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Parkview Veterinary Hospital

Choosing a Puppy | Newsletters


The guidelines below are intended to help you evaluate puppies between 6 and 12 weeks old, which is the traditional age at which puppies will be sold by breeders. Alternatively, you may wish to seek the same age puppies at shelters or rescue organizations. The information below should help you to select a puppy that shows good potential for developing into a suitable pet dog. When choosing a puppy from a litter, it is often the case that you may feel especially drawn to one puppy over another, which forms an important part of deciding which pup to bring home. The prospective new pet owners who want to improve the odds of having a positive puppy parenting experience need to evaluate their initial emotions and realise that they are not the only factor that they should consider.

The Importance of Careful Puppy Selection

When looking at a litter of puppies, thoroughly evaluating each of the puppies as objectively as possible will increase your chances of selecting one who will develop into a suitable pet. Some like puppies that show extremes in behaviour (very shy/frightened) in the hopes that they will be able to help them develop into a well-adjusted, friendly, confident adult dogs. Likewise, some like puppies with apparent health problems so that they can provide the puppy with a good home that he might not otherwise find.

Choosing a puppy who exhibits problematic behavioural /physical health problems is a personal choice, but it should be an informed decision. Raising a puppy with health/behavioural problems can be a challenge to begin with and can be an even greater undertaking if the problems come as a surprise. Many behavioural problems can be modified with early training, but the amount of time and effort needed to do so is hard to predict, and the final result is impossible to determine beforehand.

There are no perfect puppy tests that will allow you to predict with certainty how a puppy’s behaviour will develop as s/he matures. There’s no guarantee that a pup that seems to be the “pick of the litter” will turn out to be a welladjusted adult dog. But your chances of choosing a puppy that’ll develop into a well-adjusted adult are much greater if you know how to screen the litter of puppies for behavioural problems that might already be apparent.

Physical Condition

In an ideal world a full veterinary examination would be the ultimate in order to ensure that your new puppy is physically healthy. However, the latter is not always a practical way to start the process of selecting a puppy and so, I would like to share some general signs of good health that you can look out for when selecting a puppy from a litter:

Assessing Behavioural Traits

How Do the Puppies Interact with Each Other? Puppies that show good social skills with their littermates are more likely to develop into adult dogs that are sociable with other dogs. It’s possible for any puppy to become antisocial with other dogs later in life—there’s no way to predict a puppy’s future behaviour with certainty—but a puppy who plays nicely with his littermates is much more likely to interact well with other dogs when he matures.

Observe the entire litter in an environment that’s familiar to them, ideally at a time when they’re all awake and wellrested. Watch the puppies interact with each other.

After observing the entire litter, you’ll probably have a sense of which puppies you’re most interested in. You can then assess each puppy, one at a time, in a quiet area where the puppy won’t be distracted by noise, littermates, food or toys.

Does the Puppy Seem to Like People? Puppies that show an interest in being around people are more likely to mature into adult dogs that are more people-orientated. Ideally, visit the litter with at least three people: an adult male, an adult female and a child under the age of 10. The purpose of the suggestion is to enable you to observe the puppies’ interactions with people of various ages and both genders.

Sit or stand a short distance away from the puppy. Using a friendly and enthusiastic voice, encourage him to approach you (tap the floor or your leg with your hands, clap your hands or make kissy sounds - try not to make any noises that might frighten the puppy). If s/he approaches you, encourage the puppy to hang around for a little while by praising it and petting it gently. Allow each person in the group to do the same thing and observe the puppy’s level of interest in being with the different people.

Does the Puppy Respond Appropriately to Your Reaction When He Nips You? Puppies that respond appropriately (stop and tone down their playing intensity) to people and dogs that vocalise their pain when they’re nipped too hard are more likely to develop into adult dogs with good control over the force of their jaws. Good jaw control allows dogs to get into scuffles with each other without causing injury. It may also make them gentler when they take food from people’s hands or play with people.

Allow the puppy to investigate/play with your hands. When the puppy works his way up to a forceful nip, respond with a high-pitched “Yikes!” or “Ouch!” Then observe the puppy’s reaction. If he’s very excited, you might need to repeat this procedure a few times to give him a chance to notice your pain response and react appropriately.

