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Puppy Puzzle

On 28th January 2010, a litter of six Malinois puppies were born. The litter comprised 3 dogs and 3 bitches. My firm belief is that the only reason for breeding a litter is to try to improve the quality of that particular breed of dog (in this case Malinois). Because of this, I will only consider breeding with dogs that have working qualifications, are clear of hip dysplasia, and are breed champions. Temperament is paramount – if a dog is not of a sound disposition, how can it possibly enjoy participating in the gamut of events that we have available to us in South Africa? And if it doesn’t enjoy its work, how can it achieve?

Placing the puppies in the correct homes is quite a trial. I try to match puppies to their new homes as closely as possible, sometimes even refusing a puppy to someone who has paid a deposit because I don’t believe the puppy has the necessary characteristics for that home. Being highly active dogs, Malinois also need to go to homes that will work them and stimulate them daily on both a physical and mental level.

With this litter I decided to have the puppies evaluated by a puppy puzzle. This because one particular puppy looked like having really good breed showing/breeding potential, as well as having excellent drive which would make it a good working dog. I needed to make sure my evaluation was correct, and that this puppy was placed in a home where both aspects of its breeding could be utilised. All our puppies are sold with breeding restrictions, and the person who took this puppy needed to know that if the pup turned out to be as good as her form promised, we might wish to breed with her at a later stage.

Pat Hastings designed the “Puppy Puzzle” in order to determine whether each puppy in the litter is structurally sound enough to do what we will be asked of it in its lifetime, whether the hope is for the show ring or obedience, agility, working trials, flyball, etc.

Pat Hastings says of her puppy evaluations:”The purpose is not to determine which puppies will grow into future champions, but which will enhance a breeding program that will produce puppies that are genetically, temperamentally, and structurally sound.”

On the basis of this, I booked my puppies in to have a Puppy Puzzle. On arrival at the evaluators’ house, the puppies were placed in a puppy pen. They were taken out individually to be tested. Besides a simple temperament test, each puppy was given a thorough conformation evaluation according to the breed standard. I chose to use the FCI standard as it is far more comprehensive and is the standard that is internationally recognised.

The test is most interesting, as most of it is done by reflection i.e. a mirror image.

The test is ideally performed at 8 weeks of age, but can be stretched to two days on either side. Problems in topline are considered in relation to front and rear structural weaknesses, and movement as a function of front and rear assemblies; skull growth helps to predict whether the head will meet the breed standard; the neck is checked to see if it is too short or too long. Basically one wants to make sure the puppy is balanced in bone and muscle.

The evaluation has three purposes: to determine whether there are structural problems in the litter so they can be avoided in future breedings; to decide which puppy to keep as a potential addition to the breeding program; and to determine the best type of home for each puppy in the litter. The idea is not (according to Hastings), to determine which puppies will grow into future champions, but which will enhance a breeding program that will produce puppies that are genetically, temperamentally, and structurally sound.

The results of the test were most interesting – the little bitch that I particularly liked scored the highest. She was placed in a working home nearby so that her progress can be monitored. It will take a few years to see whether she meets the standard awarded her by the puppy puzzle, and we are all excited by her prospects.


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