Looking for a puppy

The subject for this blog post is often at the forefront of my mind as I experience both sides of this complicated issue.

Firstly as a dog owner and very occasional dog breeder (last litter was 2014) I am often contacted for information about potential litters of puppies. These enquiries range from simple questions such as "When is your next litter due?" or "How much would a puppy cost?" to much more detailed enquiries asking about reputable breeders, health testing and so on.

In my other life, as a small animal vet, I rarely have any input into a dog owner's decision making before they acquire a puppy. On the rare occasions when I am approached for advice about the suitability of a chosen breed I jump at the opportunity! Recent studies have reported that a large number of people research the purchase of a puppy for as little as fifteen minutes before committing themselves. Often these purchases are made online with no opportunity to view the parents of the litter or the surroundings in which they are bred. While there can be happy outcomes to these transactions, all too often a puppy is purchased which simply does not fit a family's lifestyle and circumstances. I will never forget when I was a vet student, visiting a family with a beautiful Great Dane puppy who lived in a tower block. The next time I visited with the vet, some months later, the puppy filled the kitchen and there was no room for the table and chairs. It seems crazy that people spend longer researching the purchase of a pair of shoes or a new TV than they spend choosing a puppy.

There are many websites and organisations which can help potential dog owners looking for a new pet. The RSPCA, Dogs' Trust, PDSA and the Kennel Club all have information on their websites. Most veterinary practices welcome enquiries from prospective dog owners. After all, most vets see the heartache which accompanies some of these unfortunate purchases. I often see puppies with diarrhoea, parasites and skin problems. They can be undernourished, poorly socialised and with no "after sales" advice. In many cases, the "breeder" is not contactable. There is a practice of using a SIM card for each litter and after all the puppies are sold the SIM card is destroyed and no more contact with the breeder is possible. I have heard of this numerous times. While it is an exceptional and caring breeder who maintains lifelong contact with puppy owners there should at least be the possibility of getting in touch in the early months. This might be to ask for advice about training or diet but more importantly if there are any serious health problems, particularly congenital or hereditary ones, the breeder should be informed. Some puppies are purchased with no information about feeding, worming and vaccination being given by the breeder. Puppies are exchanged in motorway service areas or in car parks and large sums of money are often involved. The coronavirus pandemic enabled unscrupulous breeders to prevent puppy purchasers from visiting their properties. Viewing puppies via video link is a very unreliable method of ascertaining a breeder's premises.

Another issue which came to the fore during the pandemic is the cost of a puppy. It is difficult to give an accurate appraisal of puppy prices but the increase in price at that time, often by 300% or more seems excessive to me. The simple law of supply and demand explains this price rise to some extent. Some breeders are worried about puppies being bought and then sold on for a profit so it is thought if a high price is asked for initially there will be less resale value. A cynical view is just that human greed is playing a part. In the last year or so, prices have stabilised and in general.have fallen somewhat.

There are so may considerations when choosing a puppy. Novice dog owners must research their chosen breed carefully and weigh up if the dog will fit their lifestyle. Size, temperament, trainability and if there is a tendency to have health problems all need to be considered. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes ranging from a 2kg chihuahua to a 100kg mastiff. Small dogs are not necessarily easier and they often need as much or more exercise than larger dogs. Interestingly, a retired greyhound is often happy to go for a gentle stroll and then spend the rest of the day on the sofa.

The temperament of a given breed can be predicted to some extent by understanding the purpose for which it was bred. Herding, guarding and gundog breeds have evolved to work alongside humans. Some breeds such as the cavalier King Charles spaniel have been bred for companionship. A working border collie is a joy to behold showing intuition and intelligence as it works in close harmony with its handler. Similarly a working German Shepherd dog forges a very strong bond with its handler and can show immense bravery. Dogs like these are bred specfically for working but sometimes puppies from these lineages can find themselves in pet homes. Much more frequently, working gun dogs are bought as pets. Highly intelligent and with a great deal of stamina these dogs can be challenging if they are not given adequate stimulation. Studying a gundog's pedigree can indicate if there are working ancestors as the letters FTC (field trial champion) might be present. It can be very difficult to ascertain the temperament of some of the common cross breeds. Crossing two very different types of dog such as a Labrador and a poodle can result in puppies showing a variety of traits from either of the breeds.

Temperament is also affected by the conditions in which a puppy is reared and the experiences it has in its early life.

As explained in another blogpost, health testing is an essential part of breeding puppies. Test results from breeding animals can be viewed on the KC website. Some breeds are inherently less healthy due to their conformation or physical attributes. The brachycephalic or "flat faced" breeds can experience severe breathing difficulties and in some cases require invasive surgery to correct these abnormalities. Information about the health issues affecting individual breeds can be found on breed club and the KC websites. The higher risk breeds such as the bulldog or pug will need a comprehensive, lifetime insurance policy which are expensive.

To recap, before buying a puppy, research the breed and its exercise and training requirements, ascertain that every health test has been done with satisfactory results, visit the breeder's premises and understand the financial commitment required for insurance and vet bills.