Choosing your first puppy

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(Disclaimer:  This article has been written objectively. I love all dogs, and although I present certain things in a “bad” or “negative” light, I don’t blame anything negative on any dog or breed whatsoever. In order to help people make an informed decision when choosing a puppy, I am merely trying to point out the fact that some people, who claim to be “breeders”, have no conscience at all. They are merely“in it” to make money. They have no idea what the term means and shouldn’t be allowed to own dogs, let alone breed them).

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So you have contemplated whether to get a puppy or not… and finally your family has convinced you that dogs are indeed the way to go. But you do not want to just buy the first pup you lay your eyes on. True, they are all cute, but cute is not necessarily the best. You have heard more than just a few horror stories about a new pup turning into a terrible and costly nightmare, and you want to avoid experiencing the same trauma.

So how do you go about it?

A few words on breeds, breeding and standards

In my previous blog I ranted about a dog’s physical construction. This was not without reason. I will cover breed standards more extensively sometime but I need to say this one thing: the real importance of construction lies in the fact that the happiness, and the quality of the dog’s life, can be adversely affected by bad construction.

While on the subject of breeding, I would like to accentuate the following: if it is your sole purpose to breed dogs in order to make money, then forget about it right now. Puppy farmers (or puppy mills as they are commonly referred to) are not welcome in the Canine Community. You will be squashed the moment you try to gain entry. The poor bitches that are kept at those nightmarish places are used over and over as puppy factories until they are physically depleted, and then cast aside like old rags. Their offspring ends up being of inferior quality. Strict regulations are enforced regarding the breed standard when registering a litter in any country where dogs are commonly popular. My honest advice to anyone who gets a puppy for the first time is to stay out of the breeding scene until you have more knowledge regarding your particular breed, and then decide whether you really want to breed. I will cover the subject of choosing a pup for breeding purposes at a later stage.

When referring to “inferior quality”, I do not simply mean that the pups are not fit to be shown in a breed ring. A pup can be born with a disqualifying genetic defect, but be perfectly fit for its role as a pet. “Inferior quality“ means that, as a result of gross neglect on the part of the “breeder”, the pup will not be able to fulfil its role as a family pet, and will probably not live past its first birthday. “Basic requirements” means that the pup should at least be suitable to keep a pet without its owner having to turn the vet’s surgery into a second home.

When canine parents have both passed their breed assessments, the risk of them producing offspring that will have to be put down at the age of six months because of an adverse condition such as excessive hip dysplasia or a serious heart condition is relatively low, and most breeders usually include a guarantee that the pup will be replaced at no cost, should such an event occur..

Disqualifying breed faults

I will extensively cover this topic at a later stage, but to choose a good pet you should at least know some of the basics.

Certain breed faults are not breed specific, in other words specimens of any breed can display the fault. These include, among others, faults such as cryptorchidism or monorchidism.

Breed specific disqualifying faults, in other words the characteristic is a disqualifying fault in certain breeds but not in others, include ears that are floppy where the breed standard requires erect ears (such as the German Shepherd Dog), or white markings where the breed standard prohibits it (such as the Rottweiler). Read more about various breed standards here.

Choosing the correct puppy for your particular household

To begin with you should choose a breed before you choose your pup. And remember that looks can be deceiving. A cute Akita pup can turn into a monster when it bites a child because you didn’t do your homework and missed the fact that Akitas are usually not very tolerant towards children. Click here for a fun site that could help you make a fairly informed decision. Bear in mind, however, that you will have to do more research in order to make a well informed decision. The best place to start in any country is the official dog registering authority in that country.

In selecting a pup, various factors need to be considered. I will single out the two most important ones:

Temperament is the single most important factor. Just as you need a dog that will not try to rule you, the dog needs an owner that will not overwhelm it. It’s no use getting a quiet, placid dog if you are boisterous and assertive. The dog will end up fearing you while you will be frustrated by its passivity. You need a dog with a tendency to challenge your authority, so you can have a challenge training it. Whichever breed you choose, remember that specimens vary within the breed, so you need to do a temperament test.

