Where do you buy a Puppy?

People believe that they can make money out of breeding dogs.  This, unfortunately, in some cases is true.  Pedigree dogs can cost up to and over £1000,  But if dogs are bred properly there is little or no profit in it. 

When you start thinking about buying a puppy one of the first questions is where do you get one from?  Rescues do get puppies in so you could visit your local centre and put your name down.  Or you could look online, or in the local press.

Buyer beware, though.  If you make the wrong choice you could end up with a very costly mistake!  Dogs should be bred for health and temperament, but all too often are not. 
You will be spending up to a decade and a half with your new companion, so itís important that you do as much as possible to make the right choice of which puppy to buy, and which breeder to buy from.  It will be hard breaking for you, and hard for the puppy if you make the wrong choice and part all too soon due to behavioural or health issues. 

Finding a good breeder who has puppies available will not be easy - good breeders often have a waiting list as people know their pups will be excellent.  You may have to be prepared to wait, or to travel to get your new dog. 

How can I tell if it's a Good Dog Breeder?

A good breeder will spend a lot of money having the proper health tests done for their breed to make sure that you, the buyer, end up with a healthy puppy. 

Dogs can suffer from a number of diseases or joint problems, and much research is being carried out to try and identify where these issues are hereditary and can be identified by testing.  DNA tests have been developed to identify the gene that causes blindness in many dogs, and hip scoring can be carried out in the many breeds that have a tendency to develop hip dysplasia.  A dog suffering from hip dysplasia can suffer crippling lameness and arthritis, sometimes needing complete hip replacements.  Hip dysplasia is distressing for both dogs and owners, and an extremely expensive problem to manage.

If the breed is one where hip dysplasia is a common problem breeding stock should have their hips scored.  This involves an xray of the hips being taken, and the results being assessed by the BVA (British Veterinary Association).  Hip scores of pedigree dogs (and the results of other health tests) can be found on the Kennel Club website.

(Note:  Breeding from dogs with low hip scores is only one step in trying to prevent puppies inheriting this deformity.  Unfortunately there are also many environment factors which can lead to dogs having bad hips.  Damage can occur in the womb, a dam could step on a puppy and in older puppies diet and too much early exercise can also contribute to the problem.  Hip scoring is, unfortunately, no guarantee that the dog will not develop problems.  But the chances are very much higher if the parent dogs have poor hips).

The Kennel Club runs an Assured Breeders Scheme, and members of this need to have all relevant tests run for their breed.  There is a useful list of tests per breed on the Kennel Club website.

This list is not exhaustive, and some breeders will go further to try and make sure they are breeding from the healthiest dogs possible.  Various breed clubs can advise on the current recommended tests for their breed.

If you decide on a pedigree dog then you should familiarise yourself with the health tests that should have been carried out, and ask any breeder you visit to show you the documented evidence that these have been done. 

If you are buying a cross breed puppy then you may think that health tests need not be performed as there is a myth that cross breeds are more healthy than pedigree dogs.  But ideally the tests for each breed in the mix should have been done, as the puppy can inherit any of the issues identified within each breed.  Unfortunately this is an unlikely scenario, as people who breed their bitch with the dog conveniently living down the street are not likely to even know about health testing. 

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How to Spot a Dog Breeder you should Avoid

Unfortunately some people breed puppies just to make money.  Some bitches are kept in small runs and bred at every season with poor care during pregnancy.  They are simply used as breeding machines.  Puppies born to these bitches are often unhealthy, and some may die either before they are sold, or shortly after the puppy buyer takes them home.  But as long as some get sold the breeder (or puppy farmer as they are more properly called in this case) still makes a profit.  These puppies are unlikely to be KC registered as the bitch is being overbred.  The puppy farmer may offer you a Pedigree Registration document which can make you believe they are properly registered.  Never accept anything but a proper Kennel Club Transfer of Ownership form. 

Puppies advertised on sites such as Gumtree are often puppy farmers.  You may be tempted by the low prices for pedigree pups, but remember breeding properly is an expensive business - health testing and providing the proper veterinary care for the bitch and puppies.  Puppy farmers cut corners, and you may end up with a very expensive sickly dog to care for for the rest of its life!  You are unlikely to be able to see the mother in these cases, and the breeder will often arrange to meet you in a service station car park to hand the puppy over.  Avoid this situation like the plaque!

Some breeders are simply inexperienced - their bitch may have escaped and have been Ďcaughtí by the neighbourhood rogue dog.  You will not know the history of the sire involved, and the bitch is unlikely to have had any health tests.  Not being experienced the whelping conditions may have been far from adequate, and the care of the mother during pregnancy and the puppies during their first few weeks poor.  Whilst all pups have worms to some extent, good breeders will have already wormed the pups before you get them.  A poor breeder may not even know this needs to have been done. 

There are many signs that you set off warning bells in your head that youíve come across a bad breeder- not being able to see the mother to assess her temperament, dirty puppies with some of the litter looking ill, not being asked any questions to determine whether the puppy is right for you (and vice versa) etc.

