How to Select a Puppy Out of a Litter

Picture of two french bulldog black puppies

After months of researching dogs and looking at pictures, you’ve finally settled on your ideal breed. Your search has also led you to the perfect breeder, one who places a high emphasis on proper health testing and only breeding dogs of sound temperament and excellent conformation. Once you passed the breeder’s screening process, you were placed on a waiting list and informed of the dates for upcoming litters. When the day finally arrives that a puppy is available for you, you can barely contain your joy! Your breeder has given you your choice of several puppies. They are all so cute; you don’t know how you can possibly choose!

What Is the Best Way to Select a Puppy out of a Litter?

Some Considerations for Show and Breeding Homes
Many people have certain things in mind they are looking for when it comes to a puppy. Some have a preference for color or gender. Still others are searching for a particular coat type. The truth is that selecting a puppy to join your home is a very big decision, and much more should go into the process than simply appearances.

Breeders typically know their puppies best, and often, a puppy that a potential buyer might prefer esthetically simply isn’t well-suited to that particular home. For example, placing a high drive dog in a home with a family that works long hours and prefers the couch potato lifestyle when down time comes is a recipe for disaster. The dog won’t thrive, and neither will his family. For this reason, seeking a breeder’s input and being honest about your true lifestyle—and not the lifestyle you WISH you had—will be invaluable in selecting the right puppy for your home.

Typically, most breeders breed for themselves, meaning that when they have a litter, it is with the intention of keeping the “best” puppy to drive their breeding program forward. When a breeder looks for the “best” puppy, they are not necessarily looking for one that is the cutest or even the sweetest. Most breeds have what is called a “breed standard.” That standard was written as a guideline for what the ideal dog of that breed should look and act like. Variations from the standard will be found with every dog, but the “best” puppy, the one the breeder opts to keep, is the one that conforms most closely to that written critique. Since most breeders often have multiple dogs in a home and cannot keep unlimited amounts of dogs, it is critical that they opt only to keep puppies that are excellent representatives of their breed and who have something to contribute to a breeding program. With this in mind, many breeders will conduct what are known as puppy evaluations when the puppies are 8 weeks of age.

Why 8 weeks? Because at 8 weeks of age, breeders are getting the purest picture of what that puppy will most closely resemble as an adult dog, making their structure easier to ascertain.

When a breeder considers a puppy to keep from a litter, they are looking for several of the following characteristics:

Many breeders like to exhibit their dogs in conformation shows. Conformation shows were founded as a showcase for the very best breeding stock available within a given region. To this day, breeders continue to take their dogs into show rings across the country where they are assessed against their standard and found worthy or wanting. A large part of what makes a great show dog is attitude. If you have a breed who is supposed to be known for their lively, feisty spirit and a puppy who is shy or very laidback, that puppy may not possess the right qualities to excel in the show ring. Conversely, if you have a puppy whose breed is supposed to be aloof and your puppy exuberantly jumps into the arms of everyone he meets, he may not be the best representative of his breed in that litter and would be better suited to a pet home.

Temperament is paramount in the selection of a show dog. If a dog is not of sound temperament, a conscientious breeder should not place the dog. The puppy should be kept in the breeder’s home but spayed or neutered to remain a house pet alone. Dogs without the proper temperament should never be bred. Only the best of the best are suitable for breeding dogs. This is the best way to prevent aggression and other undesirable characteristics.

A dog’s structure is one of the most critical components to consider when selecting a dog for a show home. Structure is what enables a dog to properly do the job they were designed to do, and it is also what keeps them healthy and strong. Each breed standard varies slightly in what is desirable structure-wise.  A dog who is required to enter a fox hole as part of his “job” must possess a compressible chest to allow him to squeeze in and out of tight spaces. If that breed lacks the proper flexibility or has a chest that is simply too large, his structure is not sufficient for the task, meaning he is not suitable for a breeding program and should be placed in a pet home. But more importantly, were that dog ever to be used in hunting, the dog could become stuck in a hole and possibly die if his owners were not able to dig him out in sufficient time. Breed standards exist for a reason, and reputable breeders are very careful to try to improve on weaknesses in their “lines” with each subsequent breeding.


It goes without saying that only healthy and health-tested animals should be bred. Unfortunately, genetics sometimes play cruel tricks, leading to unexpected health issues in spite of very careful and thoughtful breeding.

