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  • Writer's pictureSierra Combs

Why puppy evaluations matter?

Everyone chooses to purchase a puppy or a certain breed for distinct reasons. Are you looking for your next hunting dog? Perhaps you decided you want to take up field trails or maybe you're an avid hiker/biker/etc. Perhaps you want a well-bred dog for your family.


Being intentional about choosing the right breed for your lifestyle and home does not just end there. Once you have selected your desired breed for x,y, and z reasons and decided on a breeder you will need to choose a puppy or be matched with the puppy that best fits your home. Each breeder's process is different, but we match puppies to families based on your lifestyle and the puppies' overall needs.


Puppy evaluations and learning about the lifestyle of our families are what create the perfect match.


 We believe our puppies should go to their forever home. We want to minimize puppies being returned. The biggest factor in this process is matching a family with a dog with a temperament that matches their lifestyle.


Temperament test scores don’t always reflect exactly how a puppy will grow up, but they can give a good indication.


Regardless of a dog's sex, their temperament is what defines them. Just like people each puppy's personality will vary. The way a dog behaves as an adult is determined by two primary factors: Their environment.  Their genetics. The most crucial factor in adult behavior in a dog is the environment. Often very similar littermates grow into very different adult dogs because they have grown up in different environments. However, it is undeniable that genetics also plays a role in adult behavior, and many of a dog’s natural behavioral tendencies are inherited.


It is also important to know that each breeder has a preference for a particular type of temperament and that “ideal” temperament is subjective and may be very different between breeders. Yes, even in the same breed. One breeder may prioritize certain traits over others. We have seen this a lot in training many dogs from different lines over the years.


Now that we understand what affects a dog's overall temperament let's get into what traits make puppies the best match for which lifestyle.


We begin to evaluate these traits from birth, but 8 weeks of age is the best window into what your puppy will look and act as an adult. Some things such as structure and bird drive cannot be evaluated until puppies are closer to 8 weeks.




A high level of dominance in a puppy could look like the one puppy in the litter that is less willing to give up a toy/bird or their spot at the food bowl. The puppy who often overpowers litter mates and bosses them around. However, the more submissive puppy may let other puppies take their toys or wait for their siblings to finish eating before they try to take a bite and may often get pushed around by littermates.  Dominance is a stable trait meaning a dog can be trained to curb this behavior, but they will always be either a more dominant dog or a more submissive dog. We do not want to give a family with small kids the most dominant puppy within a litter. We would be setting the puppy up for failure by giving them a whole "pack" of small kids to boss around. However, this trait can be curbed with training, so a dominant dog isn't always a bad thing, but it is a trait we need to be aware of when we match puppies. A family well-versed in the breed who has trained many puppies can usually manage a more dominant puppy.




Usually, dominance and confidence go hand in hand but that isn't always the case. Many less dominant puppies are super confident in certain situations. Usually, though the most submissive puppies are also the least confident. The great thing about this is we can build confidence in even the least confident puppy. These puppies usually need more encouragement to do things. This may not be an issue for the pet home, but the avid hunter may not want to spend extra time building up a less confident puppy. Where their counterparts may fearlessly approach all training sessions the less confident puppy may take more time. However, confidence is an adjustable trait which means that a less confident puppy can develop more confidence if they are provided the correct environment to nurture it. Low confidence isn't a make-or-break trait if the dog has other things, we can work with to help build them up. These puppies usually need a little more time and can go on to be great dogs if their environment allows them to build confidence with an owner who is willing to spend the time. 




A puppy's drive is their motivation to do things. A drive can be loosely defined as an instinctive desire or impulse. Every dog has certain amounts of various drives, and this drive cannot be increased beyond its genetic limit. A trainer or owner can only develop a drive to the maximum that the dog was given by nature. They either have it or they don't. Most often when we discuss drive, we mean prey drive but can also be toy drive, food drive, or whatever motivates the puppy. This is the leading genetic trait needed in a hunting dog. Most importantly in a bird dog, we want prey drive.  We also want to ensure we don't mistake arousal for drive. A high-drive dog is a dog that wants things badly (toys, food, birds), and will relentlessly pursue what it’s driven for. A high-arousal dog is go go go but once the energy is gone the desire fades and the dogs drive is gone. A dog can be high drive with low arousal which means if it does not have enough fuel to do something then the dog will have no motivation to go after the drive. This is another problem because the dog may want to do something but never will pursue it. This is not a lack of drive or desire it’s a lack of ability to make it happen. Will the dog do it when things are not great anymore? Drive is a stable trait meaning it will always be a trait that is there and we cannot change it or add to it. Training can curb it, but it will never go away. Therefore, we would want to match hunting homes to puppies who have bird drive but also continue to stay driven not fizzle out.  The pet home would be ok with the lower-drive puppy or even be content with the puppy whose motivation or drive is food/toys or praise over prey.


