How to pick out a puppy with a good temperament

Puppies conjure up lovely images. We sit on the sofa running our hands through their coat, take leisurely walks in the park, and laugh at how clumsy and funny they are. 

Seldom does a puppy conjure up images of poop and wee in our living room, holes all over the lawn, and destroyed objects. Before acquiring a puppy, we need to consider the entire package.

What you should do when choosing a puppy

First, it’s a good idea, if you can, to learn as much as possible about your favorite breed before purchasing. 

Time and again, people buy a puppy because a breed looks gorgeous, but pay little attention to whether the dog’s temperament and needs are compatible with their own personality and lifestyle.

Best to decide first whether the breed you like stands a chance of being compatible with your lifestyle. 

Search the internet for information on your favorite breed; visit dog shows and talk to breeders and owners of your favorite breed, or read books on specific dog breeds. 

Do your research before buying a puppy.

Through repeated exposure to other animals, people, objects and situations, and through proper training, your dog can be a fine companion but his inherited characteristics will still dictate much of what he does.

Puppy Considerations

Exercising a dog 

If you’re a sporty type by all means buy yourself the Weimaraner, Dalmatian, or Labrador you have been dreaming of. 

However, if you are a couch potato, you might be better off with a breed with lower exercise needs such as the English Bulldog or Yorkshire Terrier.

Coat texture and shedding 

Will you be comfortable living with dog hair on the carpet and furniture, or will the sight of it drive you into a cleaning frenzy? 

If you don’t mind the hair, get the German Shepherd you’ve been longing for. 

If you worry about the hair, look for breeds that don’t shed much, such as the Poodle, Schnauzer (any of the three sizes – miniature, standard or giant), or Chinese Crested Dog.

 As a guide, curly-coated and wire-haired breeds are a wise choice if you are worried about shedding.

Brushing and Combing 

 Do you have the time to brush and comb your Afghan Hound’s coat every day, or will you feel more comfortable brushing your Boxer’s coat once a week?


Are you prepared to have your Border Collie chase your children and friends, and nip ankles as it attempts to round them up? 

Would you, perhaps, be happier with a Golden Retriever that’s less likely to be obsessed with herding everything that moves? 

I’m not saying that if you have small children you shouldn’t get a certain breed, although some breeds are better with children than others. 

Regardless of the breed you choose, children and dogs should never be left alone together without supervision.

Choosing a Dog from a Rescue Home

You may consider adopting a dog from a rescue organization. Dogs end up in such places for a variety of reasons. 

Their owners may no longer be able or willing to care for them, or they may be unable to cope with bad habits their dogs have developed. 

Other dogs may have been rescued from abusive and or neglectful owners, or simply taken off the streets as strays.

If he's a stray, they will not know the dog’s full history - but they should be able to tell you what they know about him based on their observations of his conduct in the shelter.

 They don't give dogs with serious problems (aggression, being the worst example) for adoption. 

They neuter or spay, vaccinate, and make sure the dogs are relatively healthy, before re-homing them. 

They also have enough staff and volunteers to provide the dogs with exercise and fun.

Good rescue centers know their dogs intimately. They know if a certain dog likes children, can jump fences, whether it is likely to get along with other pets, is a rough player, or has any bad habits. 

They will tell you all they know about the rescue dog you're interested in. They will also ask questions to make sure you and the dog are a good match.

The better the match between you and the dog you want to adopt, the fewer problems you’re likely to have. However, there are important points to consider before adopting:

  • Don’t adopt a dog on impulse, out of pity. Be sure the rest of the family wants him.

  • Find out as much as you can about him.

  • A shelter environment is stressful, so the dog may take a few weeks to settle in his new home. He may take a couple of months to reveal his real temperament.

  • Stray or abused dogs may have a difficult time adjusting to the new home because they have to learn to trust the owners. It’s common, initially, for them to show anxiety and attempt to run away.

  • Some abused dogs never overcome their traumas, and may have fear-related problems for the rest of their lives.

Many of the organizations will take the necessary steps to ensure the adoption is successful (careful screening of future owners, and matching the right dog with the right family). 

But some are overcrowded and can be tempted into giving dogs away to make room for others in need. 

See rescue dog problems for more information on issues related to rescuing a dog.

In line with good rescue centers are foster homes. This is where the rescue dogs are placed with temporary owners who care for them until they go to a permanent home.

 This is a more intimate relationship that allows the foster owner to really get to know the dog and his characteristics and to be better able to assess whether he is a good match with a potential new owner.

All rescue organizations have a common desire, to find homes for their dogs. 

This shouldn't cloud better judgment, but in many cases it does. Ultimately, the dog is the one that suffers - being returned to the shelter, or worse . . . abandoned.

If you live in an area where the rescue centers isn't all you would like it to be, don’t be discouraged from adopting a dog. But be cautious. 

