Before Getting a Puppy & Choosing a Puppy
By Scotty Valadao – Accredited Animal Behaviourist (Canine) (ABC of SA™): TTouch Practritioner
Getting a new puppy is an exciting event for an individual or family. However, so often far too little thought is put into the decision. When we bear in mind that we could spend the next 14 odd years (or more) with this dog, it puts a whole new perspective onto the decision to get one. It is a lifetime commitment and not only does the potential owner owe themselves the time to investigate further the prospective dog deserves the time and energy this involves
Things to Consider
The majority of dogs end up at Rescue Centre’s between the ages of 9 months to 2 years. Just think, if we educated ourselves properly we could, collectively, very well end up making places such as SPCA, Animal Rescue etc, do the job they should – engage in rehabilitation rather than having to put down countless unwanted dogs, all of whom only needed a caring and educated owner.
If you were looking for a new car and wanted it to be a VW and red in colour, would you just look in the paper, phone the owner, ask its age, the price and then ask for it to be delivered? Of course not, you would go and look at the car, check the condition, look at the service booklet and get as much history on it as possible, check the tyres, take it for a test drive, etc and you may even get a mechanic to look at it before you part with your cash. After all this vehicle needs to take you from A-B in a reliable and safe manner with good petrol consumption and so on.
Then why is so little research put into getting a dog? A dog that will live with you and your family for well over a decade – a dog that has sharp teeth that could cause damage to the family? Simple, many of us just haven't thought about it from this point of view. In addition to the following, I would suggest that you read through the article on How to Choose a Reputable Breeder which will give you additional knowledge before making your decision.
The decision has been made, a puppy will be purchased – what now?
The decision has been made, a pup will be purchased. Now comes one of the most exciting part – choosing a breed. As I said earlier, this new addition to your family will be with the family for between 7 to 15 years and in some cases even longer, so do undertake research before you make up your mind.
After you as a family have decided on what you want from a dog and have several breeds in mind, take some time to ‘surf the net’ investigating the different breeds you are considering and reading up on them. Here you can take it even further and get in touch with breeders for the prices of pups, what age they come home, what does the breeder expect from them as potential owners, find out about breed specific problems such as HD (hip dysplasia) etc.
Once the choice has been broken down to two or three breeds, more research needs to be done. Go and visit two or three puppy classes near where you live. Not only will you see which puppy school suits you better, you can also see the different breeds and how they interact with other pups, children and their owners.
Now lets take it a step further – your pup will not stay a pup forever, so go and look, go and look at different obedience classes in your area where you can see an adult version of your choice of dog. Look at how easy (or difficult) they are to handle. Speak to the person running the class and ask their opinion on your choice as well as the individual owners. A beginner’s class, with dogs between the ages of 8months to 18 months is the ideal class to watch as these are very often owners who are having problems with their adolescent dogs.
Additionally you can visit dog shows, both breed specific and general, as well as agility shows and not to forget the local dog walk places. This will give a really good idea as to how the breed develops. I have yet to find a dog owner (myself included!) who will not talk for hours on the attributes of their chosen breed.
You can visit your local vet and speak to both the receptionists and the vets themselves. Doing further research such as this and even visiting grooming parlours will help tremendously and may narrow the selection as to what to buy.
d. What to look for in a pup
Now comes the most exciting moment, you have chosen your breed, you have found your breeder, now you can choose your puppy! If you do have an existing dog at home, then go for the opposite sex to what you already have as well as having done your homework into whether the breeds will get on well. The ABC of SA™ offers a Compatibility Chart which will make this easier for you to see which other breeds get on well with your choice and can end up saving you a lot of heartbreak.
Spend as much time as you can sitting and observing the pups – remember what you buy will be with you for many years, so please spend as much time as possible looking for the best pup for you. On average the first pup that runs up to greet you, jumps all over you, licking and chewing on you, is not the pup to take for a family. This is often the most bossy of the pups and may be a handful to manage. I so often come across people I am helping from a behavioural point of view of dominant behaviour, who will tell me “oh he choose me, just jumped into my arms and started licking and chewing on me!” At the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t choose the pup who is sitting quietly in a corner ignoring everybody or being bullied by the others. This could very well be the most fearful pup in the litter and you could end up with fear based behaviour. When working with these dogs later in their lives, when asked why they purchased this particular dog I am often told ‘shame, she just sat at the back and looked so sad!’
