It is very important when buying a pup to get it from a breeder (large or small) who is concerned with producing healthy, happy pups. A dog will hopefully be a good companion for ten to fifteen years or more, and a little care at this stage can save a lot of heartache and trouble later on.
Care should be taken to choose a breed which is suitable to the prospective owner's lifestyle and requirements. It is important to be honest at this stage so that the dog fits with its prospective family. Important considerations are size, temperament, grooming and exercise requirements.
It may also be helpful to compile a list of desired traits and then make a shortlist of breeds which fit, then research these breeds more closely. Books, the internet, breed clubs and rescue societies are all useful sources. Carefully study the breed standard and pay particular attention to any hereditary problems common to the breed.
It is also important to know whether the breed in question is, in fact, a registered breed. There are four possible categories:
Registered Pedigree: This will be a breed recognised by the appropriate national body ie, the Kennel Club. The pup will come with a pedigree and Kennel Club registration papers. The new owner will have to update the papers to list themselves as the dog's owner. This is especially important if they intend to breed or show. This will authorise the dog for entry into Kennel Club shows, and mean that any subsequent pups can be registered with the Kennel Club.
Sometimes working strains are judged for quality on the basis of field trial awards, rather than straight show awards. A field trial champion is designated FTCh on a pedigree. A working dog with a number of field trial champions in its lineage can command a high price. Field trials are judged solely on ability, not looks.
'Pedigree' or 'Purebred' but with no registration papers: These are dogs of a particular breed which have been bred true, but not registered to the kennel club. This often happens in working strains, where the breeders are not concerned with showing. They may come with a five generation pedigree document, but this is for information only, and should not be taken as gospel. The buyer can expect to pay considerably less for a dog like this, and still get a perfectly good, healthy companion.
Pedigree and purebred dogs of breeds not recognised by the country's national body: This is a small and specialised group, and research should be done on the chosen breed carefully, as there can be conflicting information. Sometimes, they can be registered with another body or bodies, or another branch of the national body. The branch of the Kennel Club concerned with this is the 'Working and Trials' register. It works in the same way as the Kennel Club register; papers must be obtained with the pup and transferred into the new owner's name.
Pedigree crosses: At the moment there is a fashion for 'designer crosses' like 'Labradoodles' - a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle. Sometimes, the way they are advertised or described can make them sound like true breeds, when they are not. They cannot come with registration papers and will not breed true. They may come with a pedigree document, but again, this is just for information. Any breeder who tries to pass this type off as a breed is trying to pull a fast one!
It is better to make contact with a breeder before any pups enter the equation. (A good breeder will probably have a waiting list anyway.) It is easier to make an objective choice about whether a breeder is suitable without having to resist a bundle of puppies.
First impressions are important. Does the breeder seem happy to talk even if they have no pups available at the time? A breeder who genuinely cares about the breed will always take time to speak to potential owners, whether there is a sale in it for them or not. They should not shy away from talking about any hereditary problems either; rather than gloss over them or ignore them completely they will face up to them. Do not be afraid to ask about these problems and find out what steps the breeder takes to ensure that their pups are as free from them as possible.
Visit the breeder
Most breeders will be happy for interested parties to visit their home and meet their dogs. If they seem resistant to this then it is questionable whether they are a suitable source for a pup.
Things to look for during the visit
Are the breeder's dogs fit and healthy?
Do they move well and freely?
Do they look like they should with reference to the breed standard and other good examples of the breed? Sometimes there are notable differences between working and show strains within a breed, like Labrador Retrievers for example. Working Labs tend to be lighter and faster, with a more pointed muzzle than their show cousins. The buyer should be aware of which type they would prefer.
Are the dogs kept in clean, comfortable surroundings?
Are the dogs confident and happy?
Does the breeder talk about the individual dogs and their personalities with warmth and affection?
Can the breeder talk about pups they have sold in the past, and are they still in touch with people who have bought pups from them previously?
At what age do the pups go to their new homes? Six to eight weeks is ideal, and a pup of younger than six weeks should not be away from its dam (mother) or litter mates.
How many breeds are in evidence? Good breeders do not usually breed more than one breed of dog.
Tail docking and/or dewclaw removal: if this is to be done it should be carried out by a vet when the pups are about three days old. Different countries have different legislation concerning tail docking; the buyer should be aware of the law in their country. For example, docking is illegal for non-working dogs in the UK.
If the sire (father) of the prospective pups is a stud dog, rather than one owned by the breeder, arrangements should be made to visit this dog as well, with the same points in mind (although they might not all be applicable). During this visit any relevant documentation relating to the sire should be carefully inspected.
How does the breeder approach a potential buyer?
Not only will the buyer be assessing the breeder, but vice versa as well! Breeders should be concerned that their pups are going to a good, permanent home. They will ask questions about the lifestyle of the potential owners, their experience with dogs and what type of accommodation they live in. Also, the breeder will observe what the potential owners are like around their dogs. Potential owners should not be offended by this, as it shows that the breeder has a very genuine concern for the welfare of their pups.
What should a buyer get with the pup?
You should get all the appropriate registration certificates. In the UK this will be Kennel Club registration papers. This document is different from a the five generation pedigree, which is basically just a family tree. Five generation pedigree champions will be shown in red. Some breeders give a short period of insurance with their pups, six to sixteen weeks.
You should receive up to a week's supply of the pup's current diet and a diet sheet. (It may not be possible to give a supply of food, particularly if the pups have been fed a homemade diet, but dietry requirements should have been discussed before the pup is collected so that the new owner can get the necessary supplies.) The buyer should also have seen and be given copies of any pertinent documentation about the parents and other preceding generations if available. This includes hip score certificates and eye screen test results.
Visiting the pup
Once there is a litter it is a good idea to visit the pups at three weeks and at least once more before collection day. By this time the buyer and breeder should have worked up a good rapport and the breeder will be able to help the buyer select the right pup for them.
The pups should have been wormed first at the age of four weeks and then every three weeks until the age of three months. The breeder should tell the prospective owner the brand of wormer they have been using. After this, it is advisable to worm the dog every four months.
When the pup is eight weeks old it can receive its first vaccination, and it will then need another at twelve weeks. Boosters are then administered annually. The first injection vaccinates against distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, and coronavirus.
At twelve weeks the pup is vaccinated against kennel cough, which is a very contagious illness.
Rabies shots can be given from sixteen weeks of age onwards, but this is not customary in the UK. It is necessary if the dog will be travelling outwith the UK.
All this may seem like a lot of work, but there are people out there who only breed dogs to make as much money as possible. Many an apparently healthy pup has been taken home only to be beset by avoidable health and temperament problems. The only way to stop this type of breeder is to be aware of them and not buy a pup from a questionable source.