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How to pick your new puppy

By Susan Published: March 15, 2009

Adding a new member to the family is always stressful.  The question is always in the back of our minds "Will it work out? What if it doesn't?"  Here are some suggestions when looking for a new puppy for the family that will help give a better chance at a good fit for your family.

First of all, is it best to get a puppy?  Perhaps an adult dog or even older puppy might be a better fit.  Adding an 8 week old puppy is like adding another baby.  It can be very stressful and does take a lot of  work.  Realize that you will be making a 10-15 year commitment.  If you have in your mind that it might not work out, it will not.  Be determined to be committed to the animal for its life, in sickness and in health.  If an adult or older puppy is better then look at the local rescues and the breed rescues. They often have older puppies and adults that need good homes.

Determine the type of puppy you want.  With a purebred puppy, you will have an idea of the temperament and activity level it will have as an adult.  Even with a mix breed, you can have an idea if you can identify the breeds.  If you want a purebred, then go to dog shows, talk with people who have that breed.  Most are more than happy to talk to you once they are done in the ring.  Talk to a local a dog trainer and your veterinarian.  They often can tell you some of the strengths and weaknesses of the breeds and mixes and some of the challenges you might face.

Before you go to look at a puppy, have some criteria set.  All puppies are cute, and we humans have a tendency to follow our hearts when it comes to picking out puppies.    Leave your heart at home!  This is one decision that should not be an emotional one.

If children are involved, make sure the dog likes children.  There are breeds  that are generally not good with children and often dogs that have these breeds in the mix are not as well.  With the initial visit try to leave the children at home but on the second visit ask to bring the children with you to see if the dog likes children.  NEVER LEAVE CHILDREN UNATTENDED WITH ANY BREED OF DOG.   This often leads to tragedy.

Avoid an animal that does not look healthy.  If the coat is dull, skin flaky or has bald spots, avoid that puppy.  If the eyes are not clear and there is discharge from the eyes or nose, especially if it is yellowish or greenish, leave that puppy!  If the puppy or one in the litter has diarrhea, avoid that.  It could be parvo.  You want to bring home a healthy puppy.  Most reliable breeders and rescues will have you take the puppy to the vet for a wellness check after you bring the puppy home.

Also, make sure the kennel area, the rescue group, the home is clean and does not smell nor appear dirty.  Granted, there could be some debris around with puppies but avoid if the area looks excessively dirty and smelly.  The area the puppies are in should be kept clean so they learn to keep themselves clean. 

Avoid the puppy that is overly shy and away from the rest of the litter.  You want one that is active, inquisitive but not the bully either.   Take the puppy you are interested in, away from the rest of the litter.  If it shows no interest in you, check out another puppy.  You want a puppy that wants to follow you and interact with you.  You want to get that puppy from someone who has taken the time to do some basic puppy socialization, not just have the puppies in a barn or kennel with no interaction with people, exposed to different sounds, noises, etc.

An important thing is never get a puppy that is under 7 or 8 weeks.  Even though the puppy might be weaned, puppies need time to interact with one another and the mother.  During this time they learn how to take correction from the mother and other litter mates.  They also learn bite inhibition--that they can control how hard they bit.  If they miss this important part of their development they could end up with serious behavioral issues.

Also avoid getting a puppy from a pet store, backyard breeder or any place that sells puppies for profit.  The better breeders do not make money off of the sale of puppies and do it for the betterment of the breed.  Avoid getting a puppy if  the parents have not had the health clearances that are required for that breed.  The myth is if you get a mix-breed you will not have the health issues a purebred dog does.  But mixes get cancer and hip dysplasia and other "breed specific" diseases  just like purebreds.  Always purchase a puppy from someone who cares enough to try to produce a healthy puppy.  There are no 100% guarantees but having health clearances lessens the chance of heartbreak later.

Also, most backyard breeders and those who breed puppies for profit do not care about the temperament.  Ask any veterinarian or dog trainer and they will tell you the horror stories of dogs with bad temperament that came from such places.

 We take time to know what we are getting when we purchase a new house or car but when it comes to a family pet, often we by pass all the research and go solely on emotion.  This addition should be a source of pleasure for many years to come.  And getting the best puppy for you, it will be!

Susan Jenkins owner of Papp's Dog Services in Akron, Ohio

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