Energy Level


Energy levels are breed-dependent but can vary among litter mates. Knowing your breed's normal energy levels is extremely important. Some puppies may be on the higher end of the breed's energy levels. Other puppies may sit in the middle and some on the lower end. However, in an energetic breed, they will still be higher energy than a breed that is known to be a lower energy breed. So just because we say a puppy is on the lower end doesn't mean they are lazy. It just means their level is lower than other littermates. We do want dogs with enough physical energy to allow themselves to pursue drive and desire, but we do not want the dog that is just aroused and fizzles out once the energy is gone. Energy is also another stable trait. You can tire out an energetic dog but they will always instinctively or genetically be energetic or not.


We would not want to give the family who intends to hike/bike/run or the avid hunter the lowest energy puppy.  Furthermore, we also do not want to give the avid hunter the highly aroused puppy who has no drive to back it up. I have trained many of these types of dogs and we try to weed those out in our program. It is no fun to get a dog who is overly excitable and never shuts off, try to take it hunting and it fizzles out once its energy level is gone. Sadly, this is something I have seen a lot of as people mistake arousal for drive. These dogs often tend to hit the field run, run, run like they are going to do something amazing and once they are worn out, they are no longer interested in hunting.


Lastly, we do not want to give the family who wants a pet the most active puppy within the litter either.




Focus sort of ties everything together. If a dog has drive they must have focus. We don't want a dog that loses focus. When we select a puppy for ourselves, we want the puppy who consistently keeps the toy/bird or item we give them. We also want a puppy who can stay on task and learn behaviors. Now remember all puppies are going to have a point where they lose focus as they are babies. However, you can quickly notice a puppy who has no focus to stay on task within a 2-3 min training session over the one who does.   Focus is another stable trait which means it is important that a breeder looks for parent dogs who have focus to reproduce this trait in their litter. A higher level of focus may not be needed for the family pet if the dog is trainable however, we would not want to pair a dog with low focus in a hunting/sport home & we certainly do not want to breed it.




Proper structure allows for correct movement. For a dog to perform their function it is important to select a sound puppy. You would not select a bulldog to run with and expect the dog to run miles upon miles. Let's face it they just are not going to be as agile as a sporting breed due to their structure.


A conformationally correct dog is a dog who is built to last. These dogs can outwork their counterparts in the job they were bred to do because their body is more correctly built for the task at hand. They are less likely to tire out or become injured. While the less correct puppy may be a great pet ideally, we want to move our lines forward with the best of the best.


Therefore, as breeders, it is important to look at puppies' structure and consider the lifestyle they will lead and how their structural flaws may prohibit them from reaching their potential.


Pick of the litter


There is no such thing as a ‘pick of the litter' because the best 'pick' will be based on the home and circumstances into which the puppy is going. Most homes need a puppy with an easy-going, moderate temperament, one who would enjoy and adapt to family life with ease. The puppy that is best for you is not the puppy that is best for the breeder or even the other 2-3 other homes on the waiting list. The puppy who is best for breeding also may not be best as a pet.


We feel that evaluating our litters gives us the best indication of where each puppy will be most successful. We also want families to be happy with the puppy they take home. This method provides the best chance of success in matching each client with the best possible dog! Breeders spend 8 weeks with each puppy within a litter and know the parent's strengths and weaknesses therefore your breeder should be the person helping you select the best puppy for your home if you want continued success. Remember you will have this dog for 10-15 years so just because the one puppy with the red collar is extremely cute doesn't mean he is the best fit for your home.

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