Perfect puppy - 3 yellow (white) labrador retriever puppies sitting in a row.Labrador 

How To Choose the Perfect Puppy

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You’re looking for your canine soulmate.

That sweet ball of fluff who will be your walking buddy, later snuggling up on the couch together.

Of course there’s no such thing as a “perfect puppy.” But you’ll want the perfect puppy for you. 

After all, your pup will probably be with you for a dozen years or more. So he has to be a great fit.

Perfect puppy - 3 yellow (white) labrador retriever puppies sitting in a row.

There’s so much to consider when deciding to get a puppy. It should never be a hasty decision.

But it should also be FUN!

That brings us to the question: how to choose the perfect puppy? and not just a perfect puppy, but the perfect puppy for you.

Hopefully we’ll help you answer that question in today’s post. Read on!

Contents & Quick Navigation

Basic Considerations 

It’s such an exciting time getting a puppy! You picture fun romps in the field, playing frisbee, and showing little Max off to all of your friends.

But before getting a puppy, there are so many practical things to review in deciding whether to even get a puppy.

My first dog as an adult was a shih tzu named Cuddles. My husband and I had discussed getting a dog for a while. 

We both worked and knew that the pup would take up a lot of time. Not to mention the expenses associated with a dog.

But I saw the little gold and white 10-week-old ball of fluff and was smitten. 

Luckily, I had a family member who could take her out to potty and exercise her during the day.

In choosing your new pup, the following considerations are important.

Are You Active or a Couch Potato?

It’s important to choose a puppy who fits in with your lifestyle. If you’d rather watch television than go jogging, you’d want a pup who isn’t too active.

We’ll discuss specific breeds and mixes later in the article.

Can You Afford a Puppy?

A puppy is more than the initial purchase. If you get a dog from a good breeder, he may cost $1500 or even much more.

That can be a drop in the bucket compared with the lifetime costs of owning a dog.

There are bills for: food and treats; chews; vets; crates; beds; collars, harnesses, and leashes; training classes; dog walkers; dog daycare; pet insurance; enzymatic cleaners; grooming–and more.

These can really add up. You may decide not to get pet health insurance and not need pet walkers or doggie daycare, but expenses can really add up over the years.

Do You Have Children?

Children and pets can be a great match. You want to make sure that you choose the right canine.

A toy breed may not be the right choice for a toddler. A tiny dog may inadvertently be injured by such a young child. And if you choose a large breed, you’ll have to watch that the young tyke isn’t run over by boisterous play.

We raised puppies for years before we had kids so we had a good idea of expectations for our puppy. However, when we brought home our most recent Lab puppy, Elsa we weren’t as prepared as we thought for her rambunctious personality and penchant for accidentally knocking over the kids.

Children make a big difference when deciding if it’s the right time to choose a puppy. If you have very young kids a rambunctious Lab may not be the right choice.

Do You Have Other Pets?

You need to take into consideration any other pets you have. 

If you have a senior dog, for example, a young puppy may not be a great choice. Many older dogs don’t want to be bothered by a puppy’s antics. 

However, if your older dog’s active and loves other dogs, a compatible puppy may be what the senior canine needs to stay active and fit,

What’s Your Work Schedule Like?

Are you gone too many hours to take care of a puppy? 

A friend of mine who works 10-hour days decided not to get a puppy. The pup would have been alone too long. A puppy needs attention and potty breaks.

Of course we need to work. 

You may be able to have someone come in and exercise, feed, and potty the pup. And give him attention during the day.

Do You Have People Who Can Help With the Puppy?

As I discussed, you may need help with the new puppy. 

If you have reliable relatives or friends who can regularly help out, it can make getting a puppy much more realistic.

Or you can hire pet sitters or walkers to help out.

Do You Live in the City in a Cramped Apartment or a House With a Yard?

If you live in small quarters, a large, rambunctious breed may not be best. As young puppies, goldens can be wild, even inside.

Of course, with a sufficient amount of mental stimulation and physical exercise, you can make it work.

But it’s another consideration when determining whether a breed or mix meets your lifestyle.

What Breed or Mix Should You Get?

We’ve all seen movies or TV shows that have adorable dogs in them. After 101 Dalmations came out, everyone wanted one.

