How To Pick A Puppy From A Litter – Detailed Guide

By: Ruth O'Neil

Getting a puppy is a momentous occasion. But how to pick from a litter of puppies clamoring for your affection? You look for specific characteristics and signs of good health.

Chances are you’ve already thought long and hard about the good times you and your K-9 friend will experience together. Perhaps you have a particular interest in a specific breed. You’ve decided on the coat type, size, temperament, and even a name. 

But reason goes out the window once you stand before the adorable litter and wagging tails. You’ve faintly heard the advice to let the puppy choose you. 

I’m the proud owner of two dogs at the moment and several others in the past, so I’ve been through this situation enough times to be able to give some humble advice. 

I’ll go through all the aspects you have to pay attention to, from physical appearance to personality. Keep reading. 

Choosing the Puppy That Is Right for You

Chances are you want to take them all home. After all, puppies melt our hearts instantly with their adorable faces and antics. 

When selecting a lifetime family member, a bigger question is, are you the right choice for the puppy? 

  • Do you have the time and patience to exercise and train
  • How about providing the basics like food and shelter
  • Do you have funds in reserve for medical expenses
  • Is the breed really the right companion for you 
  • Are you a better match for a female or male pup

Before you bend down and scoop up that special puppy, talk to the litter owner. Find out as much as you can about the litter.

  • How is their appetite
  • Are they eating kibble or wet food
  • Do the puppies have a healthy appetite
  • How is their stool? Hard or Diarrhea
  • Have they been dewormed (intestinal parasites)
  • What is each puppy’s temperament

Allow all these questions to rule your head. Watch the puppies move around in the enclosure. 

  • Is one puppy more active than the others
  • Is the shy one a better option
  • Do the personality traits mean they’ll require special attention and training
  • Does the puppy move on sturdy legs (all puppies can be a bit wobbly); notice any limping
  • Access the sheen on their coat and look for dull, flaking, balding, or sores

Once you have an overall impression of the litter, it’s time to narrow the choice. With some very in-demand breeds, getting the pick of the litter is challenging. You might only have the option of one or two puppies.


The Pick of the Litter and What to Look for?

Typically, once the initial meet and greet are over, some puppies lose interest in you. They’ll find the ear or tail of their siblings much more enjoyable. Others fall asleep on the spot or seek the safety of their mother.

Now is an excellent time to concentrate on one or two pups. Allow the inquisitive puppies to get to know you. While they chew on your shoe or finger, it’s time to pay special attention to their physical aspects.


A puppy should have clear, bright eyes. Look for traces of redness or drainage or even mucus buildup. A healthy puppy has healthy eyes. If there is a problem you’re worried about, ask the breeder to explain and if a veterinarian is managing the problem.


Once you can pry the puppy’s mouth off your finger, lift the dog’s lips and examine its gums. Everything about a healthy puppy should have a healthy pink tone. The puppy’s white fangs should be pearly white. The top and bottom should align well, except for some breeds that have notoriously pronounced overbites, like Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Pekingese, etc.). 

Checking a puppy’s teeth is essential. Misaligned teeth can be expensive to correct. However, for a proper assessment, you need a veterinarian.


Listen to the puppy breathe. It should breathe freely and without noise. It’s okay if there is some clear nasal fluid. If you suspect a problem ask the breeder.

Skull or Head

A puppy should have a well-balanced uniform shape to its head. Run your fingers over its skull and feel for the soft spot on its crown. It’s normal to have a small opening (smaller than a dime). The gap may be associated with open fontanelles if it is more prominent. Persistent open fontanelles can be a genetic issue in smaller breed dogs.


Regardless of size, ears should be free of odor or discharge. If a puppy persistently scratches or claws at its ear, it may have an infection, ear mites, or another issue that warrants an investigation. 


Gently roll the puppy over on its back and examine its pink belly. Examine gently and look for any protrusion near its naval. Some puppies have an umbilical hernia that requires surgical correction. A reputable breeder should offer to help pay for the treatment.

