PICKING A PERFORMANCE PUPPY
by Karen J. Brittan

A person generally finds his way into the obedience ring because his first dog was too noisy, didn't come when called, jumped up on company, or was just plain too rowdy. In the process of training his little beast to be something he could live with in reasonable harmony, he one day discovers that he has been bitten by "THE BUG".

What pleasure to have a dog that responds to (almost) every word, and greater fun yet to go to dog shows and earn obedience degrees that go after the dog's name. Unfortunately, some find they have to work really, really hard for those two or three letters. Not all schnauzers take to retrieving easily, and some dogs just aren't built well enough to handle the jumps well.

Many decide to try the agility ring after that first or second obedience title as they look for more to do with their dogs. It is then that they discover just how much fun (and addictive) performance events can really be when they see just how much their dogs enjoy agility. Even though the dogs are obviously having a good time, it can be really painful watching a poorly-built dog as he stutter-steps or flings himself over (or even occasionally through) every jump or he struggles with the A-frame.

Eventually one's "BUG" can get even bigger, and it is time to bring home another dog. So what are the options in order to find that new performance prospect who will not only have a desire to please, but who will work with grace and soundness under pressure and still be able to do run after run after run, every time it is asked? I certainly hope that we are all educated enough that I can eliminate any talk of pet shops!

Whether one goes to a casual breeder who may or may not be familiar with the breed standard and who only breeds an occasional litter of puppies, or a breeder who shows in the conformation ring and most certainly should be familiar with the breed standard, one may find that neither one are all that familiar with the performance rings. So how does one pick that future performance winner?

Chances are you do not want that last pup left in the litter. What you NEED is the pick-of-litter puppy (if the breeder can be convinced to part with it!). The two most important things needed in the performance rings are soundness and attitude, exactly what we look for in the conformation ring. Okay, here is what can be fudged on: size, color, coat, bite, head quality, tail set (although that can be indicative of poor rear assembly). You can probably think of a couple more things to add. The dog's running gear is extremely crucial and should never be compromised as a dog in agility or advanced obedience competition will do thousands of jumps over its lifetime. An unsound dog will just not have the stamina for serious competition.

The puppy's structure is evaluated with the puppy standing with his legs straight and parallel to each other. The front legs should be directly under the shoulder blades; the rear legs should have the rear pastern (area from hock to foot) straight and perpendicular to the floor. Here's what I look for:

The chest should be as deep as the elbow, and a line dropped from the point of the shoulder blade (up by the withers) should pass through the elbow or slightly behind. When I place my hand between the front legs, there is a 3-4 finger width, never wider nor narrower, with my personal preference being closer to three. The lay-in is the area between the shoulder blades at the withers, and in a puppy I want this area 1 to 1.5 fingers wide, no more. The puppy should toe out slightly as this will straighten when the ribs spring at maturity. A combination of these last three factors can give you a front that will last a lifetime or a front that is out-at-the-elbows and looks like a Mack truck could drive through! There should be some prosternum (breastbone), and the rear legs should extend beyond the tail, with a nice curve at the front of the legs by the stifle.
I also hold the puppy in such a way that I can drop his front and rear independently of each other so that I can evaluate the true nature of his structure without being influenced by how perfectly I may have set the puppy up. I evaluate their rears with my hands holding them around their chest, under their front legs, as I lift and drop them on their hind legs (with puppy usually facing away from me). I drop the fronts with one hand around the front of their neck and the other between their rear legs. The legs should drop balanced and straight and the dog should not shift his weight from one leg to the other, but plant his feet with his weight distributed equally on both sides. I also find that the wider the puppy plants his rear feet, the wider he will move in the rear, a feature that is very desirable in the conformation ring, but not quite as important for obedience, although that wider rear base will make for a better take-off over the jumps... the spring that gets the dog OVER the jumps... while the front is the one that takes all the pounding on the landings. Never compromise on the front!


Check for range of motion in the front and rear legs. How much extension can the dog get when the front and rear legs are carefully extended?

Excellent range of motion! See how the dog can fully extend that shoulder blade and get total extention from the tip of the blade all the way to the toes. A dog with moderate rear extention.


And the most important thing of all for a jumping dog is the dog's flexibility. While lifting the dog's front leg, gently bend the leg at it's "knee joint". In a dog with a great deal of flexibility, both sections of the dog's leg will touch each other. This is IDEAL! A dog with very little flexibility will not be able to bend that joint much more than an "L-shape", and this is a dog that should be eliminated from further consideration.

Excellent flexibility! Very Poor Flexibility

I check the puppy's pain sensitivity by applying pressure with my thumb and index finger to the webbing between the puppy's toes (sometimes an ear or flank skin may be used). As the pressure is slowly increased, I count "a thousand one, a thousand two, etc." A dog that reacts in the range of 1-3 is an extremely pain sensitive dog. He will be hard to physically correct (no leash corrections) and requires a motivational trainer who knows how to train a dog without using force. Conversely, a dog in the 7 and up range might never even know you are attached to the end of his leash because he just doesn't feel a thing. This is one area where the best bet is to find a dog right in the middle of the test range, but most important of all is to have a dog that is forgiving. Does he give you a big slurpy kiss afterwards, or does he go off and sulk? Forget the sulker.

An independent dog is also one to be avoided as he couldn't care less if you are in his life or not. Heaven forbid that he should have to work for you. This dog has his own game plan, and it probably doesn't involve you too much. Avoid the mentally soft dog, too. This is the dog that is crushed by one harsh word. He can be worked with, of course, but will require a more skillful trainer with the knowledge of how to keep this dog mentally up. Do look for a puppy full of confidence in himself; this puppy will have enough self-assurance later on to be able to go out and work away from you; this is essential for both agility and utility. He will at times appear to be a bit independent, but will enjoy interacting with you more than an independent dog will.

The last thing I look for is retrieving ability. Schnauzers are generally not natural retrievers and this can be a very difficult thing to teach. Many of the advanced obedience exercises are based on retrieving. There will be no progress in obedience until this is learned. If when testing for retrieving the puppy goes out to the object but does not come back with it, I am satisfied, because the dog can always be taught to bring it back and to hold; the interest must be there to go out to it. While retrieving is certainly not necessary for the agility ring, it is a sign of a dog's willingness to work with a person. When I occasionally do find a natural retriever in one of my litters, especially when coupled with the other qualities I am looking for, this is a dog to be treasured for its worth goes beyond money.

Finally, I will mention one other performance event that some of us have enjoyed with our schnauzers, and that is earthdog. Probably nothing I have mentioned above would have any bearing on going to ground with one's schnauzer, although it certainly would if one actually hunted with his dog as many do with their real terriers. (I think our schnauzers are really working dogs, but that is a discussion for another day.) Varmits tend to hole up in the most inconvenient places, and they don't send up signs saying, "here I am!" Hunting in the field all day can be very tiring and a sound dog is once again essential, particularly when it confronts a wild critter which can be extremely ferocious when threatened.

Earthdogging, however, is a much milder imitation of real hunting, meant more as an indication of a dog's hunting instinct than anything. All that is required of a dog is his ability to fit through a 9" square liner and his desire to get to the quarry and work it. What I look for is a puppy with a high chase instinct, maybe a puppy that enjoys chasing bugs, birds, or squirrels or digging in the yard after moles. If a puppy sticks his head down a critter hole, inhales deeply, and then starts digging, he is a great prospect. This is one time when a dog can be noisy and get away with it; a dog that barks at the quarry is quite desirable in earthdog. That "deadly terrier stare" will fail every time!
 

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