Bringing a puppy into your life is a rewarding and exciting time, but it can also be very daunting, particularly knowing where to go and what to look for to ensure you are coming home with a healthy and well-cared for puppy.
Whilst it can be tempting to buy the first available puppy at the click of a button, or to track down one of the adorable breeds that are all over our favourite celebrities’ social media, it’s essential to see beyond the picture-perfect puppy photos. Make sure that you’re also looking ahead to when the puppy is fully-grown and that you’re prepared and able to look after the dog, based on your own lifestyle and the dog’s health and welfare needs.
Irresponsible breeders, particularly low welfare, high volume puppy farmers, will take advantage of first-time puppy owners who are looking to buy a new pet impulsively and are therefore uncertain about what to expect from a good breeder. Sadly, this often leads to unhealthy dogs that haven’t been bred responsibly and end up with a multitude of health and behavioural issues. As a result, many people realise far too late that they are unable to take care of that puppy for life, with a large amount of dogs ending up in rescue centres, abandoned, or even worse.
Finding a puppy involves making a lot of important decisions before you buy. So to help simplify the process, Jenny Campbell, from BBC’s Dragon’s Den, and Kennel Club Assured Breeder, has shared her top tips to guide first-time dog owners in the right direction.
Preparation And Research
Owning a dog brings so many positive benefits but any dog owner will know that they also require a lot of time and commitment over a long-term period. Whilst it can be easy to be taken in by the first puppy you see, you need to ensure you’re prepared and able for when it is fully-grown, thinking about the demands that come with the dog’s health and welfare needs.
Finding The Right Breed For You
Once you’re sure that you can provide everything that a dog will need, the next stage is finding out the best breed, based on your lifestyle. Purebred dogs make up around three quarters of the 9 million strong dog population in the UK, and within that there are 221 pedigree breeds to choose from. Each breed is then split into one of seven groups:
- Working (typically those bred to be search and rescue and guard dogs).
- Pastoral (herding dogs, usually associated with working cattle and sheep).
- Gundogs (dogs that were originally trained to find and/or retrieve game).
- Toy (small companion or lap dogs).
- Hound (breeds historically used for hunting, either by scent or sight).
- Terrier (dogs originally bred and used for hunting vermin).
- Utility (miscellaneous breeds, mainly of a non-sporting origin).
Within these seven groups, each pedigree breed has its own breed standard, outlining their individual features, which can be found on The Kennel Club website. These standards can help guide you towards choosing the right dog for you, giving you an idea of size, grooming, training and exercise needs, as well as general characteristics, all of which are important considerations when making that final decision. For example, city-dwellers looking for a dog with moderate exercise and grooming needs could consider an English Toy Terrier, whilst those after a bundle of energy that will give exercise fanatics an excuse to get lots of fresh air may prefer a Border Collie.
There are also many cross breeds that can make great family pets. But because you don’t know what balance of breed characteristics they will inherit from each parent, it can be harder to predict how the dog will fit your lifestyle.
Choosing the right breeder is just as important as finding the right breed. The puppy’s breeder is responsible for giving your new dog the best start in life and providing it with increased chances of having a healthy and happy life as it grows older.
In addition to registering puppies, the Kennel Club also registers breeders under the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme, which I am a member of. In order to become a member, breeders have to meet the high welfare standards set out by the scheme, and will be visited by a Kennel Club inspector who will assess whether their premises are upholding the scheme’s standards. This is very important in a world where there are very few checks on breeders, and anybody can sell a very poorly bred pup to an unsuspecting member of the public. The Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme is the only scheme of its kind in the UK, and has United Kingdom Accreditation Services (UKAS) to certify breeders on this scheme.
Wherever you get your puppy, puppy buyers should always be looking for a breeder who follows the same standards as set out under this scheme – which includes giving the dogs they are breeding from the required health tests for their breed, giving their dogs the inoculations that they require, keeping them in clean and comfortable whelping conditions, offering a full after sales service and giving their customers all the information they need in a Puppy Pack. Other things to bear in mind when meeting the breeder:
- Ask to see the puppy’s mother – this will also be a useful way to witness the relationship between mother and puppy. Remember to check whether mum and pups are interacting and that the mum seems interested. This is the best sign that the dog you are being shown, is indeed the real mother.
- See the puppy in its breeding environment and ask to see the home conditions (not just one room) which might hide what goes on behind the scenes.
- Be prepared to be put on a waiting list – it’s worth waiting for a healthy puppy and it’s a good sign if a breeder has demand for their pups.
- Ask to see the health certificates relevant to the breed and check that the parents were health tested before being bred from. You can see which conditions different breeds should be tested for on the Kennel Club website.
Although many dogs will lead very healthy lives, all breeds and crossbreeds can be susceptible to certain health problems, some of which are inherited. Of course you’ll want to be sure that the dog you choose is as healthy as possible, and that they have not inherited any diseases or disease-causing genes from their parents. Again, a responsible breeder will be willing to discuss relevant health issues with you and there are also DNA tests and clinical veterinary screening schemes that dog breeders can use to increase the probability of producing healthy puppies.
The Kennel Club has invested millions of pounds at its Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust to develop new DNA tests that give breeders the ability to test for conditions known to affect their breed (or both founding breeds, in the case of crossbreeds).
Certain key health issues to be aware of, and that are available for health tests include:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Eye disease
The Kennel Club’s online Mate Select tool is also very helpful as it allows breeders, people looking to buy a puppy and owners to look up the health information that is available for each Kennel Club registered dog.
I breed and own Flat Coated Retrievers but the dog breed to increase most rapidly in popularity in recent years is the French Bulldog. If the breed you are considering for you is a brachycephalic dog (also commonly known as a flat-faced dog), then there are additional health considerations associated with these breeds, as well as further research that a responsible puppy-buyer will need to carry out before they buy. Brachycephalic breeds include, among
- French Bulldogs
- Boston Terriers
- Shih Tzus
Named for their distinctive skull shape, these breeds have a characteristic flattened face and short muzzle that, whilst making them a favourite with celebrities and prospective dog owners alike, carry a higher risk of developing health complications, including:
- Breathing difficulties
- Eye problems
- Skin conditions
- Teeth problems
Prior to buying one of these breeds, the same steps need to be taken as with all dogs, especially seeing the mother (and father if possible) with particular attention to any of the following signs of illness:
- Loud breathing, snorting, wheezing, snoring noises (whilst awake)
- Tightly closed nostrils
- Red, itchy, smelly skin inside the wrinkles
- Sore, red, cloudy eyes
Always ask the breeder if the mother or father have previously had any of the above symptoms, as well as any dental issues, or have been treated for these in the past. Owning a dog is a pleasure and a joy – my life certainly wouldn’t be the same without them. But it is not a responsibility that anybody should take on lightly before you buy a puppy. Preparation and research is the most important thing, in order to ensure it’s a happy partnership for the rest of your dog’s life.
By Kennel Club Assured Breeder Jenny Campbell