Unfortunately, even though they’re great dogs, they’re not for everyone. Dalmations are high-drive, independent dogs.

I was called to work with a family who got a Dalmation puppy that was wrecking their house.

The dog wasn’t given a sufficient amount of exercise or mental stimulation. The 10-minute walk the pup was getting was just a warm-up for the dog.

We set up an exercise and training program for the puppy and the family was able to keep him.

So it’s crucial that you look not only at your needs but also those of the puppy when making a decision.

Do your research. The American Kennel Club lists purebred dogs and their needs and health profiles.

Before choosing a certain breed, consider the following.

Large or Small?

You should have an idea what size dog you want. If you want a dog you can carry places, a lab probably isn’t in your future.

Conversely, if you want a frisbee or jogging partner, a chihuahua would be a bad choice.

Why Do You Want a Dog?

This may seem like a silly question. Most people want a dog for companionship.

But you may have additional things in mind. You may want a jogging partner. Or a dog to do therapy work with. Or to show in obedience.

It’s crucial that you choose the right dog for your needs.

Grooming Needs

Would you love spending time every day brushing and combing a dog? If not, certain breeds whose coats would horribly mat wouldn’t be a good fit.

Exercise Needs

As you know, some breeds need a lot of exercise. My Aussie mix puppy Millie is like a whirlwind of activity when she’s awake.

I play ball, walk her, have her play with my other dogs, and even put her in daycare on the days I don’t have enough time to meet her needs.

We also do obedience training and she plays with puzzle toys.


Of course we want our pups to live forever. But some breeds generally live longer than others.

Generally, larger–especially giant breeds–have shorter lives than their smaller counterparts.

Friendliness or Independence

Of course within any breed and litter you can have a wide array of personalities. But there are certain breed characteristics that can help guide your choice of which breed you want.

I have dogs at both ends of the spectrum. My golden retriever Riley loves everyone and would do great in any setting. 

But my Lhasa apso Ralphie–true to breed–is more discriminating when making friends. He’s standoffish, but not aggressive. 

So Riley would be great with well-behaved children and would love to be hugged by them. Whereas Ralphie wouldn’t appreciate such interactions.

Health Problems

Any dog can have unforeseeable health problems. But some breeds are likely to have more health problems than others.

For example, bulldogs, pekingese, and pugs are among the breeds that are more likely to have breathing problems and overheat.

Breed Types

Of course there are many breeds and mixes to choose from. It’s important to consider what they were bred for when considering whether a certain breed or mix will match your lifestyle.

If you get your dog from a breeder, consider what lines your puppy comes from. If from working lines, the dog will likely be more intense than if from show lines.

So a golden who’s been bred to hunt will probably need more exercise and a job than one from conformation lines.

All of the below classes of dogs can make great companions in the right setting.

Herding dogs were bred to herd, of course. But, if they don’t have sheep to herd, they may want to herd your children or even you!

Popular  examples are border collies, Australian shepherds, and Shetland sheepdogs.

Generally, they require more exercise than some breeds like toy breeds. If not given a sufficient amount of physical exercise and a job to do, they’ll find their own. And they may become destructive if left to their own devices.

Also, some bark excessively and may not be good in an apartment setting.

Sporting dogs were bred to hunt. They have a lot of energy and need regular, invigorating exercise. They also need a job to do so they don’t find their own ways to let off steam.

Popular examples are golden retrievers, labrador retrievers, and cocker spaniels.

Just like other working-type dogs, hounds have almost limitless energy. Some were bred to track quarry and won’t give up the hunt easily. So attention to you may be an issue. 

Also, some bay when excited. It’s a loud sound that would be unwelcome if you have neighbors nearby.

Popular examples are beagles, dachshunds, and greyhounds.

Dogs from the working group are alert, intelligent, strong, and bred to work with people to perform various tasks. Some were bred to guard property, to pull sleds, or to perform water rescue.

Some popular examples are Doberman pinschers, huskies, and rottweilers.

They require not only exercise and precise training so that their natural instincts are kept in check. Extensive socialization is especially important so that they don’t see strangers as interlopers.

