Before you get a puppy

Posted Monday, 12 January 2015


It's a big decision. It's almost as big as deciding to have a family. It will take a lot of planning and here are a few things to get you started.

Things to consider before getting your puppy

Does anyone in your family have an allergy to dogs?
Who will be responsible for the care of your dog?                                                                                 Is that person aware of the responsibilities?
Do you have enough room?
Do you have a garden? If so, is it secure?
Do you have small children? If so, will you be able to manage it all?
How much time do you have to exercise a dog?
How much time do you have to groom your dog?
If you don't have time, do you have a budget for a dog walker?
Are you prepared for the financial burden of a dog? Quality foods, veterinary expenses, insurance, toys, microchipping, training classes, training aids etc.
Do you travel a lot? If so, what do you plan to do with your dog when you are away? Maybe a better option would be to foster dogs which enables you to retain flexibility whilst being able to give a lot of love and support to a dog needing a home.
Are you aware that a dog can live for 18 years or more? How likely do you think it will be that you will move abroad or want to do significant travel during this time and what will be the impact of this on your dog?
How old are you and what is the life expectancy of your new puppy? If you are very elderly, will you be able to exercise your dog and have you made plans in the event that your dog outlives you? If you are worried about this why not consider an older rescue dog? 

How to decide which breed is right for you

There are hundreds of different breeds of dogs and they all have different needs. There are even hypo-allergenic dogs! So, if there is a history of dog allergies and you are still sure you would like to get a dog, do check for dogs which are less likely to cause allergies. This site will enable you to think carefully about the best dog for you based on how much time you have to exercise your dog, whether you have children etc.

Some dogs are very hard work and may not be at all suitable for you even though you are drawn to them. For example, if you don't have much time for walking and you work all day then an active breed like a Dalmatian may not be suited to your family. This breed needs a lot of walking (2 hours plus off lead per day for the average 2 year old) and is also very sociable and will not tolerate being left alone for 7 or 8 hours (in fact, no dog should be left alone for this long).

Do your research to find out about the breed's needs and make sure your dogs needs will match yours.

However, if you do not have time for the basic needs of a dog, i.e grooming, walking, training, general care, then please don't get one!  If you are at work all day, don't get a dog. Wait until you are at home and can be with your dog to educate him and are able to meet his social needs. If you are unable to do this then this dog will be likely to end up in a rescue centre and you will be feeling very bad about it.

Please also note that there are dogs which are banned in this country, so, in order to avoid a very distressing future, please ensure the dog you get is legal in this country. Check the dangerous dogs act for up to date information.

 What next?

Now you have decided which breed you would like, the really difficult bit begins! Where do you find a breeder? As a general rule I would suggest if you are looking for a pedigree dog you look for a Kennel Club Accredited breeder as these breeders are assessed. For non pedigree dogs you will have to use your instinct more. However, there are still puppy farm breeders who manage to sneak onto the general Kennel Club breeders list. Puppy farm bred dogs are best avoided. How do you know if you are at a puppy farm? Actually this can be quite difficult. However, you can check with local rescue organisations to find out about bad breeders as they will probably be aware. Puppy farms tend to breed more than one breed of dog and have larger numbers of puppies about. Often the conditions are not clean and you will not see the mother with the puppies. However, puppy farmers realise that many dog owners are now expecting to see the mother with their puppies so will temporarily put the mother with them for your visit. You will also find these puppies are being bundled into temporary homes which looks better than seeing them where they were bred, again you will very likely not see the mother. You will need to use your instinct.

Things to look for in a breeder



When you arrive are the adult dogs barking or showing aggression? Are they being shut away? If so walk away! The puppies are likely to inherit or learn this behaviour.
Are conditions cramped? Can you see the puppies with the mother? If not, then there is probably a good reason and it might be best to walk away.
Are the conditions clean? If not you may have health issues and toilet training problems.
Are the puppies all heaped up together to keep warm?
Are the puppies in the home and do they look comfortable with their surroundings?
Avoid puppies that have been weaned early (before 5 weeks) and be aware that puppies fed from unsupervised communal bowls may be more likely to experience conflict over food such as food bowl guarding. Hand reared puppies may also be more challenging.
Are the puppies kept outside of the home, in a kennel or in a shed? If so, no matter how sorry you feel you should avoid buying a puppy as they are more likely to struggle with a home environment as they have had limited interaction, socialisation and habituation from an early age. These puppies are more likely to be anxious.
What is the mother's behaviour like? Is she aggressive? Has she been separated from the puppies for any reason? If the answer is yes, then it is probably best to walk away. Can you see the father, his genes make up 50% of who the puppy will become.
Are you being pressured into taking the puppy away with you before they are 8 weeks old? If so you need to be aware that a lot of socialisation occurs between the mother and the other litter mates up until at least 8 weeks old. The Breeding of Dogs Act states that puppies must be with mother until 8 weeks old.
Do you feel the breeder will not let you have the puppy? If so, this is probably a very good breeder who wants to be sure their puppy will be well cared for. Don't be put off by this, just go ahead and prove that you are the right person for this puppy.
So, you have now done all your homework, you've found the breeder you are happy with who has agreed you can have the puppy (hard work isn't it?). What happens next?

