Okay, so you’ve settled on a breed, and you’ve found a couple responsible breeders and/or shelters with litters to choose from. You go to look at a litter, but you have 4, 6, or more individuals to choose from. How do you decide who to bring home?
Let’s look first at gender. Is a male or a female the better fit for you? Many people already have a preference, and that is fine. Take a look at the breeds you’ve chosen to see if there tend to be differences in gender for that breed. For instance, many people say that male Labs tend to be sweeter than female Labs, where as in other breeds the female may be more assertive than the males! Females are thought to be easier to housebreak in general, but really that is often because of the marking instinct of intact males. This means your neutered male may be just as easy to housebreak as your neighbor’s female, and oh by the way, your intact female may also mark (and draw in intact males from the entire neighborhood when she’s in heat!).
One true gender trend is that males tend to be larger than females in almost every breed. Neutering (for males) is generally a little cheaper than spaying (for females), and males tend to recover much more quickly. In fact, I’ve known many males who don’t even appear to notice that anything is missing after their neuter (though to be fair, I’ve also seen a few females that match this model. A trend is, in fact, only a trend)!
Regardless of whether you choose male or female, you need to realize that there tend to be some changes if you do “fix” your dog. No, your spayed female or neutered male is not doomed to get fat (unless you over-feed and under-exercise), but neutering generally decreases aggression in males and spaying tends to reduce mood swings in females. Because of the pet overpopulation crisis, I would highly recommend neutering and spaying any puppy who is not a purebred bought specifically to continue the line (and even then they should be exceptional individuals of that breed, and in the hands of an experienced and super-responsible breeder!). Add to this that by fixing your dog you also eliminate the chances of certain cancers and reduce the likelihood of some behavior problems (marking and running, for instance), and to me it’s a no brainer. But I digress.
In choosing an individual, you need to think about if you have any dogs already at home, or dogs which the puppy will be playing with often. If so, you will want to pick a dog that is compatible with the dogs you already have. If you have a couple of rough and tumble dogs at home, think twice about bringing home that sweet but shy little one! Sometimes you can bring out the resident dogs to meet the new arrival so you can see if they hit it off. If at all possible, jump on this chance! It will give you invaluable information!
When looking at inter-dog relations, many people want to know what combination of dogs won’t fight. In truth, males will fight males, females will fight females, and males and females will also fight. It all depends on the circumstances. In general, however, the fights between female and female tend to do the most damage and be the most furious.
In some cases, all the other pups will be chosen, and your choice is easy. In other cases, your choices seem endless. Rather than picking a puppy based on appearance, I would urge you to pick a puppy based on personality. Which pup’s personality will work best in your home? Which will mesh best with your lifestyle and your personality?
Some trainers believe that the ideal puppy personality for an individual is a personality similar to their own. If you are a socially-sensitive person, you may want a socially-sensitive puppy. If you are confident and self-assertive, you may enjoy a similarly confident pup. It is rare for a nervous, shy puppy to enjoy a loud, boisterous home, and it is equally rare for a boisterous pup to be handled well by a shy, timid person.
For a light-hearted look into personalities, try reading Dogology, by Vicki Croke and Sarah Wilson. For the more serious and specifically minded, I would recommend a temperament (or aptitude) test. The most important part of any aptitude test is to be careful not to hurt or scare the pup. You want to test the puppies, ideally, around 7 weeks of age.
Perhaps the most popular aptitude test is the Volhard Aptitude test, which has been around for a long time. You can read through the test here. It was designed by Joachim and Wendy Volhard. This involves tests for sociability, will to follow, acceptance of restraint, social and elevation dominance, retrieving, touch, sight, and sound sensitivity, and also a startle test.
Be aware that temperament testing only predicts behavior. Since training and socialization also impact the later personality of the grown dog, there is no guarantee in temperament testing. It is only designed to be a tool to help you decide on an individual who is most likely to fit your needs and desires.
How did you choose your last puppy?