I am motivated to write this article because I have just finished researching my own new puppy. I thought I would share some of the things I have learned over the years about puppy selection. Of course, I do believe adopting a dog, older or younger, is a much more noble thing to do. I feel it important to discuss some more interesting issues that face a purchaser when going to a breeder because of its popularity. I will cover the finer points of adopting a dog in future as, it too, can be kind of tricky as well.
Firstly, let’s get some facts straight…
When you buy a “designer” breed (i.e. labradoodle, cockapoo, puggle, morkie, etc.), you are buying a mutt. A “breed” is defined by an affixed genotype that is established over, at least, three generations. In basic terms, great grandpa and great grandma both have to be goldendoodles, not mom was a golden and dad was a poodle. That is a mutt.
When buying a puppy from a pet store, you are buying from a puppy mill. I don’t care what the shop owner claims, I have heard it all and worked for several pet stores that sold puppies. Legally, a puppy mill is a breeder like any other and it is not a lie for a shop to claim they “get their puppies from a small network of breeders”. Think about it, if the average pet-quality Labrador retriever puppy from a professional breeder costs about $650 – $800, how does a pet store afford to sell one at the same price? They wouldn’t be getting a “bulk discount” because puppies are born, not mass produced. There is no wholesale for puppies. The mills sell various breeds with prices ranging from $50 – $500 with the average price being about $200 per puppy. The goal is to sell the pups quickly before the costs of care, medicine/wormings, vaccines and food eat up the profit margin. There is NO WAY they could afford to deal directly with breeders. And a puppy broker is just a rep working with a network of puppy mills.
Now that we have those details out of the way, I’ll give you the meat-and-potatoes details you need to know and understand:
#1- When looking at a litter, or talking to a breeder, I like to ask “what did you breed (this litter) for?” I have gotten some interesting answers. The point is to find out what and/or how much consideration the breeder gave to the future litter before it is bred. For example, an AKC show breeder might answer, “the sire has great bone structure and the dam has a beautiful head and coat”. A working dog breeder may say, “I have an excellent, but aging bitch herding my sheep and a friend of mine has a dog that tends his sheep very well, so I wanted to get my next working shepherd from this litter”. This implies that a good breeder gives consideration to bettering their breed. It is my opinion that these are the only people that should be breeding dogs. It is the lack of this type of breeding that has caused an increase in health and character issues in our dogs today. Incidentally, a few honest “breeders” have answered the question with “I wanted to make money”, or “mom has such a pretty coat color, I wanted to breed her”. Avoid these litters. Soundness of body and mind are rare from these litters and you would be better off going to a pet store for a puppy.
#2- Older dogs have stood the test of time. I would rather buy a puppy from a breeding between a 3 and 4 year old pair than a 1 1/2 and 2 year old. By about 3 years of age, problems such as aggression, fear, anxiety, or physical and medical dysfunction have, by now, started to rise to the surface. Though I wouldn’t be firm to this as a rule, it is something to keep in mind. Younger dogs can and do create great puppies.
#3- Research the history of the breed. Find out what and how the breed performed its task. Don’t assume it’s all the same; dig deep for details. A Swiss Mountain Dog should have a natural distrust of strangers, while a Pit Bull Terrier should be friendly until provoked. Bear in mind how the centuries of strict breeding for exaggerated canine behaviors (which is what a purebred is) is something that a dog can’t just stop doing because you yelled “no” at him. Think about the breed’s tendencies, accept that you have some influence, but won’t change them. Ask yourself honestly, on a daily basis…can you manage that with your lifestyle?
#4- I like to ask breeders, trainers, and owners of other breeds about the breed I am interested in. Everyone, especially a breed fancier, will tell you the good stuff you want to hear- “great family dog”, “devoted and loyal”, “good watchdog”, “easy to train”. Yeah, yeah…ask them what the negative things are. What are the common problems in the breed? Every breed has some issues. I even ask the breeder this question about his or her particular family line within the breed.
#5- Finally, but most importantly, before you pick your puppy, go to see the litter and drop a book on the hard floor when the puppies aren’t looking. When the puppies are looking at you, open an umbrella with it pointed right at them. How did they react? By doing this, you are testing their nerves. Nerve threshold is a clue as to how the dog generally handles stress or stressful situations. It’s an early warning system for phobias, fears and anxiety as well. It’s okay if the puppy is initially surprised, but does he recover from the stress within a few seconds without much or any encouragement? If you can’t do this test in-person, ask the breeder for a video. This test should be done between 6 and 8 weeks, but definitely not between 8 – 12 weeks, due to the fear imprint learning and developmental stages which takes place after 8 weeks. Praise the puppies and allow them to investigate the book and umbrella after about 5 seconds to make them feel better about what just happened. Personally, I like the puppy that didn’t show any sign of stress at all, but the pup that balks a little is a nice pup too. Stay away from the puppy that doesn’t recover quickly on his or her own.
These are just a few tips I picked up that not many people are aware of. Certainly, they are not the only ones we know of and there are others I recommend. I leave you with this last tip- when looking at puppies: they are all cute. Don’t let that blind you to the character of the dog. The most physically assertive dog is the dominant dog. Unless it’s a Fila Brasiliero, the growling 7 week old puppy is not normal, and do not feel bad for and buy the scared puppy hiding in the corner. Trust me on this!