You’ve given it a lot of thought, and the time is right for a new dog to join your household. Do you have a strategy for sifting through the candidates and emerging with a real gem? Here’s the trick: keep your head and don’t just fall for a pretty face.

When confronted with a litter of adorable puppies, does your brain seem to go on vacation? Don’t worry, that’s normal. Sensible thought processes will resume, just not until 7-10 days after you’ve closed the deal. Since important decisions are best made with brain function intact, jot down a few things on paper to take along.
1) Puppies that adjust well to life as pets are neither the most assertive nor the most timid. Look for a pup that is interested in you but also capable of leaving you alone when you sit quietly nearby.
2) If you pick him up to hold him, he should struggle a bit before settling down. A pup that amplifies his escape efforts to the point of panic is typically not the best choice.
3) If you stand up suddenly or make an expansive hand gesture, does the pup cringe or scurry away in fear? Confidence with new and intimidating situations is highly desirable in youngsters. In the coming weeks, they’ll be taking their first car rides, meeting lots of people and animals, and making excursions to a variety of new settings. Confidence is the key to facing this barrage of unfamiliar experiences without any lasting psychological wear and tear.
4) Attempt to evaluate the pup’s physical condition. If he looks different from the others in some way, if he walks differently, if he seems more sedate than the rest of the litter, these could be signs of poor health. It will be a disappointment if you get him home and find that he needs immediate or even life-long health care before he gets a chance to destroy his first shoe.

The humane shelter is a different scene altogether, but the same general principles apply. There are a few additional things to remember when evaluating a dog with some miles on it. An astounding number of us will be irresistibly drawn to pets that are disabled in some way; however, we must remember that the key to choosing a companion lies in character, not in appearance. Many of us pity a dog that appears frightened or exhibits behavior suggestive of abuse. If we deliberately choose a fearful pet, we’re likely biting off more than we can chew. Overcoming fearful behavior is a formidable challenge which may even be a bit dangerous. In some cases only an animal behaviorist is qualified to take on such a project. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you came to the shelter looking for a companion, not a project. When selecting a new pet, you are seeking only the priceless qualities of character and confidence, even if they come in a plain brown wrapper.

Dr. M.S. Regan