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Q: We're getting ready to buy a puppy. People have told us that we should see the parents of the puppy before deciding. Why is that so important?

A: Your puppy's appearance, temperament and general health are inherited from his parents. Just as you may have inherited your mother's eyes and your father's quick temper, your puppy will inherit certain traits from his parents, too. If the parents of the litter aren't the kind of dogs that you'd be proud to own, chances are your puppy won't be either.

Some people believe that a puppy is like a blank slate, that if they start young enough, they can mold it into whatever they want it to be. This is only true to a small extent. If your puppy has inherited a poor temperament from his parents, you'll always be fighting against it no matter how much training or socialization you do. This puppy will never behave as well as the puppy who inherited a good disposition to start with.

Before you begin your search for a puppy, think about what you want your dog to look like, act like and what you want him to do when he grows up. What qualities are important to you? What kind of personality do you want? Most people want a calm, intelligent dog that's eager to please and reasonably easy to train. They want a friendly dog that's reliable with children, a steady dog that can cope with a noisy, busy household. They want a dog they'll be proud of. Some people have activities in mind - they want a dog they can take hunting, jogging or compete with in dog sports. Make a list of the things that are most important to you. Put good health and temperament on top of the list.

When you make an appointment with a breeder, tell him/her that you want to see the puppies' mother before you look at her litter. What is she like? Friendly and calm? Nervous and shy? Growling or worse, snappish? What does she look like? (Keep in mind that many dams lose their coats after having a litter and may look a little motheaten.) Is she close to the picture you have in your mind of the dog of your dreams? Get out your list of what's important to you in a dog. Does she have these qualities? Would you be proud to own her yourself? If your answer is no, then go no further - don't even look at the litter! If she's not what you're looking for, her puppies won't be either.

Now on to the sire. He might not be there for you to see. Breeders who are seriously trying to produce the best dogs they can will often use a better stud dog than what they own themselves. That dog might be in another town or on the other side of the country. If he's on the premises, judge him by the same standards that you did with the dam. Is he the kind of dog you'd like to own and would be comfortable living with? Ask the breeder why she chose him as a sire rather than another dog. If the sire lives elsewhere, a reputable breeder will have pictures or perhaps even a video to show you. The breeder will be happy to tell you where you can find him and talk to his owner or the owners of other puppies he's sired. If you're not satisfied with the answers to your questions, go somewhere else to find a puppy.

All puppies are cute! It's so easy to fall in love with an adorable face and a wagging tail but your puppy won't stay little very long. In order to have a long, happy relationship, you need to choose the dog based on what he'll be like as an adult. Your best indication of what the future holds is what his parents are like now. That darling puppy in the pet store window might be hard to resist but if you don't know anything about his sire or dam, buying him is taking an awfully expensive chance. He could turn out to be the dog of your dreams -- or your worst nightmare.

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This article was written and copyrighted by Vicki DeGruy.  Originally published in the DOG OWNERS GUIDE, an award winning newspaper, it is reproduced here with permission. Reproduction for other than personal home use is prohibited. Contact Vicki for reprint permission.

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