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Choosing the Right Puppy from a Litter

By Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Behavior, Pet Services

Getting a puppy? What kind of dog do you want: big or small, long haired or short haired, pure bred or sweetly mixed? Have you located a litter of available pups? Do you know how to pick just the right pup from the litter to call your very own?

How do I choose a healthy pup?choosing_the_right_puppy

  1. Talk to the owner. Ask about appetite and eliminations. Do all the pups eat dry puppy food? Have they vomited or had diarrhea? Have the pups been treated for intestinal parasites? All pups should be de-wormed every 2 weeks starting at 2 weeks of age.
  2. Observe the litter mates in action. Do they all play or is there a quiet one that retreats to a corner? Is there one pup that always seems to come out on top of the heap?  If you want an assertive pet, that one may be for you. If you want a more docile friend, retrieve the pup from the corner.
  3. Survey their overall appearance. Do the coats shine? Are they dull or flaky? See any bald spots or sores?  Pups should have healthy coats that shine with no areas of hair loss or redness.
  4. Watch them move. Do they hop around on all four legs? Does anyone limp? Pups have a clumsy gait, but should bear weight evenly on all of their limbs.

There are one or two that I really like – what should I look for?

After assessing the litter as a whole, focus on a single pup, separate him from his siblings and give him a closer look. Pay attention to these areas.

  1. Eyes. Eyes should be clear with no redness or drainage. There should be no hair loss around the eyes. The pup should not squint or rub at his eyes.
  2. Ears. Ears should not have an odor or discharge. The ear flaps should be covered in healthy hair. Scratching at the ear is a sign of trouble.
  3. Nose. It’s OK for the nose to have a slight clear discharge, but discolored drainage is not normal. The pup should breathe easily and noiselessly from his nose.
  4. Head. The top of the head may have a small soft spot. If the soft area is larger than a dime, this could indicate future problems associated with “open fontanels.”
  5. Mouth. The pup’s gums (mucus membranes) should be moist and healthy pink in color. The top and bottom teeth should align unless the pup has a breed-specific under-bite (e.g., Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese).
  6. Body Wall. Look at the pup’s underbelly for a protrusion around the naval that could indicate an umbilical hernia. If anything pokes out in this area, it could mean surgical correction.
  7. Skin. You already looked at the coat while surveying the litter. Now take a closer look at the individual puppy. There should be no areas of hair loss, no pustules, no redness, and no flaking.

How do I know what the puppy’s personality will be?

Although accurate temperament testing is not possible at a very young age, you can get a general assessment of your pup’s personality. Does he seem interested in play? Does he sniff or nudge your hand when you hold it out and welcome your touch? Is he comfortable around people or does he cower when you approach? Roll the puppy over on his back and gently hold him in that position. Pups will often struggle for a bit, and then quickly calm down indicating that they respect the alpha position of the person holding them. Dogs that resist too much tend to have a more aggressive nature.

When should we see the veterinarian for the first time?

Bring your new puppy to the veterinarian for a “pre-purchase exam” as soon as possible. Even though you may have already paid the owner, this is called “pre-purchase” because most reputable breeders and adoption organizations will allow a probationary period (often 72 hours) before the agreement is finalized. It’s a good idea to schedule a veterinary appointment the same day you pick up your pup to promptly identify any existing problems.

After your cursory exam, your veterinarian will investigate further by listening to the pup’s heart, looking at his eyes and ears under magnification, assess his teeth and gums, palpate his abdomen, check his lymph nodes, identify hernias or open fontanels, look for fleas and ticks, and test for intestinal parasites. Your dog’s doctor will update immunizations and prescribe heartworm and intestinal parasite medications.

What do I do when I bring my pup home?

Bring a clean towel from home and rub the mother dog and a couple of litter mates with it. Wrap your pup in this familiar scent to ease his transition to a new home. When you walk through the front door for the first time with your pup, take a minute to acquaint him with his new surroundings. Let him explore the house, sniffing as he goes along. Sit with him quietly, providing lots of hugs. Then try a little playtime to further cement your new bond. Take him on a walk to show him where he will eliminate or introduce him to potty pads.

"If you and your veterinarian think it
best to change foods or alter
feeding schedule, do so gradually.”

Designate an area of low traffic flow where he will eat and sleep. Have clean food and water bowls ready. Feed your pup the same food at the same times his previous owner did for the first day. If you and your veterinarian think it best to change foods or alter feeding schedule, do so gradually. Most pups eat 2 or 3 times a day. Don’t be alarmed if he doesn’t eat too much the first few days as he adjusts to his new home, but make sure he drinks lots of water.

When bed time comes, cuddle him a little, place his towel next to him in his bed, leave a soft radio on or other white noise, and tell him good night. Hopefully, he and you will sleep well so that you can enjoy the first of many fun filled days together.

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