Finding your Puppy
There are many important issues to consider before sailing forth to choose a puppy. As a family, discuss what size and type of dog is most suitable for your lifestyle. Take into consideration the size of your house, and if you have the time and energy for lively dog. Think about the size of the dog. If you have children, a very small fragile dog will need a great deal of protection from you long after he has ceased to be a puppy, as children can be less than gentle in their actions. Take the time to thoroughly discuss both what you all want, and what is practical for your particular circumstances.
Decide whether you would like a puppy from a rescue centre or from a breeder. Do you want a mixed breed, or is there a specific breed you’d prefer?
It is vitally important you consider personality as well as breed – each dog will contain different degrees of a large range of characteristics. Also research breed-specific physical problems which can be present (but with ethical and dedicated breeders are less likely to be). The most beautiful dog in the world can soon lose its appeal if it comes saddled with breed-related health problems (as well as deep-seated emotional issues caused by an inappropriate early environment or conditioning). With knowledgeable human owners, most emotional issues can be eradicated or at least managed to an acceptable level, but some genetic physical problems, very sadly, can be impossible to resolve.
If you want a rescue dog, look at the local and regional centres, both large and small. Research their performance and policies, visit and decide for yourself if they have the right attitude.
If you want a puppy from a breeder, all pedigree puppies will be registered with the Kennel Club in the UK, and breeders advertise their puppies on the site. This is a good place to start. Make a shortlist of possibles’, then start phoning!
Another avenue to take is to look in the local newspaper. A pet owner may well adore their dog and desire just one litter so they can keep a puppy. Very often these people are the very best! They have read, marked, learned and inwardly digested everything they need to know about the care of their mother and ensuing puppies.
From a Home Breeder
If you can, visit a breeder for the first time when the litter is around four or five weeks old. It is unlikely (and frankly not desirable) that a breeder will allow you to see the litter before then as the mother won’t be comfortable with strangers. You should look to take the puppy home at ideally ten to twelve weeks, and at least not before eight and a half, because a) the social fear period is between eight and ten weeks and b) he needs to learn social dog skills and communication from his mother and how to get on with other dogs through interaction with his siblings.
When visiting a home breeder, there is a lot to look out for. Most importantly, the home environment should be clean and comfortable, and the breeders welcoming and open, happy to answer all your questions — the answers to which should be at their fingertips (unless your questions are bizarre!).
The litter itself should be friendly and lively, interested and curious. If they are overly mouthy and bitey at six weeks, you know they haven’t been handled well and it could turn into an issue . Personalities show even at this young age, so there will always be the bold and assertive, and the shy and diffident, but there should be a general atmosphere among them of, ‘Oh what’s this then? New humans – let us have a look!’ If all the puppies seem disinterested in you, lethargic or withdrawn: heed the warning bells. The only exception to this is if the puppies have just been fed and are sleepy, or if they have just emerged from a group game of rough and tumble. If the breeder tells you that this is the case, ask to come back in an hour or so — puppies recharge their batteries very quickly, so by then they should be raring to go!
Our preference is most certainly for a litter to be housed indoors, within sight and sound of the everyday workings of a human household. This way they become completely and naturally acclimatised to appliances such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, television, radio, the doorbell — in fact, all the noisy objects and people which make up an average family home. If they are housed outside, these are sights and sounds which will have to be introduced to them at an age when they no longer accept without fear anything that seems to be part of their environment. They have begun to be aware, just as children do — and with that comes fear of the unknown, particularly when they have been removed from mother and siblings and are, for the first time in their lives, alone.
Housing outside is neither detrimental to their physical well-being (if the housing is of a high standard), nor (if they are well handled by humans) to their association with people. It just makes the transition to their new home a lot harder for them because they have not been socialised with the normal sights and sounds of a home environment. Before you start, they are on the back foot of the learning curve.
Ideally, if you have been able to see the puppies at lour weeks, decided that you like what you see and have now gone back for one or several visits before making your final choice, you will have been able to see the personalities developing. This cannot always happen if you see puppies advertised at eight and a half weeks ‘ready to go’, but even then, try to make a couple of visits before making a final choice.
