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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your First Puppy

How to choose your new best friend in a way that sets you up for a lifetime of happy dog companionship and fun.

Imagine the advice you would give to a (human) friend who was choosing a partner for life based only on their online chat, or their first date.  I’m sure you’d urge caution.  However, recent Kennel Club research shows that this is exactly what one in four new puppy owners did this year. Each spent less than 2 hours doing any research at all.

We see hundreds of new puppy owners every year and we love the training we do over those first 24 months to develop the bond, skills and joy of having a happy pet dog.  The more time you spend considering who will be the best puppy for you the more fun, excitement and joy you’ll have over the lifetime you spend together

With that in mind let’s #BePuppyWise and get started on choosing your perfect puppy.

  1. Why do you want a puppy?
  2. What is home to you?
  3. How do you spend your time?
  4. Who is the perfect puppy for you?
  5. How to choose a well bred puppy
  6. Spotting scams and puppy farms

Why do you want a puppy?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question!  Some choose a dog for companionship, some to be active, maybe you think it would be good for the kids, maybe you want a therapy dog, or you’re choosing a dog for protection.  Your motivation for wanting a puppy though will help to guide you on the breed of dog that is best suited for you.  Wanting a cute handbag puppy and choosing a Great Dane would naturally cause a bit of a challenge!  

I asked my doggy owning friends why they wanted a puppy and we had all sorts of reasons from mountain adventures to snuggles and love.  For company or for cuteness. For getting out and about to staying in!  As individual as we all are, the puppy we choose will be just as unique.

Make a note of the reasons you want a puppy and how you imagine your life together. 

What is home to you?

Practically now, what is your home like?  Do you live in an apartment with no private outdoor space or on a hundred acre farm?  How much space is there for the puppy to sleep and have their own area?  Do you have expensive rugs and carpets in certain areas the puppy shouldn’t be allowed to pee on?  Is the garden secure?  Do you have lots of neighbours close by?

We are blessed in the UK that so many different versions of home exist.  Not only the physical space of the building but the variety in which we can fill that building with family.

So most importantly, who lives in your home?  This is a crucial part of choosing your puppy.  

Statistically the dog most likely to bite you is a dachshund, as a smaller mouthed breed they are not likely to cause huge injury if they do, but if grandma lives with you and is on blood thinners then that could cause challenges.  

Likewise Boxers are one of the most bouncy and friendly breeds but sharing space with mum who has osteoporosis and is a little frail on her feet could be a recipe for disaster as 25kg of energy bundles her over every morning.  

Do you have humans with allergies that would be happier with a hypoallergenic or low shedding breed.  Or simply someone who doesn’t really want to spend every waking moment cleaning up dog hair?

And a special mention on children under 10 years old.  All dogs find children under 10 a challenge to understand.  Yes they absolutely can be trained to live happily together in a family home as millions of dogs prove in the UK, but please be mindful.  

Children under the age of 10 tend to move unpredictably, make odd noises at varying volumes and take a lot of getting used to.  You need to consider the level of risk you are willing to introduce to a home with small children and we will cover this in detail in the section on how to choose the perfect puppy for you.

How much space do you have at home and who will your puppy interact with regularly?

How do you spend your time?

Let’s turn our attention to how you naturally spend your time.  Then what do you do on an average day?  If you are the sort to grab a rucksack and head off into the wilderness for days on end then an active breed will suit you best.  If you love nothing more than snuggling up on the sofa then maybe a greyhound is more your type.  

For this write out a typical weekly timetable.

Look at how often someone is in the house, what’s the maximum length of time there is no-one home?  Some dogs tolerate being on their own for longer periods than others, guard and herding breeds are typically quite independent.  Other breeds are like velcro and even leaving the room or going to the toilet causes anxiety!  

Again there really is no right or wrong answer, and there are enough breeds to cover all lifestyles, being honest about you now will help to choose your perfect companion.  Wanting to go on mountain adventures with a puppy who wants to snuggle up in front of the fire all day long will create a clash for you both.

