My Top Tips When Buying A Puppy
So you are considering bringing a puppy into your home and adding a new member of your family! Making the decision alone is (and should be!) quite a big step. A puppy, although very cute, is a lot of hard work and a 10+ year commitment. It is important that you have considered the sacrifices you may need to make to your daily life as you know it, and that the decision to bring a new dog into the home is one that has been thoroughly thought through.
Of course my mission is dedicated to rescue dogs. However, since I have moved back to the UK, it has become a vital concern to me that people are buying puppies from here, there and everywhere, puppies who are eventually ending up in the shelters or becoming critically ill, for reasons that I will vaguely cover in this blog. In Spain, it is far easier to adopt a dog/puppy than it is here in the UK. Mainly this is because shelters in Spain are not so concerned with whether the adopter has a special postcode, or a big garden, or matching any other particular criteria. Shelters in the UK it seems, may concern themselves in greater detail with the adopter’s life situation, living situation, occupation and more, than some of the shelters I work with in Spain for example. This means it is much harder to have an application become successful for adopting a dog here in the UK, and leads to more people going to breeders instead. This is an inevitability and I want to offer advice for those who are looking to buy a puppy, in an attempt to avoid making the mistakes a lot of dog owners are making since the surge in demand for puppies during COVID-19. Anyway… now we’ve got that out of the way, lets get into my top tips when buying a puppy.
Be Cautious – Do Your Research
Before getting into questions you should be asking a breeder, it is crucial that we understand why these questions are necessary. With the demand for puppies at an all time high, it is no wonder “backyard” breeders are unethically breeding puppies to maximise on this demand, and why puppy farms are still a thing in 2023. During COVID-19, we all decided it was the perfect time to get a dog – we were working from home, the hours felt like days, we had bags of time, and we were desperate for an excuse to go for a walk. This trend though, has yet to die down, and like any trend, cruel people will look to take advantage of this and make as much money as possible, even exploiting the innocent to do so.
Since the end of 2019, the UK’s dog population has risen by almost 50%, from 9.5 million dogs to 12.5 million according to a survey conducted by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association.Manchester Evening News – How to spot the signs of an unethical dog breeding ‘puppy farm’
It is getting more and more difficult to identify when you may be seeing a puppy that has been bred at a puppy farm, as opposed to a puppy that has been bred properly and responsibly, in a home environment, by a reputable, licensed breeder. These individuals are even known to stage seemingly ideal set ups when potential buyers come to view a litter of puppies. The puppies will be posing in a home environment, along with the mum of the litter (or in some cases, a “stand-in” mum, i.e. not the real litter’s mum). To any regular person, the set up will look totally realistic and no concern will be felt for the puppies or the “mum”. Unfortunately, that may not be the puppy’s familiar environment, and the dogs involved could potentially return to being held in the inhumane conditions of a puppy farm once the potential buyers have left their appointment.
The other possibility is that the puppies are held in such horrendous conditions that the viewer feels they need to buy the puppy just to rescue them from the situation. Although the buyer has the best intentions, this is adding to the problem and the ‘breeder’ has achieved what they set out to do – sell puppies. In buying the puppy to ‘rescue’ them, you have freed up space for the next litter and lined the pockets of the people responsible for the cruelty. The best thing to do if you think you may be viewing at a puppy farm is to leave and immediately report the ‘breeder’ to the local council and to the RSPCA – and/or the police (depending on what you have witnessed).
What is a puppy farm?
I will only delve into this section to a certain extent. Admittedly I am new to this topic having previously only been heavily involved in the rescue scene in Spain which is predominantly focused on abandonments, mistreatment and ex hunting dog rescues. So a small disclaimer that I am learning more and more about this every day, but I have put together what I have learnt from various resources below and hope that it is of value to you. I recommend you do your own extensive research into this before you start your search for a puppy.
According to the PDSA – “A puppy farm is where multiple dogs are continually bred and the puppies sold. They are kept in poor conditions as the ‘breeders’ don’t care for their health and happiness.”
“They are very different from reputable breeders. Usually reputable breeders will only breed one or two different breeds at any one time and should put the health of their puppies and their mothers above a quick profit.
“Puppy farms tend to have far more breeds than this available, and dogs from puppy farms can be unwell, leading to potential heartache for the unwitting owners who take them on.”
How to spot a puppy farm
Firstly, consider where the puppy been advertised. For example, if you have stumbled across a post on social media advertising the sale of puppies, take caution. Particularly if the advertisement is posted on an individual’s personal page rather than that of a group or organisation. I would advise you to be sceptical and thoroughly research the author of the post before enquiring. In my experience, if the “breeder” is having to advertise their litter on social media, it is unlikely that they are reputable and the post should be reported. After all, Facebook guidelines, for example, state animals cannot be sold between private individuals on the platform.
The ‘breeder’ should not ask for any money from you before you have even seen the puppies. I would advise that you DO NOT send anyone money until you have completed all of the checks in this article (and more!) and you are happy that you are not going to be funding a “backyard” breeder or a puppy farm.
