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How To Choose A Puppy From A Litter

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This is Part 2 of our 2 part series. Today we’re going to discuss how to choose a puppy from a litter.

In Part 1 we talked about how to choose a puppy or more specifically our experience deciding what, when, and how we chose our first puppy, Linus.

First here is a quick recap of the steps we went through in the first article:

  1. First of all, make sure you’re ready for the responsibility of taking care of a puppy/dog for the next 10+ years.
  2. Research your puppy. We recommend reading Puppies For Dummies
  3. Ask yourself more questions:
    • What breed suits your lifestyle?
    • Should you save your dog from the shelter or rescue?
    • Should you go to a breeder?
    • Should you get your puppy from the pet store? NOOOOO!!!
  4. Find your puppy on Petfinder.com.

That brings us to today’s discussion on How To Choose A Puppy From A Litter.

How To Choose A Puppy From A Litter

Our story ended yesterday with me finding a group of Australian Shepherd Labrador Retriever mixed puppies through Petfinder.com.

Here’s the continuation from yesterday (to read the entire story go back to Part 1):

After searching for Australian Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers (did you know some purebred Golden Retrievers have spotted tongues?) in the Petfinder.com database I found a litter of three Australian Shepherd Labrador Retriever mixed breed puppies:

  • A tri-colored female
  • A black male
  • A black male with a white spot on his chest

Obviously I was very excited. Not only did I find a litter of puppies, but the litter was mixed with two of my three target breeds – Labrador Retriever and Australian Shepherd.

The puppies were not far away about 30 minutes at the Carson Shelter in Los Angeles.

I grabbed my Puppies For Dummies book and reviewed the section on temperament testing and how to determine dominant and submissive puppies in a litter.

Our goal was to find the perfect puppy in the litter and according to the book we were looking for not an overly dominant or an overly (or should I say underly?) submissive puppy.

Both those types are considered much more difficult to raise for a first-time puppy owner.

We wanted to avoid the overly dominant and the extremely passive puppies. Ultimately our goal was to try and identify something in the middle

So, how were we going to find our little middleman?

Well, we were armed with seven personality tests to help determine our future puppy’s temperament.

When we arrived at the shelter we were happy to see two adorable fluff balls sleeping on the hard concrete kennel floor – a tri-colored female and a black male with a white spot on his chest.

The third one we found on Petfinder.com was already adopted.

We got permission to take the two puppies out of the kennel and perform our temperament testing.

Here’s what we did:

1. Observe How Puppies Interact With Their Litter mates

We tried to observe the two puppies out of the kennel.

RESULTS: They were very lethargic and really just wanted to rest. I guess it was nap-thirty.

2. Lift Your Puppy Off The Ground

We held the puppies mid body and lifted them several inches off the ground.

RESULTS: Both puppies allowed us to do this and were quite relaxed without struggle.

3. Cradle your puppy

Cradle your puppy in your lap belly up. We do this a lot with our service dog puppies.

RESULTS: Black with white dot settled right in with no struggle. Tri-color struggled for a moment then settled in.

4. Gently and calmly pet your puppy

We sat next to both puppies and gently and calmly petted them.

RESULTS: Both puppies just lied there and let me pet them.

5. Encourage your puppy to follow you

We stood and started moving away clapping our hands, shaking our legs, and making kissy noises.

RESULTS: Both were somewhat lethargic and not super eager to follow or jump.

6. Get attention with your keys (we’ve also used 2 spoons)

We grabbed our car keys and shook them a foot or so above the puppy’s heads.

RESULTS:  Both puppies noticed, but were not eager to jump up nor scared.

7. Fall down and act injured

We stepped several paces from the puppies and fell to the floor like we hurt our knee.

RESULTS: Neither puppy got real scared nor overreacted.

After running through all the tests we determined both puppies would make great pets and black with a white dot was probably a little more passive than his big sister.

Temperament is probably the most important thing when it comes to choosing a puppy from a litter. However, there are definitely other important questions you should ask yourself.

Other Questions I Asked Myself Before Choosing A Puppy

Here are some of the questions that were racing through my mind:

Do I want a male or a female puppy?

I had my choice of boy or girl. I had heard that male dogs were easier to take care of the female dogs so I planned on getting a male.

Do I want a larger or a smaller puppy?

Black with white dot male was considerably smaller than his sister. Since these little puppies were mixed breeds with big feet I preferred a smaller dog (we were guessing they’d be anywhere from 50 – 80 pounds).

Do I want a tri-color or a mostly black puppy?

I had a choice of colors. I liked the look of the tri-color puppy.

Do I want a more passive or more dominant dog?

Neither of the dogs were overly dominant or overly submissive however between the two the little male puppy was more passive than the female. I was guessing the more passive dog would be easier to train.

One final question. Why not bring them both home?

I really had a tugging inside of me to bring both dogs home and my original intention and hope were to find a male and female puppy to raise together a-la Where the Red Fern Grows one of my favorite childhood books.

Which Puppy Did I Choose?

