At a breeder: “When you are introduced to the litter, sit down in a chair, not on the floor, and observe the puppies,” says Kellyann Conway, director of animal training and behavior for PetFinder.com, an online database of adoptable animals. While the first puppy that comes bounding over may seem full of spunk, he may prove to be a difficult pet. “You want a little hesitation, especially if you are looking for a family pet,” says Conway. “The puppy that immediately runs over might be too assertive and test boundaries when he grows up.” On the other hand, a puppy that hides in shyness or cowers in the corner won’t be a good match, either, especially for a social family. “You want a dog confident enough to come over and say hello,” says Conway.
Note, too, how the puppies interact with one another. You don’t want the puppy that pushes his siblings around, or the runt. Often, when a runt is taken out of the environment where he is bullied, he can become overly extroverted.
Next, get on the floor. Look for puppies that interact with you. Some will be more assertive, pulling on your hair and tugging at your clothes. If the puppy’s behavior makes you uncomfortable, “go with that feeling,” says Conway. When you think you have narrowed down the selection, get some alone time with that puppy.
At a shelter: Here you may not see a whole litter, just one or two puppies. (Puppies generally get adopted quickly, so if you’re looking for one, call your local shelter and put your name on the waiting list.) Conway is in favor of adopting an older dog (four months and up) so you can look for attributes that wouldn’t be obvious in infancy: approximately how large the dog will be, how much exercise he requires, what his general level of energy is. Once you’ve made your selection, spend time alone with him, at least 10 to 15 minutes, to see if he can relax with you.