How to Choose a Puppy

A dog is very much a family member and will take unlimited hours of your time with walking and training therefore it is vital that you pick the best breed to suit your lifestyle and finances.

Having assessed and trained numerous dogs of various breeds over many years. I feel inspired to write this article in order to offer my experience and advice if you are considering buying a pedigree puppy.

Remember, when you own a dog, you will also need to be aware of the stringent dog laws. Is the breed suitable? Will the dog have contact with young children?

Dog Behaviour Problems

When assessing dogs with behavioural problems, I have often found that many of the problems are due to the breed of dog being unsuitable for the owner.

Also if the owner has had no previous knowledge or experience of dogs then the dog could develop behaviour problems.

Pedigree Dog Health Issues

I have no doubt that there are many inexperienced and immoral breeders and far too many breeders perpetuate serious breed mutation problems with dogs. The result of such breeding may result in a lifetime of problems and unnecessary suffering for the dog. For example:

Some dogs may require endless caesarean operations to enable them to produce puppies. In my opinion this cannot be called a love of a breed!
Over breeding of Shar Pei’s may cause the dog to develop sores between the wrinkles of skin, this is another example of bad breeders ignoring potential health issues of the dog purely because of aesthetics.
Flat nosed breeds of dogs such as Pekingese, French Bull Dogs or British Bull Dogs are brachycephalic (short broad head) and during warm weather can often find it difficult to breathe. I have trained many bull breeds, and even in a moderately warm climate, the dog will pant excessively. This does not happen in full nosed breeds.

Some modest changes have been made by the kennel club to try to alleviate extreme unhealthy breeding but it cannot be denied that most people choose a breed of dog purely for the look.

An aesthetically pleasing puppy could result in a lifetime of suffering for the dog and endless vet fees for the owner. In extreme cases it could even lead to the dog being re-homed, rejected or worse!

Choosing a Suitable Pedigree Breed

Hound Breeds – E.g. Fox hound, Beagle, Bassett Hound, Afghan Hound: The hound has an instinctive behaviour to follow scent and in my opinion is not an ideal dog for obedience training. I have encountered many owners calling after their dogs to no avail with the dog appearing not to listen.

I would not personally recommend some breeds for family pets; these include Akitas, Huskies and Kerry Blue Terriers. These breeds are generally hard to manage in public areas especially where there are other dogs running free as they have a tendency to become aggressive. Of course there are exceptions and if they have plenty of secure open space to exercise then I am sure they can be managed well. However, I would not recommend these breeds for a typical family home pet.

Find a Pedigree Breeder

Before purchasing a pedigree puppy you should first find a reputable breeder.

This could be through the recommendation of a friend who has previously purchased a puppy from a reputable breeder or by extensive research of your preferred breed.

A vet may be able to offer advice on which breeds are suitable, as he will have encountered various issues with dogs, some due to bad breeding. However, not all vets are willing to recommend breeders, or specific breeds, because they would not like to be held accountable should things go wrong.

The Kennel Club maintain a list of breeders. The information is available on line or you can contact the Kennel Club directly. You could also speak to local dog trainers or behaviourists and find out what breeds they experience the most problems with relating to behaviour or control.

Choosing a Pedigree Puppy

Once you have a list of breeders, telephone and ask when they will have puppies available. Don’t be put off if you are told that you will be put onto a waiting list. Good breeders only breed when the time is right for the welfare of their dog.

Avoid dealers who have many breeds of puppies available, these are possibly puppy farm type breeders where puppies are bred using a “conveyer belt” process and the welfare of the dogs are not considered.

When you have your list of breeders arrange to see the parents with the puppies.

The breeder usually owns the bitch but not always the dog so be prepared to visit both dogs Sire & Dam although there may be some distance between them.

I would be very wary of any owner who was reluctant or made excuses for you not to have the opportunity to see both parent dogs.

When you visit the parents you should be able to stroke them and see them running around freely. It is perfectly acceptable if they are indifferent but friendly towards you. If there are signs of aggression or the dog growls, is jumpy or holds its tail between its legs then you should be wary.

A bitch might growl when a stranger enters the whelping pool however the owner will be able to arrange for her to meet you in another room, away from the puppies, so you that can assess her temperament.

You should arrange to visit the puppies when they are 4 weeks old although some breeders have different rules relating to this. This is due to the potential disease risk of the non vaccinated puppies. I believe that if a disinfectant foot cleaner and hand sanitizer is used, there would be little risk.

At 4 weeks old puppies are developing and display little characteristics which may help you to assess it.

Once you have decided on your puppy the breeder will give you a date for collection. I would advise you to collect your new puppy in the morning whenever possible. This gives him all day to settle into his new home and become used to the new scents, sounds and sights.

The Dog Breeder and You

You have carefully selected the dog now what about you!

The breeder should take a great deal of interest in you and want to know about the puppy’s’ future welfare, so be prepared!

A good breeder will routinely ask about your work hours, type of property, your willingness to exercise the dog or if there is space available to exercise the dog.

You may also be asked if you have the finances to support the upkeep of the dog.

Some breeders may also ask to visit your home.

