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Choosing a Dog or Puppy
So you want a dog! Do the entire family buy into this idea? Experience has shown that if one or more are against a pet, then bringing an animal into that environment can cause considerable family friction and stress.
Have you weighed up the financial and time implications, these can be considerable, owning a dog is a serious commitment and should never be taken lightly.
You should take into consideration your health, age, and overall time constraints, do you want an active or sedentary animal? Some dogs demand and require almost constant attention, lots of exercise and mental stimulation. Others are more laid back; therefore you need to research which dog will suit you and your family’s outlook and lifestyle that includes living arrangements. For instance if you live in a flat and had limited time, a Border Collie or Springer Spaniel type dog would be madness, and would most probably lead to serious behavioural difficulties. Not only for the dog!
Lots of people buy a dog because they like the look of them, ie for aesthetic reasons, without taking into account the needs and temperament of that breed. You need to research both the positive and the negative side of your chosen breed and make sure what you are looking for is suitable for your environment and lifestyle. Make sure you have fully decided on the breed before you start looking for your new addition to the family
Where to get a Puppy?
You have done all your homework now you have to decide is it to be a rescue or buy a puppy?
So where do you buy it from
If you have decided on a Puppy then there are some fundamental things you must do and some places you should never buy from, and rules that you must adhere to whatever the breeder or seller tells you.
Rule 1. Never ever buy a Puppy from anywhere or anyone without being able to see at least one or preferably both the parents. There are places called Puppy Farms that are absolutely deplorable. The puppies from these farms generally have major problems throughout their lives. Mainly caused through poor breeding, bad sanitation, cheap food etc, and are generally taken from their mother and siblings far too early causing socialisation problems with people and other dogs.
Rule 2. Never buy a Puppy from a Pet Shop or any other similar outlet; other animals are OK but not Dogs. You could be supporting the horrific trade in puppy-farmed dogs. I have even seen pups being sold at car boot sales.
Rule 3. Never buy on impulse or because you feel sorry for a frightened and timid puppy.
Rule 4. Never take the word of a breeder or any seller who says you cannot meet any of the parents, or they skirt your questions re the parents. The excuses commonly used are the mothers ill or not available or at friends or they are selling a pup for someone else.
Rule 5. Do not automatically believe that your dog is a pedigree. Just because they have supplied a certificate, especially if parents cannot be seen, some of these certificates are not worth the cheap paper they are printed on. I have a puppy at my classes at the time of writing this, with a full pedigree certificate, sold as a Cocker Spaniel yet it is clearly and without any shadow of a doubt an English Springer Spaniel.
Rule 6. Unless you are an experience handler/dog owner then do not pick the puppy that bounds up to you and pushes all the others out the way to get to you. This is normally the most dominant of the litter. Do not also go to the other end of the scale and pick the runt or the frightened one, because you feel sorry for it, you are taking on a whole heap of problems if you do, the majority of all dog attacks are based on fear not aggression. You are far better off picking a pup from the middle rankings. The breeder if worth their salt, should be able to advise you on this. Alternatively you can employ a behaviourist or specialist who can assess the pups using a specialised puppy assessment tests.
Rule 7. If you looking for puppies do not automatically think that if you go through the Kennel Club route that those dogs and breeders have all been personally checked or vetted by that organisation. This is not the case though an excellent and well meaning establishment, they really do not have the facilities nor the ability or time to check the credentials or bona fide of all the breeders on their books.
You may be better to go to the breed clubs of the type of dog you are looking for, as they generally know each individual professional breeder, and respect each other ethics and work. Contact the secretaries and they should be able to point you in the direction of available quality pups.
Choosing The Puppy and Taking It Home
You have now set out what you want and where to buy it from. I would recommend you visit the puppies at the very least twice, at 4/5 weeks and again when you pick up the pup. The best age to take the puppy home is 7 weeks see my Psychological Changes in a Puppies Growth. NEVER accept a puppy less than 7 weeks of age, as it is vitally important they are with their mother and siblings up to this age.
Check the appearance of the mother and puppies. Do they appear healthy; eyes clear and bright, free of any discharge? Are their coats shiny? If possible get confirmation of the eye and hip scores of both the mother and the father. If the breeder allows you always stroke and fuss the parents, check their temperament, look for and signs of aggression, fearfulness, nervousness, or ‘Neurotic’ symptoms such as chewing feet, tail, or skin damage, are the dogs pacing etc. This is especially important in the mother, as the puppies are in close contact with her. It has been shown that, it is the mother that shapes the behavioural future of the offspring, genetics may load the gun but environment fires it.
Make sure you handle the puppies if they become distressed or shy away this could mean that they have not been properly socialised. If the puppies have been socialised correctly, then they will adapt and accept situations that are potentially stressful. You should then end up with a happy well-balanced dog in maturity.
Before bringing your new dog home, make sure your garden is ‘ Safe & Secure’. Purchase a collar, lead, bowls, and dog tag with name address and telephone (law max £5000 fine) bed, toys and treats etc, check with the breeder what she is feeding the pups, a good breeder will supply you with some food and give you a feeding chart. Leave a small blanket or towel on your first visit, so that it gets the mother and the litter smell on it, this should provide some comfort in the first week or so at home. Check with other dog owners as to the best Vet in your area. If you live near me check on the local links section, as I have recommended what I believe to be the best in our area.
When you pick up the pup take a crate/indoor kennel or a cardboard box with you and line it with newspaper, take spare newspaper with you as the pup may be sick and will almost certainly urinate and defecate on the journey, especially if it is any distance.
When you get home place the bed or crate near somewhere warm if you are using a crate and I heartily endorse them cover the crate with a blanket or sheet to make it more den like introduce the puppy to the crate gradually and positively see my article on Toileting With a Crate.
If you have a loud ticking clock put this near the bed or crate and leave a radio on in another room, make sure it is tuned into talk not a music station. If the puppy continues to get distressed you can take it into your bedroom, though I would only normally advise this when using a crate/indoor kennel as you can gradually move this away over a period of time once the puppy has settled in. You can also put a hot water bottle; this will mimic the heat from the mother and siblings over the first few nights. Make sure it is well covered or you may get a very wet bed/crate.
Your new puppy will needs lots of sleep, just like a human baby so too much interference in this pattern will be detrimental, rough handling by children or adults could affect the behaviour and attitude of your new puppy, and could have a long lasting effect as the dog matures. However not enough contact and gentle handling will also have a negative effect on your dog, finding the right balance is of vital importance.
A puppy can be an absolute joy or an unmitigated nightmare, which one you get, can be affected by the effort you initially put into your research, decisions, training and ongoing socialisation. It is vitally important to book your puppy into a good socialisation class, make sure that they do not have more than 8/10 dogs in any one class and that the pups at the start of the course are not over 18 weeks old, and the trainers do not allow the puppies to just jump on one another at the start of the class, integration of the puppies in the class should be careful and slow to avoid problems and long term bad manners in later life.
Puppies need lots of time, care and patience. Follow the above guidelines and your efforts will be positively rewarded.
Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a full time Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex.