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Which pup should we choose from the litter?

September 2, 2020 - Mia Skogster

I get often asked, what I look for when choosing a puppy for the IGP sport?
Do I take the most active puppy? Or the one who bites all the time?

You have your own talents, challenges, goals and preferences as a dog handler. So it is very individual which puppy is the best choice for you.

I’m quite strong-minded and daring, and I like to do challenging things. That’s why I prefer that my dogs are quite similar. We irritate each other less and have more fun together. 

Here are some qualities that are important to me when I’m testing 6-8 weeks old puppies


I like a puppy who is self-confidently searching new places and takes contact with strangers. Every puppy gets scared at something. But it’s the problem solving strategy that matters.

– is the puppy asking help from a human?
– getting nervous?
– avoiding to face the problem?
– going curiously and independently towards the scary thing?

I prefer a puppy who is able to solve problems independently. I compare the puppies’ reactions in the same litter. I also give attention how fast the puppy recovers from the stress when the situation is over. Strong-minded dogs aren’t the easiest ones to train. But they have resilience to bounce back from adversities. And thus, they are the steadiest ones when trained correctly.

Fighting spirit and grip

I expect the puppies to chase the toy and bite it with a calm and firm grip. I want to test the puppies one by one in a place where they haven’t been before. If the puppy plays well I suddenly prevent it from playing. I push the pup softly away and with another hand I move the toy calling the puppy to play. I continue like this few seconds and then observe

– does the puppy want to fight more determinedly?
– does the puppy start to please me?
– does the puppy lose it’s interest?
– does the puppy become aggressive?

I prefer the puppy who wants to fight more eagerly and who stays all the time solid. The grip should stay as steady as before frustration. This measures the puppy’s fighting spirit but also it’s self-confidence and nerves.

Self-control and ability to calm down

I look for a puppy who is balanced, able to focus and concentrate on what it is doing. A puppy who is accepting little adversities without getting nervous. This skill will be needed many times in the dog’s life. The dog must learn to wait, stay calm and relax when nothing happens. If the dog has big difficulties handling frustration, it won’t be reliable at competitions. Also the normal life is hard both for the handler and the dog itself if the dog is very impulsive. Watch Katriina’s lecture about impulsivity if you want to learn why some dogs are impulsive, how heritable it is and how it affects on learning, searching or other cognitive functions. 

Food drive

For me it’s important that the puppy has a normal healthy appetite. It does not have to be the fastest eater in the litter. But neither should it eat reluctantly. The working dog breeder should take care that all the puppies learn to appreciate the food. That means, food isn’t available all the time and the puppies are not overweight.


I’m searching for a puppy that is comfortable in all situations. Neither avoiding fights in the pack nor overly aggressive all the time. Getting raged easily can be a sign of sensitivity and the lack of impulse control. But I do prefer a puppy that likes to be a leader and has the character suitable for that. 

Social behaviour

I like a puppy who is curious and comes to greet me. A puppy who stays confident when I touch it and relaxed when I take it to my arms. The puppy doesn’t need to please strangers. But if the puppy is clearly doubtful, I always ask myself why? It really irritates me if my dog doesn’t like to greet people. I prefer teach them to be lesser pushy than encourage them to meet the world briskly 🙂    

Now back to the questions asked in the beginning. Do I take the most active puppy?

– No. I don’t take the most active puppy. I prefer dogs who are able to calm down. And often in my breed (malinois) the most active puppies in the litter are either too impulsive or nervous to my taste and purpose. 

Do I take a puppy who bites all the time?

The amount of biting isn’t so important than the quality of biting. I observe how the puppy bites, moves in different environments, meets people, bounce back from adversities and how does it solve problems.  

The five most important traits to me are

  • Self-confidence
  • Courage
  • Fighting spirit
  • Dominance
  • Self-control

How does these qualities show in IGP obedience?

When I evaluate the dog’s breeding qualities, I’m not too obsessed about the heeling. I observe more the dog’s motion exercises and all moments when it has to wait the next performances. Is the dog able to focus on the handler? Does it become easily nervous or insecure when the handler walks away and returns? How powerfully the dog can perform after waiting calmly? Naturally a bad training can spoil a lot. But even the best handlers can’t hide everything.

Read more about the working dog qualities in IGP obedience here!