Choosing the best puppy from a litter

How to pick a well balanced pup.

The key to a lasting bond is confidence in your own skills. Unlock this power and train your dog to be the perfect life companion.

Dog paws iconDog ears and taill illustration
Dog paws icon
Dog ears and taill illustration

December 8, 2016

Choosing a puppy from a litter

Once you’ve decided what sorts of dog breeds are going to suit your household and where you’re going to find your new dog (I recommend you look at your local animal rescue shelter!), you may need to make a choice about which puppy to choose from a litter. Whether you have chosen a hybrid or pure bred dog, there are a some important things to look out for.

Confidence and activity level

When you first visit the litter, it is important to observe the pups' interaction with each other before you alert them to your presence. You should be looking for an outgoing pup that is neither excessively submissive, nor dominant with the other pups.

Sociability and temperament

When you first interact with the puppies, look for ones that approach you with their heads held high and tails wagging. These are signs of socially well-rounded pups that have had the right start in life. Here are some tests you can do to check a pup’s sociability:

  • Pick up each of these pups and test their reactivity. They shouldn’t struggle excessively or nip and vocalise, and they should settle relatively quickly in your arms. Also manipulate their feet, tails and mouths to check they are not overly reactive to being poked and prodded.
  • Another good test is to hold them down on their backs for 30 seconds, initially they won’t like it but they shouldn’t bite or react excessively, and should actually relax under your moderate pressure. This does take a little skill and confidence - have the adults do this.

Be careful not to choose the fearfully shy pup of the litter. We tend to fall for the underdog, but this fearfulness trait is very difficult to change and is worth avoiding unless you have the skills to train the fearful dog effectively to give it confidence. The ideal pup should want to be with you and follow you around and play with you when initiated.


Here’s what to look out for to make sure you are choosing a healthy puppy:

  • The pups should be well-rounded and have a healthy, shiny coat. They shouldn’t be too skinny or too fat.
  • Examine the pup physically and check it doesn’t have an under- or over-shot jaw.
  • Its eyes, ears and genitalia should be clear with no discharge or inflammation.

Of the two or three pups you have narrowed down, take them aside independently to test their vision and hearing. This can be done by clicking, clapping or dropping something on the ground behind them to see if they respond. Also you can test their sight by putting a treat or toy on the ground near them and making sure they can see it and find it.

A good breeder should have all the applicable papers proving the pups are of the highest quality.

However, I would always recommend a quick vet check just to be one hundred per cent sure with your final decision with regards to health and medical concerns.

Taking your puppy home

Something that most people don’t consider is how important it is to get your dog at 8 weeks old. This is the beginning of the FORMATIVE PERIOD, and is the most important time in your dog’s development. The best thing you can do for your dog is to get it at this age.

For the wolf (and dog alike), this is the transition period and it is the time when the pups would naturally leave the den and start to meet the rest of the pack. You and your family are in essence "the pack", and building that relationship during the formative period is when you can make or break your pup. If you miss this critical formative period, you risk having a dog that is mal-socialised and may have behavioural issues such as aggression to people or other dogs, hyperactivity, no recall or no understanding of limits and boundaries.

During this time it is essential to socialise your puppy with many different people of all ages, races and gender as well as animals of all different species (cats, chickens, stock if you live rurally etc). It’s also the time to teach your puppy all the foundational training skills that you will need for life.

Choosing my pup

Here's a little insight into how I chose my beautiful puppy Awa from his litter.

Virtual Puppy School

My Virtual Puppy School is designed to teach you everything you need to know about raising and training a puppy! While traditional puppy schools are fantastic for socialisation, in my school you’ll not only cover all the basics like house training and key commands, you’ll also get the chance to learn critical tools and techniques around fear and phobia prevention, building a lifelong mentor bond and building resilience and confidence. I do a weekly Live Coaching Session to help you through your unique issues, too.

Learn to train your pup the right way (in a way your pup actually understands!) and set yourself up for a relaxed, enjoyable and stress-free life with your new pup.

Plus, myself and my trainers are on hand to help you and answer any training questions you have as you go!

Find out more here.

Free training tips!

Sign up to our newsletter for free tips and dog training advice that will transform your relationship with your dog.

Immediately receive a free Essential Training Tips booklet
10% discount on all Virtual Schools and Store products
Regular training advice and tips
Articles tailored to your dog's stage of life
Insights into your dog
Join for free
Graphic of dog ears
Mockup of book reading Mark Vette's Essential training tips
Arrow pointing up icon