One of my friends’ choice of breed was based on, “hypoallergenic, character and a little bit lazy.” another wanted “a dog to join us on big hikes.”  Both have the perfect dogs for them because they were realistic about what they already did with their life.

So Who is the perfect puppy for you?

Humans are pretty good at recognising our own diverse range of talents. We tend to notice if we’re an artistic type, athletic or a craftsman (among many other things we could mention). 

I am not a natural artist. And sure with a canvas and a paintbrush I could try really hard to recreate a work of art but it would always be a struggle. Incredibly frustrating at times and most likely it would knock my confidence when I repeatedly failed. I’m much happier playing to my natural strengths, it’s less stressful and much more fun. 

Our puppies feel exactly the same. 

It’s obvious to us that a human of the outdoor adventure adrenaline junkie type is going to find many challenges to overcome partnering with an introverted book lover who loves nothing more than a snuggle under the blanket. Of course there will be couples who buck the trend but out of thousands of happy couples we know they will be suited in more ways than they are different.  

As we set upon the journey to find our perfect puppy then we take the same approach. 

Taking all the questions we have answered above, who are we? And what are the natural talents we’re looking for in our best friend?  

We can draw breeds together in groups based on what they were bred for and their likely temperament which gives us a pretty good starting point.  There might be overlaps on certain points but we get a general feel for the personality of each breed from their grouping.

Your average Dachshund is less likely to bring down a wild bear than your average Akita.  

Our next step is to narrow down the possible breed groups that might work for us, the Kennel Club recognise 7 different breed groups;

  1. Gundogs focus on finding and retrieving things for their humans.
  2. Hounds are driven to hunt, track and chase prey.
  3. Pastoral breeds are happiest when they are herding and working with livestock.
  4. Toy breeds are your cute little guys who are perfect as lap dogs and showing off!
  5. Terriers want to go down holes and grab prey until it’s dead.
  6. Working breeds are your purposeful dogs that guard, pull sleds, do search and rescue work, support humans and often work as sniffer dogs too.
  7. Utility breeds are the all sorts bunch, they each have a specific purpose not covered by the other groups.

You may be instantly drawn to one of two of those descriptions and put off some too!  We all have our perfect match.  Most pet owners will be able to order these groups in terms of preference for their lifestyle.  You have then cut down your search for your pup by a long way!

While we are thinking about breed groups I want to go back to children under 10, they are the group of people most likely to be admitted to hospital after a dog bite for the simple reason children are the hardest type of humans for the dogs to understand.  

Dogs bite because they feel scared or threatened, stressed, poorly, playing or to protect themselves or their owners.  That is true regardless of the breed of dog.  Children can unintentionally cause these fears and worries and tend to be closer to the dogs mouth when they do, sitting on the floor, face at bite height.   

So in that situation which of the dog breed groups would you not want near your child?  

Terriers are designed to grab prey and not let go until that prey is dead.  That is the perfect thing for a terrier to do as pest control on a farm.  Not so much if they turn their attention to the toddler on the living room floor.  

Now there are a lot of environmental, genetic and training factors that contribute to dog bites and not all terriers will bite all children but the statistics show that when they do the consequences can be tragic.  

Remember even the most loving soft mouthed dog has the capacity to cause serious injury given the wrong circumstances, that’s one reason why choosing your puppy carefully matters so much.   

A little less heavy, let’s look at some common mismatch couplings that land dogs in rescue centres and how you can avoid that when choosing your puppy.

Utility, working and pastoral dogs without a job to do make up the biggest proportion of breeds who end up in rescue centres.   Japanese Akitas gained popularity as pets over the last decade for their stunning looks, the Doberman, Rotties and German Shepherd have been long standing choices for guarding and the border collie is smart and intelligent.  Take these breeds away from a focused and working lifestyle though and they start to use their skills in the home and with the family.