Skin and Hair

Healthy puppies have healthy skin and fur. Run your fingers through the puppy’s fur and look for hair loss, flaking, or skin abrasions and bumps.

Overall Stance

Puppies typically have an extended ribcage, which means they’re wider in the middle. Their heads are proportionate, and their legs might not always work together. Puppies with distended bellies might have bloat or parasitic infection. It’s crucial to have them examined by a vet right away.

Hopefully Your Prospective Puppies Are Awake or it May Be Tricky Telling Them Apart!


Alert and inquisitive puppies show good health. Withdrawn puppies might be tired from earlier activities or are more reserved than their litter mates. Some individuals are naturally attracted to outgoing pups.

Others feel a tug on their heartstrings at the sight of the forlorn pup in the corner. If your gut leads to one over the other, that’s a good thing. Just make sure to accept the consequences of both personality traits.

Regardless of how eager we are to bring the puppy home, it’s best to allow it to remain with its mother and litter mates until they’re eight weeks old.

Even if you’re completely smitten with a puppy’s personality from that first meeting, it’s not written in stone. There’s no personality test that you can conduct to get an accurate image of your future dog’s temperament. 

Healthy socializing and training, plenty of exercise, and activity are the best tools to shape your dog’s personality. Some people believe that if they roll a puppy onto their back and it responds by staying docile and calm, it’s an easygoing puppy. If it resists staying on its back, it might develop into an independent dog.

First Vet Appointment

Deciding on a puppy is a big moment. It’s always wise to agree with your breeder to have the potential pup examined by a vet. These pre-purchase exams allow you up to 72 hours to have the puppy examined by a vet. It’s a great opportunity if it is a good fit for other family members, including furry ones.

The veterinarian will conduct a thorough exam of the key points highlighted above. They’ll perform a complete physical assessment of the heart, abdomen, lymph nodes, hernias, and open fontanelles, weight, teeth and discuss or update the vaccine schedule.

Further, your vet will look for fleas, ticks, parasites, and overall condition. 

Tip: Prepare and write down questions you might have before the visit and exam. Chances are you’ll forget many questions in the excitement of bringing a puppy to the clinic.

Preparing the Home for the Puppy

Bring a towel or blanket when you’re ready to bring the puppy home. Allow the puppy’s mother and litter mates to scent the cloth as a reminder of home. It will help make the transition easier.

Have someone sit with the puppy in the car or bring a carrier to secure the pup. You’ll need an old towel and wipe-ups if you’re allowing the dog to ride on the seat. There’s a pretty good chance the puppy will have an accident.

For long rides, make a pit stop. Bring food and water and a harness and leash.

At Home

Introduce your new addition to the home gradually. Schedule regular potty breaks (30 -45 minute intervals). Don’t allow your puppy full reign of the house. It’s overwhelming and will lead to accidents.

Prepare a dog bed or kennel—most dogs like enclosed spaces. A kennel keeps them from harm and ruining precious family carpets and flooring.

If you switch dog food brands, allow the puppy’s delicate stomach to adjust by introducing new food gradually.

Make sure that the puppy has access to clean water.

At bedtime, make the puppy comfortable and bring his family-scented bedding (towel or blanket). Play soft music to keep it company. Don’t expect a good night’s rest. You need to get up with your puppy several times to allow them to relieve themselves. Remember, their bowels and bladder have yet to develop fully. 

Parting Thoughts

You are so lucky to experience the joy of puppyhood. Choosing a puppy is a fun event, but be prepared.

Ensure that you and the puppy are a good match. If you’re active, get a dog that can match your outdoor lifestyle. If you prefer staying at home, many dog breeds like to lounge on the sofa with you.

How to pick a puppy from a litter isn’t difficult when you have some solid advice to follow. Mostly, enjoy the experience.

Photo of author


Ruth O'Neil
Owner of two bouncy Cockapoos, Jasper and Harley. whose energy knows no bounds!

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