10 Tips to Picking the Right Puppy for You

All medical claims reviewed by Dr Pippa Elliott. BVMS, MRCVS.

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new puppy chosen for christmas

Back in 1978, the National Canine Defence League hit on a great campaign slogan: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. This simple message says so much in so few words. Genius. Decades later, the sentiment still rings true. Pick a puppy carefully, because this is no throw-away purchase.

This article looks at:

  1. How to choose a puppy that’s right for you?
  2. Pedigree, hybrid, or mixed breed?
  3. Breed-related health problems
  4. Be dog socialisation savvy
  5. How to tell a puppy farm
  6. Research responsible breeders
  7. Supporting shelters
  8. Why the mother matters
  9. How to spot a well-adjusted pup
  10. DIY puppy health check

#1: Pick The Right Pup for You: A Square Peg in a Square Hole

Here’s another great saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

The same goes for dogs. Don’t choose a future best buddy based on looks alone. Pick a puppy that’s a good match. Take the teddy bear good looks of the Husky pup as an example. Boy, these guys are cute. But ask yourself: “Am I a truly a roughy-toughy outdoors type prepared to spend all day running just to tire my dog out?” If the answer is “No”, then this isn’t the breed for you.

Sit down and write down a summary of what you can offer a dog. Consider factors such as:

  • Space: Apartment or mansion?
  • Exercise: How much exercise can you commit to, come rain or shine?
  • Voice: Do you need a woofy guard dog or would this drive the neighbours mad?
  • Budget: How much spare cash do you have for dog food and flea products (the bigger the dog the bigger the bill.)
  • Robustness: Young children can be rough on dogs
  • Temperament: Does the dog need to get on with other pets or indeed, children?
  • Grooming: A wash-n-go hound vs home clipping vs regular grooming parlour trips?

Be honest and draw up a list describing your ideal dog because proper prior planning prevents poor performance.

#2: Pedigree, Hybrid Dog, or Mixed Breed?

Labrador, Labradoodle, or mutt? What are the pros and cons?

Pedigree dogs conform to a type. Pick a puppy Labrador and you know how tall they’ll grow. Great! But purebred dogs are the result of selective breeding, which can mean inherent health risks. Also, whilst Labradors tend to be licky, waggy, happy dogs, each dog is an individual.

Just because the breed has a great reputation, is no guarantee of good behaviour. Enter hybrid dogs, such as the Labradoodle. Hybrids are the result of breeding two different types of purebred dog. Some say hybrid dogs are healthier, because of their widened gene pool. But this is not true.

The laws of genetics mean a pup could inherit the worst genes from two breeds, and have double trouble rather than less. So what about mixed breeds? Their true jumble of genes does shake things up, but this doesn’t make them bombproof against bad health. Also, it can be hard to know how big a pup will grow, especially if you didn’t see the parents.

Which works best for you?

#3: Homework about Healthy Hounds

Bonkers about Boxers? Potty about Pugs? Wowed by Westies?

You want a pup to have a long, active, healthy life, but pick a puppy purebred and what are the chances of heartbreak?

Each breed has certain health problems that are more prevalent than the average. Do some homework to find out what the breed’s weaknesses are. Give pet insurance a serious thought. Then if the worst happens, you can make decisions based on the dog’s best interests not the depth of your pocket.

#4: Be Dog Socialisation Savvy

Which adult dog would you want to own?

a) A dog that greets strangers with a happy wag and a gentle lick
b) A dog that barks and growls so fiercely that visitors stay away

The difference between Dog (a) and Dog (b) is dog socialisation. The first fellow met lots of people in their first few weeks of life, who gave them treats. They grew up learning strangers are good to be around. Whereas the second dog is so anxious about life they bark to keep it a paws distance away. This is because they didn’t mix with people in early life and regard them with fear.

The adult dog’s behaviour is laid down as a pup. Whether purebred, hybrid dog or mutt, always quizz the breeder about how they socialise their pups.

Worst of all are puppy farms. How can you tell a puppy farm? These pups are kept in cages in sheds, and aren’t even used to the sights, sounds, and smells of a home. These guys are an emotional mess and the only way to stop this disgusting trade in misery is to starve the market of money. Don’t buy from puppy mills.