The natural talents of these dogs need an outlet way beyond that of the average family home.  

I’ve seen a German Shepherd chew through walls because they are bored even in busy households with someone home all day!  Collies are known to herd family members, or other pets when they don’t have enough of an outlet for their talents and they need a big outlet!  The reason they end up in rescue centres is people massively underestimate the amount of brain stimulation and physical exercise they need.  Akitas are designed to bring down prey like the black bear so naturally have difficulty settling into snuggles on the sofa.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are one of the most frequent visitors to the rescue kennels.  Although they are often loyal and loving pets they frequently get picked up as fighting dogs or a status symbol and those are two very good reasons NOT to choose a dog!  Sadly they are often considered an accessory rather than a partner for life and are disposed of by owners as easily they buy a new pair of trainers.

Ex-racing Greyhounds often look for new homes on their retirement and can make a wonderful and relaxed family pet. The challenge is helping them settle into that retirement, much like people!  They may still enjoy good games of chase and need lots of support as they learn a more relaxed way of life.

All of these breeds are simply doing what they were designed to do and show the same frustration we would in the same situation.  Imagine that artist being asked to never create anything ever again and do maths for 8 hours a day instead. 

Of course if you are an active household who wants to spend a few hours a week training and doing enrichment activities like pet gun dog training, agility, scentwork or obedience rally then you can replace the outlet for those drives and all is well.

Now we have an idea of breed groups. It’s time to look in detail at each of the breed’s natural talents and turn that into a matching puppy profile.  As we do grab a summary of what you’ve decided on so far and think about what that means for the puppy you choose, your list might look something like this.

Reasons I / we want a puppy

  • Snuggles and companionship so our puppy should be friendly and want human company.
  • Long walks at the weekend so our puppy should be active and energetic.

My / our home is

  • Busy so our puppy should come from a breeder with a busy family home and be good with strangers.
  • Has lot’s of secure outdoor space so we are not restricted on size of breed.

I / we spend our time

  • Mostly at home so our puppy doesn’t need to be too independent or tolerate long periods of being alone.
  • Doing lots of outdoors / water activities so our puppy should be easy to clean and groom and be active.

Head over to the Kennel Club Breed Standards and you’ll find all the recognised breeds listed in their groups.  There you’ll get information on the General Appearance, Characteristics and Temperament of each breed.

The family favourite Labrador Retriever belongs to the gundog group and is described as “Intelligent, keen and biddable, with a strong will to please. Kindly nature, with no trace of aggression or undue shyness.”  You’ll also discover they love water, are devoted and agile with a good temperament.  You can see why they are a family favourite! 

Reading through the breed descriptions you’ll start to decide who sounds like your perfect breed.  You’re very nearly ready to look for your puppy!

How to choose a well bred puppy

Temperament and health of a dog start when the puppy is still in the womb.  In fact by the time your puppy comes to you at 8 weeks much of their adult potential is already mapped out!  So we need to make sure that we choose a well bred puppy.

First up let’s focus on the breeder you choose, they should be in the type of environment that matches your home.  So if you live in a busy household with lots of children then go for a breeder who lives in a busy household with lots of children.

That’s because between the ages of 3 – 5 weeks anything a puppy experiences goes in their ‘safe’ library.  So standard household noise, children shouting, TV on, all that normal household stuff is automatically labeled as safe by puppy.  

In contrast if your breeder lives in the middle of nowhere and is alone and silent in the house and decided to have the litter of pups in the garage so it was quiet then when puppy comes to you all the usual hustle and bustle of your home has to be worked out.  

By then puppy is actively sorting things into safe or scary and that can be the difference between a confident happy pup or a dog that is so reactive you spend the rest of your life trying not to get pulled over as he strains at the leash to warn off every other dog, human and squirrel he sees.

Trust your gut.  If it feels wrong for you then walk away.

