How to Choose a Good Puppy (Picking The Best Puppy in a Litter)

By Michele Welton

New owner with Yorkie puppy

There are sensible guidelines to use when choosing a puppy.

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 "Pick the puppy who runs right up to you!"

But this simply results in all the bold and pushy puppies being chosen first. The gentler puppies who wait politely in the background get ignored.

Most families are making a mistake when they choose bold, vigorous, 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.

Sure, these little dynamos are a blast to play with – for an hour at the breeder's house. But they can drive you crazy within a day or two in your own home. And they can be more difficult to train.

A puppy can be perfectly suited to you without immediately launching himself into your lap. Before you choose, resolve to give each puppy a fair shake.

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 staying at arm's length or woofing suspiciously at you, this is probably a very risky litter.

And what about the fourth puppy, the one who acts normal? I would be still be wary. He could have inherited the same shy or distrustful genes and it simply hasn't caught up to him yet.

Shy puppies become shy adult dogs.A puppy who tucks his tail or shrinks away from you is not a safe choice as a pet. This is especially true if you have children. If the shyness is hardwired into his genes, a shy puppy will grow into a shy adult who can be difficult to live with and who may even snap defensively if startled or frightened.

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.

Puppies playing

Observe how each puppy plays with the other puppies.

You can tell something 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.

Next, evaluate the puppies individually

After viewing the pups as a group, 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 less certain on his own.
  • Sometimes a puppy who feels dominated by the others will become more outgoing on his own.
  • Sometimes an energetic puppy will calm down when not being egged on by the others.

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.

book cover

  • 11 Puppy Temperament Tests. These easy-to-do tests take only a few minutes and give you valuable insights into whether a puppy will make a good pet.
  • 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.
  • Parent Evaluation. Explains how to evaluate the temperament of your puppy's parents, especially the mother, who 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 – purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed
  • 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
  • Tells you the exact questions you should ask, what answers you should expect, and which answers are "red flags" that mean you should stay away
  • Shows you how to evaluate the temperament of puppies and adult dogs to see whether they will make a good pet

Learn more about Dog Quest

Michele Welton with BuffyMichele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.