How to Pick a Puppy From a Litter? (Explained Step By Step)

How To Pick A Puppy From A Litter? Photo of a puppy litter.

Picking a puppy from a litter of adorable and identical puppies is so hard! Here are some tips to make it easier for the right pick.

Picking the right puppy from a litter means doing your research rather than going just by cuteness level.

Which ones seem to be playful and attentive? Which ones appear to be off by themselves? Do the puppies all have gunk-free eyes and a healthy, shiny coat? These are indicators of healthy, happy, and well-socialized puppies.

The right choice for a healthy adoption will rely on these kinds of details! More below.

How to pick a puppy from a litter: step by step

In the movies, the potential adoptive parent always instinctively picks the right puppy just by a gut sense, but real, successful pet parents should go by facts instead!

Picking the right puppy is as much about understanding the good signs from the bad as it is about which one “seems” best. Here is a step-by-step process to help you choose correctly.

  1. Sit back and observe them
  2. Take a look at their physical health
  3. Pick up each one and check their reactivity
  4. Be wary of the overly shy or enthusiastic puppies
  5. Ask your breeder questions as needed
  6. Consider a vet check-up

1. Sit back and observe them

Most of us want to run right into the middle of a pile of puppies and play with them all immediately. However, one of the best things you can do is observe them from a distance first.

They’ll forget you’re there in 30 seconds and will go about their normal activities. This gives you a chance to see how they play, how vocal they are, and even any potential health issues.

Being the “fly on the wall” helps you get a sense of each puppy’s personality, too, which will help you narrow in on which ones you do (or don’t) want right away.

However, don’t choose just based on this. There are a few more steps to focus on!

2. Take a look at their physical health

While you are observing and in the next step, you’ll want to ask about and observe their physical health.

Do any seem to have gunky eyes? Are any of them lethargic? Do some seem to be avoiding eating food? 

Don’t forget to take a look at tier physical traits, too. The most significant indicators that something isn’t quite right (other than the mentioned eye gunk) include excessive sneezing and a lackluster coat. 

Any or all of these aren’t dealbreakers, to be clear, but they are indicators that the puppies are fighting off some sort of illness or perhaps nutrition concern that you’ll want to ask the breeder or puppy owner about!

You have a right and a responsibility to ask for this information, so ask away. 

3. Pick up each one and check their reactivity

After you’ve checked them out physically, pick up every single one and see how they react to you.

Most will be slightly squirmy at first, which is normal, but they’ll calm down after 30 seconds or so and will simply hang out with you.

Do this a few ways to be sure that they are reacting correctly. The top ways to do this include:

  • Placing (and keeping) the puppies on your lap
  • Putting the puppy on their back on your lap or cradling like a newborn
  • Putting a puppy up by your face (nose to nose) 

These different handling/placement techniques will help you get a feel for their personality.

Those who struggle continuously for 1-2 minutes with no signs of calming down won’t be a good match for you.

Neither will be the ones that simply let you do whatever you want them to with no fuss at all, even at first. 

Healthy puppies will initially put up a tiny fight to being handled and manipulated, but then will relax after 30 seconds to 1 minute when they see that it’s good and not harmful.

This is a healthy blend of trust and curiosity rather than fear or simple submission.

4. Be wary of the overly shy or enthusiastic puppies

Most movies and books will show the protagonist choosing the puppy that is simply unstoppable and running around everywhere or the overly shy one in the corner that is neglected and forlorn. 

Both of these are a sign of something a little off. For instance, overly enthusiastic ones that simply never stop will be high-energy dogs that will require constant attention and a firm, experienced hand.

Shy and forlorn puppies will need a lot of TLC to help them come out of their shell.

You can absolutely take on either or both o these puppies if you wish, but the whole point is to make sure that you know what you’re getting into, and you aren’t just choosing them because they catch your attention.

It’s essential to match puppy to personality. We’ll talk about this more in detail later, too! 

5. Ask your breeder questions as needed

Many feel that they can’t ask their breeder or puppy owner questions about diet, health, personalities, etc.

However, you need to push that aside and ask those questions that you need to be answered. Write them down, too.

Anyone in the business of selling puppies will be expecting these questions and will be ready for them. They’ll want to make sure that the puppies go to good homes, too, after all!

6. Consider a vet check-up

If something is bugging you, or you just want to be as sure as possible that you are buying a healthy puppy, consider taking them to the vet.

While most breeders will have a complete vet profile available for you, you can get them checked out by a vet that you know and trust, too.

If any don’t allow this, then be very careful — there might be a reason why!

All of these steps will help you ensure that you are bringing home a puppy from a litter that will fit best into your lifestyle and your home.

While there is no such thing as a sure thing, the right information and detail will undoubtedly help make a difference that you can count on!

Photo of a puppy litter

Which puppy should I get from the litter?

Other than the steps listed above, one of the best things you can do is make your decision over time.

