How to pick a puppy

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By Susan D. Sandberg
Updated by Susan D. Sandberg and Virginia Campbell, 1/96


puppiesTips on how to choose the right puppy

What kind of puppy should I buy?
The kind you want. No breed is better than any other. They each offer special qualities in disposition, appearance and ability. What do you want the dog for? Hunting? Showing? Companionship? Protection? Playmate for the children? Match the breed to your family and it's needs. The library has books describing the attributes of each type of dog. Or go to a dog show. Finally, before you decide, find out if that breed requires any special kind of care.

Who should I buy the puppy from?
A responsible breeder of the breed you have selected.

You will get a healthier puppy as well as one that has been carefully bred to retain the looks and temperament that the breed is known for.

Isn't buying from a breeder expensive?
Generally a responsible breeder is the cheapest way to go. The initial price is frequently equal to or less than the pet store price and the animal is of superior quality. "Backyard breeders" -- those in it for the money -- sometimes sell their puppies cheaper for a fast turnover. The sharper ones charge more than the going rate because some people gauge the worth of the dog by the price tag.

imageHow can I tell a responsible breeder?
The responsible breeder does many things to insure that you will go home with a puppy you will be happy with. He or she will see to it that:

1. The puppy has not been weaned too early.
2. The puppy has been kept in the house where it has become accustomed to human companionship and thereby been socialized.
3. The puppy has been wormed, or checked for worms, twice.
4. The puppy has had its first shots.
5. The puppy's registration papers and pedigree are in order and given to you.
6. The puppy comes with a guarantee or return policy. A responsible breeder is interested in placing good dogs in good homes; not turning a fast buck.
7. Steps have been taken to insure that the parents of the pups are free from whatever hereditary defects are common to that breed.
8. Finally, if you find yourself choosing your pup from an entire litter, beware. Responsible breeders usually have half or more of their litters spoken for before birth because people who are in the know usually seek them out and ask for one of their pups.

But I like a real bargain. I don't want to pay a fortune for a dog. Do I really have to?
No. You can get a dog at whatever price you wish to pay. And you will get what you pay for. To get a quality animal, expect to pay the going rate. A ball-park figure for Labrador pups is around $600 and up. Some of the rarer breeds may be much more. Every breed has its going rate. Other facts enter in as well. A trained field Labrador, for example, is going to cost much more because of the costs and time put in training that dog for hunting and/or AKC Licensed Hunt Tests. Many breeders charge the same price for pet puppies as for show puppies. At the time the puppies leave the breeder, they have all received exactly the same care and attention.

Can I buy a pet quality and breed from it?
A responsible breeder sells pet quality animals with a Limited Registration. However, many breeders will be willing to change this to a Full Registration if you present the dog to them after maturity, having had it cleared of genetic hereditary effects. Then, if the breeder thinks the dog is of good quality and temperament, they may change the registration and help you with the selection of a good stud dog. Only the breeder can change the registration from Limited to Full Registration.

But I want to pick my own dog.
Generally, you can, within limits. Don't forget the pick puppies need to be decided upon first, and often this is not finalized until the pups are 6-7 weeks old. Then the breeder will suggest pups he/she thinks suitable for what you have indicated you plan to do with the dog. Listen to the breeder! No one knows the litter as well as the breeder. Puppy testing, done by the breeder, reveals many temperament and personality traits. To test a litter of 10 puppies, with luck, takes one whole day and usually more. This is part of what you are paying for.

But I don't trust my breeder.
Then find another. Deal with a person you can trust and follow their advice. Shop around. A dog is a long term investment. Don't take the first cute puppy you see. All puppies are cute, but some of them grow up with traits you can't live with.

How can I be sure the dog will be good with kids?
First, determine if the breed you've selected is known for its love of children. Not all breeds are. Then, after you have selected the puppy, take your children to the breeder's house to see the response of the mother bitch to them, and if possible, visit the sire of the litter also.

Do I need papers?
Not unless you plan to show your dog in an AKC Show or Trial. But they are your guarantee that your puppy is purebred and will grow up to be what you expect. Non-papered dogs are frequently fathered by a mix-breed dog. No sense paying for a purebred and not getting one.

In some cases, responsible breeders will withhold papers because the puppy should never be bred, but they will explain this to you, and at the same time tell you exactly what problems you might encounter with such a dog. Generally the breeder will place the puppy on a Limited Registration and will explain to you that this means the dog or bitch cannot be bred and the litter registered with the AKC. The Limited Registration indicates the puppy is purebred, and allows it to be shown in AKC performance events (ie., obedience, tracking, and hunting tests), with the AKC.

Lots of people are happy with dogs they didn't get from a breeder.
Lots of people aren't. What can happen is best illustrated by the true tale of one person's experience which, she has found in talking with friends, is not uncommon. Her first dog was given to her by a friend of a friend. She felt sorry for it penned up all alone in the back yard. The dog was not housebroken, and because it had not ever been in the house as a puppy, had no house manners. It died two months later of a hereditary disease that accompanies the type of mismarking this dog had. The second dog was purchased at a pet store and papers were promised. The store went out of business the next week, which is how long the puppy was in the hospital with pneumonia. She answered a newspaper ad for her third dog and paid $75 for the pick of the litter. The dog had a parasite that almost killed it, and severely affected its development. The vet bill would have paid the difference between this "bargain" dog and a show dog. However, this time she had papers, and knowing nothing about breeding, mated the bitch with a handy male of the same breed. She kept the pick pup and paid $1,000 in veterinary bills the first year because he had a serious hereditary defect. The vet told her he would only live a few years. Finally, she decided to go to a responsible breeder. And, after talking with several, selected one and waited over a year for the right dog to come along. She now owns a handsome, healthy specimen of the breed; one that has won prizes in three different areas of dog showing, and has brought her much pleasure. According to her, he is a true bargain.