One question that I’m asked quite often and several people asked from my first post is,
How did you come to get Küster?
Answering that question will both let me talk about my favorite subject, Küster and continue the subject of what goes into finding a SAR dog. You see, when someone first thinks about joining a search and rescue K-9 team you have two options; find a puppy or look for an adult dog. There are no guarantees with either option.
In our case, I had looked around for a dog from a local shelter, because buying an adult working dog was WAY out of our price range. However, I didn’t find one that I felt confident had the drive to do the work, and I wasn’t sure what to look for because I hadn’t worked a dog before. Now, I have a better idea about what a working dog looks like and there are quite a few candidates in rescue. They are purchased as pets but simply have too much drive to just be a pet. They drive people crazy with their need to work and often become destructive. I really didn’t feel confident that I could choose a dog in a shelter and find one with the right combination of drive and instinct to be a canine partner.
I began to do research and to talk to a lot of canine SAR handlers. When I saw dogs that I really liked, I asked people where they came from. I learned about Küster’s breeder through word of mouth. She was breeding sound, healthy dogs with incredible instinct and drive. I talked to her a lot about what I wanted and we went up to visit her and both of Küster’s parents while his mom was pregnant. I was very impressed by both of them. Not only do they have great drive to work, they also are very friendly with people. I knew that I wanted a dog who wasn’t going to be too big in case I had to carry him, had great drive so he would work to get his reward and would like people. When we met his parents we liked what we saw a lot. After that, it was a waiting game until the puppies were born.
We had first choice of the puppies in the litter and we went up to make our choice when they were four weeks old. It wasn’t an easy decision. I had heard that male German Shepherds were easier to train for first time handlers and so I was leaning more towards a male. There were three puppies out of the litter that I had my eye on. I handled all three of them for a while outside, looking to see which of them was curious, liked to smell around more and watch things, and liked to chase. When I set Küster down, he was the one who followed me in the yard. After spending some time talking to the breeder, she actually thought he was a good choice. She thought the other two males in the litter might be too intense and might be better suited to Schutzhund. Houndstooth liked him because he was solid black and she likes the black Shepherds, although looks were the lowest of my considerations.
So, we made our decision final and then we waited until it was time to go and pick him up. We still fondly remember driving home while he howled in the back until the Jingle Dogs began singing on the radio. After that, we put the song on repeat so we could enjoy the relative peace and quiet. It was pretty much the only time he was ever very loud in the car.
I guess my main statement here would be, it’s a huge gamble when starting with a puppy. Take your time. We tried the best we could to stack the deck in our favor.
And next week we’ll talk about what happens after you bring that puppy home.