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Picking a Perfect Puppy is not a Piece of Pie!
Advice On Choosing A Dog
Member Name: rolletrog
Advice On Choosing A Dog
Advantages: The Right puppy is amazing
Disadvantages: The Wrong puppy is heartbreaking
Forgive me if you find this condescending: sometimes I get a bee in my bonnet and just have to write about it. I conduct research with the kennel club and am an Assured Breeder and believe that knowledge equals power - if potential puppy buyers understand what's involved when choosing the right puppy then there should be less dogs in rescue, less backyard breeders and less puppy farms, more healthy dogs and even better, more happy owners.
~~*~~ Ready for Rover ~~*~~
The image of a cute little puppy arriving, giving cuddles and trotting gently to heel is a lovely one though unfortunately it isn't particularly accurate. There will definitely be those moments of pure joy and unequivocal bliss, but you can guarantee that either you won't have your camera or that the moment will be promptly followed by the destruction of a family heirloom.
So, before you even start your journey to find your puppy please consider the following:
What will you be doing in 1 years time?
What will you be doing in 3 years time?
What will you be doing in 10 years time?
Obviously you can't predict the future, but if you're planning on backpacking around the world next year or working your hardest to get promotion, then is it really the best time to introduce baby Rover - why not wait until you're settled? The old adage 'A dog is for life, not just for Christmas' is fantastically accurate but infrequently adhered to - it makes me so frustrated when another dog is dumped in rescue because the owners have grown bored of it. A recent survey found that one fifth of dog owners that bought a dog in 2008, didn't own the dog 2 years later: I'm not stupid, I know circumstances change but the last thing I would get rid of is Pig, my Labrador: if I needed money, I'd stop Sky subscription, I'd go out less, stop smoking, sell possessions etc, - she's my commitment that I signed up to and even 2 years ago when I was forced to move, Pig was my priority when I was buying a house.
Not only should you think about the future, you should think of the now - how committed are you to walking in the rain since some breeds need an hour a day exercise, picking up after your dog (most will make a deposit twice a day), training the little beast: investing time and effort isn't something to be taken lightly - a puppy is hard-work: just when you think you've puppy proofed everything, they find a way behind the freezer and eat the cable, bless them.
Ok, you're committed to the theory of 10 years of dog ownership - now consider whether you're financially ready for the undertaking. Here's a quick list of the costs though bear in mind that different breeds incur different fines!:
Puppy: £0 - £1500
Vaccinations: £30 annually
Food: £10 - £50 a month
Grooming: 0 - £40 a month
Training: 0 - £20 a month
Kennels: 0 - £140 a year
Accessories: 0 - £50 a month
Insurance: £0 - £50 a month
So you're going to need at least £150 a year to have a fed and vaccinated dog but how happy is a dog with no bed and no stimulation? If you choose to go down this cheaper route, I can almost guarantee you'll need to find more money to pay for the destruction caused!
~~*~~ Dog that most looks like its owner ~~*~~
With over 200 breeds recognised by the kennel club, it is a mammoth task to find the perfect dog if you don't know where to start. Firstly, what size of dog appeals to you - smaller ones obviously take up less room and generally eat less but don't be fooled as 'small dog syndrome' makes them feisty and just as likely to incur vet bills as their larger friends. Fluffy pooches do generally require more grooming than their short haired counterparts which doesn't just mean a once a month trip to the groomers: they will require regular brushing to remove mud/brambles and prevent matting of the fur. Then there's temperament - not that this is guaranteed in whatever breed you choose, but if you are aware that Border Collies are generally high drive and motivated, or that Greyhounds are cat chasers, or that the Beagle's bark is pretty annoying, then you can make an informed decision. There are many websites that will give you the lowdown on each breed such as suitability to living in a city or amount of coat that's shed. Which brings me neatly to Labradoodles...