Many people say that their puppy chose them — it called to them, there was an immediate connection. We believe this instant, instinctive recognition of a kindred spirit is sound, and can be trusted, but if this does not happen, and if you are inexperienced, elderly or just warn a quiet life, it would probably be best to look for your puppy in the mid-range of personality — neither too shy, nor too bold.
In the UK and all over the world, there are many unwanted litters of puppies. For litters being rehomed by a rescue centre, the puppies can have had a mixed bag of birth place experiences. Some owners will have been responsible. Their bitch became unexpectedly pregnant, but they looked after mother and puppies well, contacting the rescue when the pups were eight weeks of age for them to help find suitable homes. Perfect.
Of course you may come across pups born in the rescue centre, and without a doubt they will get lots of kind handling by the staff, so take a look at the litter and take all our points into consideration. With any litter, wherever born, if the mother is relaxed then the same will go for the pups. If she is stressed through pregnancy and beyond, this will result generally in stressed pups. Some rescue centres have staff who go above and beyond and will take a litter and mother home for the puppies to be raised in a home environment until they are ready for their ‘forever’ homes — this is ideal!
Others will have been brought in, at any age, when the owners decide they were too much work. These pups will have the trauma of being in two homes from birth already. However, at the rescue centre they will have had the opportunity of being cared for by kind human beings, and if very fortunate they may have been placed with a nurturing adult canine (like Patch). They’ll have been kept fed and watered, and experienced warm, kind and gentle human touch. Hopefully, they won’t have been overindulged with love and sympathy — they need empathy and this is very different. Empathy sees life from the point of view of the abused, and makes sensible inroads to make them feel understood and safe, so they can grow as individuals. By all means feel sorry for the puppy, but it is understanding and being confident and proactive — with love and guidance in equal portions – that will ultimately help them grow into well-adjusted adults.
Sometimes the puppy’s parentage is dubious, so you may end up with a larger or smaller adult than you first expected. Make allowances for this. Can you afford him if he turns into a giant? Have you got the space? A rescue centre can give you a very rough idea of eventual size, but it’s no guarantee.
We may not know what the rescue pup’s early experiences were, but they certainly were not natural. These pups, along with ones that were fed and watered but taken away from their mothers at six weeks or earlier, start life on the back foot. However, I’d far rather take one from a rescue than hand over lots of money to a money-grabbing unscrupulous breeder, who may well think nothing of breeding again for financial reasons because we keep them in business.
Beware the Puppy Farm!
There is one rule here: leave well alone. Puppy farms come in all shapes and sizes, from those with many breeding bitches to those who just have a couple, but in all cases the care is poor or darn right cruel. Puppy farms and unscrupulous breeders use their breeding bitches as a money factory. When they get to six or seven years old, and have had the stuffing knocked out of them from multiple litters, they pass them on to rescues, unsuspecting individual dog lovers or maybe even put them to sleep. In our minds, three litters in any lifetime is enough for any bitch.
If Mum is not in evidence when you are shown the puppies, if the owner will not let you see all the puppies with the mother but insists on just bringing in the one they have chosen for you, be wary. At best they are control freaks, but more likely they do not want you to see the conditions under which the puppies are kept, their relationship with the mother or the mother’s physical condition. The extreme end of this is that the puppies have either been shipped in, and the mother is languishing in a puppy farm at the other end of the country, or that the puppy has been stolen, placed with the facilitator and furnished with fake papers.
For the same reasons as above, never agree to meet a seller at a motorway service station, car park, in fact anywhere except the place at which the puppy has been born, where you can see its mother and siblings. The usual reason given for this kind of exchange is ‘to save you the long journey’. The actual reason is that the puppy is a product of a puppy farm (which they would not want you to see under any circumstances) — or it is stolen.
In recent years there has been a new breed of people engaged in ‘puppy laundering’. These people import puppies from overseas and sell the pups on for profit. These puppies rarely have the appropriate vaccinations or have had any vets checks, and may carry forged papers which state they have. With the advent of pet passports (easily forged), these pups come from Europe and beyond and can carry any number of diseases, including rabies. Even if they do not, they are rarely in good health. If you do suspect a puppy is illegally imported, does not have a pet passport and is under fifteen weeks old, it may be in contravention of UK rabies legislation. Contact City of London Animal Health and Welfare Team 0208 897 6741 or email email@example.com or your local Trading Standards office (www.tradingstandards.uk/advice) to be put in touch with the animal health and welfare team.
