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How to Pick the Right Puppy for You

You’ve decided on the breed. Now it’s time to choose a puppy. Picking the best puppy out of a litter of healthy, roly-poly, cuties depends on what “best” means to you.

Decide What Mental Qualities You Want Before Choosing Your Pup

You’ve decided on the breed. Now it’s time to choose a puppy. Picking the best puppy out of a litter of healthy, roly-poly, cuties depends on what “best” means to you.

Different mental qualities are needed for different canine occupations. A dog that is much too boisterous for a family with small children might be the perfect drug detection dog. The one that is not confident enough for guide dog training might turn out to be the best pet you could ever ask for.

Some temperament characteristics are inherited. Others develop based on interaction with their litter mates, people and their environment. Within one breed and even one litter, there are always variations. Just like people, individual pups may be more like a grandparent than a parent, so find out what both the parents and grandparents were like in terms of temperament and abilities.

Puppy Behavior Can Reveal Future Temperament

From a very early age, puppies in a litter reveal different characteristics. Some are bold, some are pushy, some are easy-going, and some are cautious.

Puppies establish their own pecking order and, in essence, have their own individual pack. There will be one that is “top dog” and gets first choice of toys and treats. There will be a couple of pups that, in an adult wolf pack, would be the advance guard, checking out things ahead of the others to protect their alpha and other pack members. There will be the followers who join in the fun but give way to bossier pups. There will be one or two that hang back and wait their turn instead of demanding a share of the food or toys.

Observing a litter of puppies over many days soon reveals all these roles. If you can’t do the watching yourself, the breeder can probably tell you what you need to know. Most breeders can’t resist spending hours watching puppies!

Choose A Pup That Suits Your Lifestyle

When you meet the litter for the first time, note which pup comes to you immediately to check you out. You’ll be tempted to choose this one. That may not be a good decision if you just want a family pet! Often, the pup that is bold and comes over right away is not the alpha pup. Nor is he choosing you. He is the puppy version of the bodyguard. He could be too much dog for a family. But if you want a dog for police work, hunting, tracking or something else that requires a dog that is brave, assertive and determined, he may be perfect.

The alpha puppy may fool you by appearing rather calm. Not all alphas seem assertive, but somehow they always manage to get the best food and most sought-after toy. If you choose this puppy, a few months later your whole family could be under the furry thumb of a sweet-natured but deceptively manipulative dog. However, with an experienced owner who can’t be fooled by his tactics, this pup could really shine.

The puppy that hangs back until all the rest have come to you may lack the confidence for a boisterous family. This kind of dog can become overly fearful and end up biting someone if he is not given the right guidance. But he could be ideal for a calm, patient person who has owned dogs before and can work to bring out his personality and build his confidence. Such a dog can end up excelling in dog sports that require the owner and dog to work as a team.

Generally, for the average person or family, a “middle of the road” pup is the best choice.

Puppy Testing

You may not be able to spend hours or days watching the litter, but there are several kinds of tests to help clarify a puppy’s character. Will he follow you? Will be struggle or snuggle when you hold him? Will he chase something you throw, or ignore it? If he is startled, does he recover quickly and become curious, or does he run and hide or cower and pee? These tests are best performed at 49 days of age, but can be done later.

Puppy testing is best done by someone with experience. Ask the breeder if the pups have been tested in this way, because many breeders do this for all their pups. If not, you can do it with the breeder’s help.

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