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How to select the right puppy or adult dog

Litter of 8 week old puppies
Litter of 8 week old puppies
Jan Gribble

Now that you have your list of physical characteristics and temperament traits, know whether you are looking for a mixed-breed or purebred, whether you want a puppy or adult and if you want your new family member to be male or female you are ready to start looking for your new dog.

Here are some general tips:

Getting a puppy from a pet store or over the internet is not recommended. If you are getting a puppy you want to be able to evaluate the dam (and the sire if possible). If you don’t like the temperament of either of the parents, there is a high possibility that the temperament of the puppies will be equally undesirable.
The following is not a comprehensive list of questions, but if you aren’t happy with the answers to these initial questions take a pass and keep looking. If you are still interested in a litter after getting answers to these questions, ask more questions.

1. Why did the breeder produce this particular litter?

2. What type of health testing has been done on the parents? (You should be shown proof of the results of any testing.)

3. Does the breeder guarantee against genetic health problems? What type of guarantee?

4. Does the breeder have a contract and does that contract specify that you are to notify the breeder if you cannot keep the dog for any reason?

5. What type of environment are the puppies being raised in? It should be clean and the puppies should be provided with an area apart from their living quarters where they can eliminate. Proper housetraining starts while the pup is still with its littermates.

6. How old are the puppies? If the breeder tells you the pups are weaned and therefore ready to go to new homes and yet the pups are less than 7 weeks of age, these pups are probably going to need special handling to minimize potential behavioral and temperament problems. Unless you are prepared to provide this extra handling, pass on this litter and keep looking.

Puppies should be social with people and not afraid of new people, sounds or sights. Select a puppy that is tolerant of being handled.

Obviously, if you are looking at puppies from a shelter or rescue group then you won’t have a lot of information, if any, on the parents. The one thing you can be sure of is that the puppies came from a breeder who did not provide a good environment for the dogs and it is likely that you will have to work extra hard to make up for the deficiencies in the pup’s early development.

When looking at older puppies and adult dogs, remember that what you are seeing while the dog is in a shelter or unknown area is not necessarily what you will see once the dog has settled into a new home. Dogs which are overwhelmed by the environment may be quietly depressed or frantically reactive.

Not all dogs in shelters or in need of new homes have behavioral problems -- it is not uncommon for a dog to be turned in simply because it grew too large or the owner wasn’t aware of how much time it takes to be a responsible pet owner. Many great dogs are in shelters or foster homes looking for new homes.

If you are looking at a dog or puppy being fostered, ask questions about the dog’s behavior in the home. Does it get along with all family members? With other pets? Is the dog housebroken (if an older pup or adult)? What does the dog do that the person likes and dislikes?

While it may be harder to evaluate a dog’s temperament in a shelter environment, it isn’t impossible. Ask if you can take the dog to a neutral location (several shelters have set aside areas for prospective adopters to take dogs). Plan on spending at least 15-30 minutes letting the dog explore the area while you remain quiet before you try to interact with the dog.

No dog is perfect but you want to start off on the right foot by getting a dog that fits in with your lifestyle and family.

Obedience training is a good way to develop a relationship with your new puppy or dog.