Ideally you want to choose one from in between these two extremes – one that is friendly and comes to say hello, but is just as interested in playing with its litter mates or getting a drink from mum. Pick up the pups individually – a friendly pup will normally be happy to be picked up and say hello for a period of time, while an unfriendly pup may struggle against you to be released or become slightly agro towards you, demanding to be put on the ground. A good breeder will know all the pups intimately and will help you to make the correct decision as to which pup is right for you. Many of the breeders have their pups ‘temperament tested’ so that they can better match a pup to its prospective new owners.
The signs of a healthy pup
- The pups in a litter should be approximately the same weight and size. If there are large variations in weight and size this could very well indicate underlying health problems.
- The eyes will be clear and shiny and will not have a discharge.
- See if the ears smell clean with no discharge. The inside of the ear should not be red or look swollen or inflamed.
- The nose should be a little moist with no excessive discharge. There should not be any sniffing or sneezing
- The coat should be lovely and soft, shinny and smooth with no patches of dry or irritated skin. A pup cannot have flea and tic products till over 8 weeks of age but do look to see if there are any fleas on the skin.
- What does the pup smells like? Pups should have a gorgeous ‘puppy’ smell.
- Have a look at the rear region and down the back legs. This should not have any bits of faecal matter and no staining on the legs from a runny tummy.
- A healthy pup will run, play, jump and interact with its littermates. It will have a good appetite and on awaking will quickly be full of energy.
On taking your pup home, one of the first things you should do is take it to your own vet for a through check up.
Signs of an unhealthy pup
- As opposed to the healthy pup that runs around and interacts with its littermate, an unhealthy pup tends to isolate itself or if there are more than one in this condition, they will lie together.
- The eyes may be dull with no sparkle and possibly have mucous or discharge at the sides. Some unhealthy pups, when picked up seem to avoid looking at you and will turn away.
- The ears may smell, have a discharge or be red and inflamed inside.
- The coat may be dull and appear lifeless. Also look for raw patches, lumps or bumps. Look for fleas or ticks.
- The pup should not be skinny with the ribs showing. By the same token a pup who has a definite pot belly may well have worms
- A pup that has faecal matter at the rear end or soiling marks on the back legs could be suffering from diarrhoea and possible disease.
- Often a pup that is unhealthy does not have that lovely ‘puppy smell’ – instead it will have an odour. Different disease have different smells but anything that doesn’t smell ‘right’ should not be considered
- The pup may be off its food.
If even one pup in a litter seems unhealthy walk away - this is not the breeder you want to get your pup from.
One or Two Pups?
Once again, a reputable breeder will not let you take two pups. There are various reasons for this:-
- The pups will tend to bond more with one another than with their new family.
- The attachment could become so intense that if they are separated you start to have behaviour problems.
- Two pups of the same breed are more likely to fight especially if bitches– the same things are important to the dogs. This will not always occur until the pups reach approximately 8 months of age, the adolescent age.
- The pups will never grow to their full potential. What normally happens is that one pup will be confident and the other not - this can become extreme with the more confident pup becomming a bully and the less confident pup fearful
- Two dogs are double work and are much harder to train than one dog.
If you are in any doubt about the puppy they would like, then I would that you have the pup temperament tested. Many good breeders have this done anyway at 7 weeks of age by professionals. There are two well know tests that you can use yourself – the first is the one developed by Wendy and Jack Volhard and is known as the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test or PAT. Some of these tests were developed in the 1930’s for dogs that were going to become Guide Dogs. Then further studies were done in the 1950’s to determine how quickly pups learned. Further information can be found on the Volhard system of testing at www.volhard.com.
An alternative method to help determine the pup’s personality is the Campbell Tests. The best site I have found was on the Royal Canin site and the link to use is: http://publications.royalcanin.com/renvoie.asp?&cid=120740&id=102446&com=2&animal=0&lang=2&session=2001760.
This is so easy to prevent in a pup and if your dog already has a jumping up problem, this will give you the knowledge to change the behaviour
Whose responsibility is it to make sure that the dogs your are adopting is right for your family?Think about this - you are bringing a dog into your home who may be with you for well over ten years - why do we think more about a car we want to buy than bringing in an animal (with teeth) into our homes?
Why a dog would kill its owner.
It is regarded as bizarre that man’s best friend for at least the last 12,000 years should turn on its owner and kill that person.