I was at edge about to take the tri-color but decided deep down I was mainly going for looks and that I should probably take home the smaller black puppy with the white spot on his chest.

Why didn’t I take home both?

Well, I was always told that raising two puppies together would result in a strong bond between the two puppies and not as strong a bond between your puppy and you.

I also heard that you should separate the two dogs from time to time to keep them from becoming too attached to each other.

This attachment was confirmed when we went to puppy class with two Siberian Huskies who couldn’t even be separated by 20 feet in our training class before one would start whining.

After much debate, we brought home the little black puppy with the white spot on his chest and it was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Here’s one of the first pictures we took of my new little puppy, Linus…

If you want to see more of Linus’s puppy pictures then check out the Cutest Puppy Ever!

That’s not all…you may know how to choose a puppy from a litter, but now what?

The adventure is only beginning.

We were not prepared to take our little Aussie Lab home yet and the shelter said they needed to microchip him before we left.

This gave us a chance to run to the local pet store and get our first puppy supplies.

So our next question was: what supplies do I need for my new puppy?

We’d love to hear about your puppy experiences.

Did you temperament test your puppy before bringing him home?

Leave us a message in the comment section below.

Now that you chose your puppy it’s time to prepare for your puppy’s first night home – Believe me it’s not as easy as you think…

QUICK RECOMMENDATION: If you don’t already have a copy we highly recommend Puppies For Dummies. It will give you a solid foundation and not only teach you how to choose a puppy, but also how to raise and train your pup as well.

Top Picks For Our Puppies

    We Like: Beef Collagen Sticks - All of our pups love to bite, nip, and chew. We love using Collagen Sticks to help divert these unwanted behaviors.
    We Like: Calmeroos Puppy Toy w/ Heartbeat and Heat Packs - Perfect for new puppies. Helps ease anxiety in their new home.
    We Like: Crazy Dog Train-Me Treats - We use these as our high-value treats for our guide dog puppies.
    We Like: The Farmer's Dog - A couple months ago we started feeding Raven fresh dog food and she loves it! Get 50% off your first order of The Farmer's Dog.

Check out more of our favorites on our New Puppy Checklist.

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  1. I’m glad it was helpful. We’ve evaluated dozens of puppies. One of the most helpful pieces of advice is talking to your breeder or whoever is taking care of the litter to get an idea of what each puppy is like. They will have observed the puppies every day since birth and will likely have a much better idea of the puppies personalities.

  2. I liked that you mentioned lifting your puppy will help you to noticed his reaction and give you an idea about his behavior. My husband and I are thinking about adopting a dog, and we are looking for advice to choose the right puppy. I will let him read your article to help him choose the perfect puppy for our family.

  3. It was helpful when you suggested to choose a puppy that is your gender preference. We want to find a puppy for our daughter for her birthday this fall. When we look for one, I will be sure to consider her gender preference.

  4. Every puppy is going to be different. If you’re going through a breeder make sure you meet the parents. The parents will give you a good idea of what the puppies temperaments will be like. Good luck!

  5. I like it when you mentioned that you were looking for a puppy that is not too aggressive but can also follow your commands easily. Personally, I would also like that kind of dog since I will be new to this. This means that it might be hard for me to actually teach him skills such as potty training and all.

  6. You also have to research your breeds of dogs! Some dog breeds are just more stubborn! Our American bulldog pup was scared but also independent and stubborn:)

  7. We actually picked our American Bulldog puppy Zorro over the internet. My husband loved his coloring! This is the 1st dog we ever got from a breeder all the rest where strays and rescue dogs! Well Zorro was the scared/ fearful pup. He picked up on things very fast however was so scared and nervous right out of the gate! He was very very hard to socialize. However I worked with him every day and now at almost 11 months he is a great dog that is really not afraid of anything or anyone finally! It took lots of time and patience but it can be done! However our next pup we will be temperment testing and not picking on looks alone! I would not want any other dog then Zorro he is the best but I recommend people not to fall in love with color:) I am hoping for one of the more dominant pups out of the litter just to see the difference in raising a dominant/vs scared pup! Don’t give up on your pup even if he is shy/scared or really dominant there are many great trainers out there waiting to help you!

  8. I have always thought the same thing that a puppy is drawn to the right family. Well, we adopted a puppy at 8 weeks that was in another state, so we could not drive there. to see them . We looked at some videos online and decided which one we wanted then the breeder had two assessments done on the 12 pups and sent out a videos of each pup with the dog trainer and the breeder talking about each of the pups temperament it was really clear which one the breeder felt was the best one. .We ended up changing our minds and got the best pup she is the calmest most mellow, gentle non barky , quiet , loving smart pup the breeder said she would of picked that one too. We are so blessed to have her in our lives.

