Buying a Puppy

Ideally a purebred puppy should be purchased directly from the breeder so that the mother can be present to be seen, talked to and studied. It is also possible to buy purebred puppies from dealers and pet shops, but in both cases it is highly likely that the puppies have been obtained from a variety of sources. They may have traveled long distances from home and may have well come into close contact with puppies from other litters and had time to pick up any germs. The stress of being removed from the comfort of the maternal home tests the most resilient of puppies and is compounded by transportation in a noisy train or van, the company of many strange, equally trained pups, temperature and food changes, and a motley of human faces and voices.

For the prospective buyer, the best advice is to find a reliable breeder within a reasonable radius of home. The local veterinary practice often knows of local breeders, and this has the advantages that something will be known about the quality and health of pups. In addition, many small breeders advertise in the local press, to announce the sale of a forthcoming litter. There are also several weekly and monthly magazines and periodicals devoted to the world of mainly purebred dogs. They discus exhibiting, training and breeding, and virtually every breed has its separate column; advertisements give details of pups for sale and addresses of secretaries of breed clubs. Major dog shows are excellent places for checking on a particular breed, in respect of appearance and temperament, and the major breeders.

The next step is to find a breeder who has or will shortly have puppies for sale and to make arrangements to see the litter and discuss price. If everything goes smoothly, it then becomes a question of selecting an individual puppy of the chosen sex and possibly color, and waiting patiently until the pups are old enough to leave home, at the age of six or preferably eight weeks. The waiting time can be used to gather together the necessary basic equipment.

Check Point for Health
All puppies, whether purebred or mongrels, have instant appeal, easily stirring the protective instincts. Even so, the purchase of a puppy should be ruled by common sense, not sentimentality; in most cases it involves considerable expense and long-term commitment, and there is no point in taking on an animal which is unhealthy from beginning. The basic signs of good – or poor – health are fairly easy to assess, and by sticking consistently to check list, even the first-time buyers should be able to pick a healthy puppy from the litter.

Ask to see the whole litter running in a small space, preferably in good natural light. Most pups will get up from sleep when a new face appears and behave actively, chasing each other and jumping up to be fondled. They will probably be empty both bladders and bowels, affording the buyer a chance of checking that motions are reasonably formed, with no evidence of violent diarrhea. While the pups are running about, pay particular notice to any obvious signs of lameness, and to any pup which does not bother to get up. It may only mean that he is tired from racing about a few minutes earlier, but it could also be a sign of ill-health. Guard against emotions of sympathy and urges to protect and care for the little wretch. An aloof character which does not join in a family game may indeed be unsociable, to other dogs and to people in general.

Study all the puppies; if one or more members of the litter are showing signs of illness, it is best to avoid them all and leave as quickly and tactfully as possible. Disinfect footwear before visiting another kennel.

If the first impression is favorable, ask to pick up one or two pups for closer inspection, choosing first members of the preferred sex. Handling a puppy imparts information about its physical shape and possible temperament. A well-adjusted puppy will allow itself to be picked up and handled without panicking or cowering in fear; it should be alert and respond to sudden noises without whimpering or growling, return a gaze steadily and resume its former activities cheerfully on being set down again.

As regards physical shape, the buyer will possibly have some mental picture of the expected if not the actual measured weight. If the puppy handles heavy, all well and good, but if it is lighter than expected, suspicions may be aroused, irrespective of whether the puppy is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane.

The light puppy may have a large round abdomen or belly, with the skin stretched tight, but feel bony on the back and ribs. This can be a sign of infestation with roundworms, which are extremely common even in well cared-for litters. The parasites can be expelled very early in life with repeated treatments, and this should have been done already in properly run establishments. The new owner will have to continue the treatment later, but no pups showing such obvious signs should be offered for sale.

Check that the eyes are well open and bright, showing no discharge or signs of discomfort, or of having been rubbed or scratched. At the same time check that the insides of the ears are clear and odour-free, and that the hairs round the edges are clean – the lower edges are favorite hiding places for tiny lice; tell-tale signs that small ears have strayed into the food bowl have usually been removed ever-hungry littermates.

The rest of the coat should also be checked; fleas favor the area along the back and especially the part just in the front of the tail; actual fleas may be difficult to spot, but little black specks among the hairs may well be flea droppings. The coat itself should be shiny and clean, and there should be no distinct bare patches in areas which are otherwise, well haired. The skin of the abdomen should be clean and whitish-pink, except in pigmented areas, free from spots, pustules or scabs. The area just below the anal opening should be clean; if it is dirty it would be a sign of an upset alimentary system.

Occasionally puppies have hernias, either at the navel or in the groin; those at the navel are usually tiny and rarely cause problems in later life. Hernias in the groin can be more dangerous, and if they are large enough to be spotted by a prospective purchaser, they are almost certainly to big for comfort; reject the puppy. Handling a puppy gives a good impression of the body, which should have a moderate layer of fat under the skin, and the latter should be loose enough to be picked up in folds.

It is commonly thought that a healthy dog always has a cold, slightly moist nose, and while it would generally be true that any pup with such a nose would be healthy, it does not necessarily follow that the odd warm nose indicates sickness. There should be no discharge from the nose, and the breath should smell sweet. Except when a puppy has been wrestling with his litter mates just before examination, his breathing should be easy. Study the character and rate of the respirations, and if breathing gives the impression of being labored, something is more than likely wrong.

It can be difficult for a novice to assess the soundness of the skeleton of the dog. In general, it should be well-balanced and conform to the breed standard, the back straight or slightly sloping with no obvious irregularities in the backbone curvature; the ribs should be well sprung, the forequarters straight, and the hindquarters well angulated at the knee joints. The head should be in proportion to the rest of the body, with level mouth, neither over nor undershot.

Some large breeds have more than their fare share of bony malformations, such as hip dysplasia; the prospective buyer would be aware of such propensities and factors from studying the breed in advance. It is advisable to obtain veterinary advice on the purchase of a breed known to have skeletal problems or other inherited defects.

The purchaser is entitled to adequate time in which to study the puppy and to obtain the professional advice. With luck, the dog will be a member of the household for anything up to fifteen or sixteen years, and nothing is gained by rushing the choice. It is possible to have a veterinary surgeon to check a puppy before purchase, but this may be difficult if the breeders lives a long way away. Reputable breeders will place a puppy – or the money – if something is fundamentally wrong, and the defect is of a nature for which they can be held morally responsible.

At the same time, the breeder has the right to refuse to sell a puppy to a buyer who does not appear to have suitable temperament as a dog owner or who does not seem prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of ownership.

Once negotiations have been successfully completed, choice and price of puppy agreed, and collection date fixed, the breeder will issue a signed pedigree certificate, and a registration card or signed transfer form from the English Kennel Club. On collection, the reliable breeder will also provide a feeding chart, assurance that the puppy has been wormed at least twice, and advice on general care during the first few weeks.