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Pick a Puppy for Your Family - Part 1

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Pick a Puppy for Your Family - Part 1


As a dog trainer, these are the criteria I use to evaluate a puppy’s personality.

For a family, you are looking for a tolerant, inquisitive, happy puppy that will be easy to train and that enjoys playing. Puppies that stand their ground when they bark but otherwise show no aggressive or dominate tendencies make good dogs that will alert to strangers for the family. Puppies that score repeatedly as dominate or submissive are best left to people experienced with those behaviors and aren’t suitable to family life no matter how cute they seem.

After deciding which breed or mixed breed suits you, visit where the puppy lives and spend some time with the parents. If the parents have the temperament you are looking for, here is what to do to get started:


You can find many puppy evaluation tests on the internet but they all are basically evaluating the same things. I’m going to tell you what you should look for to get a well rounded puppy for a family with children.

Remember to talk reassuringly to the puppy after each test until it is calm and relaxed.

You will need a few items- crumpled paper, metal pan and spoon, umbrella, towel tied to about 6 feet of string, real strong smelling food (strong cheese, hotdog, cooked liver etc.), magic marker or nail polish and an assistant to take notes (don’t bring the kids along! Remember, you want to make a valued judgment, not an emotional one).

Number each puppy on the inside leg with a magic marker, or use different colored nail polish on each puppy’s nails so you can tell them apart.

Ideally you should test the puppies in a room where they have never been. Your assistant should be quiet and as inconspicuous as possible. The owners should only be in the room to bring each puppy in one at a time and then to take the puppy away and bring in the next one.

  1. The first thing you want to do is place the puppy down in front of you facing the puppy away from the direction the puppy entered into the room. Kneel down and call to it. Don’t use any words the puppy may know like its’ name or a command such as “here” or “come”. Say something like “puppy, puppy, puppy” and encourage it. You are looking for the puppy that will come to you without hesitation with its’ tail level. It may or may not paw at you and lick you when it gets to you. A tail that is wagging is a good sign. You don’t want the puppy that comes to you and bites, or creeps in with its’ tail low or doesn’t come at all. These puppies are either too dominate for a family or not socialized well enough.
  2. Now stand up and walk away. Make sure the puppy sees you leaving. Again, call to the puppy and encourage it to follow you. You want a puppy that follows right away. It’s okay for the puppy to lick you when it gets to you, but not to bite at your feet especially with a high tail. This can indicate a high prey drive and/or a dominate nature. You also don’t want the puppy to ignore you with a tucked tail. If the puppy creeps in initially but gets bolder with encouragement, this is acceptable.
  3. Now test the puppy for resistance. Gently roll the puppy on its’ back, with its’ feet in the air. Hold the puppy like this with your hand on its’ chest for 30 seconds. Look the puppy in the eyes but if the puppy won’t make eye contact, do not force it! What you want is for the puppy to give up or not struggle at all and allow some eye contact. You don’t want a puppy that continues to struggle strongly for the 30 seconds or growls or tries to bite.
  4. This will test the puppy’s dominance and willingness to forgive. Kneel down and place the puppy in front of you, facing you at about a 45º angle. Start at the head and begin to gently stroke it with smooth slow strokes down to the tail while talking soothingly to it. Place your face close enough to the puppy so that it can lick you if it wants to. What you are looking for is the puppy that squirms to get closer to you. Licking your hands or face is acceptable. What you want to avoid is the puppy that squirms to get away, growls, tries to bite, or leaves. The puppy that rolls over and then jumps up to lick you or paw you would be acceptable with an experienced handler.
  5. This is to test how much dominance the puppy shows when it has no control. Stand up and with the puppy facing away from you, place your hands under the belly, interlock your fingers and lift the puppy a few inches into the air for 30 seconds. The family puppy should only briefly struggle or not struggle at all and then become relaxed. When you set the puppy back on the ground it should not growl, bite or run away. Talk reassuring to the puppy after this and stoke and scratch it under the chin until it has relaxed again.

This is the end of the first part of the test.