You’ve decided to make a puppy part of your family, but how do you pick a puppy who is right for you?
As exciting as it can be to imagine a roly-poly puppy racing through the house and snuggling on the couch next to you, there are critical considerations and steps you should take before you choose your family’s new canine companion.
Sadly, some pet parents adopt a puppy without doing their homework, and find out, too late, that the puppy doesn’t fit well with their family or lifestyle. According to ASPCA research, “pet problems,” including health issues or problematic behaviors, are the reason that 47% of dogs get rehomed or surrendered to shelters. You can avoid this heartbreaking situation if you do some research and pick a puppy best suited to your needs.
While there is no guarantee that you won’t have difficulties with your puppy, if you take the time to plan and research, as well as ask questions, you are likely to find the dog who will fit best with your family. Don’t rush or pick a puppy impulsively; take the time to use our guide to choose the right pup for your situation.
Essential steps to take before you pick your puppy
Determine your schedule and lifestyle
A puppy is a significant commitment, and like a small child, they demand much of your time and attention. Patience is a necessity to build a loving, trusting, lifelong relationship with your new arrival. The average life expectancy of a dog is 11 - 13 years, depending on the breed; smaller breeds tend to live longer than You need to have a lifestyle that will accommodate your dog’s need for love, care, and companionship during his life.
The first year of puppyhood is full of love, laughs, and many challenges. Your puppy will need patience, guidance, and consistency from you during his training. That means you must have the time to give to him and dedicate to his training. If your schedule doesn’t allow for that kind of time, adopting an older dog from a rescue or shelter may fit your lifestyle better.
A puppy who isn’t given enough time and attention for training, exercise, and bonding is one likely to act out of boredom and exhibit behavioral problems.
Consider veterinary fees
Your puppy will need routine veterinary visits and vaccinations during the course of his first year of life. Those visits and shots can be costly over time, especially when you add up flea and tick preventative treatments and heartworm preventative pills. Should an emergency occur, your puppy will need immediate assistance, leading to a hefty veterinary bill.
It costs money to care for any pet, particularly a puppy. Routine veterinary costs average between $200 - $400 for regular checkups, while emergency and unplanned visits can run upwards of $1000.
In these situations, having dog insurance can provide you with financial protection, especially for expensive veterinary fees and services. Make sure you have the financial ability to care for your puppy in good times and in bad. If you haven't already, get a quote from the top pet insurance companies.
Know the food costs
Puppies require food that is designed to provide the nutrition needed for the largest growth span of their lives. Head to your local pet store or go online and estimate how much money your puppy’s food will cost you for his first year.
If you have a smaller breed dog, you’re likely to pay less overall; large breed puppies grow exponentially, and that growth must be monitored for their future health. As such, large breed puppy food tends to cost more than small breed foods.
Tips on how to pick a puppy
Purebred or mixed breed?
Many future puppy parents have an idealized view of what a purebred puppy will grow up to look and act like; sadly, some of those owners become disappointed when they find out their dogs fall short of perfection. It’s important to understand that no dog is perfect, and your puppy’s behaviors are dependent upon how you raise and train him.
While you can get a better idea of what your puppy’s traits and temperament may be like if he is purebred, you should also research his breed and know all the positives and drawbacks associated with that type of canine. If you want a puppy who is high energy and active, know that fully before choosing to adopt a Border Collie. Would you prefer a more laid-back breed? Do your homework or contact local dog trainers and breeders to ask their opinion on the breed best suited for you.
What about mixed breeds? Often, you can determine a mixed breed puppy’s heritage based on his appearance and size. Mixed breed puppies are just combinations of two or more dog breeds, and there are definite advantages to them.
A mixed breed puppy has the benefit of combining the traits of two or more breeds, which means if a purebred puppy’s intensity and energy is too much for you, a mixed breed may be more your speed. Also, mixed breed puppies are typically less prone to the genetic imperfections and disorders found in many purebred dogs.
This knowledge will help pick a puppy who is the best fit for you and your family.
Male or female?
There isn’t much difference between male and female puppies when they are young. Both genders will be full of energy, and males may be slightly larger than females. The difference between the sexes lie with their sexual maturity. Intact males may roam or run off in search of a mate; unspayed females will experience heat cycles twice a year.
After the age of one, many dog parents will choose to neuter or spay their now-adult dog. Spaying is usually more expensive for female dogs because the surgery is more invasive. Female puppies typically mature faster than males, and in some cases, they can be easier to train. Otherwise, choosing a male or female puppy is entirely up to personal preference. Remember, a puppy’s behavior depends entirely on how you raise and train him, not on his gender.
Ask the breeder questions
If you are purchasing your puppy from a breeder, make sure the person you are dealing with runs a legitimate breeding operation. Ask for references and talk with other people you know who have worked with breeders for their input.
When you have selected a reputable breeder, make an appointment to visit their home or facility before you choose a puppy. Spend time with the puppy’s parents and see where the puppies are living and the quality of their care.
Ask the breeder questions such as:
- How long have you been involved in breeding this breed?
- What can you tell me about this breed’s personality and traits?
- What is the health history of the puppies’ parents?
- Will the puppies be examined and vaccinated by a veterinarian before they leave?
- Do you offer a health guarantee?
- Do you have a return or refund policy?
Legitimate breeders will also take the time to ask you about your lifestyle and home. Breeders who genuinely care about their puppies will be sure they go to good homes. As such, expect a breeder to allow you to take your puppy home when he is 8 - 12 weeks old.
Handle the puppies
When you meet the litter of puppies, take the time to interact and play with each one. Pick them up and hold them in your arms; see which ones wriggle out of your arms (they may be more dominant personalities) and those who relax in your care (they may be more submissive and easygoing). Touch the puppies’ paws, mouth, and ears to see how they react. If they have been handled from birth, they won’t mind being touched by you.
Make sure the puppies look healthy. They should have bright, clear eyes that are free of discharge. They should not be coughing or sneezing, and there should be no discharge coming from their noses. The teeth, gums, and ears should also be clean.
The coat should be shiny and clean with no signs of rashes or bald spots. The puppy’s body should be solid, not too skinny or too fat. All the puppies should be energetic and playful; if a puppy is separate from the group or shows no interest in you or activities around him, he may be sick.
Preparing to bring your puppy home
Once you pick your puppy, leave a blanket or soft toy for your puppy with the breeder. The item will retain some of the smell of the puppy’s mother so he can feel at ease in his new home; place the item in your puppy’s crate the first few weeks while he makes the transition to his new life.
Make sure you have a collar, leash, dog tags, bowls and a crate ready for your puppy's arrival. When you pick up your puppy, bring a small carrier lined with newspaper or puppy pads in case he has an accident on the way home.
Be realistic and ask for help
Raising a puppy is a wonderful experience, but it is full of challenges, too. There are no puppies or breeds that are perfect. Every puppy is individual, and it is ultimately your responsibility to raise and train your puppy to become a well-mannered adult dog.
If you encounter struggles while raising your puppy, reach out to a trainer or local rescue or shelter to find canine professionals who can help you learn how to train your puppy better. Just as no puppy is perfect, no owner is either; don’t hesitate to ask the pros for guidance.
Pick a puppy, and start building that bond
Once you pick your puppy, your life will be enhanced in unmeasurable ways. Your puppy’s arrival will bring changes to your life, but it will also bring you laughter, love, and a friendship beyond comparison. With patience, care, and consistency, you can raise a loyal canine companion who will return your gift with a lifetime of love.
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