How to Choose a Puppy

Now that you have decided which breed or type of dog is right for you, you are ready to go out and find a puppy. It's best to choose one from a reputable owner or breeder known to you, or one who comes highly recommended by someone you trust. Professional organizations like national kennel clubs should provide lists of breeders in your area. Such lists, however, can tell you little about the quality or temperament of the individual dogs produced. Your local veterinary center is usually a good source of information. It should be able to supply a checklist of reliable contacts and provide a follow-up advice service on puppy care after you have made your choice.

Many breeders advertise their puppies in local newspapers and specialty magazines or make use of dog-finding service. Before acquiring a puppy from any source, make a few simple enquiries to determine the breeder's reliability. How many breeds of dog are bred at the establishment? If the answer is more than one or two, do not use them. Does the breeder show his or her own dogs in sanctioned shows? Can the puppy be returned if it turns out to have any defects or something goes wrong?

Finally, you may adopt a puppy from a shelter. This is a leap into the unknown, so make sure you consider the issues.

Which Puppy for You?

Once you have found a breeder, visit the litter several times to see that the mother and puppies are healthy and have good temperaments. Take time to ask questions, think things over, and develop trust in the breeder. Only when you are completely satisfied on all points should you make your choice of puppy from the litter. A normal puppy will readily approach a stranger who speaks to it in a calm, welcoming voice. Shy puppies do not, and may retreat from visitors. Normal puppies are startled by unexpected noises, but should recover quickly, so test the litter by clapping your hands or dropping a bunch of keys. Do not select a puppy that is excessively timid. It can be difficult to determine levels of dominance or submissiveness in young puppies as their mood changes from hour to hour. However, if one puppy appears consistently bolder than its littermates, it may not be the best choice for a first-time owner.

Most breeders allow their puppies to leave the litter at between 6 and 12 weeks. The ideal age is 8 to 9 weeks. While it is with its mother and littermates, the puppy is learning to communicate with other dogs and behave as a member of the pack. Remove it from the litter too early, and it may never interpret correctly the signals it receives from other dogs. If it is separated from its mother too soon, it is deprived of maternal discipline, making it disrespectful both of adult dogs and humans later on. However, it is important for the puppy's socialization that it become used to handling and outside stimulation long before it is parted from its mother. A puppy that remains with the litter after 12 weeks risks becoming isolated, but the breeder can avoid this by introducing it to as many new situations as possible. Before you go home with your puppy, ask the breeder to tell you about its diet, shots, deworming treatment, and ongoing socialization. He or she will normally stay in touch and help to sort out any problems you encounter in the coming weeks. If your pup is registered with the national kennel club, its pedigree certificate will be mailed to you later.

I am about to choose my first puppy. Is a male or a female easier to keep?
Which sex you choose is a matter of personal preference. Females may be more expensive because of their breeding potential, but they are usually less assertive to their owners and less likely to show aggression to other dogs. They are generally considered easier to train as well, but there are exceptions to every rule.

When I went to choose a pup from a local breeder, I noticed that the litter had been separated from their mother. Because of this, a friend advised me not to take any of them. Why?
The breeder may have separated the mother from her pups because she was behaving aggressively toward them or to visitors. Even so, the pups may have already learned bad behavior. Hand-raised puppies often lack normal behavior patterns. This can cause problems later, so if you've never kept a dog before, it's better to avoid one of these puppies.

I have been offered a Boxer puppy nearly 4 months old. I had been hoping for a younger one, but he is so adorable. Should I take him?
If you are a first-time owner, you would be wise to go on looking a little longer for a puppy. By the time the puppy is 12 weeks old, it has passed the most sensitive phase of socialization and is likely to have problems adjusting to new people and situations.

What to Look For in a Puppy

  • Do the puppies in the litter appear healthy and vigorous?
  • Do all other dogs in contact with the pups appear healthy and friendly?
  • Is the mother friendly and trusting or fearful and aggressive toward strangers? Timidity in the mother is a bad sign; it may be learned by the puppies or learned through example.
  • Are the pups being raised in an environment that provides stimulation and exposure to different objects and people?
  • Are they being handled regularly? Early handling is of crucial importance in the puppy's socialization.
  • Have the pups been separated from the mother? If so, when?
  • How old is the litter? Before 6 weeks the pups are too young to leave the mother; from 12 weeks they may be too old.
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