It’s not uncommon for people to “sleep on” the decision for puppies and don’t feel pressured into agreeing to something if it doesn’t feel right or because you think all of the puppies will be gone by tomorrow.

This is a selling tactic sometimes used, and remember — there will always be more puppies.

How do you pick the biggest puppy in a litter?

If you want a big dog to come into your family, you’ll want to add that into your step-by-step criteria when choosing.

Ask for the weight and length of each puppy from the breeder and explain why you want to know.

Another indicator that shows size is their paws! Those with abnormally large paws will often “grow into them” as they age!

Is it bad to get the last pick of the litter?

Sometimes going with the last pick of the litter means that previous buyers didn’t want that puppy.

It could be for something like personality or even looks. It might be something to do with health, too.

If you have the last pick of the litter, you’ll want to be extra careful in looking at the steps above — particularly the one about the vet check-up!

How do I pick the right litter?

Choosing the suitable litter of puppies itself mostly comes down to the parent’s health and the litter owner’s reputation.

People will buy puppies from their neighbors down the street all the time, but it doesn’t always work out in their favor.

When in doubt, you can ask your vet for tips on choosing a litter, too!

What is the best age to choose a puppy from a litter?

The best age to get your perfect puppy is from 6 weeks to 8 weeks. They are mobile, relatively independent, and ready to start bonding at this age.

This bonding stage will form a relationship with their new pack (you) rather than their littermates.

Most experienced breeders won’t allow pet owners to take home their puppies until they are lat east 8-9 weeks old, which is an excellent thing.

Taking puppies from their litter too early can cause long-term health problems, including separation anxiety. 

When puppies are 2-3 weeks old, this is where their personalities start to come out. Dominance versus submission starts to be observable, too.

During weeks 3-4, puppies will start to become more mobile and learn how to begin to play. This is also the stage where many can start to notice abnormalities in their movements, etc.

Then, weeks 5-6 will be where puppies move from their cute newborn stage to their young puppy stage. This is where breeders will notice any last-minute needs for their health, and potential adopters will be able to quite literally “take their pick” when it comes to watching for those steps, as mentioned above.

Every moment, from week 2 to week 9+, will be important for their development. However, the best age to get your perfect puppy is going to be from weeks 6-8!

Red flags when picking out a puppy

Other than the mentioned guidance terms above, some of the potential red flags to watch for when it comes to choosing your puppy include:

  • The puppies smell bad
  • The den/whelping area is dirty and unkempt
  • The breeder is sketchy or uncommunicative
  • The breeder won’t answer questions or allow you to handle them
  • The price seems strange (low or high)

Picking out a puppy is never guaranteed, of course, but these red flags will help you avoid heartbreak if you are dealing with someone who is trying to take your money and/or potentially sell puppies that they aren’t even caring for. 

How to pick out a puppy with a good temperament

When you’re hunting for a puppy with an overall good temperament, this is where step 1 is going to be important!

Sitting back and seeing how they interact with each other will help you immediately eliminate a few options that are too hyper or aggressive, etc.

From there, you’ll want to do the reactivity test we talked about above. A good temperate puppy to adjust to you handling them within a minute or two and should be comfortable with playing with you, too. 

This will be the same process as when you are looking for a calm puppy. A calm one will quiet down faster than a good-natured puppy.

Just make sure that you don’t go too far in the other direction and get one that doesn’t react to, well, anything.

What should I know about my breeder picking a puppy from a litter?

If you are dealing with a situation where the breeder will pick the puppy from a litter, you’ll find this works better than using your own judgment!

These professionals know what questions to ask and how to apply the answers to the right puppy. Just make sure that you answer ht questions honestly.

They won’t disqualify you from adopting a puppy if you say that you work 8-hour days, after all.

When they pick out your puppy, go to meet them several times throughout their developmental weeks. This will help you get a sense of them.

Ask your breeder for feedback on why they chose them. If you don’t like the puppy that they chose for you, explain why and see how they handle the situation. 

Of course, check out the breeder before you go to meet any puppies.

We are all swayed by the cuteness effect, which will impact your decision. Only see those breeders that are reputable and professional. Otherwise, you might miss some potential red flags.

On a final note

Picking a healthy and happy puppy will be about understanding what makes them that way when meeting the litter for the first time.

You’ll need to pay attention to details like their movement, their fur, and other health indicators, their social interaction, their reaction and temperament to you, and the breeder’s recommendation, if applicable.

There is a lot of detail that goes into picking the right puppy!

Picking a puppy from a litter isn’t just about gut instinct and your love of the one with black ears. You need to factor in details like health, personality, temperament, and more.

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Andre Neves

Hi, I'm Andre and I'm the owner of Sula the Border Collie. I love writing about this amazing dog breed here. I joined the Council to be able to reach and educate more people on the joy of having a pet dog.