You can reach out to your local community, training clubs or doggy related world and ask who they would recommend as a breeder, the best ones often don’t have to advertise because they already have waitlists.

Next up is puppys’ biological parents (obviously you are the adoptive parents!) Mum should always be seen with the puppy and never accept any reasons why that cannot be done.  Walk away from that breeder.  Good breeders will happily talk to you about mums temperament and characteristics and you can ask why they chose the stud dog too.  You’re looking for parents that have the same temperament and characteristics that you want in your adult dog.  

Plus you want to know about the parents health too, every breed has recognised faults that are known to cause issues, parents should have been tested for those according to the breed and the paperwork should be available to prove that.  Kennel club assured breeders will also have history available of the pedigree and lineage and will be more than happy to boast, I mean, share that with you!  It’s also been shown that purchasing a puppy from an assured breeder can save up to 20% off vets bills over the life of your puppy.

Expect to be grilled or questioned by the breeder!  This is a sign of a breeder who knows what they are doing, you should feel like you’re at a job interview!  Remember this breeder has spent weeks caring for these puppies and a breeder focused on the health and wellbeing of their dogs will care about who the potential adoptive parents are.  

If you get the impression you are being ‘sold to’ then you definitely want to check out the scams and puppy farm section below.

Spotting scams and puppy farms

Sadly we do have a situation in the UK where puppy farms are too common and 46% of puppy farm dogs are seriously ill or die before their first birthday.  These do exactly what they say on the tin and breed in high quantities for profit, at the detriment to the mothers and puppies.

A mum who is stressed, lonely, scared and ill handled will have created a cocktail of stress hormones during pregnancy that will alter a puppy for life.  Those puppies will never have been socialised and puppy farm dogs who do survive past their first birthday are more likely to be reactive, aggressive and suffer ill health for the rest of their life.

Believe me, I do understand the urge to save these puppies and the temptation to buy them so that they are no longer suffering.  I urge you, if you feel that way to report any suspicious adverts, breeders or puppy farms to the RSPCA and allow the full force of the law to be applied to those who engage in this cruel practice.  Lining their pockets with cash will not do that.

Here’s what and who to avoid;

  • Anything you like offers.  If the person seems to have access to a range of breeds, colours, sex of puppy they are running a puppy shop and are not a breeder.  This is not Primark, you don’t get to choose, a healthy litter comes out as nature intended not as you design it!
  • Someone who knows very little about the breed. Proper breeders will know everything about their beloved dog and the breed.  A person who seems to only know a few soundbites and can’t talk at length about the breed is to be avoided.
  • Pay now collect later / free delivery.  Again, this is not a shopping channel or mail order service type of purchase!  Your breeder should welcome you to visit multiple times even if the puppy is old enough to go home already.  They will not ask for cash up front before the first visit as a deposit and no quality breeder in their right mind will ‘meet you halfway’ or courrier the puppy to you!
  • Scared or worried looking dogs.  If mum or puppies are anything other than excited to see you then it’s cause for concern.  The dogs know what they’ve experienced and they will be communicating that to you.  A loving breeder will have spent time feeding, caring for and socialising the puppies with humans and mum will be relaxed around people too.  So if the puppies run and hide, look startled or scared, report the situation to the RSPCA and walk away.

Always trust your gut, and if you are in any doubt then report what you see.  That slightly off feeling you get might not be enough but if 15 people in a week have the same feeling and it’s reported hundred of dogs could be saved by you.

Phew!  That was a LOT to go through, I guess it’s why we called it the ultimate guide!  We absolutely believe every second of consideration is worth it though.  When choosing our first puppy we were around 5 months from the ‘yes it’s time’ to bringing the little fluff ball home.  Every moment since has been an adventure and I’ve loved so much since that day.  

If you’re wondering what happens from the day you bring a puppy home then grab instant access to our Puppy Foundation pack here.