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Scott Rall: Black tongue and other dog myths

There are many theories about dogs and how to pick the very best puppy from the litter. I have some that I use and others I disregard. I would like to add my take on some myths that have floated around for years and share with you the ones I like and the ones that mean nothing to me when I am picking a pup from a litter.

Last night I was out at Round Lake Kennels where my newest soon-to-be arrival at my house is spending his last days as a litter mate to seven other puppies. Everyone looks for different things and there is no real concrete way to measure success or failure of your methods regardless of the puppy you pick.

The one item I use the most for picking a puppy is a pigeon. We release a pigeon that cannot fly and watch which puppy chases and tries the hardest to capture it. This is one method to help determine the amount of inherited hunting desire.

The first of my puppy picking myths goes like this: I need the pick of the litter or I am not interested in a puppy from that litter. The pick of the litter is when you are the first to choose from all of the available puppies. There is normally the pick of the litter for both a female and a male puppy, depending on what you want. The person who picks first has the most puppies to choose from. Second pick and so on leaves each buyer one less puppy to choose from than the buyer in line ahead of them.

Some breeders charge more for he pick of the litter. Sure, having the pick of the litter gives you more choices but in reality, more choice of what? Is there really anything you can tell about a puppy that is seven weeks old? Is the first pick of a litter that had two males better or worse than the fourth choice from two candidates? In my opinion, there is little difference.

One of the very best dogs I have ever owned was a dog named Decoy. I bought him at 15 months of age. The guy who owned him kept him because he was the very last puppy in the litter and he was going to south Texas to train for the winter. He did not get him sold before he left. He was the very last pick of the litter and ended up being one of the very best dogs in all of the upper Midwest.

The order of the pick, in my opinion, means very little. The pedigree — observing first-hand the parents’ size and build and seeing the parents operate in the field — has more bearing in making a good puppy choice (by picking the right litter in the first place) than the actual order of the pick when they are ready to go home. I have several additional examples of when the very last dog in the litter was as good or better than any other members of that particular breeding.

The second myth is that if the puppy is smaller than its litter mates, then the adult dog will be little too.

It might have a very indirect correlation. The smallest puppy from a litter that my dad chose from was so small that we thought it might very well die before it made it to a week of age. The little puppy lived and ended up being the largest adult dog from that litter. The size of a puppy at seven weeks has a very indirect connection to the adult size of the dog. There were two males in the litter that my dog, Tracer, came from. The other buyer had the first pick of males and chose the smaller of the two. In the end his dog weighed 10 pounds more than mine when they were both 2 years old.

The next myth is that you have to get the puppy at exactly seven weeks of age or it cannot bond to the new human owner properly. This myth was started by the Seeing Eye Dog Foundation decades ago and has seemed to really stick. Getting a puppy at seven weeks is fine, but so is 10 weeks or even 12 or 14 if other factors are done right. If the litter is spit up by 8-10 weeks and each puppy is housed in its own space, the age of the puppy at pick-up is less important. If all the puppies are kept together for an extended period such as 2-6 months, they can bond to each other and end up being much harder to pick from a different litter that had five males. Each buyer still gets to socialize and this can be a real negative. Keep track of this issue when picking from an older litter. If all the puppies were kept in the same space for too long beyond 7-8 weeks, then I would skip this litter and move on to a new one.

Here is a myth that I only pay attention to for superstition purposes. There is absolutely no science behind this old wives’ tall of puppy picking but my real life experience has shown it works. Now, I would not change my mind on a great litter based on these factors but if there are two puppies to choose from and one has this trait and the other does not — all other things being equal — I will pick the one with this trait.

The trait is a black Labrador that has a geographic tongue or black spots on its tongue. Geographic tongue is when the tongue has rough and smooth spots all at the same time. The surface of the tongue can actually look like a map of the continents. The black spot thing can be a tongue that is covered with black spots to only one or two little ones. Most people have never looked into their dogs’ mouths to even see this phenomenon.

The only thing that you can do when picking a puppy that has an absolute certain outcome is the plumbing. I was told once by an old professional dog trainer who had been in the business for almost 40 years that when picking a puppy from the litter, reach and grab one with the desired plumbing. He claimed that this is all a buyer can do that will make a difference. If you are purchasing a puppy from a reputable breeder with solid credentials on the parents and offers a good cash back guarantee, I would most likely agree with the very simple method of puppy selection.

As I looked over all six males, I told my wife that running around the backyard would make a great hunting dog out of any of them. What you do with your puppy from seven weeks to six months will have far more impact on the outcome than some complicated mathematical formula used to pick one. They are all cute, so choosing by looks is impossible. A puppy does have a very hard job for its first few months of life. Their job consists of eat, sleep, poop, repeat. For the new owner, some parts of this important job are better than others; but you cannot get an adult dog unless someone like you goes through this important puppy raising and loving responsibility.

Pick the right plumbing and enjoy your new puppy.