#5: Be Puppy Farm Aware

No-one sets out to buy from a puppy farm. But even so, illegal dog breeding is a booming business, involving some 40,000 puppies a year, worth about £17.5 million. These pups are raised under inhumane conditions, many carry infection, and imported pups often aren’t vaccinated against rabies.

To pick a puppy that is well-adjusted and healthy AVOID puppy mills. How can you tell a puppy farm?

  • They often advertise on internet pet sales sites or local papers
  • When you phone to inquire, the breeder asks “What breed are you interested in?” (Only puppy mills have lots of different breeds available.)
  • They obligingly offer to travel with the pup half-way to meet you. (This is a rouse so you don’t see the appalling conditions the pups are kept in)
  • The mother isn’t available to view with the pups (Don’t believe the excuse!)
  • If there is a mother, she seems unfamiliar with the pups (That’s because she isn’t their mother)
  • The pups seem unusual within drawn or anxious

#6: To Pick A Puppy – Research Responsible Breeders

How to find a puppy that’s right for you? Responsible breeders should be encouraged. They go the extra mile to screen the parents for inheritable diseases and socialise the pups.

How do I find a good dog breeder? Check out our sister article on 10 Ways to Spot a Good Dog Breeder

If you really want a pup, let’s not forget the pups available at rescue centres.

#7: Support Shelters

Visit your local rescue centre where there are different dogs of different breeds, different sizes and different ages, including puppies that desperately need loving, forever homes.

They are a lot cheaper than bred dogs, usually with it being an adoption fee. They are neutered, they are micro-chipped. A lot of them are already house trained. Think of them as a bargain really.

#8: Mother Knows Best

Whether breeder or shelter, pick a puppy you can view with their mum.

The mother’s character has a big impact on the pups. A calm, placid mother is likely to produce pups with the same outlook. Whereas aggressive, anxious, or snappy mum’s often pass the trait onto her offspring.

Also, staying with the mum until eight-weeks of age is important for puppy learning. She teaches them about doggy body language and acceptable behaviour, to create well-rounded, well-adjusted youngsters.

#9: Good Dog Behaviour 101

Now, you’ve done your homework, so what do you look for in a well-adjusted pup?

Experts in assessing dog behaviour, such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, tend to assess character at seven weeks of age. Even then, the puppy may be having a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ day, so a couple of visits are ideal. The puppy that stays in a corner, may simply be tired, rather than lacking social skills.

There are lots of tests of puppy personality, but in a nutshell, try playing a game of fetch. The puppy that participates eagerly, is going to be a good ‘un. It shows a range of great attributes such as lack of fear, willingness to engage, sociability, and a playful pawsonality.

Many people advise picking the puppy that runs over first, as they are bold and like people. But a word of caution: This may also be the super-confident pup who then turns into a handful to train. By all means, choose this pup, but be prepared to train a rebel.

Don’t overlook the middle of the bunch, the pup that watches to see what happens, and then comes over. This sense of caution can be a good thing.

#10: DIY Puppy Health Check

How do you know if a puppy is healthy?

There may be obvious negatives such as sticky eyes or diarrhoea stuck to their bottom. But what about the positives?

Pick a puppy with:

  • A shiny, soft coat
  • Clear eyes and nose
  • Clean ear with no waxy discharge
  • A waistline when the next meal is due (A pot belly in a hungry pup can indicate worms)
  • A bright, alert attitude.

Also, if you want to be sneaky, arrive early for the viewing. If the breeder hasn’t cleaned the pen you may glimpse puppy poop. Nice formed stools are good news, whereas runny faeces should press warning bells.

The Take-Home Puppy!

How to choose a puppy that’s right for you?

Before you find a puppy, sit down and work out what you have to offer a dog. Then make sure your potential best-pal is a square peg in a square hole. Then do your homework. Never act on impulse.

Understand why the parent’s matter and the factors that mean a cute puppy grows into a loving and loyal adult dog. Last but not least. Be prepared to walk away if something doesn’t feel right. Remember, if you buy from a puppy mill you may rescue one pup, but this feeds unethical trade and condemns yet more litters to the same misery.

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