Choosing a puppy from a litter
Get the right puppy for you
So, you've decided that those puppies in the toilet roll ads look like a whole bundle of fun and you've just got to have one. Congratulations! A dog will enrich your life in a hundred and one different ways and give you many moments of joy and fun. Whilst the vast majority of puppies grow up to be well-behaved, healthy and lovable dogs, your chances of getting the right puppy for you will be far greater if you have a simple checklist to help you make your choice.
Choosing a puppy is an important process. Without wanting to take the gloss off your momentous decision, too many dogs end up in rescue shelters or worst still, are euthanased when the relationship between a dog and its owner goes wrong. The largest cause of death of puppies under 12 months in Australia is euthanasia due to behavioural problems.
Your puppy will be with you for a long time so it's important to get it right. Here are some useful pointers:
Puppy care - consider the cost
Vets, groomers, toys, dog-friendly hotels, it all adds up! To be a responsible puppy and dog owner you need time, money and energy. Adult dogs need regular exercise and training whilst costs can be considerable, not to mention a sofa or two if things don't turn out quite as they should.
Too many puppies end up as abandoned or destroyed dogs because people don't see beyond that bundle of cheekiness and consider the rational, practical aspects of dog ownership.
Consider the puppy's breed and temperament
Do you eventually want to be able to run 15km a day with your dog or just walk him around to all your friends' houses to show him off? Are you a dab hand with the clippers or the Barber from Hellsville? Lots of people buy a puppy because they like their appearance without taking into account the needs and temperament of that particular breed.
Choosing a puppy like a Border Collie for example is not wise if you or someone else in your family is rarely home or don't have the time to devote to your puppy's requirements for physical and mental exercise. It is important that you are clear on the type of dog you are getting so you know what to expect. You should also take into consideration your health and age.
Visit several vets
Your vet will be your source of advice on a whole range of matters such as puppy care to crate training and it's important you feel comfortable with him/her and the philosophy of the practice. Find one in your area who you like and trust.
Research the breeder
Is your breeder reputable, who says so and do you know anyone who has previously got a puppy from him/her? Do they know which puppy from the litter is best suited to your needs? And if the puppy turns out to be unsuitable, will they take him back? Is the paperwork in order?
Ask around, try to speak to people who have taken a puppy from the breeders you are considering and any other people in your local dog community. Use your instincts and decide whether you actually like this person before trusting their judgement and knowledge.
Take your time
Watch the puppies play for an hour or so at least. Crouch down and watch their reaction to you. Pick a puppy that is playing happily and not being too rough and observe it for a while - this is a good sign. A dog or puppy that licks is also a far better prospect than one that playfully bites but this is curable with training if you really fall for the one with the little razor sharp teeth!
Choose a sociable puppy
You'll sometimes spot a puppy on his own in the corner looking all sad and lost to which our human instinct cries out "look at that poor soul all sad and lonely. Well, we'll take him and look after him." This is a mistake. This puppy is probably too shy, scared, sick or aloof to interact with the rest of the litter.
Sometimes the rest of the puppies won't want to play with that particular puppy because he has already shown signs of being a bully. The mother will know already that this puppy is likely to grow up to be a problem dog. It's so hard to do but you'll be thankful in the long run.
Should I choose the fattest puppy?
The biggest or fattest puppy in the litter can turn out to be the greediest one - he probably pushed the other puppies away to get the most food. The smallest one often can't fend for itself and consequently doesn't get enough food.
You need the middle-sized puppy, because he's the one that is neither greedy nor weedy and who knew something about sharing. Greedy bullies or weedy weaklings will end up giving you more headaches than joy.
Size also has little to do with dominance or how outgoing or sociable a dog the puppy may become.
See the puppy's mother
And ideally the father too. If the mother is laid back, chances are your puppy will be too as puppies mostly inherit their mother's temperament. If the breeder says you cannot see the mother because 'she is ill' or 'isn't good with the puppies', take this as a sign that something is probably being hidden from you.
Any reputable breeder will ensure that the parents can be seen. If you are told that the bitch exhibits aggressive tendencies towards a stranger approaching her litter, the puppy may also have learned this behaviour.
Check for health
Don't choose a listless puppy as he could have an underlying illness and ensure that there are no obvious signs of disease. It's costly enough to purchase and raise a puppy without veterinary bills for an illness you didn't expect.
Consider a crossbreed puppy
Crossbred puppies can make lovely, loyal pets. As a basic guideline to his adult size, a puppy is likely to be slightly smaller than the larger breed in the cross when fully grown.
Qualities of temperament in a particular breed can be offset by qualities in the crossbreed. For example, the more even character of a Labrador may balance a Boxer's bouncy personality.
It is not advisable to choose the puppy of a mix of highly-strung breeds, or the end result may be a very neurotic dog indeed.
Don't be hasty
A puppy should be no younger than 8-12 weeks of age before being separated from its mother. Any younger is too early, even if the puppy has been weaned. Puppies kept in the litter until they are three months of age rarely exhibit dog aggression later if the socialisation process is continued after they enter their human/dog pack.
However, problems can arise if the puppy is largely isolated from human contact during these early months. During his first 16 weeks you should keep your puppy around your home (apart from going to the vets) so he doesn't pick up a disease from the park or pavement.
Avoid bottle fed puppies
Be wary if the breeder presents a puppy which has been bottle-fed because the mother rejected it. She rejected it because she knew there was something wrong with it.
We humans can't bear to see a puppy starve but bitches will instinctively isolate an undesirable puppy and leave it to die. The mother knows that the puppy will weaken the pack and the strength of the pack is all-important. This puppy will almost always turn out to be a problem dog.
What experience have you had with choosing a puppy? Are there any tips or recommendations you would share?