Archive for March 2009

Buying a puppy

March 12, 2009

Buying a puppy

There are hundreds of books and articles, leaflets and pamphlets giving excellent advice about buying a puppy.  What can I add which will be helpful to you?  Well, if you  picked up a copy of Our Dogs at your local newsagent or went to Crufts and are looking for a puppy there may be aspects of puppy breeding or purchase you may not have considered.  So rather than adding to the mass of easily available information and telling you what to do, this article poses some questions which you might like to consider and provides some guidance as to the answers.  Think of it as a Short Course in Puppy Buying for you and your family (puppies are usually bought by families) and do make sure the whole family is involved in trying to answer them.
What I am not going to do is to repeat the information and advice which is readily available from books, magazines and the Internet but we will begin with an easy question to which I will provide the answer to give you a good start.

I begin by making the assumption that you are prepared to take time in deciding on the breed you want. Many people are not even prepared to spend any time to assess what would be the best for them but buy ‘on the spot’.  It is therefore not surprising that they stumble at the first hurdle.  A puppy is not like a washing machine with which you do not have an emotional relationship.  The washing machine can go back if there is anything wrong with it while the puppy has already wormed its way into your heart.

So – to the questions.

Where will you quickly find the most comprehensive information about buying a puppy?   There is no doubt that for information, the Kennel Club’s web site (www.thekennelclub.org.uk) is the best and looking through the pages under buying a dog you will find all the guidance you need on selecting and choosing a suitable puppy.  All the options are carefully laid out and the alternatives discussed bearing in mind your circumstances.   However, the site is designed to steer you towards an Accredited Breeder (a good thing) and there are alternatives.  Some breeders have good reasons for not being accredited and I hope the following will help you sort out the good from the others
Where should you begin?  Think carefully about which breed will be suitable for you and do not be tempted to make an emotional choice.  You may always have had a desire for an Alaskan Malamute but lovely though they are, they eat like horses (not for nothing are they called ‘the carthorse of the Arctic’) and have a mind of their own about everything.   The great advantage in choosing a pedigree dog is that you know what its characteristics are, its size, its looks and its temperament are all reasonable predictable so you are able to make a choice which suits you.

The Kennel Club site and others such a Breedadog (who work closely in association with OUR DOGS) and Petplan provide access to responsible breeders and my advice is to confine yourself to these sites if you intend to find a puppy through the Internet.  Of course, breeders still use the traditional routes such as notices in veterinary surgeries and pet shops, local papers, the canine press and national sales magazines such as Exchange and Mart.  You can also buy a puppy at some pet shops although only about 2% of pet shops sell puppies these days or through the larger ‘trading kennels’ which sell many puppies a day.

The range of ways in which you can buy a puppy might appear to make it complicated but it need not be so – and the remedy is in the hands of you, the buyer.  My experience is that most potential owners, once they have made the decision (often under pressure, quite rightly and understandably, from the younger members of the family) is that they ‘want it now’.  Giving in to this natural though reasonable instinct increases the chances of you taking home an unsuitable puppy by one thousand percent.  The reason is that good quality in dogs is not usually available ‘off the shelf’.  You might be lucky but the alternative is much more likely.

So: If I have decided to by a puppy of a particular breed, what are the chances of a really good, responsible breeder in my area having one at precisely the time I want to buy?  Not very likely is the answer.  This is one of the main reasons that puppy buyers go to a trading kennel – impatience.  Look at the litters available on the Kennel Club, Breedadog or Petplan websites to see that this is the case.

This leads to a more fundamental (and probably more important) question:
Why are puppies bred?  Now this is a very important consideration and you can learn a great deal by thinking about the answer.  If you go to a trading kennel or a pet shop it is likely that they have been bred as part of a commercial venture.  To ensure a profit the breeder has to breed as many puppies of as many (popular) breeds as possible so that when you decide you want a puppy there is one immediately available.  There is nothing wrong with this.  If the business is carried out within the law then selling puppies in bulk to trading kennels or importing them from Ireland is not unacceptable although there are laws and regulations which impose a duty care on the person responsible.  Unfortunately the law is too often not enforced, so there is very little control over the conditions in which both breeding dogs and their puppies are kept and transported so quality suffers – as well as the dogs.

Remember, some established breeders breed an awful lot of puppies.  They may confine themselves to one or two breeds but puppy sales are the foundation of their income.  Again, there is nothing wrong with that but you have to ask yourself whether there comes a point when quantity may take precedence over quality.

Some owners of pedigree bitches may think breeding a litter is a jolly good way to earn a few pounds ‘pin money’ so they are happy to let their pet bitch have a litter or two to pay for a holiday or the new car.  A Golden Retriever, a Dalmatian or a Labrador can have an average litter of anything between five and ten and at £6/800 a puppy this may be very tempting – especially in times of economic stress.  Again, this is not illegal but how much does a pet owner know about breeding quality stock.  As far as they are concerned a Golden Retriever is a Golden Retriever so putting their bitch to stud to dog up the road or in the next town or village is perfectly acceptable.

So a good series of questions is:

  • How many litters has this breeders had from this bitch?
  • Can I see the mother?
  • Can I see the pedigree?
  • Where does the stud dog reside?

The answers will give you an insight into the background of the breeder which is an essential element of their motivation of breeding.
At the other end of the small scale scale is the enthusiast – the dedicated breeder who is anxious to win in the show ring and breeds a litter to enhance or continue his or her success.  Some will select the stud dog on the basis of its wins even though this may not be the best dog for the genetic, structural or conformational health of the puppies.  So more questions:

  • Does the breed as a whole have any structural or genetic defects?
  • What steps has the breeder taken to ensure that if there are any, they have not been passed on?
  • Is the breed subject to any recommended test or screening?
  • Have these been done?  Can I see the results or the KC listings showing the results?

It is important to ask the questions – and equally important to be comfortable with the answers.

Finally, the breeder of your puppy cannot give you a guarantee that it will be perfect.  It is, after all a sentient being with all the possible problems any living thing might have.  The person from whom you bought your rose may not be responsible for black spot (assuming roses get black spot – this is an area beyond my expertise) but you would expect good advice and concern from the grower: so with a puppy.  Your breeder should be there for you and your dog, should have a continuing and life long interest in their puppies and be prepared to help you if things go wrong.  Ask the questions and ensure you are happy with the answers.

Good, dedicated and responsible breeders are plentiful and they have nothing to hide – take your time to find one in who you feel confident.  It is not rocket science.  Good luck