eye problems. German Shepherds may have hip dysplasia concerns. Elongated dogs like Dachshunds may have back problems. And finally, does anyone in your household have an allergy to dogs? Bottom line…make an informed decision.

When not to buy a dog? I am not in favor of purchasing dogs for celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, or as a replacement pet if you have not discussed this with the person receiving the dog. Don’t buy pups in the wintertime that you plan to leave outside. Don’t purchase a dog for a child unless you plan training both. Many dogs are not intentionally mistreated…however, too often our best intentions get lost in the shuffle after the excitement of the new family addition wears off.

Why purchase a dog? Any of us who had a family dog when we were young know those times as memorable and special. I have previously mentioned how dogs fill a void in our lives in many situations. How about what dogs do for the military, the police, the blind, the autistic, and the disabled. In the early 60’s I advocated that nursing homes and homes for the elderly should have a resident canine. Why? For the same reasons that therapy dogs are used by volunteers in hospitals today. What do dogs bring to the table? Solace, comfort, relaxation, someone to talk with, friendship, good memories. They help us fight loneliness, depression, and fear. There are a gazillion reasons to buy a dog. Just be sure your’s is the right one.

Where to buy a dog? The choices are three. From a breeder, a pet shop, or a rescue organization.

From a breeder. When purchasing from a breeder be sure to see the sire and dame of the litter. In dogs, what you see, mostly, is what you get. If the parents are friendly, aloof, accepting, standoffish, reserved, playful, aggressive…then those balls-of-fur fighting for your attention will most-probably maintain the disposition of their parents. Many dogs a breeder has are not good enough to fit the ideal of the standard of the breed and will not be shown in the confirmation ring at a dog show. Therefore, those dogs are sold as “pet quality.” A pet-quality dog from a breeder will be more expensive than purchasing a mixed-breed dog. However, always compare price and cost. Price is what you pay for a dog. Cost is the money you will put out over the life-span of your pet. Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian about which dog he believes will be healthier in the long run.

From a pet shop. I am not a fan.

From a rescue organization. Probably, this is where most folks get dogs. However, the temperament of mixed breed dogs is often based on speculation. What really occurred in the life of a dog that caused him to land in a county shelter? Was it relocation, divorce, abuse, biting, health issues, or a lack of training? All my childhood dogs came from the city pound. They all had quirks, but they were great dogs and I loved them. In addition to your local Humane Society, there are many organizations that sponsor rescue and adoption for pets needing a forever home. One such agency, Little Victories, is in Barboursville, West Virginia, near my hometown.

The next question coming from many folks is this: How do I know which dog to purchase? I’ll discuss temper testing and assessment techniques in my next column.

Thanks for reading,


“Histories are fuller of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.” Alexander Pope

What is it about dogs?

In the wild they search for, stalk, chase, grab and kill their prey. This highly honed aspect of the pack instinct comes from one of the most organized and social animals of all time; the wolf. And yet, in partnership with man they will retrieve, guard, hunt, herd, seek, protect, and search.

We can talk to them, confess to them, and blame them for our bad day…and still, under all circumstances, they great us daily as long-lost friends.

We use them more for our own edification than for theirs. Too often, after the excitement of puppyhood has worn off, we leave them to fend for themselves. We dispatch them to the basement, garage, or backyard. Fortunately, we do not do this to our children!

We leave them cooped up throughout the day until they are forced to relieve themselves, and then oftentimes we reprimand them for soiling the carpet.

We reprimand them for the slightest wrongdoing because we are moody, irritable, or short-tempered…which, by the way, is absolutely the worst time to correct a dog. In my training classes, I constantly reminded my students that the dog who piddled on the carpet because you left him in the house for ten hours is the same dog that anxiously awaits their return home every day with a wagging tail, bounding with excitement, and ready for a jaunt in the park…or a mere pat on the head if that’s all you are willing to offer. And guess what, they’d be waiting with that same exuberance whether you were a banker or a bank robber.

Speaking of dog’s behavior leads to similar topics. What do dogs think about, do they rationalize, are they problem solvers, do they think about their next meal, are they bored when left alone, etc.?

I do not want to get in a battle with those not in agreement with my opinions. I am not a scientist, nor animal psychologist, not geneticist. My pedigree is simply more than 50 years of training dogs.

Since dogs can’t talk with us, the best we can do is assign the same words to them that we assign to ourselves. From the get-go, this is a mistake. Because most words we use with dogs are not absolutes, they are relatives.

Example: the word happy. If you ask ten different people what makes them happy, you will get ten different answers based on what the word happy means to them. So, when we think our dog is happy, what are we basing that on? (Example of absolutes would be sit, stay, down, heal, and come.)

How about other words we use referring to our dogs: boredom, loving, affectionate, sad, lonely.

I’ve heard people say, “He licks my mouth because he loves me so much.” Not true, all dogs lick their master’s mouths hoping to find a morsel of food that has been left behind.

Example: Through the years I’ve seen thousands of dogs staked outside on a chain. By the end of the day many of those dogs are wound so tightly they can barely move. I’ve yet to see a single dog smart enough to unwind himself. Am I saying the dog is therefore dumb? Absolutely not. On the other hand, he surely is not smart or intelligent based on our definition of those words.

Animal psychologists use the word intelligence when speaking of wolves. But they use that word in the context of describing how a wolf might survive within his surroundings. In other words, they are not using that word within the confines of human description. Rather, it is used as a description pertaining to wolves’ dealings within their environment.

Dogs are not rational thinking beings. They don’t plan their day, hope to have steak for dinner, think about winter versus summer, or wonder if tonight is the night that you take them for a run in the park. And they certainly don’t think about that sweet looking Poodle that just moved in down the street!

Dogs live in the present…not in the past, and not in the future. Eight hours locked in the basement or yard while you work is not eight hours that they wonder when you will return. If I were to assign a human word as to how dogs perceive time, I would say that they merely exist.

I was once asked what I believe dogs represent. Here is my answer, as stated by The Representative of All Dogs, in my book, “The Bog, The Legend of Man’s Best Friend.”

“We represent loyalty. We are our masters’ keeper. When you are given to us it is a pact for life…for our life. There is no one in your life that you always think about. It is impossible for you. It is fully possible for us.

“Your’s is a life of multiple purposes. You are to be both good and gentle. You are to love one another. And you are to aspire to the kingdom of God.

“Your time on earth is challenging and demanding…full of days of wonder and nights of dread. For some life is unbelievably short, for others it endures for many years. You may be prosperous, or you may be a pauper. Your fellow man may measure you as a success or judge you as a failure. You may have been granted the elixir of health or the poison of sickness, pain, and suffering. Yours is a life of the oxen: you are burdened with the gift of choice, you must carry the yoke of life-defining decisions, and you must control the beast of desire.

“Loyalty, however, is the defining trait of our kind. We are a pack of the pact. We have accepted the ‘one thought,’ the ‘single purpose,’ and the ‘just cause.’ Because of this we think of you at all times.

“It is not our death that we fear, it is your’s. We can deal with our’s, we cannot live with your’s. You have been granted multiple coping methods if your friend or family member passes. We have none. That is why we lay at the casket, at the grave, or beside your lifeless body. That is why The Almighty has granted us such a short life…because we cannot live if our best friend is lost…that is why our world is over so quickly.”

Thanks for reading, John

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