Likewise, it would be stupid to get a dog that is industrious and boisterous when all you want is a dog that will sleep at your feet while you do some winter knitting. The dog will be unruly because it is bored all the time, and you will want to pull out every hair on your head for choosing it. You need a loveable companion dog but, once again, whichever breed you choose, remember that specimens differ within a breed, so you need to do a temperament test.

The best method to choose a pup based on temperament is a temperament test. I recommend the Volhard method of temperament testing, which is the method that I am familiar with. You may want to Google different methods but be careful. Not all methods are good. Some people write stuff just to get their names on the web.

Health and Breeding, mentioned together because they go hand in hand, is another very important consideration. To reputable breeders their pups’ health is of primary concern. They do not want to spoil their good reputation.

Backyard breeders  are the people who reckon they would do their bitch a favour to let her “have one litter so she can experience the joy of motherhood”… which is a load of bull crap, but at least in most cases it is done humanely because they really love their dogs. Many good pets, and a handful of great show dogs, have been bred by backyard breeders. The greatest difference between them and the mainstream of reputable breeders is education. Most of them catch on fast, especially if they realise that showing dogs is a passion which has suddenly been discovered. I myself started off as a backyard breeder.

Puppy farmers, on the other hand, run mills. They breed any bitch to any dog of the same breed (or any dog if they cannot find one of the same breed) with no consideration except to fill their own pockets. They will tell you that the litter is “registerable, but you need to register the pup yourself”.  They may add that the pups have been “vaccinated at least three times”. To me, that says it all! For a pup to have been “vaccinated at least three times”, it needs to be somewhere in the region of about four months old already. No reputable breeder still has a complete (unregistered) litter at that age.

You may wonder why this ranting about breeding: well the word “breeding“has to do with ancestry, which is not necessarily bad, but it also triggers the unpleasant thought of inbreeding. High levels of inbreeding are responsible for a mega load of defects and diseases that dogs suffer from. And while no reputable breeder would embark on such a dubious terrain unless they know exactly what they are doing, a puppy farmer does not care about ancestry. Many genetic disorders such as hip dysplasia, rickets, haemophilia and bad temperament are the result of inbreeding by people who practice indiscriminate breeding and inbreeding. I will include a full discussion on inbreeding at a later stage.

When choosing a puppy, make sure that you are dealing with a reputable breeder

1-  The first thing to always remember when you have to choose a pup is the fact that both parents should be available for inspection when you go to the breeder’s property to view the pups.

2- According to the regulations of the dog registering authorities, it is the responsibility of the breeder to register the litter. Individual dogs are not registered, so “registerable” does not exist.

3-  All puppies have to be vaccinated and tattooed or micro chipped before they leave the breeder’s property for their new homes.

4-  No reputable breeder will let the pups be taken from their mom before they are at least seven weeks of age. Pups are weaned at the age of 6 weeks, and in the seventh week the mother teaches them important “household rules” such as where to eliminate, etc.

5-  An official registration certificate, a feeding program and a vaccination record should be handed to the new owner on the day that the pup leaves for its new home, unless the pups had to be tattooed as well, in which case it may take a further two to three weeks for the certificates to arrive. Some breeders also include a five generation pedigree, but this is not essential. A few important points worth considering when dealing with a dog breeder can be found here.

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References

1-Google Search for Puppy Mills: https://www.google.co.za/search?q=puppy+mills

2-B&K Brittany Kennels: http://bkbrittanydogs.com/about_us

3- Canine Cryptorchidism –By Daniel Buchwald, DVM & Norra Hansen: http://www.avalonkennels.net

4- KUSA (The Kennel Union of Southern Africa): http://www.kusa.co.za

5- Article: Choosing Your Puppy by Pat on Volhard.com website: http://animal.discoveryhttp://www.volhard.com

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