A Step-by-Step Guide for Picking a Puppy

I love writing about puppies.  I started writing to help families have great relationships with their pets, and a new puppy is always the beginning of a fantastic relationship.  Picking a puppy, the right puppy, gives the relationship the best foundation possible.  This guide for picking a puppy walks through the steps to pick the best puppy for your family out of a litter.

Some families choose a rescue puppy, and gamble a bit more than families that choose a breeder puppy.  My advice differs depending on where you find your puppy, but should lead your family true.

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Where to Get a Puppy

Before delving into choosing the very best puppy in the litter, it’s important to choose the best source for your family.

I write this blog with a skew toward breeders, I admit.  Many of my closest friends are breeders.  Friends that I consider more family than friend.  I have nothing against rescue, and encourage it whenever possible.  Do not consider my favor toward responsible breeding a strike against rescue, only education about responsible breeding.

Why You Should Find a Responsible Breeder describes many situations requiring a breeder puppy instead of a rescue puppy, and How to Find a Reputable Breeder discusses how to locate a responsible breeder.

Guide For Picking a Puppy from a Rescue

Rescue puppies are delightful.  The opportunity to save a life, and then their delightful personalities.  However, choosing a rescue puppy can be more difficult than choosing from a breeder.  Rescue puppies in shelters may have sketchy backgrounds, and the breed or nature of the father isn’t always known.  Don’t let this dissuade you from rescuing a puppy, since training and socialization can offset much of a dog’s genetic personality.


Before committing to bring a puppy home, evaluate the health of the entire litter.  Parvovirus, an extremely infectious and deadly disease, can live on your property for over a year.  Bringing home a sick puppy that dies means you can’t bring home another for a year.

The puppy should be over eight weeks old, and for smaller and toy breeds, at least twelve weeks.  Ask to see the veterinary records that show the litter has received vaccinations and de-worming.  Don’t support a rescue that doesn’t tend to a puppy’s basic health needs.

Inspect all puppies on the property–even those you are not considering.  They should have clear eyes, no discharge from their nose, and no coughing.  Feces should be relatively solid, and there should be no evidence of diarrhea.  They should be perky and interested in the world around them.  Any disease on the property means your puppy is exposed.

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Understand that all litters line the puppies on a continuum.  One litter may be entirely more suited to a family than another litter.  The “least suitable” puppy in Litter A may be far more suited than the best puppy in Litter B.  Finding a litter that, overall, is a good fit is more important than choosing the best fitting puppy in a poor fitting litter.

Looking at a litter, if your family has little dog experience, or want an easier dog experience, picking a puppy in the middle of the pack will suit best.  The most outgoing puppy has more drive.  He beats up his littermates, and is the first to eat.  He’s the most assertive, the stubbornest, and he will be the one that requires you to be on your toes.

The quietest puppy will be the opposite.  He may have the least drive, or require the most work to find it.  He will be the most likely to have irrational fears, and will be the least suited to a loud and raucous family.  If he trembles when you handle him, you will have a lot of socialization ahead of you.

If you intend on participating in dog sports, such as agility or obedience, choose a more driven puppy at the top of the social ladder.  Choose a more outgoing puppy, one who will have fewer obstacles to overcome in competition.

Guide For Picking a Puppy from a Breeder

Breeders come in many shapes and sizes.  A responsible breeder breeds with intent: a better show dog, a healthier dog, a dog that retrieves better or has stronger drive or follows commands better.  Not all breeders are reputable.  Some breeders breed for money or personal satisfaction, rather than actually improving upon what they already have.  Avoid these breeders if possible.

Responsible Breeders

Responsible breeders typically narrow down their litter to good choices.  They raised these puppies, and know much about the parents and grandparents of the litter.  They can tell at an early age which puppies will fit your family well and which absolutely will not.

Responsible breeders also sort their litter according to the homes available.  They attempt to match the entire litter to the best family for each puppy, so your choices are limited.  Picking a puppy based on color is generally frowned upon, but most breeders respect gender choice.

The breeder will likely point out two or three good fits.  Interact with those puppies, and make a decision.  With a responsible breeder, all the puppies will make a good fit for your family so long as you have been honest with the breeder about your needs.

With a high-drive breed, pay extra attention to the breeder’s recommendations, especially if you expressed interest in dog sports.  The breeder will direct you to the best puppy for your needs.  Don’t tell a breeder of a working breed that you will participate in dog sports if you don’t intend to do so.

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Guide for Picking a Puppy from Irresponsible Breeders

Some breeders breed without purpose.  They breed for money, or because they like puppies, or because their neighbor has a male dog and they have a female dog.

These breeders do not know proper temperament if it hits them on top of the head.  They do not know as much about choosing a good fit (because a good fit doesn’t matter–if it did, they would breed for a good fit), and they often are not aware of health issues, let alone actively preventing them.

With these litters, choose a puppy from the center of the temperament gradient.  The most outgoing puppy, the one that beats up her littermates, nurses first, stands up to take your hat, she will also be hell on wheels at home.  The one that hides in the corner and avoids his littermates, or trembles when you come near, will be most likely to need extensive socialization.


Final Puppy Choice

Regardless of which puppy you choose, the choice of litter remains more important.  Puppies from a sound, healthy litter, that have remained with their mother and littermates until twelve weeks behave better, learn quicker, and overcome challenges easily.  Whether the litter was rescued or deliberately bred, the characteristics of the litter define the puppy well more than the characteristics of the individual.

Have you used these tips?

Let me know how it went!  Visit me on Facebook and let me know how your puppy grows up.

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