If, after you have done your research on the author of the posting where you have seen the puppies, you decide to view the puppies, there’s a few things to look out for. Firstly, where have they requested you meet the puppies? At a home address? In public? If they have requested to meet in public, this is a big red flag. A reputable breeder will be able to demonstrate that the puppies are being raised in a home environment, alongside their Mother and the rest of the litter. If this is not the case, this also may be a cause for concern.
Check the venue – if you can hear a lot of dogs barking, the home seems badly maintained and dirty, there are several outdoor buildings that look to be kennels – be cautious. These are all signs of a puppy farm where multiple litters of puppies are being bred of a variety of different breeds, the welfare for the animals is not at the forefront of the operation and the animals are in distress.
Ask The Breeder The Right Questions
A reputable and licenced breeder will have just as many, if not more, questions to ask you as you do to them. If they care for their animals, they will want to know that they are being homed to the right families for them. If the seller is not interested in asking you any questions about your lifestyle, home environment etc – they are probably not to be trusted.
What about Mum?
One of the reasons puppies from puppy farms sometimes grow to have health and behavioural issues, is due to the condition of the mum during pregnancy. To put it bluntly, a stressed mum passes those chemicals on to her pups during pregnancy. According to the USDA – “Stress triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol into the bloodstream. When these hormones cross the placenta from mother to pups, it changes the set point of the puppies’ stress response system. Stress also alters the quality of maternal care, which affects later behaviour of the puppies. As adults, these puppies are likely to be more fearful and anxious, and may to react more strongly to stressful experiences.”
It is for this reason that the mum should have been kept in a comfortable and loving home environment during her pregnancy, with regular health checks and her welfare being at the forefront.
Besides that, there are several questions you should ask the seller about the mum of the pups;
Can I see their Mum? You should be able to see the litter of puppies with their mum. The mum should look happy, relaxed and healthy, just as the pups do. Mum nowhere to be seen? Red flag! If the mum is not there with the puppies, it is likely the puppies were not bred there and you should walk away. Mum should be friendly and not be exhibiting any obvious signs of a bad temperament as puppies can inherit this. Of course in some situations, mums can become defensive of her puppies, so keep that in mind.
Be aware that, some deceptive breeders will have a female dog stand in and pose as the litter’s mother. To check for this, the real mother should have slightly enlarged teets that are producing milk for the litter. Ideally, you should see the mother multiple times along the process of the puppies growing to at least 8 weeks old (when they are legally allowed to be rehomed), and you will have no doubt that that dog is their mum by the end of the process.
How many litters has she had (and how old is she)?
“It is against the law for a local authority licenced breeder to breed a bitch more than six times in her life time, however the Kennel Club Assured Breeder scheme limits their members to four litters.”Say No To Puppy Dealers – Questions you should ask a puppy breeder
Does she have any genetic defects? A reputable breeder will have conducted lengthy health checks prior to breeding from the mother and father. The most common tests include hip and elbow dysplasia testing, eye testing and heart testing. There should also have been gene tests conducted, specific to breed-related issues.
What about the Dad?
The same questions can be asked about the Dad, as it is just as important that lengthy health and genetics testing has been conducted before impregnating the Mother. In a lot of cases, the breeder will use a “stud” dog, which is a male dog who is not owned by the breeder, so he might not be there for you to see. However, a reputable, responsible breeder will have no problems providing you details of the Dad, like his testing details, date of birth, how many litters he has sired and more. Don’t be afraid to get all the facts before you commit. These things are important, as your puppy will most likely inherit traits from the Father and the Mother alike. If the Father for example, is known to have a bite history and exhibits aggressive traits, that dog should not have been bred from. If you purchase a puppy from his litter, you may in the future experience the same issues as they get passed on throughout the offspring.
Can I see your breeding license?
Although this doesn’t stand for much these days (more about that in a moment), it is still important to get details of the breeder’s license. Anyone who is breeding more than three litters per year is required to obtain a breeding license from their local council. Similarly, if someone is making profits from lots of litters, they need a license. If they cannot produce details of a breeding license, it could be that they are an infrequent home breeder. But be wary – sometimes puppy farmers will have someone pose as a home breeder, like the staged situation I explain in the beginning of this post.
In some instances, puppy farms have been known to be licenced. I am aware of some awful situations across the UK whereby puppy farms are licenced to breed, despite the council knowing they are running a puppy farm and the dogs are kept in terrible conditions. I won’t go too far into this, but I just wanted to highlight that, although it is important to ask this question, it might not necessarily mean the operation they are running has the welfare of their animals at the forefront just because they can produce a license.
What veterinary practise do you use?
All documents of testing, whether it be health testing records or breed health checks, should have been conducted and authorised by a qualified vet. A reputable breeder will have no issues sharing this information with you and will probably be happy that you are showing an interest in the depth and legitimacy of the care provided to the dogs.
Breed Research First
Unfortunately, as much as I hate to admit, us humans are generally very concerned with aesthetics. Once upon a time, we used to breed for purpose. Dogs had jobs to do – the border collie was bred to herd the sheep, the terrier was bred to chase away the vermin in our stables, the pointer was bred to literally point out prey for us to hunt. Nowadays we concentrate mainly on the look, feel and temperament of the dog when it comes to breeding. Dogs are now the most variable mammal on Earth. There are over 450 globally recognised breeds that have been produced due to artificial selection. This being said, we sometimes have to go back to the root of the breed, to make sure the dog is the right dog for us, and also research the potential health complications of certain breeds.
