Before you buy your puppy

It’s really easy to buy a puppy.

It’s a lot harder to do a good job of raising one.

In this video, trainer Nando Brown says that people spend more time researching cellphones which they will upgrade within a year, than they do researching dogs which they should have for 10 to 15 years.

BTW, if you ignore your cellphone it will stay still, beep a bit and eventually run out of battery. An ignored/ underexercised/ undertrained dog will be a lot noisier and more destructive and their batteries will gain energy!!

Asking a trainer to help you choose your new puppy can save you a lot of grief later. We know how hard it is to resist that cute puppy in your face, (and sadly some sellers know this and take advantage of it.)

If you do want to ‘go it alone’ here are some things to read and consider.

Ian Dunbar provides a free booklet for you to read before buying a pup. You can download it here Before you get your puppy and this is the link for the booklet After you get your puppy

My ‘before’ list includes:

  1. Can you afford a dog?
  2. Do you have time for it?
  3. Do you have the right place for it?
  4. Male or female?
  5. Rescue/pet shop/ crossbred or pedigree?
  6. Which breed?
  7. Which breeder?
  8. Pregnancy care and early rearing.
  9. Litter size and parenting skills

1) Can you afford a dog?
There are many costs – of buying, feeding, grooming, vaccinating, registering, desexing, providing collars, leads and toys; housing the pup and visiting the vet for illness or disease during its lifetime.

2) Do you have time for a dog?
Rearing, socialising and training a dog so you can enjoy its company, takes time. Time to educate yourself; time to take the pup out and about; time to train and exercise it; brush it and clip its nails; and time to hang out with it and build the relationship at home. The more quality, focused time you invest in a youngster, the bigger the payoff.

3) Do you have the right place for it?
Do you own your house or are you renting? Will the landlord let you have a dog? Is there shade in summer and shelter from wind and rain in winter? Do you have a warm, solid kennel and run to keep the dog safe and comfortable when you aren’t home? Is the property well fenced? Tying dogs up isn’t ideal, nor is keeping a dog at the front of a property beside busy streets. You will have no control over what your dog is seeing, or what passers by are doing to the dog. Often these dogs spend a lot of their day tense and alert to whatever is going past.

4) Male or female?
This is generally personal choice. Males tend to grow bigger than females of the same breed and of course are likely to lift their legs on upright objects. Entire males are more likely to roam than neutered ones and because they can mate with entire bitches, they will need excellent fencing to keep them at home. Males are implicated in dog bites more than females and entire dogs bite more often than neutered ones. That said, most dogs, if well reared, socialised, trained and handled, will be a pleasure to their owners.

Females will need desexing; or will need very close control around their heat cycles. They can breed at each cycle (about twice a year and may start heats as early as 6 months). Although many people like to breed litters, it isn’t necessarily a good idea, especially if the dogs being mated have any health or temperament issues. If things go wrong (and even with healthy dogs they can) it may cost a lot for a vet. The bitch will need extra food when she is feeding the pups and when you wean them they will need to be well fed. Pups also need vaccinating and regular worming. Finding good homes takes time and isn’t always easy. Rescue shelters are overrun with unwanted dogs and puppies. Please ask yourself if you want to add to those.

5) Rescue/ pet shop/ crossbred or pedigree pup?
Breeders, pet shops and rescue organisations build their reputations on placing dogs carefully and their reputations ensure future dogs find homes too. Be honest with yourself and the breeder/ shop/ organisation, about the sort of dog you want and the lifestyle you can provide. In return, expect them to be honest about the needs of their dogs.

You want them to place their dogs with genuine care for the welfare of you, your family and friends, the public and the dog. You want them to ask lots of questions and see you interacting with the dogs, so they can decide which dog is a good match for you. If someone is simply prepared to accept your money and let you take the dog – do they really care? Do you really want to support them? That one dog may get a good home with you, but what about the others they place? What about the people who may take an unsuitable dog and then struggle with it?