Aggression is the number one problem that is masked, because it shows itself in many forms. It becomes your job to recognize a potentially aggressive dog. This is what to look out for:

  1. The dog may bare his teeth; growl loudly; the hair stands; the ears strain forward; the tail is still and held high over the back. He may stand his ground, or lunge when you get close to the kennel. This dog is likely to become possessive of territory in a new home.  
  2. He may bare his teeth; growl softly; crouch; put his tail down between his back legs; back away into a corner as you approach. This is a dog that tends to bite out of fear.
  3. There are a few dogs sharing a kennel; they all approach at the same time; one dog bites another. This is a sign the dog is likely to attack another pet while competing for access to something or someone. 
  4. The dog is eating. As you approach the kennel, he takes a swift look at you and starts eating faster. This is a potential food guarder – a dog that may bite if you approach or touch him while he’s eating.
  5. Toss the dog a toy or bone through the kennel gate. If he takes it and moves as far away from you as possible, he’s a potential resource guarder – a dog that takes possession of something, and may bite if anyone tries to remove it.
A kennel environment is always stressful, to a degree. Dogs often display behavior in them that they normally would not in a relaxed environment. 

The dog that acts aggressively, or shows signs of being potentially aggressive, may be laid back once settled in a permanent home. On the other hand, he may continue acting as he does in the kennel. 

This is a risk only you can decide is worth taking. Because living with an aggressive dog means keeping him under control for the rest of his life.

Buying a Puppy

Having chosen a breed that’s right for you, the question then arises: where to buy him?

There are easy options, such as pet shops and puppy farms, where breeding can occur on a large scale and dogs are frequently poorly bred and cared for; there are friends whose dog has had a litter, and finally there are dedicated breeders. 

If you are considering buying from a pet shop, and especially from a puppy farm, make inquiries first. 

Careless breeders often sell the runt of the litter – the weakest puppy – to a pet shop where the puppy remains until someone buys him.

Typically, this is an animal kept in isolation with little to do and which has had no company or attention. This sets the stage for a problematic dog later on.

A puppy farm may sell you a dog for a low price, but don’t be fooled. 

Puppy farms are about quantity, which means they breed dogs which can be physically and or temperamentally unsound and closely related to one another – for example, brother and sister or father and daughter. 

The result of careless breeding is often a puppy with such acute problems that putting him down is the only solution. 

Dogs from puppy farms also tend to be physically ill, malnourished, and infested with internal and external parasites. 

Also, they’re usually removed from their mothers and litter-mates too soon, and miss learning important communication and social skills.

Acquiring your puppy from a friend or neighbor can be a good move, or go terribly wrong. 

Usually it goes well because these dogs tend to be house dogs and, therefore, are not socially neglected. That goes for the young puppies, too.
Typically, in a home, the puppy is fed properly, kept clean, and exposed to all types of unknown objects, sounds and situations. 

Also he will be mentally stimulated playing games and having access to toys. Medical care should also be provided. Another bonus is that you can get to know the dog’s parents. 

However, if the owners of the parents are careless with them, they are likely to be just as careless with the puppies; they may be socially and physically neglected. 

If one or both parents are physically beautiful but temperamental, this trait may be passed on to the puppies.

The option I recommend is to buy from a reputable breeder. Check with the Kennel club where dog breeders are registered. 

Ask for a list of breeders, but be alert: just because they are on the list doesn’t guarantee they are reputable and recommended – it merely means they are registered. 

Visit a number of breeders before acquiring your puppy; ask to see both parents, and at least the mother, and pay attention to her demeanor.

This is important because she may not know how to raise the puppies if she’s temperamentally unsound. 

She may become too aggressive when irritated by one of the puppies, or she may act anxiously around them. Many things can go wrong with the puppy, both in the short and long term, if the mother is unsuitable.

Besides becoming acquainted with the mother, ask questions. For example, if your chosen breed is prone to hip dysplasia – an abnormal development of the bone structure of the hip – ask if both parents and grandparents have tested negative for this condition. 

Check that the place is clean and ask if the dogs are mainly indoor or outdoor dogs. Ideally, they should be mainly indoor dogs. Now check that the puppies have been well cared for.

The following are signs to look for:

  • The eyes should be bright and free of discharge, and the ears should be clean. 

  • The area around the anus should be clean – dried residual faeces may indicate diarrhoea.

  • The puppy should be chubby but his stomach shouldn’t be bloated – a bloated stomach may indicate internal parasites.

  • The hair may not be shiny, but it should be free of dandruff, and the skin should look clean and not be scaly. If you run your fingers in the opposite direction to the one in which the hair grows, you shouldn’t find any external parasites.
Once you have identified, to the best of your ability, that the puppies are healthy, you’re ready to take your puppy home. 

A reputable breeder will appreciate your care and caution because that means his puppies are likely to have found responsible, caring owners.

The information on this website was written by Alexandra Santos a highly qualified canine behaviour consultant and trainer. Alex has published her puppy and dog books both on Amazon