If you see signs that you have gone to a bad breeder then it is best to walk away from the puppy.  This is hard as you may have set your heart on it, and donít want to leave it in poor conditions.  Handing over money to a disreputable breeder just supports their breeding practice.  If they canít sell the puppies and have to give them to a rescue organisation to find homes for they wonít make money, and hopefully wonít try and breed again. 

A poorly bred puppy may cost you in large vet bills for the whole of its life. 

Finding a Good Breeder

Some Essential Do's and Don'ts!

DONíT buy a puppy if the mother is not on the premises.  This points to it being a puppy farm.  Puppy farm buy puppies in bulk when they are far too young to leave their mother, and sell them on for a profit.  Such dogs will have had a very poor start in life, and are likely to have health and behavioural problems. 

DONíT let someone bring the puppy to you - it may be a puppy farmer.

DONíT fall in love and buy a puppy from a pet shop on impulse, and never buy unless you are certain it is more than eight weeks old.  No puppy should be separated from its siblings and mother until this age.

DONíT buy a puppy for Christmas or birthdays.  Give the bedding, toys etc. as the present, and bring the dog home once all the excitement of the holiday has died down.

DO buy a puppy from an approved breeder registered on the Kennel Club site if you are buying a pedigree puppy, or one recommended by breed clubs.

DO make sure you see the mother with her pups, and, if possible the father. 

DO go and see the puppy. 

DON'T buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it.

DON'T feel obliged to buy the puppy just because you've taken up the breeder's time.  If you have second thoughts about the breed, or thought the Mum or pups would look different it's better to say so now than live with an expensive mistake.

DO expect the breeder to give you the third degree about your experience in keeping dogs and your home situation.  A good breeder will always want to check that their puppy is going to a good home.

DO be prepared to wait for your puppy!  Although it's great to make the decision to have a dog as part of your household, you may need to go on a waiting list if you're going to get a pup from a good, reputable breeder!

Choosing Your Puppy

Breeders will not allow people to visit the puppies until the are at least 3 weeks old, and normally not until they are 4 or 5 weeks old.  This is due to the risk of infection being brought into the house. 

Irish Setter with Pups
Irish Setter mum with pups
When seeing the pups with the mother check that they all look healthy, with bright eyes and clean bottoms.  Puppies sleep a lot, so donít be worried if theyíre all asleep, but youíll need to wait until they are active to make your choice.   The breeder should be able to advise you the best time to go so you can see them romping around.

Observe the puppies closely.  They should be interested in you as a visitor, and not fearful.    People often talk about the puppy choosing them, but in fact the one that comes to see you first will be the most dominant puppy and unless you are a strong determined person you may have many Ďdiscussionsí about whoís going to be pack leader!  The puppy who backs away will be the most timid, and will need extra support to overcome their nervousness.  The puppy you are looking for will be in the middle.

Even if you donít have the Ďpick of the litterí and most of the puppies are spoken for, you should avoid either the most dominant or most nervous puppy - if this is the only one you can choose consider if this is right for you.  Just because you are being shown the litter does not mean you have to buy. 

Weimaraner Litter
Litter of Weimaraner Puppies
Sometimes if the pups are all the same colour there can be no real way to choose between them (as can be seen with the pictures here of Weimaraner and Irish Setters).   If there is no identifiable choice you will need to make your decision on the day you can take it home.  If this is the case, and if there are other people interested, try to get there early so you have some to choose from.  Even with identical pups the breeder will have learned the differences between them and should be able to help you choose. 
Bitch or Dog?

You may have already decided whether you want a bitch or a dog.  Much of the decision will simply be down to a personal preference.    In many breeds the male tends to be larger than the female so that may be an influencing factor for you.  There seems to be many contrary views as to whether females or males are more loving and faithful, and it might vary by breed as well.  Ask the breeder for her opinion if you're unsure. 

Bitches do have seasons, and some people worry that this will be a messy, unpleasant affair.  In actual fact it's quite easy to deal with, and if you spay her then the seasons will stop.  However, the best advice is to wait until 3 months after her first season before spaying, so you will need to experience one season at least.  There are definitely health benefits to spaying. 

What to Expect from the Breeder

If the distance isnít too great, and the breeder is willing, try to visit more than once.  I visited Bess 3 times when she was 4, 5 and 6 weeks old.  Apart from the pleasure of being able to watch her develop, it was also a good opportunity to see how the breeder was looking after them and ask any questions about their care. 

When seeing a litter of puppies expect to be given an interrogation about your experience of keeping dogs and your home circumstances.    Good breeders care greatly for their animals, and want them to go to good forever homes.  The best breeders are  those who want to keep in contact after youíve collected the pup.  If the breeder doesn't give you the third degree, and doesn't seem to care where the puppy is going, run a mile. 