Designer dogs are cross breeds. They are manufactured by people who have no interest in the breed standards of pedigrees and are generally after a quick buck. Whereas Epupz and local papers used to contain adverts of accidental matings of two dogs 'free to a good home', people are cashing in on this and creating fake new breeds - the Labradoodle is a cross of a Poodle and Labrador and was originally done to create a dog that was suitable for blind people allergic to dogs (the Labrador is a perfect seeing eye dog and the Poodle is usually suitable for the allergy prone). Unfortunately, one cannot guarantee that the pups will receive the poodle's coat and the Labrador temperament and proof of this is one of my dog walking customers - he looks like an irish wolfhound, is a narky bugger and the son (for whom the dog was chosen) is allergic to him - not the best £1000 they spent. Even the original creator of the Labradoodle is ashamed: http://www.globalanimal.org/2010/12/02/ man-who-created-labradoodles-regrets-the-cross-bre ed/25768/
The other thing that irritates me about crossbreeds is the myth that a cross will ultimately be a healthier dog than a pedigree. Nope. A well bred pedigree dog that has the correct tests will ultimately be healthier than a cross that may have inherited both it's parents bad points - ie: Labradors and Poodles suffer from prcd-PRA, (an inheritable eye condition) and from hip dysplasia - good pedigree breeders will have the health tests performed on their stock and will only mate dogs that have been tested clear on their eyes and with good hip scores. If you're certain you're having a designer cross breed, then the breeder should have the correct health tests performed on the respective parents - there should be no excuses, after all, you're going to be paying a designer price for it. I should also point out that no respecting pedigree breeder will produce cross breeds. I was going to stop ranting at this point, but no, I've just got one more thing to say - if you want a cross breed, go to a rescue centre where there are hundreds of unwanted, healthy and temperament tested dogs just desperate for a home. Done.
~~*~~ Hunting Dogs ~~*~~
You've found the breed that you think is right for you but where on earth do you start? Unless you know of one that lives down the road with Uncle Bob, my first point of contact would be with a breeder. Assured Breeders are listed on the Kennel Club website - find one in your area and give them a ring. Good breeders will probably have a waiting list for their upcoming litters but nevertheless this gives you a good idea of the quality of their stock - don't be afraid to ask to meet their clan (anyone can come and meet Pig or Puddle to get an idea of what living with either a Labrador or Irish Water Spaniel is like and to have a chat about the breeds in general). A good breeder will be passionate about their breed, that's not to say they will be blind to the bad faults, but instead they will be trying their best to improve the breed.
Although a particular breeder you've contacted may not have a litter on or planned, they will be able to point you in the right direction and this is how I found my Puddle. Irish Water Spaniels are a rare breed and only 117 puppies were registered with the kennel club in 2010 (there were over 44,000 Labradors registered!). I knew I wanted a Permhead as my friend has one and though they're hard work, they're hilarious to look at! Anyway, I rang my friend's breeder and she passed me on to another breeder she recommended for a show type puppy - I went to meet her dogs (3 hours away) and passed the interview for one of her puppies. I waited patiently for 6 weeks and then drove the 6 hour round trip to collect my little bundle of fun. I was lucky as I got exactly what I wanted and second pick of the litter. I wanted a dog of show quality but regardless of whether your dog is for agility, obedience, working or just as a good old fashioned best friend: the breeder will know about the breed so use them and their knowledge!
Once you've rung the breeder, hopefully you'll now be on your way to meeting your new friends for life. Don't be offended if the breeder is a little off-hand initially and ties you down to a date and time to meet their dogs - arranging to meet new people when you've a litter of 12 labradors running riot is not easy and you should expect to spend a couple of hours there. Please don't judge your breeder completely on first impressions - they may answer the door with a pup in one arm and a phone pressed to their head with their hair array and muddy paw prints adorning them - but once you get talking to them and meet their dogs, a more true impression should be revealed.
Some breeders will not let you meet the pups until they're four weeks and most will not let you touch them. There are many reasons for this - contagious infections can wipe out a litter at this stage, children drop puppies on their heads, the bitch can be protective etc. I personally gave everyone who visited a blob of hand sanitizer (for their own protection too since pups are dirty little beasts) and encouraged everyone to play on the floor with the pups - no dropping babies off the sofa and happy inquisitive pups wandering up to their prospective parents and ragging on their shoelaces. Whilst it is imperative to see the bitch, don't be surprised if when you visit she is separate to them - when the little ones are teething and being moved onto solid food, the breeder will be keeping their suckling from the mother to a minimum, unfortunately, nobody informs the dogs of this process and the bitch may look desperate to get back to her babies - don't worry! Also don't be surprised to see the bitch looking a little dishevelled: I don't mean skin and bones but some bitches take it hard - Pigsy had 12 babies who sucked the calcium right out of her, she decided she would be picky with what she ate (although she was partial to eggy fried bread and roast chicken) and blew her coat (her fur fell out) so she looked a little under par! Luckily I had a lot of photos of my precious girl so people knew that she was out of condition and I didn't keep her in the shed. You must be able to at least see the bitch - it will be obvious that she has had babies and if it isn't, question whether the litter belongs to her: there are unscrupulous people that will buy in a litter from a puppy farm and fob them off as their own so as to say they're 'home-reared'.