Terriers are feisty and energetic and vary greatly in size. They were bred to hunt and kill vermin, So a squirrel they see on their walk will be very alluring to them–and, without training, they may almost pull you off your feet trying to get to it.

Some popular examples are Parson Russell terriers, Staffordshire terriers, or West Highland whirte terriers. Pit bulls (which is a generic name for many types of terriers) are also in this group.

Toy breeds were generally bred as amiable companions. They may make great lap dogs and have big personalities despite their small stature.

Shih tzus, Maltese, Yorkshire terriers, and chihuahuas are some very popular examples.

Nonsporting group dogs are a catch-all group with various sizes and personalities. 

Some popular examples are bulldogs, French bulldogs, bichon frise.

Where Should You Get Your Puppy?

There are so many options. You may want a certain breed. So a breeder or rescue of that breed should meet your needs. 

Just make sure that the breeder is a good one. Good breeders do so to improve their breed. Bad ones care only about making money.

Good breeders put a lot of time researching the genetic lines of dogs they’re thinking of mating. They do any necessary health certifications. 

They put a lot of time into their litters socializing them to new experiences and people. Good breeders are invested in their litters and will help you choose the right puppy for you.

They stand behind their dogs for life and will readily answer your questions and take the dog back if you need to give him up.

You can get referrals to such breeders through breed clubs, dog clubs, and resources such as the American Kennel Club.

A reputable, good breeder also will have questions for you regarding your family, work, home, activity level, and reason why you want a dog or their breed.

The pups will also have been checked by a veterinarian and been given the appropriate vaccinations for their age. And the breeder won’t adopt them out before eight weeks old.

These breeders know their litters’ temperaments and will often help you choose the right puppy for your lifestyle.

Of course you’ll want to do your own research and also ask for satisfied customers of the breeder.

There are also breed rescues that rehome dogs of their chosen breed. However, they rarely have puppies.

Shelters and rescue groups can also be great places to get a puppy. Many use foster homes, where a puppy or litter of puppies are located. 

Foster parents get to know the puppies and can help determine whether any particular puppy is a good fit for you.

Many rescue groups try to place a puppy in the best home possible.

When I adopted my Aussie mix puppy Mille, the rescue group would adopt her out only to people who had experience with herding breeds.

Many shelters are first come-first served. In order to place as many dogs as possible, they will adopt out a puppy to the first person who wants him–barring any obvious reason not to.

How to Choose a Puppy from a Litter

There are many tests that can be given to determine whether a puppy is a good fit. 

Unless you want a dog for a certain purpose, such as agility, rally, competitive obedience, or hunting, it’s generally best to choose a middle-of-the-road puppy from a litter.

This assumes you have a litter to choose from. If there’s just one puppy such as you may find at a shelter or rescue or if everyone else has already chosen from a litter, you can still do many of the below tests.

There is a range of temperaments and personalities in each litter, No puppy may perfectly meet every test below. But look at the big picture. 

So, in addition to your own observations, you can bring a friend along to have another opinion about the litter. Or you could hire a trainer to help you choose.

Overall, as a companion, a middle-of-the-road dog usually works out best.

Also, a reputable breeder or good rescue group or shelter who knows the puppy can help guide you in making your decision.

1. See the Mother and Littermates

If you can, watch the puppy and his littermates and mother interact. The puppy you choose should be able to take a proper correction and back off then re-engage.

If he’s too dominant, he may not get along as well with other dogs or may be more challenging to raise.

If a breeder won’t let you see the mother or littermates (if available), that should be a red flag. The breeder should have the mother available.

2. Check Out the Puppy

The puppy should look healthy and alert, not lethargic.  His eyes, ears, and nose shouldn’t have discharge. 

He shouldn’t cough or have difficulty breathing, which could both be signs of illness or a genetic problem.

Inspect his coat and skin. His skin shouldn’t be dry and flaky and his hair shouldn’t have bald patches.

He should be well-fed with a little fat around his rib cage.

The pup should run and walk normally, without a limp.

3. How Does the Puppy Engage With People?

A puppy should engage with people and be curious, not slink away or cower. A scared puppy will probably be more difficult to socialize and train.

Will he follow you if you walk away? Clap your hands and make a kiss sound. Will he come towards you or run for the hills?

Of course, you’ll want the more social pup.