Does the Puppy Guard Things From People? Guarding valuable belongings (usually toys or some form of food) is very common in dogs. It is a behaviour that helps animals survive in nature, but it’s not desirable or safe for pets that live in our homes as domesticated pets.

Place some of the puppy’s food in a bowl and allow him to eat while you stand at least a metre and a half away. Once he’s swallowed a few bites, approach him and pet him on the back and then along his neck. Place your hand in the bowl and gently press against the side of the puppy’s mouth. Stop at any point if the puppy stiffens, growls, snarls, snaps or tries to bite you.

Alternatively, offer the puppy a chewy, such as a flavoured rawhide or pig’s ear. Let him chew for a few minutes while you stand at least a metre and a half away. Once he’s eagerly chewing, approach the puppy and pet him on the back and along his neck. Then gently take hold of the chewy. Stop at any point if the puppy stiffens, growls, snarls, snaps or tries to bite you.

Does the Puppy Like Being Handled by People? Some puppies are very relaxed about being restrained, touched and examined. Others, not so much. Puppies that aren’t comfortable with people handling them can be difficult to enjoy living with and a challenge to take care of. They can become fearful or aggressive at the veterinary clinic, during routine grooming, during training and during day-to-day interactions with their human families.

Cradle the puppy gently between one arm and your upper body, the way you would hold an infant. Try to hold the puppy in that position for a few minutes by using very gentle pressure with your free hand over his chest, against his armpits. Release him immediately if he seems frightened or behaves aggressively. A bit of squirming and making mild efforts at wiggling away are normal. It is important not to misinterpret these as being afraid or aggressive.

Touch the puppy all over, from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. Be sure to handle the areas puppies are often sensitive about (nose, mouth, ears, paws, rump, groin and tail). Hold each paw gently but securely for five seconds and fiddle with a few of the puppy’s toenails. Hold the puppy so it’s facing you, and look into his eyes from a close distance for five seconds.

Does the Puppy Seem Sensitized to Sights and Sounds? Some puppies are very sensitive to certain sights and sounds, while others remain simply aware of the same stimuli without any obvious/excessive/adverse reactions. Puppies that are sensitive can be difficult to take care of because they can spend much of their time frightened, and they might not be able to share in activities that you would like them to.

When the puppy is at least 3 metres away from you and not looking at you, make a loud noise by banging a metal spoon against a metal food dish. (Just hit the dish once or twice.) Observe the puppy’s reaction. Do not repeat the banging noise.

Alternatively, walk past the puppy, at least a metre or two away, carrying a large, empty cardboard box. See whether or not the puppy is frightened. If you think he is, don’t proceed. If he seems relaxed and completely unafraid, you can experiment with other large objects. Open a big beach towel in the air, as though you were shaking off some sand. Try placing a large stuffed animal about a metre away from the puppy. Slowly roll a toy car or skateboard along the floor, at least 3 metres away from the puppy. If, at any point, the puppy seems frightened, nervous or upset, immediately stop what you’re doing. Squat down next to him, pet him gently and speak in soft, soothing tones.

Improving Your Odds for a Successful Relationship

You’ll increase your chances of choosing the puppy that’s right for you if you make your selection based on both your heart and your head. Be aware of your feelings toward the puppy you choose and your objective observations of his apparent physical and behavioural health.

A very important consideration is also the breed of puppy. Research your breed of interest and learn as much as you can about the breed before you obtain the puppy and take it home. The temperament of the breed, its uses, the history of the breed, their trainability, behavioural predispositions, potential medical problems associated with the breed, the amount of space required, etc.

Lastly, it is important to take this commitment seriously, not only from an educational standpoint, but also from a financial perspective. There are a number of basic, standard costs involved in owning a pet e.g. vaccinations, food, deworming, grooming, bedding, toys, etc. It is important that we budget for those and avoid seeing our beloved friends as financial burdens to the family. Instead, they should be accepted members of the family that offer unconditional love and enrich our lives so much more than any material belonging we could ever own.

Enjoy responsible ownership and cherish it!