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How to Pick a Puppy from a Litter

There’s a lot to consider before adding a new puppy to your family, and it goes way beyond what you should name them and where they will sleep. Do you have time for the extra care, training and patience that pups need (even in the middle of the night)? Are you financially ready to adopt a pup? If you have kids (often the biggest cheerleaders for getting a new dog), are your kids ready to adopt a pet? Are they prepared for the responsibility that comes with a pup and are they (and you) prepared to take care of an adult dog once your new puppy is all grown up?

Once you’ve decided that, yes, you are ready for some puppy love, it’s time to find one! You probably have some ideas about which dog fits your family’s lifestyle, for example, their size, grooming requirements and energy levels. But what happens when you find a whole litter of puppies that matches what you’re looking for? How do you choose the best puppy for you or your family? We’ve got some tips on what to look for, as well as some red flags when picking out a puppy.

Remember Mixed Dog Breeds Make Good Pets, Too!

Sometimes “accidents” have the best outcome — without cross-breeding, we wouldn’t have mixed breeds with cute names like schnoodle (miniature schnauzer and miniature poodle cross), beaglier (beagle and Cavalier King Charles spaniel cross) and whoodle (soft coated Wheaten terrier and poodle cross).

Purebred puppies often come with a high price tag, especially if they come with papers. So if you’re not so concerned about your puppy looking exactly like their breed standard, a mutt can be a good choice.

What to Avoid When Choosing a Puppy

Before you pick out a puppy from a litter, you should stop and consider who you’re getting the pup from. Unfortunately, not all dog breeders are reputable, and some care more about making money than puppy care. To help you make a responsible choice, Top Dog Tips editor-in-chief, Samantha Randall, has written an article on 10 ways to avoid puppy mills when adopting. Some of the tips include checking out the kennel conditions and how well-socialized the pups are. You should also make sure you’re carefully examining any “papers” provided, and always avoid dog breeders who pressure you to take a pup who is less than 8 weeks of age.

Look for a Healthy Puppy

You want your pup to have a healthy start to life, so there are a few things you should check for when choosing a pup to make sure they’re healthy and they don’t have any congenital problems (birth defects). Start by asking the breeder if they’ve noticed any problems with the puppies or if the parents have any health problems. A good breeder will be honest about the health history and lineage of their dogs.

When checking for healthy puppies, watch to see if they’re running around well without limping or favoring a paw. Look for runny noses, crusty eyes, diarrhea (which can cause dirty or sore spots under their tail) and dirty ears. A healthy pup will have white teeth and pink gums, and they will have a shiny coat with no bald spots. Also, look at the mother dog to make sure she seems healthy.

Of course, you can choose to bring a puppy home who isn’t healthy, but you should be prepared for the extra care or financial commitments that could bring. Taking your pup to a veterinarian before completing the purchase contract can help you make that decision. The puppy picked out by you or your family may only need some short-term treatments to get them feeling better, but they could also need long-term care, including when they’re an adult.

Check Out the Adult Dogs, Too

Every pup’s personality is different, but the apple probably didn’t fall far from the tree. So ask to see the parents of the litter so you can have an idea of what your new pup will look and act like as an adult dog. For large and giant sized breeds especially, it can be hard to imagine what size a little pup will grow into, so seeing the parents can help you understand the pup’s potential adult size (and energy level). You should also check that the parents seem healthy and comfortable around people and other dogs.

Watch How the Puppies Interact

If you watch a litter of puppies, there will probably be some outgoing socialite pups that love to be in charge of playtime. There will also be cool-as-a-cucumber puppies, who are happy lazing around and playing with the other pups only when the mood strikes them. And then there are the pups whose personalities fit somewhere in between.

When choosing a puppy, it can be hard to tell what the personality of an individual puppy will be in the future, but their attitude toward playing and interacting with the other puppies in the litter could give you an idea as to whether they’re going to be outgoing and assertive, calm and reserved, or somewhere in the middle.

How to Pick Out a Puppy with a Good Temperament

Before you jump in with the puppies to be smothered in puppy kisses, watch how they play with each other. Are they playing well and backing off when their littermates have had enough? This is a good sign of appropriate play. Is one of the pups guarding a toy and getting snippy with any siblings who try to take it? It could mean that pup has resource guarding tendencies which could cause problems or require extra training later in life since resource guarding doesn’t go away on its own.

Now it’s time for those puppy cuddles! Take the time to sit and interact with the pups — don’t just stand back and say “I’ll take that one.” If you have a favorite, snuggle, play and get their cute little tail wagging. See if they come up to you if you hold out your hand and whether they like being held. They might remain your favorite, or perhaps another pup will come up to you and suddenly they’re your new favorite. When you’re surrounded by an adorable litter, choosing just one pup can be hard — you may have to resist the urge to take all of the pups home!

It can be hard to predict what the temperament of a young puppy will be as an adult dog. But if they’re showing appropriate play behaviors with their littermates, that’s a start in the right direction.

Ask Which Diet the Breeder Uses

Before you head home with your new furry friend, it’s a good idea to ask the breeder which food your pup has been eating so you can buy the same one to keep their diet consistent. Or you can ask for some of their food to take with you so you can transition them to the dog food you will be feeding at home.

Take Time to Find Your New BFF

Remember, don’t just pick the pretty pup or the one with the unusual coat markings — play with them so you can also get a glimpse of their personality, too. It may help to visit the pups a few times, and bring along other household members, to make sure you’re choosing the right puppy for you and your family.


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