How to Choose the Right Puppy

Bringing home a puppy is an incredible and exciting event!  My goal is to help you choose the right dog for you. Believe it or not, there are a lot of potential pitfalls when choosing a dog.  As a professional dog trainer, I often see clients that choose either the wrong breed or the wrong dog for their lifestyle and I want to steer you in the right direction.

While this article is focused on helping you pick out the puppy that is right for you, some of the same thinking can also be applied to adopting an adult dog.  

Choosing a Breed

The first thing you need to do to start your puppy search is evaluate what you want out of a dog.  Do you want a protective dog that will help guard the house? Are you looking for a hiking buddy? Or do you prefer a couch potato?  Picking a dog breed is generally based upon this type of question.  Here are some examples:

If you are looking for . . . .   I suggest ....
 A protective dog to fit into your active lifestyle

German Shepherd, Doeberman, American Bulldog

 A protective dog with a more low key temperament

Mastiff, Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

 An active dog that is easy to train and instantly welcomes all guests into your home

Goldendoodle, Bernedoodle, Golden Retriever


Previous dog experience should also influence your decision. Certain dogs do not make great pets for first time dog owners. If it’s your first go around, you may want to avoid breeds like Siberian Huskies, Border Collies, Chow Chows, and Akitas. If it is your first time and you do choose one of these dogs it is not the end of the world.  You will just need to expect that you will have more work on your hands than if you choose an easier breed.

Additionally, please keep in mind that you do not need to choose a purebred dog.  When considering mixed breed dogs simply research each breed that a particular dog contains to see if the breed is appropriate for you and your lifestyle.  This will help you make an informed guess of that dogs future tendencies.  All that being said, my biggest piece of advice when picking a breed is to do your research and not pick a breed solely based upon looks or how they act on television. 

Purchase or Adopt?

After you have decided on a breed, it is time to decide where to get the dog.  Should you purchase a dog or adopt one?  Both rescue groups and breeders can be great places to find a dog.  Even if you have your heart set on a purebred dog it is still a good idea to check local shelters and rescues.  There are often breed specific rescues that specialize in various breeds and can help you find the puppy of your dreams!  

Whether you decide to buy a puppy or adopt one, you should do your research.  Meet with the owners/managers and discuss what you are looking for in a dog.  A good rescue group or breeder will be able to help you determine if you are looking at the right breed.  If you don’t like the vibe of a specific facility, there are plenty of other ones out there.  Don’t feel like you should purchase a dog from someone simply because of dog bloodlines or championship pedigree, etc.  For the average dog owner this may not be very important information.

If you do decide to get a dog from a breeder, you should evaluate the breeder carefully. Good breeders will allow you to meet the parents of the litter so that you can evaluate their temperaments.  Just because the parents of a litter have a good temperament doesn’t guarantee that the entire litter will, but it is certainly a good sign. Most breeders will be open about their breeding history, so feel free to ask questions if you suspect inbreeding may be an issue. I would also inquire about Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certifications and other health information on the parents.  Having some knowledge on the health of the parents’ hips, eyes and knees will certainly give you insights on the likelihood of the puppies being healthy. 

Where not to get a puppy! 

Health in the long term is always a roll of the dice, no matter where your puppy may come from. But there is one type of puppy you should certainly not buy: never buy from a place that carries puppy mill puppies!  These places don’t care about dogs and don’t treat them well, so it is important to not reward them by purchasing a dog from their facility.  Although pet stores seem like a great place to get a dog, they generally source from puppy mills, so make sure to do your research. Puppies from mills are often plagued with inbreeding, and genetic abnormalities are common.

Baby Boy or Baby Girl?

After you have decided on a breed and either a breeder or a shelter, it is time to determine what sex of dog is right for you. If you already have a dog I would suggest getting a puppy of the opposite sex.  Male dogs are much more likely to fight other males while female dogs are much more likely to fight other females.  Although same sex dogs can get along and often do, why not play the odds and make things easier on yourself?  If you don’t have another dog then the sex doesn’t matter all that much.  Female dogs are often a little less strong-willed than male dogs, but in many breeds this difference is not very pronounced.   

Time to Meet the Puppies!

Now for the fun part: meeting the puppies!  When you actually meet the litter please don’t fall into the trap that countless people have before.  I often have clients tell me, “The dog chose me.”  What that usually means is that the client chose the dog that ran up to them first.  Although this may work out well, it might also mean that they have chosen the most assertive and excitable dog in the litter.  If they want an assertive dog this is great, but if they want a lazy and calm dog this might not be an ideal fit.

Keep in mind that although each breed of dog is unique, there can be huge personality differences within a particular breed.  Two littermates can vary in temperament more than you might imagine.  Some Rottweilers are stubborn and may challenge their owners while others may be the most submissive pups in the world.  Regardless of what the breed standard says, each dog has its own personality and may not be anything like what you read about online.  My best piece of advice here is to use the expertise of the breeder or the rescue.  They know the puppies better than anyone and can help you choose a puppy that fits best with your personality and goals.  

If you would like professional help in picking the right puppy, you can have a professional trainer help you evaluate potential dogs.  There is a test for screening a puppy's temperament called the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test.  This test should be administered when the puppy is seven weeks old.  Although the test isn’t perfect, it is a very useful predictor of what a puppy’s temperament will be like when it is an adult dog. Professional trainers can also use their years of experience to supplement or even replace the Volhard Test in certain situations.  

Closing Thoughts

My last piece of advice when picking a puppy is to just get one at a time.  Although bringing home littermates sounds like fun, it is often a bad idea.  Not only is it hard to train two dogs at once, but there is a very serious behavioral issue that can arise called Littermate Syndrome.  Littermates often bond to each other too tightly and don’t develop socially the way they should. Littermate syndrome doesn’t come up every time people raise littermates and it can be remedied once it arises, but my suggestion is to simply avoid the chance.  Get one puppy now and get another in 4 or 5 months if you really want another dog right away.  

I hope this advice is helpful and that it allows you to pick the right dog for you and your family. Although picking the right dog may take some research and a little legwork, you and your new puppy will both be happier if you are the right fit for each other!


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