© Copyright 1994-2001; Rev. 1998. This article is copyrighted by the American Bouvier des Flandres Club (ABdFC) and may not be reproduced without the expressed written permission of the ABdFC.
by Arden Shaw
This article is part of the series "Beginner's Guide to a Bouvier des Flandres"
Choosing a puppy of any particular breed requires a combination of instinct, skill and breed knowledge. If possible, consult with someone with experience with Bouviers -- not just owning one or two, but trainers and handlers as well as breeders. For the sake of your family and in the best interest of your future family member, never let this be an impulse or emotional decision.
Let's assume that you have done your research into known characteristics of the breed, understand the Bouvier's size, grooming and exercise needs, strengths and bad habits and have decided that this is absolutely the right breed for you. And you have researched different breeders. (Referrals are made from dog clubs, veterinarians, professional dog groomers, and other Bouvier owners.)
Picking a breeder is as important as picking your puppy. A dedicated breeder will be well recommended by others, not hesitate to answer your questions, be most willing to share information. This is someone you may need to stay in touch with for some time to come.
Re-examine your reasons for wanting a Bouvier – Family companionship? Obedience competition? Herding and farm work? Schutzhund or police work? Therapy work? Search and rescue? Conformation showing? Several of the above? Consider asking the breeder you visit if an expert in your field can accompany you to visit the litter.
No matter how you and your Bouvier plan to spend your life together, make yourself a checklist of priorities. What characteristics are most and least important to you? If color and price are more important than temperament and trainability, you may want to reconsider this purchase altogether.
There are those who will say that working instinct is most important. To some, it is. But you will have to decide. Most Bouvier lovers enjoy them for their natural instincts as family companions and protectors, not what they can be taught to do. Whether exhibited in the show ring or trained in a working skill, a Bouvier still spends the majority of its life being a family member. So, good social skills and house manners are critical.
In addition to having done your homework, let us also assume that the Bouvier litter you are selecting from is: 1) Healthy (supported by the breeder's written guarantee of good health and freedom from hip dysplasia and the fact that there may be many aged relatives still around), and 2) Structurally Sound (breeders who breed for working or show quality Bouviers and can support this by introducing their titled dogs and by producing pedigrees rich in accomplished relatives, not just a champion or two), and 3) Mentally Well Balanced (neither too shy or extremely aggressive, and intelligent). Bigger is not always better or healthier. Most breeders aim for balance in size and longevity and freedom from hereditary diseases.
Please keep in mind that there are no perfect puppies or dogs (just as there are no perfect owners). What you should try to achieve is the best match of puppy personality to owner wants and family lifestyle.
Experts agree that temperament is at least 50 percent influenced by genetics and those first critical weeks with the dam, the balance is affected by environment and training, i.e., life after the breeder. Meet one or both of the parents and as many other relatives as possible.
Most litters will contain one or more assertive, vocal puppies; one who seems happiest playing by himself or responding to the assertiveness of others but is never the instigator; and many in between.
In addition to scrupulous journal-keeping from birth to the time they go home, many breeders will aptitude/temperament test the litter at about seven weeks. This gives additional insight into placement in the proper homes based on puppy character and family lifestyle.
A puppy who rarely makes eye contact may not make the best obedience dog; in fact, an extremely shy pup may be difficult to train, if at all.
A puppy who cannot calm himself after being stressed may have behavior problems later on, or may be destructive. A shy, quiet puppy will most likely not fit in with an active, boisterous family. If withdrawn or fearful as a pup, he may become a fearful, even biting, adult. A puppy who needs less sleep than his littermates, is always exploring and getting into things, may be extremely intelligent and need a busy, working life (e.g., daily running, flyball, serious obedience, herding, etc.). It is necessary to channel this puppy's excess energy and wonderful curiosity or he will simply be a pest!
If selecting for conformation, study basic good structure and movement for the breed. One book that well illustrates this is Rachel Page Elliott's Dogsteps. Familiarize yourself with the breed Standard of the American Kennel Club. Ask the breeder to critique the puppy's parents and grandparents. (A mistake commonly made in breeding is to look ONLY at the parents; every dog is the reflection of an entire genetic pool in a line, not simply the phenotype (looks of two parents.) Consider their strengths AND their weaknesses and what is apparent in the puppies at this age. (Remember, no perfect dogs.) Puppies are commonly evaluated at eight weeks, just prior to going to their new homes. It is helpful if the puppies are trimmed. Neck, back and rear should be clipped short enough to see the outline and movement.
Evaluate head shape and proportion, jaw composition, bite (front, side occlusion, detention), length of neck and shoulder layback, coat density, length of leg elements, parallel hocks when standing, tailset, angulation in the rear, and width of hips compared to shoulder, spring of ribs and coupling (length of loin), and natural easy movement. Other than bites, the correctness of these attributes will usually carry through into adulthood. Carriage and self-confidence are extremely important to the success of the show dog. Look for these as well in the potential show pup.
Areas that vary more dramatically as the puppy grows up are: jaw width, coat texture, forechest, topline, stifle bend, some rear angulation and true movement, and side movement. If a dog toes out as a puppy, this could correct when the chest drops and fully matures. Beware of one which is a little too perfect in front as a youngster; he may toe in when the chest develops.
Color may change more than anything. The lightest puppy in the litter can turn to a black by two or three, and the eight-week-old black puppy may turn out to be a silver! So it's not wise to let color be too high of a priority in choosing your Bouvier.
There will be some variance by familial lines in individual attributers and the rates at which change occurs. Here again, the breeder can be a wealth of information.
One note about puppy assessments ... any evaluation of puppies is only good for the day on which it is done. Puppies change rapidly and at any given day the quality of one may appear better or worse than a littermate. The older the puppy, e.g., six months, twelve months, etc., the more accurate an evaluation can be made.
The selection of the correct puppy is an art. There may not even be the right puppy for you in a particular litter. The experienced breeder or other knowledgeable breed enthusiast can best advise you. A concerned breeder may select your puppy for you or suggest you wait for another litter. Don't be offended. Both you and the puppy you eventually adopt will have happier years together if the "match" is a good one! Your patience and scrutiny will be well rewarded!