The selection process (part 1)

We now have a beautiful little puppy settling into life with us, but choosing that puppy was serious business. And it wasn’t a choice we made lightly. Or quickly.

Shortly after the puppies were born, I found the dog trainer we decided to use on our DIY assistance dog journey. I’d spoken with several trainers and they all claimed that they could help us. However, this guy actually had the experience and reputation to back it up. He could tell us exactly how he’d approach the job and what we would need to do.

We met with him one evening and he brought Woody, a labradoodle he is training to be an assistance dog for another little girl. He wanted to see how Lil Z interacted with a dog. I was a bit nervous (especially since it was nearly Z’s bedtime, so there was a risk of it all going wrong). But in the end, Woody flopped down on her feet and they both fell asleep.

The trainer had fairly clear views about selection. He said that it was impossible to know which puppy would be the best assistance dog. A lot of puppies are selected for guide dog and assistance dog training every year and are later rejected for all sorts of reasons that simply aren’t apparent when they are babies. So, we were not going to look for the dog with the most potential, but the dog who would bond best with Lil Z.

This, however, may not be as easy as it sounds. Lil Z is not a child that a puppy would naturally gravitate towards. She can’t run and frolic with a puppy or throw a ball or stick. She can’t even pat a puppy without assistance. And she makes unpredictable jerky movements with her arms and legs that cans startle you if you’re not expecting it. And she coughs – a lot. And swings her arms – hitting anything within reach. And kicks her legs – kicking anything within reach (and if she finds something with her feet, she loves to keep on kicking it). In fact, the only thing going for Lil Z in a puppy’s mind is that she smells interesting – nappy, feeding tube, dribble, vomit and a bit of Nutrini formula are a fascinating fragrance to a dog.

So, I was skeptical that there was going to be much bonding, but off we went, with the trainer, to see the breeder and the puppies, who were 6 weeks old by then. We all gathered in a small, enclosed area outside and the breeder let out the eight puppies. Vegemite was in heaven. She was swarmed by the cutest puppies you could imagine. The trainer was watching them all intently, in order to pick out the most dominant or most submissive of the litter, who wouldn’t make prime candidates. Even the skeptical QB was in puppy love.

Lil Z sat on my lap and we waited quietly to see who would pay attention to us. Only the puppies’ mother came to say hello. I was worried. What if NONE of them acknowledged Lil Z?

But eventually they came. Some just had a sniff and wandered off. Others hung around a bit more. Lil Z coughed several times and scared off several of the curious puppies.

During an earlier conversation with the trainer, we had suggested that we were leaning towards a boy (although we wanted the best one for Lil Z, regardless of gender). Why a boy? Well, the trainer believes they are easier to housetrain (the breeder disagreed) and QB wasn’t enthusiastic about having yet another female around the house (feeling outnumbered with 4 of us already). So, the trainer put all the girls back in their crate and we just mingled with the four boys, who were distinguished by the colour of their collars.

Two of them – green and purple – didn’t pay any attention to Lil Z. However, light and dark blue hung around, came back for a second and third look at her, and generally showed a bit of interest. In fact, light blue was so interested in all of us that when all his brothers and sisters fell asleep, he was still awake and interacting with us.

By the end of the night, the field had narrowed to the two blue boys. We decided to return the following week to see if they were both still interested in Lil Z and to make a final decision.

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