Picking a Puppy from a Litter: What Should I Look for When Buying a Puppy?

There are six things to look for when choosing a puppy for a pet: good nature, courage, intelligence, good health, a sense of humor, and biddability.

How to pick a puppy from a litter

Good Nature

When you choose a puppy, try to have a look at both parents, particularly the mother. Is she intelligent, well-mannered, friendly, and obedient?

The puppies themselves, even at 6 or 8 weeks old, will tell you almost all you need to know.

Beware the puppy that backs away from your hand, the one that ducks sideways when you try to take him by the scruff, or the one that runs back into its kennel.

Take each one of the litter and roughhouse it a bit. Watch for the one with the curling lip – it will be bad-tempered.


Lift each pup by the scruff of the neck and then lower it with a good grip on the butt of the tail. A stout-hearted youngster accepts this as just another new experience; a cowardly one starts screaming.

A cowardly puppy grows into a nervous and often vicious dog, and a bad-tempered pup will make an arrogant or savage dog.


To test intelligence, call the puppies. Which one gets to you first?

Squat down so that they can almost (but not quite) climb into your lap, then while they are all trying to produce some strange object, such as a handkerchief or a tennis ball, wave it behind them. Which one sees it first and dives off to investigate?

Write off the one that goes on, and on, and on trying to climb into your lap.

He is the dog that will chase cars and never hear you call him back, that will dig the 500th hole in your garden because when the thought of digging a nice hole occupies his mind there is no room in it for the memory of your 499 reprimands. It won’t be disobedience, but plain stupidity.

Shut the gate and walk away, and once you can’t be seen looking back at the puppies. Avoid the one still sitting howling at the gate where you left him – he will sit and howl all day when his owners go out because he lacks the intelligence to find himself some other occupation or the serenity to go patiently and sensibly to sleep while he waits.

Good Health

There is only one way to be sure you buy a healthy puppy, and that is to buy him subject to a veterinary warranty, a procedure to which any reputable breeder will agree. But if you can’t have him examined by a vet here are some tips on how to pick a healthy pup:

Worms: Few pups are born entirely free of roundworms, which interfere with digestion and damage the liver.

There may be attacks of severe pain with the pup screaming and snapping at its flanks, or even taking fits, and the pup loses condition. Liver damage tends to cause dropsy (or fluid) in the abdominal cavity.

A simple way to differentiate between healthy fat and dropsy is to rub your hand along the dog’s back. If the animal is healthy the muscles between the vertebrae are thick and solid, so that the dog’s back feels flat. These muscles are the first to waste away in ill health so that the spine can be easily felt beneath the skin.

Rickets: How can you recognize a rickety pup?

Look at his front legs from the side first; except for breeds like the dachshund, bulldog, and Pekingese, his legs should be straight from elbow to toe, and the toes should be close together.

Now, look at him from the front. In a bad case of rickets, the elbows will be turned out and the forelegs will be bent.

Distemper: It is unlikely that a puppy that is still suckling will suffer from distemper, but it is still possible. Watch out for a pup with any discharge from both eyes or from the nostrils, or one that is unnaturally listless or has a cough.

Skin Diseases: If a dog has any kind of skin lesions and there is no vet to advise you, don’t buy him. If it is eczema it will be likely to recur time and time again, if it is mange it will be a long and expensive business to cure, and if it is ringworm your children and your cats may catch it, too.

Canker: Have a look inside a puppy’s ear as far as you can see – it should be pink and clean. Pinch the base of the ear between your finger and thumb to close and open the ear orifice a few times; if the puppy shakes its head madly as soon as you let go, then sits down and worries at the ear with a hind foot, choose another pup.

Sense of Humor

An important quality in a dog is a sense of humor. Some dogs (and come to that, some people) can make extraordinarily dull companions.

Try playing with the puppies, make a few grabs at their noses, make snatches at their toes, and watch how they react.

There may be one that just sits and looks at you until you feel like a perfect fool – leave him in the cabbage patch.

Concentrate on the pup that cocks a gleeful eye on you and pounces on your hand when you’re not expecting it.


Lastly, choose a dog that is reasonably biddable, one that shows signs of wanting to please you.

A dog has a lot to learn – to be gentle with children, not to jump on people, not to dig holes, chew up clothing, climb on furniture, chase cars, etc., so it’s best to be sure he will want to learn them.

Try to make a puppy sit by pushing his little behind down, and hold your finger in front of his nose, saying SIT. If after about the third time he sits still and gazes perplexedly at you, trying to see what you want, that’s enough. He is too young to learn much, but he is trying to learn.

When you take your puppy home, ring the vet and make an appointment to have him wormed and vaccinated against distemper and hepatitis.

Buy a collar and engraved name tag, putting your name and phone number (or address) on the tag, not the dog’s name. If your dog gets lost, or particularly if he is injured, you may never see him again unless he bears proper identification.

At 8 to 10 weeks a puppy should have four or five meals a day, either three of raw meat and two of milk or vice versa. Give him a little less than he wants so that he is always looking for more.

A dog does best on raw meat and bones, raw liver, heart, and kidneys. Although beef is the most popular meat, there is no reason why mutton or horse meat should not be given, provided milk is given as an extra occasionally with the horse meat to supply the missing fats.

Until your dog gets his second teeth at about 6 months cut his meat up.

Once his big second teeth have come through, leave his meat in one piece. A dog’s teeth are designed for tearing meat off a bone or gnawing it off a carcass, and if his food is cut up for him the teeth are not used properly and they begin to rot.

Your puppy needs about four meals a day until he is 3 months old, three meals a day until he is 6 months old, two a day up to 12 months, then one a day.

Choosing The Greatest Puppy For Your Life

Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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