CHOOSING A PUPPY FROM A LITTER
Before I get started on this section, I just want to say that I am assuming that you will be dealing with a litter of healthy puppies. You should check to make sure that the puppies all appear to be healthy with no unusual discharges from the eyes, nose, or anus. It can happen to even the most reputable/responsible of breeders, that a virus can work its way into and then through a litter of puppies. If this happens, a responsible breeder will usually delay sending the puppies home until they have fully recovered.
If you have done your homework correctly in finding a reputable/responsible breeder, picking the puppy should be relatively easy. In their interview of you, the breeder should have tried to find out something about your life style. Are you very active people? More sedentary? Do you have children and what are their ages and their sexes? All of these things are going to factor into which puppy will fit best in your house.
While within a breed you should be able to expect general trends in activity level, dominance and temperament, each puppy is an individual with its own unique style. Within a litter you will find puppies that are more or less dominant with more or less energy. Just as you wouldn't expect all your children to be cookie-cutter replicas of each other, don't expect this from the puppies either.
Some breeders rely heavily on various puppy temperament testing methods. Some, like myself rely heavily on observing and interacting with the puppies to determine their individual personality traits. In my experience, unless you are looking for specific traits in order to train a dog to compete or work in a specific area (like therapy), there are too many factors that can influence how a puppy reacts in a single testing session. Is he tired? Did he just eat? Is he just having an off day? In order to be accurate, the puppy temperament testing, in my opinion, should be repeated several times.
Whichever method your breeder uses, you should trust their judgement in evaluating the puppies. But bear in mind that what you see in a 10 to 12 week old puppy is just an indicator and is not an absolute. The experiences the puppy has once he goes to your home will also determine what the adult grows up to be. I have seen a number of puppies, especially the ones that tended to be quieter and less dominant, simply blossom. I had one puppy that, when I sold him, was a very soft, very mellow, easy-going puppy that would wilt if given a strong correction. When the owner called me nine months later with a behavior problem, what I found was a very strong-willed, confidant adult. The owner was still correcting him like he was a soft, mellow mush. Once the owner became aware that she now had to correct him stronger and that he would no longer wilt, everything worked itself out.
Every breeder works their selection process differently. Some breeders pick the puppies for the new owner, some give the owner full reign. I take a course somewhere in the middle. I make observations about the individual puppy's temperament, activity level, dominance etc.. I may make recommendations against a particular puppy that I don't feel would be a good fit in their home and what they might be facing if they did choose a particular puppy. I do, however, let the new owner have the final decision.
In a well-bred litter from a reputable/responsible breeder, don't worry about getting the last-pick puppy. Each and every puppy in their litters will receive all of the necessary care and attention that they need in order to grow up into happy, secure adults. Also, don't be demanding that you get the "pick" of the litter unless you intend to show the dog (and even that's no guarantee.) The story goes that one of the top- winning show Goldens was originally bought as a pet and that his owners picked him out by weighing all the puppies they had to choose from and picked the one in the middle. We have, on more than one occasion, had people that wanted a top pick, only to be sitting there shaking their heads saying "How do I choose?" when they were actually confronted with the choice of 5 or 6 puppies. I have also been in the position of having been left with the last puppy in the litter being one of the ones we would have chosen as a "pick" puppy from a showing perspective.
Everybody has a different method of picking their puppy. I have literally had people reach into the puppy pen and pull out a puppy and say "This is the one" to people sitting on the floor for hours going over each and every puppy over and over again. Most will usually sit down on the floor with the puppies and begin a weeding out process. Sometimes it's little things like the color, other times from our observations on energy level, sometimes it's just how quickly the puppies will run up to greet them. I have also, had puppies quite literally pick out their new families. One of my recent litters was fairly large and on selection day, as each new family came, this one particular puppy just went off and fell asleep under the desk. We were actually starting to get concerned about him, until one family arrived. I was down to two puppies and he came running out from under the desk and was all over the family, licking, schmoozing, and generally making himself irresistible. It worked. They took him home, and months later they adore him and he adores the family.
What I am tying to say, is that there is no magic way to be sure you get the perfect puppy for your lifestyle. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. In the long run, you need to be comfortable with the decision. If you're looking for some hard and fast rules, there are none. I will, however, give you my general guidelines.
If you have small children (less than 5 years old), pick a middle-of-the-road puppy. Putting a dominant puppy with small children that he can easily intimidate is only asking for problems later. A very mellow, soft puppy might not be able to take the abuse even the most well-behaved children can dish out.
If your children are older or more active, go for an active puppy but with lower dominant behaviors. (Dominance and activity level are not the same thing).
If you have never had a dog before, again go for the middle- of-the-road puppy or a softer puppy if you don't have children. A less dominant personality in the puppy will make it easier for you to take control from the start.
If you have had dogs before and been successful in training them, then you are in the position of being able to pick any puppy.
One last thing I would like to point out here: Once you have done your homework and know that a particular breed is going to fit into your lifestyle, and found a breeder whose dogs you like, to a large degree the choice of more or less dominance and activity level is only going to make the difference between a good fit and a possibly perfect one. So don't be afraid to go for that last puppy even if he may not fit the guidelines. Maybe he was like that one little puppy mentioned previously and was just waiting for you to come into his life.
Written by Golden Retrever breeder.