How to pick the perfect puppy for you

Bringing a new puppy into the family is a big adventure. This little fluffy bundle is going to be an important part of your lives for the next 10-15 years so it’s important to pick the right puppy for you.

Choosing a breed of dog

At Crufts 2018 there were almost 200 breeds of pedigree dogs on show. From teeny tiny Chihuahuas to great big Dogue de Bordeaux. There were short coats, long coats, different colours, different markings and very different characters. These were just dog breeds currently recognised by the Kennel Club. As well as pedigrees there are what is known as designer dogs. Deliberately bred crossbreeds with great names such as labradoodles, cockerpoos or pomskis.

When you go to pick the perfect puppy for you, it’s important to pick a breed whose size, shape and general temperament will fit well with your lifestyle.  Don’t fall in love with the fuzzy face on the internet ad until you have asked yourself some questions.

  • How big will this dog grow? Do I have room for him in my home, my car and my garden?
  • How much exercise will he need when he’s fully grown? Can I commit to all that walking – even in bad weather?
  • Do I have the time and the patience to train him and socialise him so that he grows into a happy healthy dog who won’t embarrass me in public?
  • Will his coat need a lot of care and am I able to either groom him myself or afford professional grooming services?
  • Does this breed have any inherited conditions? How can I reduce the risk of buying a puppy with hip, eye or elbow problems that could affect the quality of our life together?
  • Is my lifestyle likely to change in the next 10-15 years? We can’t always plan for changes but whatever happens in the journey of your life, you would like to think that your dog could travel alongside you all the way.

Finding a puppy breeder

A dog’s physical and mental health depends on lots of things. Not least of those are his genetics and what he experiences in the first few weeks of his life.

Health testing for puppy’s parents

Breeders of pedigree dogs are encouraged to have their brood bitches and stud dogs tested for inherited diseases like hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). If a pedigree dog is on your shopping list, do some research and find out what parent’s should be tested for. A responsible breeder who cares more about the puppy’s health than their own profits will have bred from healthy parents who are not likely to pass on inherited illnesses.

Suitable premises for breeding

No puppy should begin its life in filthy conditions, deprived of mental stimulation and opportunities for exercise and play. Sadly that’s exactly what happens for some pups. As a dog behaviourist and a dog trainer, I can promise you that pups reared in those conditions are likely to have problems adapting to life amongst humans.

If you suspect that the litter of puppies you have spotted in an advert come from a puppy farm, please don’t buy one. Instead tell a dog rescue charity about your concerns and ask them to check it out. You may think that by buying a puppy from somewhere like that, you are rescuing it from a horrible life. Wrong. You are filling the breeders pocket and encouraging him or her to breed even more pups to get even richer. You are also most likely taking home a dog who will have health and behavioural problems for the whole of his life. It’s not easy to be hard-hearted. Neither is it pleasant to be broken-hearted if things go wrong.

What to look for in a good breeder

  • The puppies are all bright eyed, waggy tailed and full of energy
  • Their bedding is clean and they are kept in an area that is light, bright, well ventilated and not too pongy. A litter of puppies has a distinctive smell but it shouldn’t be overwhelmingly strong, neither should the area smell of ammonia or decay.
  • Puppies have plenty of space to play in and a few toys
  • You can meet the mother dog
  • Mother dog looks healthy and is happy to greet you (if Mum is nervous or grumpy she may have passed those traits onto some of the pups)
  • All of the puppies have been (or will be) checked by the vet before they leave the litter. The law says that breeders should have puppies microchipped and vaccinated before they are sold on.
  • If the puppies have been reared in the breeders own home that’s fabulous. If they’ve been reared in an outdoor kennel take note of how they react to your voice, clapping hands and waggling toys. By the age of 4-5 weeks they should be curious about everything but not nervous. If they are nervous about new experiences, they may have been inadequately socialised.

Trust your instincts. If there is something about the puppy, the premises, the people or the parents that makes you feel uncomfortable. Don’t commit to buy. There are a lot of puppies out there and one of them is perfect for you. Believe me, you’ll know it when you find it.

Picking your perfect puppy from the litter

You’ve chosen your ideal breed of dog and found a breeder you can trust.  Now it’s time to decide which puppy from the litter is going to be you companion for the next decade.

Gender issues

Should you choose a bitch or a dog? Personally I don’t think that one gender has a bearing on a dog’s character. If you have no plans to breed from your puppy in the future, forget what it’s underneath looks like.  Look for a personality that you could love.

Temperament matters

If this is your first dog, you might be tempted to make your selection based on markings, ear size, facial features or some other aspect of its appearance. That could be a mistake.  Your puppy’s future will largely be defined by amount and the quality of the training and socialisation you put in. A poorly trained dog is a pain in the backside – no matter how good looking it might be. So choose a puppy whose personality appeals to you.

Do you like the bouncy bossy one who stamps on his litter mates to get your attention? He’ll most likely try your patience by pushing the boundaries. If you like that sort of challenge and won’t give up – he might be the one for you.

What about the quiet observer who sits back from the rest of the litter and thinks hard about whether or not he should join in? He might try your patience by being fearful of new places and faces. Socialising him will be an interesting, sometimes frustrating but ultimately rewarding process. Do you have the time and patience?

Help with decision making

A good breeder will know the individual personalities of his or her puppies and will be able to advise you. They will be more interested in finding the right home for the pup than in getting it sold and out of the door.

My advice would be take someone with you who understands dogs and knows a little about your lifestyle. Asking a child to choose a puppy is a bad move. Leave the children at home and make the decision for them.

If you’re still not sure, then why not ask a dog behavioural expert to come with you and offer independent advice?


A good breeder will give you the option of returning the dog for a refund if he or she doesn’t suit your home or family. Normally, you only have a week or two to make your decision. So there are a couple of things you must do within a day or two of bringing your new puppy home.

When you get puppy home

That’s a big subject and I’ll write about it in another blog but there are two things to do as soon as possible after buying a new puppy. Before you build a strong bond with him or her

  1. Visit the vet for a puppy health check and
  2. Find out about puppy training classes in your area. Training is not just about learning commands, it’s about introducing your pup to the big wide world. And the sooner you start, the easier it will be.

Helpful articles

Pedigree puppies are listed for sale on the Kennel Club website. There’s also a lot of information on this site about breed characteristics, puppy health

KC questionnaire to help you find the right breed and the right puppy for you

Puppy training classes in Surrey