You've met the bitch, seen the pups and hopefully had a brew. Now it's time to ask important questions. Before you go to the breeders (if you're after a pedigree) check out the tests that the parents and or pups should have - the KC has a list of Required tests and Recommended tests - http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/ download/1100/abshealthreqs.pdf - simply find your breed and learn what health tests they should have, or this one if you already know the names of the parents: http://www.the-kennel-club.org.uk/services/ public/mateselect/test/Default.aspx - you can still ask to see the certificates as a good breeder will have them to hand.
NB: Hip scores - The dog is x-rayed after 12 months old and the x-rays are sent to the KC panel for judging and the scores are recorded. The test cannot be repeated so the results are final - a dog tested at 13 months will ultimately have a better score than a 5 year old as there is less wear and tear but each breed has a different mean average number so you should know what is good and what is bad in your breed, however, for all breeds, the closer to 0 the better. There is a score for the left hip and a score for the right and they are written so: 3:5 (Pig's). Be aware that hip scores are only done on the parents so you need to see the score for both the bitch and the dog, and that the two scores for the one dog are closer together ie: the scores may be high say 7:7 but this is a better score than 2:9 which has a larger difference in the dog's hips. I haven't got the time nor patience nor knowledge to say much more about hip scores only that you should remember that these scores have some bearing on your puppy's hips but that nutrition and exercise that you continue with will also have impact. Elbow scores are performed in much the same way as the hip scores - they range from 0-3 and really you only want puppies from a 0-0 bitch and dog. Eye Certificates - A Vet examines the dog's eyes and gives the certificate to a clear dog - the certificate lasts for 12 months and covers things like glaucoma and cataracts. This is not the same as the DNA tests - the Eye Certificates are only valid for a short period as they cannot predict whether the dog will get cataracts, for example. The DNA test for Prcd-PRA is a test whereby the blood of the parents is sent to America purely for this test to see whether the dog/bitch will ever develop the condition. If the result is Clear - the dog will never develop it nor can it pass the gene on as it doesn't have it in it's DNA. If both parents are Clear, the pups are Clear by Parentage and have a very high chance of never developing the disease nor passing it on to their offspring. The other results are Affected and Carrier - personally I would stay away from a breeder that uses a dog that is a Carrier and nobody would use an Affected dog and state it! This test was particularly important to one Piglet adopter - they had previously had a puppy that developed the condition and at 6 months old the poor bitch went completely blind which still brought tears to their owners when they told me about it. The paperwork from Optigen proved that Pig was clear as was the daddy so she was very much reassured.
These are the most common tests but some breeds have different ones so do your research - I believe firmly in health testing in dog breeding - it isn't the be all and end all but it is extremely important for the welfare of all breeds. Lecture over.
Establish the temperaments of the parents by asking simple questions about walking off lead or going to training classes. This won't automatically mean the pups are going to be exactly the same but it does give you a base. Next have a look at the pups - are they nervous things slinking around, or crazed boisterous buffoons? A good breeder will take a look at you and your clan and say whether the quiet one or the brave one is best for you but if you feel like you're being fobbed off with the ugly runt, just say no. Better that you have the dog that's right for you and you stay best friends. If you're after a show/agility/working type ask to see the pedigrees - in these you will see the names of the parent's relatives and their winnings if they have any, for example: Rhodenash Doughnut The Flyenpyg Sh Ch, JW, Ch, FT Ch, WT Ch etc (none of which does Pig have!). Please be aware that pedigree dogs are Kennel Club registered - there are other registration schemes that are free to the breeder but they mean nothing as the only one that counts is the Kennel Club to ensure you have a real pedigree. Some breeders wait until 5 or 6 weeks to register the pups as they believe that it is bad luck before then. I did it at 4 but it can take 3 weeks for the paperwork to arrive. Personally I wouldn't leave the breeders' without it but if you believe it's delayed in the post then that's up to you. The paperwork is very important down the line should you wish to breed or enter your dog in shows - without it you're scuppered!
As for the puppies themselves: they may not be clean and smell of roses because lets face it, if you've turned up just after their dinner: they're going to have food in their fur and quite possibly somebody elses poop on their head. However, you should be able to gauge whether they have fresh dirt adorning them or a week's worth. You should probably see the whelping box or the place where they're kept - those located in the shed are more than likely not going to be the family pet you desire since they'll have not experienced common things like the hoover, washing machine etc but that's just my opinion. They should look healthy ie: no eye bogeys, no runny noses, fat little bellies. Depending on the time of day - you should expect a little excitement at your arrival though it may be short lived if it's nap time. Mine loved people arriving and human interaction which is precisely what I'm looking for in a puppy.