When you have chosen your puppy, you should be asked for a deposit. This is normally non refundable because if you order a puppy but cancel when it is due to be collected then it can be difficult for the owner to resell the puppy at 7 – 10 weeks old or longer. This may result in the puppy being deprived of adequate early socialisation so please take this into consideration when buying a puppy

Collecting Your Puppy

If you have selected a breeder but following the birth of the puppies you find that there are none of the sex you requested and the gender is important to you, don’t be persuaded to take an alternative. Look elsewhere or be patient.

If the puppy appears to be unwell when you go to collect it, don’t take it. Go back a week later and if necessary ask for a veterinary view on the puppy’s health.

Like babies, puppies do become unwell, but a good breeder will never allow you to take away a puppy unless it is healthy.

I would recommend that you take your new puppy to a vet for a check up within two days of collection. This will put both the breeders and your minds at rest. If however the vet does discover any problems with the puppy and advises you to return it to the breeder then you should ask him to record his findings so you can show them to the breeder. A good breeder will be able to resolve any problems.

When you collect your puppy it should be friendly, playful and alert, especially if it has just been woken. Ensure that the puppy is interested in you and does not appear to be nervous of you or shy. If it does, ask if you can return the next day. If the puppy is still nervous or shy when you return then refuse to take it.

Never take a puppy because you feel sorry for it.

Check list for choosing and collecting a puppy

The answer to the following questions should be YES

  • Does the breeder allow inspection of the puppies’ pre purchase date?
  • Does the breeder allow you to touch and interact with mum?
  • Does the breeder restrict the number of people visiting the puppies?
  • Does the breeder happily show you the mother and father to you? (If the father is available).
  • Does the breeder allow you to inspect available pedigrees and the
  • Kennel Club registration documentation of the parents?
  • Were the puppies born on the premises?
  • If kennel bred, are the kennel buildings clean and well maintained?
  • Are the dogs healthy looking?
  • Are the puppies at least seven weeks old when collected?
  • Did the breeder welcome your questions?
  • Did the breeder ask what other pets you have or have previously owned?
  • Did the breeder ask whether you intended to breed the dog?
  • Did the breeder offer advice on the welfare of the puppy subsequent to collection?
  • Did the breeder mention any breed specific behaviour you may encounter and offer advice on what do should the puppy’s behaviour deteriorate?
  • Did the breeder offer a list of dog training classes/instructors or behaviourists if required?
  • Did the breeder inform of the age of the breed bitch or if it is over two years of age?
  • Were both sire and dam (parents) tested for any related genetic health tests before the breeding and was the documentation available?
  • Did the breeder offer information on health testing i.e. a hip dysplasia score document?
  • Did the breeder ask for deposit on the puppy?
  • Have the puppies been socialised with children, adults other than family members or pets in the home?
  • Did the breeder offer to keep in contact with you with advice relating to the puppy’s health, development and temperament?

The answer to the next questions should be NO

  • Was the breeder reluctant to answer questions?
  • Did the breeder appear defensive when answering questions?
  • Did you feel pressurised into buying a puppy?
  • Did you feel like the breeder was trying to sell you a second puppy, maybe as a friend for your puppy?
  • Did the breeder promote the puppies as gifts?
  • Did the breeder have more than two breeds available for sale?
  • Did the breeder charge different prices according to the sex of the puppy?
  • Did the breeder insist on breeding terms if you purchased a bitch?

Dog Puppy Breed Research

Before you contact a breeder make sure you have completed enough research to compile a list of questions and ensure you obtain clear answers from the breeder. Don’t be afraid to ask the breeder to explain anything you do not understand.

Puppy Check list

Before you finally decide on your new puppy, you should also consider the following:

  • Will the breed be suitable? Look on the Kennel Club’s (KC) site for the breed size and description.
  • If the breed is not registered with the KC then be wary and possibly contact the KC for advice.
  • A pedigree is not always genuine as anyone can write one. The pedigree registration document issued by the KC is essential.
  • Make a note of the document available from the breeder and check it out with the KC for authenticity immediately
  • Does your chosen breed need to be brushed or combed more often than once a week? Remember, this is a lifelong commitment and hard work.
  • Does your chosen breed require professional help in clipping or grooming? Will you need to travel to a dog groomer ?
  • How much exercise in miles does the breed require daily ?
    What are the typical breed specific genetic diseases?

What you should receive from a breeder

  • The pedigree, signed and dated (plus registration document unless still at Kennel Club).
  • A properly completed invoice with all the details of sale on it including colour, sex, and payment. This should be signed by the breeder and dated.
  • Advice on breed care, grooming, diet, puppy insurance (your expense), and vaccinations.
  • A little food to help the puppy adjust to its new environment.

Do not sign breeding arrangements for the future if you haven’t discussed this previously.

Remember good breeders will help and advise you with any queries that you may have after the purchase. This may include house training and socialisation.

Don’t be put off by what appears to be the daunting task of choosing a puppy, as the rewards are immeasurable but don’t make an emotional or impulsive purchase. This early research will hopefully give you an enjoyable partnership with as few issues as possible.

You are now puppy purchase aware so choose well and enjoy your dog.

Colin Tennant – Expert Dog Behaviourist – MA Canine Behaviour & Psychology