Here's my first tip for choosing the puppy who is best suited to you: Don't let the PUPPY choose YOU.
You may have been advised by well-meaning friends to let a puppy choose YOU. "Pick the one who runs right up to you!" they say. But this simply results in the bold and pushy puppies being taken first, while the gentler puppies (who usually make calmer pets!) are pushed out of the way or wait politely in the background, where they are often ignored.
Most families are making a mistake when they choose bold, vigorous, or energetic puppies who jump all over you, grab all the toys, start all the wrestling matches, grab hold of your pants leg and tug fiercely with adorable puppy growls. These little dynamos are a blast to play with for an hour at the breeder's, but they can drive you crazy within a day or two in your own home – and they can be difficult to raise as they mature.
A puppy can "love" you without being suited to you, and a puppy can be perfectly suited to you AND love you, without immediately launching himself into your lap. Resolve to give each puppy a fair shake. Do the choosing yourself.
First, evaluate the litter as a group
Your first look should be at the litter as a group. If there are four puppies and three of them are running away or staying at arm's length or woofing suspiciously at you, I'm sorry to say your visit is over.
No, you shouldn't buy the fourth puppy. The chances are too great that shyness or distrustfulness is in his genes, too, and simply hasn't caught up to him yet.
And don't let the breeder laugh off his puppies' timidity with assurances of, "Oh, they just haven't been handled much." Lack of socialization means laziness or ignorance on the part of the breeder. You do not want a puppy from a lazy or ignorant breeder. If he can't even socialize his puppies properly, who knows what else has he screwed up?
A puppy who tucks his tail or shrinks away from you is not a safe choice as a pet, especially if you have children. Don't try to convince yourself that you can "bring a shy puppy out of his shell." If the shyness is hardwired into his genes, a shy puppy will grow into a shy adult who will be difficult to live with and who may even snap defensively whenever he is startled.
So if the litter isn't running away, what should they be doing?
Normal puppies are friendly, curious, trusting. They mill around your feet, tug at your shoelaces, crawl into your lap, nibble on your fingers, and just generally toddle around checking everything out.
After a while, they may stop playing with you and begin wrestling with one another. You can tell a lot about the individual puppies by the way they interact with their littermates.
- Which ones are strong, outgoing, bossy, noisy?
- Which ones are quiet, submissive, gentle?
- Which ones grab all the toys and win the tugs-of-war?
- Which ones seem delicate or picked on?
Most families do best with a pup who is neither boss of the litter nor lowest on the totem pole. Look for good-natured, middle-of-the-road puppies who don't growl or grab or bite, but who do wag their tails and hold their own.
Evaluate individual puppies
Next, ask the breeder if you can see each puppy who is available for sale, individually. This is an important step in evaluating puppies. You want to see how each puppy reacts when he is away from his littermates. After all, that's how it's going to be at your house.
Sometimes a puppy who seems bold when his friends are "backing him up" will become uncertain or anxious on his own. Or sometimes an energetic puppy will calm down when not being egged on by the others; given your undivided attention, he may become quite the lap-sitter.
So now it's time for your Individual Puppy Tests....and it's time to introduce my book, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, which will guide you through each test.
- 11 Puppy Temperament Tests. These easy-to-do tests take only a few minutes and give you valuable insights into whether a puppy will be a normal pet – or overly dominant, submissive, or independent and thus harder to train.
- 11 Puppy Health Checks. You can do all of these simple health checks in less than 2 minutes – I'll tell you exactly what to look for. They reveal common health problems that most people don't know how to look for.
- Parent Evaluation. Explains how to evaluate the temperament of your puppy's parents, especially the mother, which can have a great effect on how your puppy turns out.
- Older Puppy Evaluation. How to evaluate older puppies and adolescent dogs, including how to test for possessiveness and aggression in a seemingly friendly dog
Plus, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams . . .
- Helps you sort out what kind of dog to get – the pros and cons of purebred dogs, crossbred dogs, and mixed breed dogs.
- Helps you choose the right breed based on 17 key characteristics
- Compares male and female dogs
- Compares young puppies, older puppies, adolescent dogs, adult dogs
- Compares animal shelters, rescue groups, performance breeders, show breeders, pet breeders, pet shops, and owners giving their dogs away
- Explains what makes a source good, and what makes a source risky, so you'll quickly be able to tell good sources from bad ones.
- Tells you the exact questions you should ask each potential source, what answers you should expect, and which answers are "red flags" that mean you should stay away