The best breed for you
When selecting the right dog for you, you need to dig deeper than looks. You may love the look of a fluffy border collie, but are you leading an active lifestyle with lots of free time to train, mentally stimulate and satisfy the busy, complex and intelligent mind of a herding dog? Bred for a role, border collies are notoriously smart and require a high amount of mental stimulation to keep up with their need for activity and capability. Of course I am really generalising here. My boy is a rescue (of course), a mix between a border collie and a Labrador. He is the perfect mix of couch potato and agility enthusiast for me and my lifestyle. We are a good fit for each other. I personally, would not suit a Malinois for example, who are generally very hyperactive dogs that need devotion when it comes to their training and the need to be very regimented. They are athletic, highly attentive, strong dogs that are very handsome to look at (in my opinion) but the characteristics just would not suit my lifestyle. You have to be honest with yourself and take all of these things into consideration.
Let’s talk Cockapoos
By far the most sought-after “designer dog” at the moment is the wonderful Cockapoo (not a pure bred dog breed, of course). Their fluffy coat, human-loving characteristics and teddy-bear-like face has our hearts beaming as a nation. However, when they are being selectively bred, choosing the prettiest Mum and the most dashing Dad, we fail to take into account their characteristics. This is especially a problem since the pandemic, as we saw the average price of a cockapoo puppy rise by a whopping 168% as a result of increased demand. Amateur breeders are using their dogs to create puppies just to make some extra cash. In these cases, most of the time the proper health checks and genetic tests are not being performed and litters with health issues and/or behavioural issues are being produced and sold with no regard for the long term issues caused by irresponsibly breeding for some cash.
The Cockapoo is comprised of two different breeds – a Cocker spaniel and a Poodle. The result is a high-energy dog that lives for human companionship. They generally don’t enjoy solidarity and are prone to separation-related issues, like becoming destructive when left alone due to high levels of anxiety once their humans have left the house without them. As a result, someone who is not going to have a lot of time for their puppy, or may lack the finances to maintain a proper grooming schedule for their dog, should think again before rushing out to buy a fluffy cockapoo.
Let’s Talk Health
Some dog breeds are far more likely than others to develop breed-related health problems. Unfortunately, when we breed to emphasise specific desirable features (like a Dachsund’s long body and short legs, or a Pug’s short muzzle and big eyes), we are sometimes putting the dog’s health last and prioritising “the look” over the wellbeing of the dog.
The German Shepherd is a well-loved breed. They are bred to be big and strong, with a curve down to the back legs. This curve (as I am calling it), can be detrimental to the condition of the dog’s back legs. As a result, German Shepherds are prone to arthritis, hip dysplasia and lameness. These issues can greatly reduce the dog’s quality of life in the long term as they slowly begin to struggle when it comes to walking and often suffer in a lot of pain as they get older.
French Bulldogs, similarly to Pugs, are bred to have a very short muzzle with big eyes. With selective breeding, we have produced dogs with ever shorter, ever flatter faces to keep up with the demand for this specific look. This look is highly desirable for a lot of people, but at what cost? Both of these breeds can develop, or often start life with, extreme difficulty breathing. Pugs in particular are 54 times more likely to develop Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) than other dog breeds. Due to their bulging eyes and multiple skin folds, they are more likely to develop ulcers and infections too. This is an issue a lot of professionals in the dog world are trying to raise awareness of. We are supposed to be a nation of dog lovers, but why are we so willingly breeding and buying these dogs who are likely to suffer a lifetime of difficulty and discomfort? These are things we need to be asking ourselves before we decide to continue to fund the reproduction of unhealthy dogs that will endure for a lifetime of suffering.
My Advice For Selecting Dog Breed
My advice is simple – do your research and delve deeper than how high a puppy ranks on your cute scale. Dogs are a big commitment, they deserve all the time, care and funds they need from their owner in order to live a healthy and full life. They also deserve for you to make sure you aren’t funding a breed that is being bred to look a certain way despite the health problems they will suffer with as a result.
Useful Links and Accounts to Follow
I have listed some useful articles below that I encourage you to read! I have also linked a couple of Instagram accounts that act as forums/communities for people in your position. It can be a real struggle to take in all the information around buying a puppy and making sure you are buying a happy, balanced and healthy puppy from a reputable source, so I urge you to do as much reading as you can before you start your search! You will really thank yourself for it when you bring home your gorgeous new pup knowing you did all the right things.
Say No To Puppy Dealers – https://www.saynotopuppydealers.co.uk/questions-you-should-ask-a-puppy-breeder/
Instagram – “Puppy Love Campaigns” @puppylovecampaigns
Instagram – Louise Glazebrook @louise.glazebrook for breed-specific training and behaviour tips
Instagram – Sean McCormack @thatvetsean for issues that need advocating and health-related breed topics