What to look out for when choosing your puppy

Tip One From the Expert: Puppy Personality
From the series 10 Tips on How to Form a Lifelong Bond with your Dog

Behaviour is a complex expression of both nature (genetics) and nurture (the environment your dog grows up in), so there’s a lot to think about before your puppy is even born. This is how I explain it:

Let’s take a behavioural trait: reactivity (how reactive your dog is to certain things?). 0 is the most chilled out, laid back dog ever and 10 is a dog that freaks out and reacts excessively to everything (other dogs, men with beards, the wind, shadows, the lot).


The impact of genetics is why the first and most important choice you make will be which puppy to take home. Most people know how important it is to see one, or preferably, both parents. This is not just to get a feel for the breeder and whether your new arrival has had a good start in life, it’s also your opportunity to get some clues about what your puppy’s genetics are going to tell him to do.

Think about what he or she will have to cope with later? For example do you like exploring lots of places, do you have a very busy household, will he/she be left alone a lot, do you want to a particular sport? Make a list of your main aims together for the future.

Puppies all in a row

Questions to Ask

1.     How do Mum and Dad react in various situations (other dogs, strangers, being alone, children, fireworks), or whatever feels relevant to your life?

2.   Then make a list of the top three things you’d be looking for in your pup’s personality. For example, some people love bouncy, goofy puppies; some like brave and independent ones; some cuddly and loving. What is most important to you?

3.   Then ask the breeder if they had to describe Mum and Dad in three words, what would they say?

4.  Do their answers match your criteria?

Of course there are no guarantees, but this will give you vital clues without setting them up to say exactly what they think you want to hear.

Most importantly at this stage is the fact that you’re choosing a life partner – I doubt you’d pick someone on an Internet dating site without at least establishing if you have anything in common!

One of my former students Denise Nuttall, now a fully qualified behaviourist, has written a great article about choosing the right puppy for you which you can view here.

Look out for Tip Two covering the importance of early stage socialisation published next Friday.


Rachel Leather – Animal Behaviourist

For the last 12 years, Rachel has been helping others understand and manage the behaviour of dogs, cats and horses. After studying Psychology at Cardiff University, she went on to complete her Masters degree in animal behaviour at the University of Exeter. Rachel then ran a degree programme in Applied Animal Behaviour, teaching others the knowledge requirements to become a behaviourist, and set up a referral clinic to enable her students to gain practical experience of behaviour consultations. She enjoyed this so much that, although no longer lecturing, continues to see behaviour cases on referral from vets and runs CPD classes for vets and other professionals.

You can discover more about Rachel’s professional work here.

To discover more about the series please click here.