How to Select a Good Puppy


When choosing the puppy, it is so important that all family members agree. You want to select the puppy you all like best, and you want to select a puppy that likes all of you. Sit down quietly as a family and see which puppies make contact first and which ones stay around the longest.

You want to select a puppy that likes you and enjoys being hugged and handled (restrained and examined). You want to select a puppy who is socialized, confident, housetrained, chewtoy-trained, and obedience trained.

Social Attraction

For years it was dogmatically stated that puppies that approached quickly, jumped-up, and bit your hands were totally unsuitable as pets, since they were aggressive and difficult to train. On the contrary, these are normal, well-socialized, eight-week-old puppies, which are simply saying hello in true puppy fashion without the benefit of manners. With some very basic training to redirect the pup's delightful exuberance, you'll have the fastest recalls and the quickest sits in puppy class. Also, puppy biting is both normal and absolutely necessary. In fact the more dogs bite as puppies, the softer and safer their jaws in adulthood.

I would be more concerned about puppies that were slow to approach or remained in hiding. It is completely, utterly, and absolutely abnormal for a well-socialized six- to eight-week-old puppy to be shy when approaching people. If the puppy acts shy or scared, then without a doubt he has not been sufficiently socialized. Look elsewhere. If, however, you really have your heart set on taking a shy puppy, only do so if each family member can coax the pup to approach and take a food treat. A shy puppy represents a substantial time commitment, since he will need to be hand-fed kibble every day from a variety of strangers. To rehabilitate this pup, you'll certainly have your work cut out for you during the next four weeks.

Make sure the puppy quickly and happily approaches all family members.

Handling and Gentling

Your prospective puppy should feel thoroughly at ease being handled by strangers — you and your family. Handle each puppy to see how he enjoys being cuddled (gently restrained) and stroked and massaged (examined) around his neck, muzzle, ears, paws, belly, and rear end. Your puppy should relax like a rag doll. If the puppy struggles, see how long it takes for the pup to calm down.

Make sure all family members handle the puppy.

Sound Sensitivity

Exposure to a variety of sounds should commence well before the eyes and ears are fully opened, especially with sound-sensitive dogs, such as herding and obedience breeds. It is quite normal for puppies to react to noises. What you are trying to evaluate is the extent of each pup's reaction and the pup’s bounce-back time. For example, we expect a puppy to react to a sudden and unexpected loud noise, but we do not expect him to go to pieces. Judge whether the puppy reacts or overreacts to sounds, and time how long it takes for the puppy to approach and take a food treat (the bounce-back time). Expect immeasurably short bounce-back times from bull breeds, and short bounce-backs from working dogs and terriers, but be prepared for longer bounce-back times from toys and herding breeds. Regardless of a dog's breed or type, however, excessive overreaction, panic, or extremely lengthy bounce-back times are all proof of insufficient socialization. Unless successfully rehabilitated, such pups may become extremely reactive when they grow up.

Evaluate the puppies' response to a variety of noises: people talking, laughing, crying, and shouting, a whistle, a hiss, or a single hand clap.

Household Etiquette

If the puppies have no available toilet and the entire puppy area has been covered with sheets of newspaper, the puppies will have developed a strong preference for going on paper and will need specialized housetraining in their new home. Moreover, if there is no toilet and the entire area has been littered with straw or shredded paper, the puppies will have learned they may eliminate anywhere and everywhere, which is what they will do in your home. The longer the puppy has been raised in these conditions, the more difficult she will be to housetrain.

Try to observe the litter for at least two hours and pay attention to where each puppy eliminates and what each puppy chews.

Basic Manners

Evaluate each puppy's response to your lure/reward training attempts using pieces of kibble or chewtoys as lures and rewards. Make sure each family member trains the puppy to come, sit, lie down, stand and rollover.

Singleton Puppies

Most pups have adequate opportunity to play with their littermates during their first eight weeks. Singleton and hand-reared pups have had insufficient opportunity to play (play-fight and play-bite) and therefore teaching bite inhibition is a top priority. If you select a singleton puppy, make sure you enroll in a puppy classes as soon as your puppy reaches three months of age. Play and socialization are essential for puppies to develop and maintain a soft mouth.

Adapted from BEFORE You Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar