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How to Pick a Puppy From a Litter

Updated on March 23, 2018
kate stroud profile image

Kate worked as a veterinarian's assistant for five years before becoming a stay at home mother to two boys and a labradoodle rescue.


Seriously, is there anything more warm, fuzzy, gratifying and at the same time totally overwhelming than picking out just one puppy from a whole litter of precious little furballs?

Still, it's clear when you're around them that even if they're all melting into a fluffy puddle of cuddles and love each puppy has a completely unique personality which is why it's important to go into the situation armed with the secrets of how to pick out the best pup for you so that you two can live happily ever after, furrrrever (I promise I'll stop. Maybe. Thinking about puppies just makes me so happy).

So here are a few simple tests and checklists to help you figure out what to look for in your new best friend.

How to Choose the Breed

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Picking Out a Puppy

It's important to start by considering a few basic questions before choosing a new puppy. Every family is unique so each one is looking for something different in their ideal dog. There are several factors to consider but you can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is your primary purpose for getting a new pet? For us, it was because we wanted our kids to grow up with the special bond that a family pet brings as well as to have a dog at home to keep an ear on things when my husband is working late.
  • How much attention and exercise are you able to give your future puppy? Are you away from home a lot of the time, are you able to take a dog for a walk every morning?
  • What sort of activity level does your family prefer?
  • How many other pets do you have currently? What are the temperaments of those pets?
  • Do you have experience training dogs with different behavioral levels?

Answering these questions will help you to figure out what breed or (mixes) will fit in best with your family. For instance, we have small children, we live in a fairly small space and we have easy access to a yard but we share it with others so there's no way that a super large breed dog would fit in our home. Likewise, a really energetic breed, like a boxer or a beagle wouldn't do well in our limited yard space. We ended up choosing a Golden Doodle because they're known to be awesome with kids (and she is!) and while she's no small fry, you couldn't put a saddle on her, so she fits in our condo pretty perfectly.

Attributes to Consider When Choosing Your Puppy

Look, when you get there you're going to want to take home every single puppy. Stay sane. Be prepared to pick just one.
Look, when you get there you're going to want to take home every single puppy. Stay sane. Be prepared to pick just one. | Source


An easy way to read the temperament of a dog is to note their interactions with the rest of the litter. Group dynamics can be very telling and help narrow down which dog is best for you. Along with observing for how well the pup you have your eye on gets along with others think about what other attributes are most important to you as your new puppy grows into a dog.

  • If you want an easygoing dog…

Look for the loner of the group. With any litter there's usually at least one little one dozing off in the corner, totally fine with not being a part of the group's tail-chasing anitcs. These pups are wonderfully low maintenance and great for those with limited mobility or who live in apartments (on a side note, this is what our puppy was like and she really is a super easy going and precious girl with an energy-level to match our condo life).

  • If you're looking for companionship...

Notice the puppy that insists on being in the middle of the group snuggle, or responds the most positively to your touch. These puppies have plenty of affection to give and receive. If your puppy is joining another pet in your fam, snugglers are great choices because they tend to be more social. They crave human and animal socialization.

  • If you want a dog as a running or adventure partner…

Need someone to keep you company while you're snowshoeing or trekking the beach? Try taking a simple lap around the room and see which puppies follow. Dogs who have a trusting nature will enjoy keeping pace with you and make excellent travel buddies. These dogs are also best at picking up tricks and respond well to obedience training.

  • If you want a guard dog….

Look for signs of dominate behavior. Maybe there's that one puppy who's instigating play with the others, or is really vocal in growls and barks, chasing away those evil leaves. A protective dog will be inquisitive and sharp.

Give that cutie a good once over, checking for any bumps, lumps, scratches or scrapes.
Give that cutie a good once over, checking for any bumps, lumps, scratches or scrapes. | Source

Physical Traits

Chances are, if you're buying a dog from a reputable breeder with American Kennel Club credentials, your puppies will be a-ok, but here's some physical traits to double-check before taking your new cuddle bug home.

  • Ears

Watch out for signs of irritation or inflammation (ears would be very rosy and slightly warm) which can be a sign of infection. Plus, make sure there's no signs of mites or other bugs in their ears. You want to make sure the breeder is keeping the puppies inside to sleep and eat and only going outside to play and use the bathroom.

  • Paws

If you want to get an idea for the potential growth of a dog, check out their paws. The larger the paws, the large the dog can be expected to grow. Their paws should also not be cracked or show any obvious flaws in the nails.

  • Nose

Any pet parent knows that a dog’s nose is a great measure of their general health. A cracked and runny sniffer is a sign of illness. Whereas, a moist nose is a good sign that the puppy is in good health, but a little dryness can be overlooked as long as it isn’t split or oozing.

  • Teeth

Examine the quality of their teeth by gently lifting their cheeks with your thumb. Teeth should match in color. Some yellowing is fine and can be expected but any other colors on the spectrum would be a little yikes. The gums should be pink with no spots or obvious decay around the teeth.

  • Eyes

Note any mismatched coloring in the irises or unusual shaping of the pupil and make sure puppy's eyes aren't seeping or crusty.

  • Skin

Check the puppy's skin by parting the hair on their back between their shoulders. Look for any bite marks, raised red bumps, excessive dandruff, or fleas. Check the pup's tummy too when the fur is often thinner and the skin is easier to see.

Dr. Nichol Talks About What to Look For in a New Puppy

As awesome as these tips are to begin your search for the perfect dog, I really do believe in love at first sight when it comes to puppies. Follow your intuition, keep these guidelines in mind and enjoy all of the sleepy snuggles, toe-chasing and potty training mishaps.

© 2018 Kate Stroud


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