  9. OMG, I love this! I am a breeder of golden retrievers and how Desmond chose you is exactly how I want “my babies” to chose their family. I encourage the families to come early to select their puppy, even as early as 3-4 weeks old. I ask the families to sit on the floor at the puppies level and after playing with all the puppies I ask them to pay special attention to the puppy who keeps coming back to them. I firmly believe that once you make a choice to get a puppy, all puppies are adorable, and you should leave the final choice up to the puppy. After all, the puppy should have some say in the matter. I then encourage the families to visit weekly to play with and bond with their puppy before taking them home at 8 weeks old. The bonding that begins on the puppy’s home turf leads to more confident and secure dog and human relationships.
    I love stories where the puppy chose the human.

  10. My husband and I are planning on buying a puppy for our 5-year-old daughter’s birthday and wondering how we find the perfect one. So thanks for the tip that we should try to find the “middleman” dog by picking them up like a baby and see if they struggle or not. Whenever we go check out puppies, we’ll be sure to try that little trick so we can make sure the dog isn’t too stubborn.

  11. My dad is a bit lonely, and we’ve been wondering if a dog would be a good thing for him. You wrote that when choosing a dog, you should consider what gender of dog you want, as there are slight differences. It mentioned in the article that males were slightly easier to take care of in some ways, so we think that would be better for my dad. Thanks for the great info.

  12. Hey Colby

    I always love telling the story about meeting our (not so little now) Desmond. The truth of the matter is that he picked us – well me. My Mum (after a lot of persuasion) decided she wanted a dog – which came as a huge surprise to me. We drove down to the puppy breeder’s house and were greeted by a very elegant looking standard white Labradoodle. Her litter had been separated according to ones that had been reserved etc. In fact my mum’s friend had already bought and brought home Desmond’s sister. There were three little black puppies for us to choose from and to be honest other than finding one of them to appear a little annoying I would happily have taken any one of them home. The breeder left the room to check on the other puppies and was swiftly followed by mum and two of her pups. I looked down at my feet and there was little Desmond – with his huge paws – sitting right at me. I took that to be a good sign. On our return a few days later he came bounding straight up to me again and that was that. My poor mum got her dog but the bond between the two of us has always been extremely tight. He’s the best addition that has been made to my life in so many ways – so grateful for his friendship and affection and the adventures we have together.

    Ms Katykins

  13. Hi Tammie,

    Congratulations on the two new puppies! In our puppy kindergarten classes we separate the puppies if one puppy is getting to aggressive or totally dominating the other puppy. In other words we try to teach appropriate play in our classes.

    One of the reasons puppies stay with their littermates until 7-8 weeks of age is to teach each other bite inhibition. I’m guessing this is probably why your trainer is saying not to interrupt their playtime.

    Good luck with your training!

  14. I started talking to the breeder about personalities at 3 weeks. I got to see the puppies for the nest 3 weeks. When we went to pick her up (chocolate brown Labradoodle) my husband who had never been to see them fell for a little boy. His personality was about the same as the little girls maybe a bit more layer back. As hard as I tried to talk my husband out of it we brought both home. His reasoning was we could always give it to his son and family.Not! Not once your attached and it’s the only dog you have ever picked out in 57 years of life! So I coud give the little brown girl away to my daughter, not! She was just what I was hoping for in a therapy dog to read with children ands here we are two puppies! At 10 weeks they are now in separate kennels in different bedrooms. I snore, he likes to watch the news so at least they won’t be together at night. My problem is the constant wrestling with each other when they are together. It gets rough and I want to step in and teach them enough, but the trainer says don’t interrupt, what do you think? I’m determined for this to be a positive experience and have these pups be the best they can be. They are so smart .

  15. @Colby,
    thanks for the feedback, the breader has agreed to let us come and pick when the pups are almost 6 weeks. She also agreed to try the test out close to the pick date and let us know the results, but your right about personalities. She already has a pretty good feel about them. This dog will be a medical alert dog so we want to make sure that we get one with great temperment. Thanks for you help!

  16. @Julie, we pick up our Guide Dog puppies when they are around 7 weeks old and I’ve heard that is a very good age to get your puppy.

    I’ve had several friends choose puppies from a litter at early ages just like you mention. We have fostered puppy litters in the past and we’ve seen puppies develop from as early as around 3-4 weeks of age. Their personalities aren’t as developed, but your breeder should have a pretty good idea of each puppy’s personality.

    Also puppy personalities can change a lot even after 7 weeks of age.

    I hope this helps a little. Good luck with your new puppy!

  17. I’ve found lots of articles about how to pick a puppy from a litter but not one that suggest what age you should pick the puppy. We have made a deposit for a puppy, the owners want us to choose our puppy the day they turn 4 weeks old. I’m not sure that the puppies will have really even developed their personalities by then but I think they want us to choose early so that they will have more time to schedule the other families. I feel this is a disadvantage to us. Have any suggestions? Is it ok to pick at 4 weeks?

  18. @Esther, I totally agree. However, I did notice after videoing our temperament tests with litters of puppies that I got a totally different viewpoint of the puppy responses. It’s definitely a good idea to take a step back before making a final decision when choosing a puppy. It’s tough to do with all those cute puppies running around, but try not to be impulsive.

  19. I think the tests do help in getting a sense of the puppy and his/her personality. Nice article!

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