Pick of the Litter

Once you've decided on a breeder, allow him or her to help you pick the puppy that best fits your lifestyle.
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Pick of the Litter


A healthy 7- to 12-week-old puppy …

  • Is solid and well proportioned.
  • Is not excessively thin (ribs should not be visible on a baby puppy.
  • Is not potbellied (a thin pup with a potbelly may be infested with roundworms).
  • Has soft and glossy fur.
  • Is free of fleas.
  • Has healthy skin with no red, itchy, or bald spots.
  • Has a clean rectal area with no sign of tapeworms and no sign of diarrhea.
  • Has bright, clear eyes.
  • Has pink gums and healthy breath smelling only of the slightly musky odor of “puppy breath.”
  • Has a correct bite for his breed and properly aligned jaws.
  • Has a damp but clean nose with no sign of discharge.
  • Breathes normally with no sneezing, coughing, or wheezing.
  • Has clean ears, free of odor, inflammation, dirty-looking buildup, or discharge.
  • Moves well with no signs of lameness.
  • Is happy and playful—unless he's sleeping!

Okay, you've finally found a breeder you like and trust, and you like her dogs. Now you can get down to the business of choosing that special puppy—your special puppy. And I'll bet you're going to get all kinds of advice about picking a pup.

Someone's going to tell you to let the puppy choose you. That works sometimes, although sometimes that pushy guy who's the first to greet you is the dominant pup and not the one you need.

Someone is also going to tell you all about “testing” the pups, which is fine as far as it goes. Temperament and aptitude tests do give you some idea of a puppy's personality, but they aren't effective in predicting adult temperament. When you take a puppy home, you take home raw material. The rest is up to you. The dog your puppy grows into will be the product of his genetic makeup and the nurturing you do as he develops.

A good breeder knows a lot more about each puppy after weeks of observing them than you can learn in a visit or two. Let her pick your puppy, or pick two or three from which you can choose. If you've been honest and clear with her about what you want in a dog, she will know which puppy will work for you. She'll also know if none of them will. If that's the case, then accept that the puppy you're looking for isn't there. Better to take your time to find the right one than to buy in haste and regret at leisure.

If you are choosing among puppies, watch each one as he plays with his littermates, his mother, and by himself. If you can't really tell what's what with puppy personalities, ask your breeder to interpret their behavior for you. If you're looking for a pet, look for a pup that is neither extremely dominant nor extremely submissive, and who seems interested in people. The breed will affect how interested the pups are in strangers (some breeds are more reserved and take longer to warm up), but if the puppy shows no interest in his breeder, whom he knows, he may be very independent. Clap your hands when the pup isn't watching you (not too loudly—the point is not to scare the little guy). He may startle, but should recover quickly, and maybe even come to investigate. Remember, though, that one-time tests like this don't mean much. You may see the pups when they're worn out from hours of play and think the wild child of the litter is quiet when in fact she's pooped. That's why it's important to have a breeder whose evaluation of the puppies you trust.

Buying at a Distance

Perhaps you've done lots of research on the Internet and really like the dogs that a particular breeder has bred. Or maybe you're on some discussion lists and have confidence in a breeder whose posts you've read there. Maybe you belong to a breed club and have seen a particular breeder's dogs in the club's magazine and are drawn to them. Or you might know people, personally or online, who have recommended a specific breeder and her dogs. Many people successfully purchase puppies sight unseen.

If you decide to purchase a pup at a distance, go through all the steps we've already discussed, and a few more. Find other people who have had the breeder choose puppies for them, and ask how good the matches were. If you're straightforward about what you want and don't want, an experienced breeder can usually pick the right puppy—and, of course, will tell you if the right pup just isn't in the litter.

Puppies and dogs are shipped by air all the time, and although we hear hair-raising stories about mishaps, for the most part shipping is safe and the dogs do fine.