4. Hold Puppy on His Back

Hold him on his back for about 30 seconds. Ideally, he should briefly struggle and relax. 

A puppy who doesn’t struggle may be too passive for a busy family and one who constantly struggles may be too dominant and difficult to train or challenging to live with.

When I had two sheltie puppies to choose from and one fought constantly when held and the other struggled briefly, then settled, I chose the latter.

I had already gotten another dog from this great breeder. I wanted a dog who was a companion but who I also wanted to show in competitive obedience.

My choice turned out to be the right one. Duffy was a great dog to live with and became a nationally-ranked obedience dog. He also did agility for fun and was a therapy dog who visited a hospital on a weekly basis.

5. Touch Sensitivity

It’s important to determine how well a puppy accepts normal touch. Hold the puppy and touch and gently open his mouth. Look in and gently rub his ears.. 

Gently touch each paw, even putting slight pressure on them.

The puppy should be comfortable with these activities. He may slightly struggle. 

But a puppy who really fights against such touching, even to the point of mouthing or growling may turn out to be difficult to groom, handle, and pet.

Pet the dog calmly from head to toe. He should enjoy it and relax.

And if you have children, a dog that fights handling is probably more likely to be aggressive when someone crosses what he’ll tolerate.

6. Pick the Puppies Up

If you hold each puppy around the middle, ideally he would be relaxed and not struggle.

Also, cradle the puppy up against you. Ideally, he should relax and like the attention.

7. Test Sound Reactivity and Startle Response

Gently toss your keys on the ground away from the pup. He may startle at first but should rebound and even go and check out what made the noise.

8. Social Dominance

Fall to the ground at least a few feet away from the puppy. Ideally, the pup shouldn’t be frightened or become reactive or aggressive biting or growling at you.

He should want to come over and see what happened.

What NOT To Do When Choosing A Puppy

As much as we want that sweet, bouncy furry fluffball, we still have to avoid certain pitfalls.

Even if you like the look of a certain puppy, he may not be the right puppy for you. Consider the above factors as well as the following when choosing a puppy.

Don’t Get a Puppy from a Puppy Mill

Puppy mills are mass breeding establishments that breed solely for profit. 

They don’t care about the health of the parents or any possible genetic or behavioral problems. 

The dogs live in rabbit-type hutches or dark barns. They receive no proper socialization, vet care, or human contact.

There are also small back-yard breeders which, essentially, are puppy mills on a smaller scale.

The mothers are bred at each heat and have horrible lives.

Please don’tinadvertently perpetuate these practices.

Dogs sold in pet shops and through the internet usually come from them. Of course, do your own research because no one will admit they are a puppy mill.

Don’t Buy or Adopt on Impulse

This is a lifetime commitment. It’s best to learn about what type of dog will fit in best with your family.

Don’t Get Two Puppies at the Same Time

One puppy alone is a ton of work. I know it’s also a lot of fun too. But two puppies may bond too much with each other.

And to train, socialize, and exercise each puppy requires a lot of time, energy, and money.

Don’t Get a Dog Based on a Stereotype

Just because we see a dog in a movie or on television doesn’t mean that breed or mix would fit in with our household.

Also, what you see on the screen is not what you’ll get as your puppy. The dogs in shows have been highly trained and specially selected for their jobs. 

Research the breeds you’re considering. Then pick a great breeder, rescue, or shelter. 

And, last but not least, make sure the puppy you see is the one who’s best for you.

Don’t Be Afraid To Walk Away

If the puppies you see aren’t right for you, walk away  Or if the breeder or rescue or shelter don’t feel like a good fit, move on.

With research and diligence, you’ll find the right pup.

Final Thoughts

Getting a new puppy is such an exciting time!

But taking your time and researching the type of puppy that’s best for you will pay off in a lifetime of happiness.

Do you have a puppy?

How did you decide to choose him?

Please let us know in the comment section below.

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How To Choose The Perfect Puppy - 3 yellow (white) labrador retriever puppies sitting in a row. - That brings us to the question: how to choose the perfect puppy? and not just a perfect puppy, but the perfect puppy for you.

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How To Choose the Perfect Puppy was last modified: June 28th, 2021 by Debbie

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