Conformity to breed standard
Breeders try very hard not to get attached to any one puppy as it is nearly impossible to determine correct structure until 8 weeks of age, meaning the one puppy they may be drawn to might not end up being the one that should stay. Simply put, the puppy that most closely resembles the ideal dog represented in the breed standard is the one that is best suited to continue in a breeding home. Sometimes, a litter will not produce a puppy with enough virtue to remain in a show home. In this case, the breeder should place the entire litter and not keep anything for themselves.

Though gender and color should not play a paramount role in which puppy ultimately remains in the breeder’s home, they do deserve serious consideration. In breeds which can be prone to same sex aggression, it is often not possible for a breeder to keep one gender, and thus, they hope for an excellent puppy of the opposite gender. Color can be a factor as certain colors are dominant and can limit a breeder’s options in future breedings. It is most often the last consideration, but still a consideration, nonetheless.

Some Considerations for Pet Homes
But most people aren’t looking for their next great show champion, they simply want a dog to love. Just because a puppy may not qualify for a show or breeding home does not mean that puppy is inferior in any way. Every puppy has great value, and first and foremost, every puppy deserves a great home.

Here Are Some Considerations That Every Family Should Think on Before Selecting the Right Puppy for Their Home

When selecting a puppy for your home, it is important to consider your lifestyle. Though we often have good intentions and can select a breed based on looks thinking we will change to suit the breed, the reality is it next to never happens, and both the dog and the owner end up unhappy. Be honest with yourself and your breeder as to what time you have to give to a dog. You may discover that the breed needs more than you can truly offer, and you may be best selecting another breed that is better suited to your lifestyle.

If you are sold on your breed of choice, your breeder can direct you to the puppy with the energy level that is going to be the perfect fit for your household. If you love going for daily runs, you might not want the shy puppy who sleeps all the time.  If you like to spend your evenings relaxing on the sofa with a good book, the puppy who is bouncing off the walls and running circles around the others might be better left for a different family.

Exercise requirements
All puppies need regular exercise, but some need more than others. A fenced yard is a wonderful thing, but in and of itself, it is not sufficient to meet the needs of a busy puppy or adult dog. When looking at a litter of puppies, it is important to watch how they interact with the other puppies. If you live a highly active lifestyle, a high drive puppy may be the perfect fit for you. However, if you work long hours or live in an apartment building, the lower energy puppy might be a better fit. It is never, NEVER a good idea to select a puppy with the intent to become more active to meet the needs of the puppy. That is quickest route to frustration for you and your dog.

Other pets
If you have other pets in your home, it is important to consider how the new canine addition will affect them. If one of the puppies in the litter seems to have high prey drive and you have a cat, that puppy might not be the ideal choice for your home. Often, breeders will encourage you to bring your dog to meet the puppy or to introduce them on neutral ground to ensure all goes smoothly when transitioning to the new home.

Likewise, It Is Often Best to Place a Male in a Home with a Female and vice Versa.

Expenses involved
It is important to consider ahead of time just how much money it will cost to meet the needs of your new canine pal. Large dogs generally require much more when it comes to food, and even medications, which must be administered in larger doses, are more costly. These are important factors to weigh out prior to selecting your puppy.

Personality matters, particularly in homes with multiple pets. If you have a female dog who rules the roost, bringing home another female who is equally as bossy could lead to disaster. Carefully consider each member of your home and what type of personality will blend well with the existing personalities therein.

Notice that nowhere on this list do looks make an appearance. Though people are often drawn to the looks of a particular puppy, selecting a puppy on the basis of his appearance can end very badly for everyone involved. Looks and color should be of little importance when making this most important decision. To this end, some breeders do not allow puppy buyers to “choose” their own puppy. Instead, they screen their puppy buyers exceptionally well then select the correct puppy for the home for the buyer. This is often the very best thing as the breeder has spent the most time with each puppy and knows which one will fit best into which home.

All puppies require regular grooming, and adult dogs require even more care in that department. If you don’t care to spend an hour a night brushing out the coat of a Standard Poodle to prevent matting or handstripping a rough-coated terrier, you might prefer to look for a dog with less coat for you to have to manage.

Yes, selecting a puppy can be a difficult task! For best results, be honest with your breeder about your lifestyle and your hopes for a puppy. Your breeder can be your very best resource in helping you find the perfect fit for your home!



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