How to choose the right puppy for you from the litter

This is not an exact science I'm afraid. Some breeders will be very good and will assess the right puppy for you. Some will say that you can predict your puppy's temperament by using the Volhard test. Actually I don't believe in this test as there is no scientific evidence that it is helpful. Many breeders will not let you perform the Volhard test, this is because this can be damaging to puppies! If you want to learn more about it Google this, but please don't try to do this on someone else's puppy as I personally don't believe this is ethical and it shows inconclusive results. All puppies are influenced by their environment as much as their genes. However, generally the following guidelines maybe useful:

Visit the litter as often as possible without being a nuisance so that you can see the puppy on a number of different occasions.
If a puppy looks nervous then it's probably best not to take that one unless you will live a peaceful life which will not challenge this one too much.
If a puppy is aloof to you on every visit then you may find this puppy will be difficult to motivate and build a relationship with. If you are an experienced dog owner you may decide it's worth the risk and effort, however, if you are a first time dog owner, you may want to avoid this one. N.B. Some breeds are naturally aloof and this is a breed trait.
When you hold the puppy does it freeze or go rigid or is it comfortable to be handled? If it goes rigid a lot of work will need to go into teaching this puppy to be comfortable with being handed and it may not make a suitable companion for smaller children.
If a puppy chooses you, be careful. Sometimes if this is the first puppy out of the group to come up to you and is always the first puppy each time you visit, you could potentially find this is quite a pushy puppy and may be quite hard work especially if it is keen to walk all over you and be generally a little pushy. If you are an experienced dog owner you may feel that you are able to manage this, but if you are a first time dog owner then think about it carefully and make sure you have identified a qualified dog trainer to work with at the earliest possibility.
For the standard dog owners looking for a family pet then it is probably best to get a puppy which is not the first or last to greet you, looks confident and is friendly. Visit several times and make sure that this is consistent.
Avoid taking on a puppy because you feel sorry for him or because he bullies you into choosing him!
Make sure you collect your puppy not much earlier or later than 8 weeks of age. Before you buy your puppy make sure you do your research about which vet to appoint and book in the vaccinations and micro-chipping etc. 

If your breeder is going to get your puppy's first vaccination make sure you know which brand of vaccine is being used so that you can make sure your vet can either stock it for you to complete the programme, or you can select a different vet to complete the vaccination programme for you with the same brand of vaccine. If you do not,  your puppy will be delayed in going out as the vaccination programme will be started again from scratch rendering the first vaccination an unnecessary expense. This would lose you precious socialisation time. 

As soon as you know you are getting your puppy choose a qualified rewards based puppy training school making sure that the class only takes puppies less than 20 weeks old at the start. If you attend a puppy party at a vet, then do make sure all puppies will be on lead and that it is very tightly controlled. Your puppy's first experiences with dogs and people are the most important ones.

Puppy Socialisation- THE MOST IMPORTANT BIT!

It is common knowledge now that the critical development period for puppies is approximately the first 12-16 weeks. However, recent research is finding that if socialisation is not maintained it can wear off. I have included a link to a really useful piece of information about puppy socialisation written by David Appleby of the Association of Pet Behavioursts. Please click on the links in the brackets below and do be sure to read both. In summary, we now know it is vital to properly socialise puppies for the first year of their life not just the first 12 weeks as failure to maintain socialisation and habituation can result in socialisation wear off. This increases anxiety and can lead to aggression. What is proper socialisation? Well, not just mixing with your pre-existing dog or a couple of friends dogs! I very often see dog aggressive dogs which live with several other dogs and the owner felt they would be well socialised as a result of living conditions.You need to widely socialise your puppy with many different breeds and ages of well socialised dogs in different locations. THIS DOES NOT MEAN A FREE FOR ALL. Your puppy needs to learn good manners and this may need your involvement. Don't just allow your puppy to rough and tumble other dogs as this tends to get them into trouble with less tolerant dogs. This can then lead to your dog becoming aggressive in the future. Appleby also points out the danger of choosing to socialise your puppy in a dog park rather than attending puppy classes. We need to appreciate that dogs in the park are often not at all well socialised. As a behaviourist I see many cases where dogs have learned to fear other dogs a a direct result of poor initial socialisation (even when living with another resident dog) and attacks received in the local dog park. It really is better to ensure you attend a properly run puppy class (ask your vet for a recommendation or check and maintain classes for a follow on session at least to ensure good quality socialisation.

(Appleby, APBC, 2004 ,

For useful information about pre vaccination socialisation please see this link

The above is intended for guidance only is is by no means conclusive.