This has been a hot topic around the school lately because a number of students are getting puppies and Sinco is having puppies.
We all get puppies for different reasons. Sometimes the puppy we pick is for reasons other than agility, then later on we decide to try to make it into an agility dog.
All kinds of puppies can make good agility dogs. My biggest thing is trying to get the best fit between person and puppy. Sometimes we pick puppies because they are cute, we feel a hole in our lives and feel we need one, any one or we pick because we like the pedigree or like the parents. These are all considerations when selecting a puppy but if you want a puppy that will be a good performance dog then you need to look at many other characteristics.
If the puppy I'm considering is from a planned breeding then I want to know as much about the parents as possible. I ask lots of questions.
1. Health screenings - I want proof (no matter how well known a breeder is, I want to see copies of all health checks) of OFA certification, CERF tests, any genetic test results (check out your purebred dog - almost every one of them has a list of recommended genetic screenings) and DNA recordings with AKC and any other parent organization.
2. Health information on the dogs related to the ones being bred - littermates, offspring, parents, grandparents and others. Every line of dogs and every breed of dogs has problems and it is what the breeder you are working with has done with that information in their breeding program that is important. There should be known health screening records on all dogs going back 8 generations.
3. Temperament information about the dogs related to the ones being bred. It is important to meet as many dogs as you can that are related to the one you are getting. Ask owners of dogs related to your future puppy about their dogs. Ask what they are like around other dogs, children, strangers and what they are like at home versus around busy activities.
4. Then when your puppy is born if possible watch videos of your puppy, ask lots of questions about which puppy got out of the box first, which puppy is the pushiest, which is the most laid back, which is the loudest etc. When the puppies are old enough to move around more watch videos or ask questions about how the puppies do in new places, around new things, around loud sounds, around people and around other dogs. A good breeder should be exposing the puppies to lots of different things before they go home. Ideally they should have experienced riding in a car, been started on potty training, been introduced to a crate, been to a number of different new places and/or new surfaces. In most litters there will be wide variation in temperament and structure among the puppies. Just because two "high drive" dogs were bred together doesn't mean that all the puppies will be "high drive." Just because a specific breeding produced "all great dogs" doesn't mean that the repeat of that breeding will also produce "all great dogs." Look at each dog as an individual. I have seen in any given litter some pups who are more sensitive and reserved, and some who are bolder and more active and everything in between.
5. The breeder should know lots about you and what you want in a puppy so they can help you match up with a puppy. They are the experts on their litter. Try to visit the litter often if at all possible. More than once is recommended. You also want to see if there is a connection between you and a particular puppy. Often a puppy will pick its owner.
6. Things to look for in the temperament of a puppy for performance: boldness, self-confidence in new places, lack of sound sensitivity, follows people readily, persistence, energy level, forgiveness and biddability. Now some people like a dog that is tougher or harder meaning that the dog is more independent, more self-serving and more easily aroused into prey drive. Other people like their performance dogs to be less independent, have a natural off switch and to be very biddable. Both kinds of dogs can be highly successful performance dogs with the right owner. However if there is a dog/owner mismatch it can be a tough road for both. In agility you can have a biddable dog with a natural off switch who is also plenty fast enough to win. (I have one of those, so I know...) But not everyone wants or needs a dog who will win at a national level. Most of us want a dog who will run and do well at local trials and will earn the championship titles in the sport of our choosing. Again it is important to be realistic about your goals and about your time and resources for training and trialing.
7. Structure. This is very important. It will vary somewhat depending on the breed but having balance of angulation in front and rear and a front that is not too easty-westy is important for most sports. 8 weeks is generally considered a good time to evaluate a puppy's structure.
8. Lastly there are times when puppies come to us for reasons unrelated to performance sports. It may be good to be open to these experiences because they may come to us to teach us valuable lessons about other aspects of life. So when a puppy chooses us be aware they may not be choosing us because they want to do performance sports with us but they may be choosing us because they want to teach us something else about ourselves. This happens to me all the time so I know it does happen. I also know it doesn't work to ignore those opportunities either. They may even be disguised as performance prospects if they think we won't pick them otherwise.
A note about selecting a mixed breed. I think there are a lot of great mixed breed dogs out there who make great performance dogs. Again you want to select one with good overall structure and temperament. The more you can find out about their history the better. The notion of "hybrid vigor" is a myth. Mixed breed dogs are just as susceptible to the genetic diseases of their purebred counterparts. It is made more complicated because they can inherit them from different breeds. Many of the genetic disorders only need one copy of the gene in order to produce problems. Genetic based aspects of a dog that affect temperament or structure will not change with training or conditioning. You can improve upon it but you will be limited by the genetic make-up. With a dog of unknown parentage it is hard to know what that genetic make-up really is. If you are getting a dog from a rescue or other group where you can foster the dog for awhile to see how the dog fits in with you and your family that is an ideal situation. Then you will have some idea of who the dog is before you adopt them.
The bottom line is that if you are trying to choose a puppy/dog for a performance sport then you want to do your homework and find out as much as you can about the dogs who interest you. Also think about the details of the kind of dog you would like and think about who you are as a trainer and competitor. The more you know yourself, the easier it will be to find a dog who is a good match for you.