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How to Pick a Puppy: Red Flags & What to Look For

By Aviram K.
June 9, 2022
4 min read
How to Pick a Puppy: Red Flags & What to Look For
✏️ This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

Choosing the right puppy for you can be a challenge. And that’s putting it mildly!

The hunt for a new puppy basically requires you to swim in a never-ending sea of adorableness.

There are soft, wet noses and big lovey-dovey eyes. Short tails that shake quickly and long tails that sway leisurely. You marvel at chocolatey-brown flowing fur coats and chuckle at little white puff balls.

There are so many cute dogs to choose from!

How do you pick? What do you even look for?

When looking for a new puppy, there are several things you want to see. Some traits include a puppy who comes to you readily, follows you eagerly, and has a general sense of curiosity about the world. Red flags to look for include poor weight, bad posture, nervousness, and aggression.

In this article, I will describe the specifics of what to look for when picking a puppy. I will also explain how to identify a puppy with a good temperament and go through a list of red flags not to ignore when looking for a puppy.

Searching for the perfect pup but struggling to make that final selection? No worries, I’ve got you covered!

Join me as I help you identify exactly what to look for in the puppy to bring home and make your own.

Let’s go!

Table of Contents
What to Look for When Picking a Puppy
Do Not Ignore These Red Flag
So Many Puppies, Which One to Choose?

What to Look for When Picking a Puppy


If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed when hunting for a new puppy, that’s totally understandable! Not only are there many options, but they’re all so different and so wonderful.

You may find several dogs appealing but probably have a preference for the appearance and disposition you are most drawn to. You may favor small dogs over larger ones or have a specific breed in mind.

Or you may not really have anything in mind at all, but you know that you’ll know it when you see it!

How to Identify a Puppy with a Good Temperament

Is there anything else to look for outside of preferences and gut instincts when selecting a pup?

The answer is yes!

There are actual tests that can be performed to determine a dog’s temperament. These temperament tests essentially serve up a slice of a puppy’s personality. They are useful to help gauge whether a puppy may be a good fit for you and your household.

These tests include:

  • Avidog – A test that evaluates various puppy behaviors
  • Dognition – A science-based gaming test that assesses a dog’s ability to solve problems
  • Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) – Most common test evaluates 10 different characteristics

Since the PAT is the most commonly used test, I will go into further detail about what this test recommends you seek in a possible pup.

The PAT test evaluates dogs in the following 10 areas:

  • Sight sensitivity – response to an object in motion
  • Elevation dominance – submission in situations out of their control, i.e., a trip to the vet
  • Touch sensitivity – sensitivity to the touch of a human
  • Social dominance – the ability to accept a human as their leader
  • Social attraction – confidence when engaging with people
  • Retrieving – how willing a pup is to do something for a human
  • Stability – degree of the startle response
  • Following – willingness to follow a human
  • Restraint – level of dog’s dominance or submission
  • & Sound sensitivity – sensitivity to noises

This test is typically performed when a pup is about 7 ½ weeks old and can tell you a lot about their potential.

It’s important to remember that temperament tests can’t tell you everything about what a puppy will be like in your home. They also can’t predict the kind of dog they may grow up to be. Age, maturity, environment, and training also may play significant roles in a pup’s development.

Despite temperament tests not being foolproof, they are still great tools to gauge your potential pup’s characteristics.

Things to Look for in a Puppy

According to the PAT, an ideal puppy for a first-time dog owner will exhibit a few specific signs:

  • Approaching you readily with their tail up
  • Following you with their tail up
  • Putting up a bit of a struggle when restrained
  • Showing curiosity about noises and looking for the origins
  • Investigating new things that they see
  • Cuddling up and attempting to lick your face
  • Enjoying games that involve fetching objects
  • Not reacting immediately or crying intensely as the result of being pinched

Do Not Ignore These Red Flag

Just as there are positive things you will want to see when buying a potential puppy, there are red flags to be on the lookout for too.

Some of these signs include:

  • Poor physical health, especially puppies who are very thin and/or hunched over
  • A puppy from an unclean shelter who may not have received shots and basic care
  • Pups who were separated from their litter too early, which may cause behavioral issues
  • An overly dominant puppy, which may mean they will resist training efforts
  • A puppy who is withdrawn, as they may be suffering from a hidden health issue
  • A pup who evades eye contact, which may signal emotional or physical problems
  • Puppies with a nervous or aggressive demeanor, as they may lash out at other dogs

So Many Puppies, Which One to Choose?


There’s no denying it; puppies are simply delightful! These lively, happy and elegant little bundles of fur can be such meaningful additions to your family. They are capable of multiplying your joy daily in a way that not many things on earth can.

The hardest part is choosing which one to get!

Once you narrow down the breed and look that you like, there are other traits to look for to help you pick the best puppy for you. A dog with a lively, curious, and friendly demeanor will be your best bet. Tests like the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) can help you evaluate more in-depth what kind of puppy to pick.

It may be best to avoid red flags like aggressive, withdrawn pups who evade eye contact as you search for your ideal puppy.

The good news is: there truly is no right or wrong choice. The guidelines in this article can help you hone in on what type of puppy to look for, but your heart and gut will confirm the perfect pup for you!

Before OwnershipNew Puppy
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