by Rev. John Parks
You have just seen an ad for a litter of puppies for sale within reasonable driving distance, and you decide to check them out. What should you be aware of, and what should you look for in selecting a puppy? Let me say at the outset that it is impossible to absolutely predict how a puppy is going to run a rabbit when it is grown and matured. The best you can do is to try to select the most alert and intelligent pup that has a decent body. Here are some criteria to go by that may help in the selection process.
Breeding - One of the first considerations should be the genetic make up of the litter. Are you familiar with the two families that are represented in the pedigree? Do they represent the running style that you are looking for? Looking at a hound's pedigree cannot tell you how it performs, but it can tell you how it should perform, if it is a true representative of its bloodline. That is all. However, that is something that is worth checking out.
Which sex to buy? - Most Beaglers prefer one sex over another in their kennel, and few should keep both sexes, unless they have a large kennel. Even then, they should not keep mediocre males for breeding stock. They should breed their bitches to the best males they can find in order to upgrade their stock. So it might be wise to ask yourself what you are going to do with this puppy you are thinking about buying. Also, here are some other pros and cons of each sex-males don't come in season or get pregnant. They do fight, display aggressive behavior, wander more, chase cars, and become jealous of other males. Also they are more "territory" oriented. Females are more gentle, affectionate, protective, and bond more easily with people. They do come in season (usually semi-annually) and attract unwanted attention from every neighborhood cur, and unless they are securely locked up, they can become pregnant by any male that can get by the barriers!
Parents - Ideally you should see both of the puppies' parents. If the breeder does not own the male, find out why he (really) bred to that stud. Was it to sell puppies? (This is a judgment call.) Or was it because he admired the male's field ability? A good test of this is whether the breeder is going to keep any of the puppies. If you haven't before, try to see the parents (that are available) perform in the field. This will tell you a lot. If that isn't possible, are there any older brothers or sisters (by a previous litter) that you could see run?
Age of puppies - Puppies make the best adjustment to a new home when they are two to three months of age. Six week old pups are a little young to be uprooted from secure surroundings in my estimation.
Testing the puppies - There are no "fool proof" methods of testing for intelligence or temperament (aside from DNA that is compared to parents), but there are some simple tests that will help to screen the pups. Here are a few-roll a ball toward the pup (or puppies). How do they react? Are they curious? Playful? Or do they avoid it? Drag an object on a string in front of the pup (or puppies). Again, what is their reaction? Some other tests are: shining a flashlight at the pup. Showing it a mirror. Wave a piece of white paper in front of it. Some hearing tests are: clap your hands. Blow a whistle. Make other sounds. Does the pup try to locate the source of the sound, or is it wary and hesitant?
How does the pup react to being handled? - One recessive trait in many Beagles is timidity or resistance to being touched and handled. I believe much of this is learned by the lack of being handled by the breeder, especially if the litter is a large one. It is difficult to give pups individual attention, but it is vital. A pup can be born with the temperament that will tend towards shyness, but some pups get a little "careful" around humans from neglect. Also the competition in a large litter can cause a pup to become timid if it isn't born with an assertive temperament.
Voice - When you approach the pen, are the puppies barking? If so, pay attention to the voice quality of each one. They may range from a high, squeaky, raspy tone down to a low coarse bark that can hardly be heard. The best is a clear tone that can easily be heard from a distance. Many puppies' voices "change" at about one year of age, and improve markedly. However the voice that you first hear should be considered in the screening process.
Do the puppies keep barking after you are away from the pen and are out of sight? - If they do, that's bad. They may have entirely too much mouth if they do that. Think twice about taking one of them home. You may be trying to sell them in a few weeks because you can't stand the constant barking!
Scenting ability - When you go to see a litter of pups, cook a wiener until it is juicy and put cut-up pieces of the wiener in a plastic bag. Try to get the owner to put the puppies out in the yard to play, then scatter the pieces of wiener about the yard. Which pups use their noses to find the treats? After they find one, do they search for others?
Body type and size - Size is very hard to predict. However, you can still sort out pups by body type. Are they fine boned (lean), or heavy boned (stocky)? Are they long bodied, or short coupled? Do they have big heads (in proportion to their bodies), or small? Do they have square muzzles, or pointed? Take a critical look at each pup, and choose the one (within previous criteria) that comes closest to your ideal. Chances are they won't change a great deal as they mature.
Bite - Don't forget to look in the pup's mouth and check its bite. The teeth should either meet evenly or they should have a scissors bite. If they are badly out of line either undershot (lower jaw in front of uppers) or an overbite (uppers in front of the lowers), which is sometimes called a "parrot mouth," walk away and do not buy any of the litter. These are definite faults in conformation.
A bitch with a bad bite will not be able to sever the umbilical cords of puppies at birth, and a male will pass this trait on if bred.
Some bites are so bad that digestion and health is affected; so don't neglect to look in the puppy's mouth.
Color and markings - This should be the very last consideration. This has nothing whatsoever to do with running ability or performance in the field. Granted, an open marked hound can be seen more easily in thick cover than a dark colored hound. Conversely, a dark colored hound can be seen on snow better than a white hound.
Don't get hung up on liking red hounds, or blue ticked hounds, or black hounds, for color only. This can lead you to a kennel of inferior hounds, if you choose them by color only.
The only reason you should pay any attention to color is to see if the puppies are generally the representative color of the family or bloodline they come from. Some bloodlines are mostly tri-color, and some are predominately black, red, or open-marked. If the puppies are not the color of the family they are from, then something is not quite right. Check it out. However, if you are looking for a particular color, and won't settle for anything else, then beware. One color does not run rabbits any better than another!
Health - Finally, what are the conditions that the puppies have been reared in? Is it relatively clean, or nasty and smelly? The chance of latent disease or parasites goes up greatly in dirty conditions.
Have the puppies had vaccinations? Have they been dewormed? The owner of the litter should be able to supply you with the records of both. Without such care you are buying trouble.
Hopefully, these common sense suggestions will help you as you go to select a puppy. If the owner doesn't cooperate with a few simple tests on your part, then he may have something to hide.