How to Pick Out a Puppy

Kelly Roper
Momma Pug and litter

You should learn how to pick out a puppy before you even visit a breeder. That way you'll know exactly what you're looking for when you arrive.

Learn How to Pick Out a Puppy

Ignore common advice about letting a puppy pick you, and resist the urge to simply pick the cutest pup in the litter. The following steps will help you make a rational choice about which puppy is right for you, and your heart is sure to follow that decision.

Step One: Know What You Want

Think about your lifestyle. Is it an active one that requires a canine companion that can keep up? Or, do you live a fairly quiet life that would be better suited to a breed designed mainly for snuggling? Perhaps you're somewhere in between. The first step is understanding your own needs and then researching to find a breed that will make the best match.

Do you want a male or female puppy? While puppy personalities run the gamut, there are slight differences between males and females. There's also the fact that many males lift their legs and tend to be a little more difficult to housebreak because of their desire to mark their territory. Still, males can make just as good house companions as females with consistent training.

How much grooming do you want to be responsible for? Some otherwise lovely breeds require a lot of brushing and clipping while other breeds require very little grooming.

Step Two: Evaluate Some Litters

Once you have narrowed down the type of dog that will best fit your lifestyle, it's time to locate breeders and visit litters in search of the right puppy. It's important that you don't rush to choose a puppy. First, take time to look over the entire litter to get an idea of how well the breeder has cared for them and socialized them.

The pups should be no less than eight weeks old when offered for sale, and preferably closer to 12 weeks, because they gain valuable social skills from interacting with their mom and littermates during that crucial developmental stage.

Assess General Attitude

In a healthy litter, the pups are active. They are interested in their surroundings and curious about everything, including you. They play together and sometimes even get a little rough with each other, but this is natural and is usually resolved quickly.

Assess General Health

Each puppy should be clean, especially around the face and anal area. If the pups look dirty or one or more of them seem to appear sick and disengaged from what's going on, it may be better not to select a pup from that litter.

Step Three: Evaluate Individual Pups

If the litter looks happy, clean and healthy overall, you can move on to looking at individual pups. Although it's usually the most boisterous pup or the quietest one that attracts the most attention, the pups that fall somewhere between these extremes often prove the easiest to train and socialize.

Observe how the pups interact with each other, and see if one or two really appeal to you. If so, those are the pups you want to zero in on. Their personalities likely appeal to you because they fit the type of companion you're looking for. Remember that you will still need to train any pup you bring into your home, but this early personality gives you an idea of what you'll have to work with.

Assess Individual Attitude

Ask the breeder if you can interact just with the one or two pups that you're really interested in. The rest of the litter will only be a distraction at that point.

Pups can be quite different once they're separated from their littermates, and sometimes they temporarily lose some of their confidence. Hold the puppy and talk to it softly while stroking it. Most puppies love this kind of attention and respond well to it. You should also let the pup down on the floor to explore a little on its own. A healthy, well-adjusted pup will usually do a little cautious exploring, and may become more adventurous as he does so.

Assess Individual Health

  • Eyes and nose - Really take a good look at this pup. Are his eyes clear and focused? Are they free of mucus and debris? Is his nose also free of mucus? If so, this is good.
  • Ears - Are the ears clean with no waxy buildup, brown debris or foul odor? If so, this is another good sign.
  • Mouth - Try to look in the pup's mouth, although he may naturally struggle a bit. Do the jaws align as they should? Are the gums a healthy shade of pink, and are the teeth reasonably straight? Keep in mind that these are only puppy teeth and will be shed in the coming weeks. If the mouth looks good, check the body.
  • Body - The body should be just slightly plump, and the tummy should be slightly rounded. A potbelly might indicate a case of worms, so ask the breeder if the litter has been wormed yet. The anal area should be clean and free from fecal matter and other debris.
  • Legs - Watch the puppy walk to make sure there are no obvious defects with his limbs and ability to move at this age.

Making a Lifetime Decision

So, that's how to pick out a puppy. If the puppy you like best appears healthy and happy with the kind of personality you're looking for, it's time to make your decision.

Is this truly the dog for you? You're about to make a lifetime commitment to care for this puppy through adulthood and eventually old age, so be very sure he's the right pup for you before you decide to bring him home. Care for his needs, provide him with consistent training, and he'll reward you with his love and devotion.

How to Pick Out a Puppy