With a rescue pup you often won’t know the background. There are plenty of lovely dogs in rescue and there are plenty who have had such a rough start they have behaviour issues to work through. Sometimes they turn out to be different breeds from the ones the rescue suggested.

With an adult dog you can see what you’re getting – appearance and temperament. Many teenage dogs end up in rescue because they have had no training and they may have learned unwanted habits. Be prepared for a lot of work with these dogs. Others fall on hard times. They have sick or elderly owners or owners going overseas who cannot take their dogs with them. These are often well behaved, sociable dogs who would otherwise have stayed in their homes.

Pedigree pups are more predictable in appearance and temperament than pups with unknown backgrounds, but every breed has health issues. Research these and ask the breeder about the health testing they’ve done.

Crossbreds are NOT NECESSARILY healthier than pedigrees. If the parents have health issues, then chances are the pups will too.

Pet shop pups are rather like rescues. You won’t see the pups’ parents or where they were born. You won’t meet the people who bred them to form an opinion about their care or ethics. Some pups in pet shops come from puppy mill breeders. The pups may spend much of their important socialisation time alone in cages. Once they have spent a length of time in one shop, they may be moved to another where they appear as a ‘new’ puppy in that store.

Know the risks before you buy.

6) Which breed would suit you?
Large or small? Low or high exercise and training needs? Long or short coated? One that needs brushing or one that needs clipping? Drooler or not? Likely health problems and affordability/ ease of treatment? Crossbred pups might throw towards one breed or the other in appearance and temperament, or be an even mix of parent breeds.

7) Which breeder would suit you?
All dogs of a breed aren’t the same as each other. Pups are likely to take after their parents. Choose healthy, sound, good natured parents and a careful breeder who will rear the pups well. The best breeders stand by their pups. They offer after sales support and will take back dogs or offer support with training/ behaviour or rehoming dogs they’ve bred, if you ever find yourself in a difficult situation.

Choose rescue dogs carefully too. You have to live with that dog for the next several years. You want one that you will be able to enjoy and will enjoy life with you. Don’t just take a dog because you feel sorry for it, unless you truly want to provide the high level of care it needs and you are ready and able to do that.

8) Pregnancy care and early rearing
If a breeder won’t let you see and handle the parents, or see the rearing conditions – you are taking a big risk. If you feel sorry for the dogs, consider that buying the pup might help that one pup, but it will also support the breeder to keep doing what they do. The stud dogs won’t have kindly buyers to take them away. Read up on puppy mills. They do exist in NZ.

Being an NZKC breeder is no guarantee of pup quality, although the NZKC now have an accredited breeders’ scheme.

Buying a rescue pup supports a rescue organisation and makes space for another, so is potentially a more ‘feel good’ decision. IMO an ethical rescue organisation will only home dogs they believe to have solid temperaments, will be as honest as possible about breed and previous care, and provide after homing support. They will ensure the dog you choose fits your personality and lifestyle, just as any caring breeder would do.

9) Litter size and parenting
I’ve recently read some suggestions that a litter of about 5 is manageable for a bitch to mother well. Larger litters compete for food and attention and may not get as much useful social learning from their mother as they should.

Solo or hand raised pups are going to need an active breeder or human foster mother who ensures they meet lots of other pups and/ or well socialised dogs to try and make up for what they’re missing.

The mother isn’t just the ‘milk bar’. She grooms and nurtures the pups, she disciplines them and teaches them social skills. Littermates also teach the pup social skills and frustration tolerance. Solo and hand reared pups are fairly easy to keep physically healthy, but are likely to develop behavioural issues unless you actively work to socialise them all through their puppyhood and beyond.

Dr Roger Abrantes suggests social skills are 25% inherited, 25% learned from the mother and 50% learned elsewhere. Research has shown that pups taken from a calm mother and reared by an anxious one learn to be anxious.

My advice is to inform yourself, make the best buying decision you can; then once you have the puppy, do your utmost to develop that puppy into the best pet it can be. Socialising needs to be an active daily mission which you cannot overlook!  Check out some suggestions here.