The home puppy farm
The UK law allows a bitch to have six litters in a life time. The Kennel Club states:
The vast majority of responsible breeders feel that this is too high and that there is potential for this to have a negative impact on the welfare of the bitch.
Very serious consideration has to be given to the matter if a breeder wishes a bitch to have more than four litters, but the Kennel Club may grant permission for this to happen if it believes that there is good and justifiable reason for doing so on a case-by-case basis.
We have had recent experience of yet another type of unethical breeder — in essence, a small-scale puppy farmer in disguise. This one is harder to detect, but no less unpleasant. Lesley took a family member to see a litter of puppies — home bred, mother and father living with the puppies, socialised with children, only one breed of dog in the home. Perfect. Or was it?
This breeder had cleverly covered every ‘usual’ question. The puppies were regularly wormed, they had access to Mum, they had been vet checked, the parents had the correct certification (allegedly) for possible genetic disorders and KC generation pedigrees.
All fine so far, but in reality the puppies were kept in an outside garage, it was very cold, with only inadequate infrared lamps for heating. There were four adult dogs in the garden who were not allowed into the house. Although they obviously bred dogs for a living, there were no older dogs in evidence – what happened to them when their useful breeding days were over?
The pups were on newspaper over a concrete floor, and when we asked where the adult dogs slept, Lesley was told, ‘Oh, in here with the puppies.’ No beds, no bedding of any kind.
By the other wall of the garage, there was another bitch with two puppies – she looked very depressed and unconnected to her four- week-old pups. When Lesley asked how old she was, the answer was eighteen months – so this poor bitch was bred shortly after her first birthday. No wonder she looked unhappy and lost.
Lesley asked how many litters the mother of the puppies had produced: she was told ‘two’, and the mother was four years old. When she asked if this would be her last litter, they were astounded. ‘Oh no, she can be bred until she is eight years old – but we only breed her once a year.’ Unbelievable!
The worst thing was that when Lesley asked the opinion of her family member and potential puppy owner, she only said how cute the puppies were. She is not an unintelligent person; she just has little experience of dogs and breeders.
The British KC will not register litters from an overbred bitch – they have a maximum of four litters. But there is nothing the RSPCA could have done to stop this unscrupulous breeder. The dogs were not starved or beaten. They had shelter (of a kind). The puppies had been vet checked, wormed and fed adequately, yet the conditions under which all the dogs existed, and the agenda of these horrible breeders, was totally unacceptable.
Needless to say, they did not take a puppy.
By the way, the cost of these small terrier puppies? Nine hundred pounds each. A nice little earner if you have no conscience.
So be very aware, look beneath the ‘perfect’ credentials and judge by what you are seeing, not what you are told.
You will find unwanted pets being sold on websites such as Gumtree. Many say it is because they have got divorced or are moving abroad. Whatever the reason, in our experience it is generally because the dog or puppy has problems, physically or behaviourally. If you want to go down this route, take a professional with you.
Caroline went to see one for a client who was unsure of the puppy he had found. The pups were advertised sitting on a soft fluffy sofa looking pristine. When visiting, Caroline was presented with a puppy who had gunky eyes, and was thin and lethargic. The sellers said he had just been fed and that’s why he was so quiet, but it was clear from his stomach that he had not just been fed. He was shown without Mum and siblings, but when Caroline asked to see the others she discovered that mother was not allowed to be with her pups. She also had no visible teats, so Caroline was very sceptical that they were her pups at all. She asked to see the father and asked all the other delving questions … and knew when it was time to go when she asked to see the papers and they said she was asking too many questions. Caroline and her client left, and felt very uncomfortable indeed!
These pups were later advertised as not pure-bred pups, as in the first advert, but crosses – and looking at other adverts on the web there were more pups of different breeds, with a different name of owner, coming from the same place!
We believe that if people put puppies and dogs up for sale or rehoming on the web, at worst they are puppy farmers or the pups and dogs are stolen. At best, they are negligent and uncaring.
If your wish is to take on a pup who has had a bad start in life, if you have the time and even more patience and empathy, put your name down at the local dog rescue centre. He will be healthy, and you’ll be helping stamp out unscrupulous breeding as well as giving a home to a little ball of fur.