Pups should not be separated from their mother until they are 8 weeks old, so she should always be present when you visit.  The temperament of the mother will give you some clue as to how the pups will turn out.  All the puppies should be alert, and interested in what is going on around them.  They should be happy to be handled.  They should be playful, and you should observe them playing together.  If one isnít joining in this could be that it is not so fit and active as the others.  When you pick up the puppy it should be clean and dry, with no discharge from its bottom, and the tummy should feel soft when gently pressed. Eyes should be open, clean and clear - it should look at you and respond to your voice.  Itís fur should look clean and shiny, and there shouldnít be any patches of soreness.   However sorry you feel for it, you should not select the runt of the litter.  There may well be health reasons why it is not growing as well as its siblings. 

It is easy to be tempted to get more than one puppy, although if you are buying an expensive pedigree dog the price will help your head rule your heart.  But even if you can afford it, donít buy two puppies from the same litter.  As they grow they will bond with each other, and not with you, and you can have separation problems.  What starts as a nice thought can cause you problems you hadnít anticipated further down the line. 

Paying a deposit to a Dog Breeder

Normally breeders ask for a deposit to be left if you pick your puppy some time before you collect it.  A deposit is non refundable, and covers the breederís re-advertising fees and the costs of keeping the puppy for longer if you decide that you do not want the puppy for any reason.  
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The price of a cross breed puppy is usually cheaper than a pedigree dog (except in the case of some designer cross breeds), but this reflects the fact that the breeders will probably have spent less in preparing their dogs for breeding.  Although it is useful to take out insurance for any dog, it is particularly necessary in a cross breed mix which may have many inherited problems. 

Some breeders will assure you that their dogs have been Ďvet checkedí.  This is not the same as health checks as heart, eye and hip problems etc. cannot be identified without extensive testing.  In all likelihood the vet examined the dog and agreed it was in a good condition for breeding.  He will not have taken into account any hereditary problems.

The different breed clubs, together with the Kennel Club, are continually researching into how to identify what cause the maladies which affect various breeds.  Epilepsy, for example,  is common in some breeds, and research is current being conducted to see if this is hereditary. 

A good breeder will be the welfare of their dogs and puppies first.  The dam and sire will have had the correct health tests for the breed.  The mother and puppies will be kept in clean and warm conditions, and you will be able to see the mother when you visit.  Normally you will not be able to meet the sire as the breeder may not own him, but you should be given his details.

On first contact the breeder will give you the third degree about you, your knowledge of dog keeping, in the case of a pedigree your experience with the breed, your home circumstances (house, flat, whether you work or not).  This is because a good breeder will want to make sure that their puppy is going to a good home for life.  However, if things do not work out a good breeder will take back a puppy (at any life stage).  The breeder may say that this breed is not for you, or that the puppy will not be happy in the kind of home you can offer.  It would be sensible to take this advice, and not look for another breeder who is less scrupulous and will sell you a puppy. 

A pedigree puppy should have been registered with the Kennel Club, and the breeder should give you the transfer of ownership papers.  Breeders are only allowed to register a certain number of litters to prevent dogs living a life of misery and being overbred.  If the breeder says your puppy has not been registered with the KC you need to understand the reasons why, and quite probably walk away.  It only costs £15 to register a puppy - a drop in the ocean compared to the price being charged!

If you are going to want to show your puppy in the future then it must be KC registered.  Only the breeder can register the puppy - you cannot do it yourself in future.

A good breeder will give you a contract to sign when you buy your puppy.  If it is a pedigree dog there may be endorsements in the contract - one of which may be that you cannot breed from this dog without the breederís agreement.  An endorsement is registered with the Kennel Club, and means any progeny cannot be KC registered unless the breeder lifts the endorsement.  Usually endorsements are put in place so that the breeder can be assured that all health tests are done before the dog is bred from.  If you are not sure what the endorsements mean make sure you discuss this with the breeder. 

The contract will normally state that if you are unable to keep the puppy that you contact the breeder and do not try and rehome him/her yourself.  Most good breeders will want to know how their puppies are doing throughout their life time.

Good breeders will have started early training with their puppies, and may have followed the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust guidelines laid out in the Puppy Plan.  It could be useful for you to familiarise yourself with this plan so you can ask questions about what they have done.  Please bear in mind that it may be difficult for a breeder to complete all the steps with a very large litter! 

You should be given a diet sheet and possibly a sample of the food your new puppy has been eating so you can continue this for the first few weeks.  You should also be given some information on what to do with your new puppy when you take it home, and for the first few weeks.

Good breeders may well microchip your puppy before you collect him/her.  Make sure they sign a form so that the details can be changed to yours. 

Puppies need two vaccinations before they can go out in the world and go for walks.  Some breeders will arrange for the first vaccine to be done before collection.  There are pros and cons to this - if your puppy has been vaccinated you will need to find a vet who used the same brand of vaccine for the second vaccination.  It does however mean that you will be able to complete the vaccinations a little earlier. 

In essence good breeders (of pedigrees and crossbreeds) care about their puppies and the new home they are going to. 
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