There is nothing as wonderful as a new puppy in your home; seeing the world unfolding before their eyes as they wonder at every new sight, sound or experience. It should be an almost magical experience for people, but sadly it is not always. Buying puppies from inappropriate places namely pet stores, ‘backyard’ breeders and puppy mills can end in absolute tragedy. We have all seen news stories whereby puppies die within a few days of being in their new home leaving the family children devastated, but that should not happen.
So, how do you choose and find a puppy one may ask? Well, I can tell you, it is not as simple as typing ‘puppies near London’ in to google and picking the cheapest and closest! My youngest dog took me four years to find – firstly, I had to research the breed, speak to owners, trainers and breeders. Go and visit as many breeders as I could – all over the UK and pick their brains, see their dogs and research the pedigrees and look at the health issues affecting the breed lines that I wanted. All of this does not produce a failsafe result, but you have to do all that you can to ensure the temperament, health and longevity of your soon to be canine companion.
First up, you need to be sure that your circumstances are ready for a dog in the first place – it certainly is a real lifestyle choice – not something to be considered on a whim.
A primary consideration should be whether you can afford to have a dog, taking into account not only the initial cost of purchasing the dog, but also the on-going expenses such as food, veterinary fees and insurance. When you are not in the UK, you may be required to pay up to £30 a day for dog care in some areas. Are you ready for the lifelong commitment to a dog? – A dog’s average life span is 12 years. Do you have a suitable home, large enough to house a dog? Do you really want to exercise a dog every single day, come rain or shine? Will there be someone at home for a dog? Do you have time available to train, groom and generally care for a dog?
You must also consider the impact that owning a dog may have on your home – are you fine with a dog shedding hair about the house, urine stains on the grass, muddy paws on the floor, general canine odours. Can you cope with picking up poop up to three times a day? Are you ready to give up your spontaneous nights out or a weekend away – even a single night away must be planned with military precision so that dog is cared for. Most importantly, are you prepared to lose your heart to a pair of brown eyes and be there for your dog, through health and sickness and make any decisions that need to be made for the good of your dog? If you can answer yes, to all of these questions every day of the year, then it is time to start looking at breeds of dog!
Now, most people choose the dog that they share their life with purely on aesthetics and whilst of course this plays a part for all of us – you have to consider most importantly what the breeds were originally bred for and how that impacts on their required lifestyle, care needs and your environment.
For example, the Border Collie is a popular pet – not particularly suitable for most of the homes that own one. Picking up a collie puppy from a farm and talking it home to your loft apartment is going to end in nothing other than upset for you and the dog. Why? Because these dogs (along with many other breeds) are designed to cover 20 odd miles a day at speed herding sheep and unless you are going to invest in a flock of sheep or undertake some serious dog sport training – you will end up with a bored dog who will through displacement ruin your home and make your life a misery.
When going to the breeders find out why they breed the dogs – what do they do with them? Show them? Work them? Are they passionate about the dogs and their care, welfare and future of the breed? Are they striving to use the best stud dogs that they can find? Do they conduct all of the necessary health tests required for the breed? Will they be there to give you advice as the puppy develops and matures? Are the dogs reared in the house? Do they embark on socialisation with the puppy before you take the dog home? Are they willing to let you have the puppy between 7 and 8 weeks of age?
Once you have chosen a breeder and you feel happy with the dogs and with the way they will be raised, you must then plan your home and your time for when you collect the puppy.
When the exciting day arrives when you collect your little puppy, you will be sure that you have all that you need for the first few weeks. A crate is a must have to collect the puppy and to make him safe and comfortable over the coming weeks, a supply of food and bowls, a lead and a collar, some grooming equipment and you will already have made contact with a local veterinary surgeon to discuss vaccines and worming – I always take the puppy in for a health check within a day or so of bringing him home.
Most people end up travelling quite some distance to collect their chosen pup and so you will need to take with you some old newspapers, towels and bedding and kitchen roll as puppies are generally sick or toilet and en route and you will need to stop and clean this up – so make sure that you are prepared along with talking a small bowl and some water to replenish him.
Do try and collect your puppy as early in the morning as possible in order that it gives you longer in your home before going to bed to get puppy settled. My best advice is to get a puppy in the spring time – this means you can all spend longer outside which aids with the toilet training aspects and leaves the whole summer for socialisation – getting out and about!
For the first few weeks, I have the puppy in a crate in the bedroom near the bed so that I can get up and take them out in the night to toilet – the puppy is also less distressed being closer to you. I also then prepare the new puppy for being left alone overnight by using the cage for short intervals throughout the day for a few weeks.
Possibly the most important thing above all else is onward socialisation and training. The most critical time in your dog’s life is the age from 5 to 12 weeks and so you need to ensure that you are fully abridged with what socialisation is, what it needs to entail and how you are going to achieve it.
Many canine behaviour practitioners offer ‘puppy visits’ – they will come and set you on the right road regarding training and socialisation – and this really is something that more people should take up. Taking advantage of someone else’s experience and knowledge can save you falling into the puppy pitfalls!
If you invest some serious time considering, selecting and rearing your new puppy, you will have a great and trusted friend for life. If you buy a puppy on a whim, you maybe lucky or you may not! Putting the effort in can avoid unnecessary suffering for you and your dog…so do your homework!
by Ross McCarthy MA FCFBA MBIPDT MGoDT AMBPSCA
Principal of The Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour & Training