If you've interrogated the breeder then it's probably pay back time - have you owned a dog before, are you aware that Labradors are muppets, will you be working full time, etc. I have to say that although I asked these questions, the answers weren't always the most important thing to base my decision on - full time workers means that there is money in the pot for a dog walker, owning a dog is kind of important but not if they gave it away when it got hard work, just because someone has a garden doesn't mean the dog will get out on walks more...The most important thing for me was how the family reacted to the pups - children that scream with fear/a lady that wanted chocolate rather than black Labradors because they match the sofa (seriously!)/or just staring at the chaos of puppyness rather than being a part of it: these are the people I turned away. I chose not to do home checks because any one can tidy up their 4 bed semi - it doesn't mean that a dog in a flat will be any less cared for. I just made my prospective buyers aware of the size of Pig and the destruction she is capable of!
~~*~~ Signing up for Life ~~*~~
You like the breeder, you love the bitch, and you're already thinking of names for the little whirlwind: now you've got to pay up. Usually a breeder will ask for a deposit which is usually around £100 for a pedigree - this is to ensure you're serious rather than them saving a puppy for you to never pick up and them turning away other buyers in the meantime. Most breeders will issue a receipt and take some details from you. I also required that the new owners came back before pick up so that the puppy had an easier time adjusting when it was whisked away from me. Some may say I was slightly crazy when it came to the prospective parents but to be fair I've made some lovely friends from doing it - I did say to one parent during their interview as to why I should let them have my little chocolate runt: 'Boris is a very special boy - impress me.' Well, he was special - he was a week behind the others in development, I'd strapped him to my chest for a week so he had warmth and a heartbeat as he was too weak to fight against the other 11 for prime position and teats, and at about 3 weeks old, I'd laid him under the heat lamp and me and Piggy had said our goodbyes, only to find him shouting for food 6 hours later. He wasn't going to be a top showdog but his character was second to none and had I not found the right home, he'd be sat here now so yes, I was a little protective over some of them. Others were boisterous little buggers that would have been happy anywhere as long as they had mud to play in and things to destroy!
Don't bargain with the breeder - if you didn't want to pay the asking price, you shouldn't have gone. However, before you go and look make sure the price is reasonable - if no health tests have been performed, they're not being microchipped or vaccinated, or no puppy packs are included: then is it really a good breeder in the first place? If you can't afford to pay for the puppy in the first place then it's unlikely you'll be able to afford to keep it. A puppy should not leave his mummy until he's 8 weeks old so don't ask - he may not see his mum every minute of the day towards the end, but he'll definitely be learning how to play and interact through his brothers and sisters. If you're offered him earlier, I would question why.
A good breeder will have informed you of a contract that will need to be signed when you pick the puppy up. As an Assured Breeder I produced a contract with an information sheet that meant new owners knew the levels of exercise required as the pup grew up, the nutrition a growing Labrador needed and health issues such as vaccinations, worming and flea treatments. Mine were vaccinated as I believe in them, so each puppy had a record book from the vets with their treatments documented in and a copy of the letter I got from the vet that had performed an initial health check on the litter. I also suggested that within a week the puppy should visit their new vets to have a health check so that they could confirm the health of the little blighter rather than take my word for it. The contract was the basic Kennel Club one that included clauses such as returning the dog back to me should their circumstances change. I also added 'Endorsements' to the pups pedigrees which basically meant that the pups could not be exported to another country or that they could not be bred from unless the necessary health checks were undertaken. Make sure you understand what you're signing - some people do not want their pups bred from ever whilst others require neutering. A copy of the contract should be included in your puppy pack and a copy kept for the breeder.
Puppy Packs: whilst these sound like a cheap way to sucker you in, they can actually be very useful. A good pack will contain enough food for you to continue feeding the pup what they're used to for a week or so so that they settle in easily. There may be a toy that the pup has slept with for the past few weeks and or something that smells of their mum. I included a clicker in each one so that the training I'd started could continue. I didn't include a lead and collar, though I did suggest when the new parents came for collection that they had one handy should they need to stop for a wee on the way home (the pup, not them).
Although most of this review is aimed at finding a puppy through a breeder, I'm not a snob. There are plenty of good rescue dogs out there - I'm just trying to help those of you looking for a breed pup without falling into some of the common traps. A rescue centre will check you very thoroughly so don't think that this is the easy way out - they have rigorous rules and regulations too. As long as the puppy is right for you and you're ready, you should have a fun life ahead.
~*~ Your New Best Friend ~*~
This is where the review ends. Hopefully I've helped you choose the perfect companion (if you've ignored my ramblings and rantings that is) - the adventure now begins.
If I've missed anything off, please let me know and I'll include it.
I'm off for a cuddle with my best buddies.
Me, Pig & Puddle.
Review will more than likely appear elsewhere.
Summary: Do your homework and you'll be able to relax with your perfect choice