Sleepy Puppies

Holy cow.

Based on the response to my Talent and Puppies post, there appears to be quite a bit of anxiety out there over slow maturing puppies.

I'll share my sleepy puppy story with you to give you hope.  Mind you, this is just one dog, and yours could be different.  Or not.

Cisu was my sleepy puppy.

I imported her from Finland sight unseen.  I had "fifth" pick of the girls... that means not much choice at all.

Cisu's puppy test showed the following:

No retrieve or interest in the crumpled paper.  No following of the stranger.  No tug. Fascinated by a metal grate in the middle of the room.  Calm and comfortable when held by a stranger, but not interested in people.

The breeder told me that his impressions of Cisu were more positive, and that he felt she was coming up in quality each day that he observed her.  He also told me that puppies from a prior litter were slow to mature, and most did not show much talent for work  until after they were finished teething.  Indeed, I had seen the puppy testing video from the prior litter, and much of it was abysmal.

I waffled about whether or not to go through with bringing Cisu to the United States - those were not promising test results.  On the other hand, what I really needed for my breeding program was a very strong and powerful bitch for schutzhund, and I believed that Cisu's pedigree held a lot of promise for those qualities.  She also appeared to be a stable and thoughtful puppy; both qualities I was specifically looking for.

When she arrived, she did not play fetch and she did not tug. I found her personable, but not terribly interested in me over the alternatives.

For the first six months, she could do no schutzhund protection work - she was completely disinterested in playing tug with a stranger (the beginnings of  protection).  I could train her in obedience with food, but her attention span was quite limited, and her environmental interest was high.  She was not a flashy worker, and she did not show any particular interest in becoming one.

I don't know when the change took place, but after a while I found myself with the opposite problem in obedience.  Her toy drive kicked in.  She was over the top excited to do work with me, but still that did not carry over into Schutzhund.  Her interest in protection training remained weak.  I was beginning to wonder if my schutzhund prospect was going to end up an expensive and lazy pet.

And then it all came together.  It wasn't overnight; it was a gradual process over time.  Between the ages of about one and three years of age, she became stronger and stronger, until as a "mature" adult no one would ever know that she had been the sleepy one.  Indeed, she had become a powerful and high scoring working dog.

As a brood bitch, many of Cisu's puppies showed a similar pattern.  Slowly and over time, they became faster in agility, driven in protection and more focused in obedience.  They were not "born" with high drive and natural willingness to work, but  they did develop it.   Out of 11 puppies, most are titled to very high levels of achievement in their given sports, yet few showed extreme promise at eight weeks of age.

To this day, I'd describe Cisu as downright lazy in the house - her base temperament has not changed.  I do think that temperamentally calm dogs often show their working drive more slowly than temperamentally lively dogs.  Cisu also continues to have many other interests besides me, but when I ask her to work, she gives 110%.  In my book, that's good enough.

Cisu is now nine years old.  She showed today, so I taped her Utility run so I could include it in this post.  Rather than uploading the entire thing, I've only included the signal exercise - heeling is where you can learn the most about a dog's working drive in obedience.  Forgive my five point handler error - I forgot the pattern and went the wrong way.

You can say many things about Cisu's work, but "sleepy"?  No, I don't think so.



I can totally relate to what you went through with Cisu. My 4-year-old Sheltie is a wonderful performance dog but did not start out with loads of enthusiasm and speed the way a lot of young dogs hit the ring. But he is maturing like a fine wine, with his YPS consistently improving. Excellent post :)


I loved your blog post on “sleepy puppies” (I have had a few myself through the years). Fortunately, 4 years ago when I got my second one, I new it instantly, and we just took our time. I remember saying to the breeder when she was a puppy that she would be worth the wait and I was glad I was the one who got her…. because if someone pushed her into the ring too early or with too much pressure, they would surely “crush her”………. boy was it worth the wait! My 13" sheltie can often be the fastest or within thenths of the fastest dog on a course (all jump heights, BCs included). She has potential for a fantastic obedience dog and herding dog (would only do ducks, she is only 9 pounds). I soooo LOVE that dog!!!! and glad I was entrusted with her.

My recomendation: If you have a sleepy puppy, just be patient and enjoy the ride. As a friend of mine commented — the sleepy ones often turn out best because you really spent the time with them when they are younger and when they “turn on”, you already have so much relationship that the performance really shines! I find that by age 4 the sleepy ones are just as good as my faster starters (and I spent less money on entry fees to get them to the same point, because I wasn’t tempted to show them too early).

Thanks again, great post!


Lol, I think sleepy puppy describes Koira to a t. She always loved sleeping in late, never was super drivey or anything, but enjoyed playing well enough. She is turning four in two days and it is in the past year that I have really seen her start to LOVE working. I don’t know if it is something different I am doing with her, or if it is just a slow wake up in her. Suddenly, it seems, she now loves flyball, catches frisbees, and goes bonkers for lure coursing.

Laurie Graichen

So when you are the breeder and trying to match puppies to prospective owners, especially since most of your puppy people want competition dogs, what do you do or what are you looking to see, to tell if a puppy is “sleepy” or “just doesn’t have what it takes”?

Or do you cross your fingers and do a lot of praying??


I don’t really judge lack of drive in a young dog, but I do judge basic temperament qualities. If you know your lines well, then you know what qualities should be a red flag, and which are just puppies being puppies or slow to mature. what is very interesting is that some puppy buyers always bring out the best in their dogs – they reach whatever potential the puppy has. Others only succeed with certain types of dogs. I suppose if a person knows that about themselves then they really need to try and get the type they like, or buy an older puppy.

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