How To Buy A Puppy

The first question when looking to adopt a dog is, why a dog? Are you looking for a companion animal? If so, both dogs and cats can provide affection and companionship.

If you do not have the time to dedicate to a dog, have limited physical abilities, and or energy, a cat or cats may be a better choice. Cats do better at tolerating social isolation when left alone for long periods of time, and when you provide them a clean litter box they are almost naturally housebroken.

The primary reason to get a dog is that you wish to share your life with a companion animal and are willing to commit to fulfilling the needs of the animal.  If you are set on getting a dog, your choice should be based on more than size or looks. First of all it should be based on compatibility.

Obtaining a purebred puppy from a responsible breeder is the most reliable way to predict the likely adult characteristics of a dog's looks, size, energy level and behavior.

Puppies need to be fed more often, given more frequent opportunities to eliminate in a proper area, need to receive several vaccinations until about 4 months of age, need to be handled more, socialized, and exposed to the world in a controlled manner to prevent the development of behavior problems.

If you choose a puppy, you must be prepared for the challenges of the juvenile period from 3 to 6 months, and the adolescence stage from about 6 months to up to 3 years in some breeds until they reach social maturity.

Adolescence is often considered the most difficult period of dog ownership, and the age at which many dogs are surrendered to animal shelters. Sadly, many dogs will never see their second birthday because many people apply permanent solutions to temporary problems by surrendering their dogs to animal shelters.

Primary Considerations

Energy Level

The first consideration should be getting a dog with a level of energy that matches the family. The dog's energy or activity level should be equal to or less than the family's. The level of energy should be considered within the context of the family's lifestyle and environment.

Size

An important consideration is whether you can physically control the dog. A twenty pound active dog may be too much for some to handle.

If there are individuals in the house who have limited mobility size is a real consideration. Toy size dogs generally move quickly out of your way, whereas larger dogs often lay there and don't move when you are walking toward them which can result in tripping over them. A larger dog jumping up on people may be a serious problem in some households until they are trained.

Small children can easily injure a small dog by falling on them, or not treating them gently. It is also not unusual for a small dog to feel the need to defend themselves rather than running and hiding. 

Grooming Needs

Short hair dogs can often get by with a brushing once a week, while some long hair dogs can require daily brushing. All dogs shed, some very little, some a lot, and others year around.  Some dogs require professional grooming and clipping to keep their coats in good condition.

All dogs shed, but dogs with hair that is clipped, instead of fur are generally considered hypoallergenic. It is not the hair or fur that causes the allergic reactions, but rather the skin cells known as dander. This dander gets onto the dog's fur so dogs that shed frequently can result in more dander in the environment. Larger dogs will naturally have more dander just based on their size.

Strong-willed / Dominant

Published bred profiles that include comments like "unsuitable for inexperienced dog owners" , "needs consistent, determined owner", "requires experienced owners", and "requires experienced and authoritative owners", are not advised for the easy-going, permissive, and or first time dog owner. They will require more structure and time to accept your leadership. These dogs range in size from the toy to large breeds. These dogs require a 100% committed assertive leader. While most dog owners would not be a good match for these dogs, they can be great dogs for those who have the proper knowledge and necessary skills.

Good with Children

There is no set age where it is appropriate for children and dogs to be together. The child's age is arbitrary because the maturity of children varies.   Dogs and children should always be supervised when together.  Children must be taught to respect dogs and understand that they can be a playmate, but they are not a play thing.

Some dogs are uncomfortable around toddlers and young children. Dogs that are nervous, high energy, touch-sensitive, or have dominant tendencies are generally not a good match for younger children.

Dogs with a more independent nature may not tolerate much handling.

Herding breeds will have the tendency to chase children and are set off by the movement of bicycles, roller skates, etc... and are prone to nipping.

Scent hounds breeds generally would rather play hid-and-seek, and find a ball or toy rather than catch, chase or retrieve it.  

Guarding breeds and Terriers characteristically do not like to share. They can be taught to share and retrieve, but this is best done before 16-weeks of age. 

Breed Characteristics

It is important to understand what job the intended breed was designed for. It may be a high energy dog that was developed to herd, or to find and kill small rodents. It may be a guarding breed, or developed to assist humans with hunting, or just bred as a companion dog.

As part of your research, look up the breed standards and other descriptions of any dog you are considering.

Terms from breed standards:

"Dignified and aloof, with a certain keen fierceness"

“very resistant to fatigue”

"tends to show dominance to other dogs"

"wary of strangers"

"fearless and with well developed protective instinct"

"watchful of strangers and fearless toward aggressors"

"loyal and affectionate to those who earn his respect"

"distrustful of strangers"

“on the tip-toe of expectation at the slightest provocation”

If you have guests at your home regularly, you may not want a dog that is "distrustful of strangers". If you are easy going or permissive, a dog that is described as "loyal and affectionate to those who earn his respect" is probably not the right dog for you.

The two breed characteristics that have the highest predictive value are excitability and general activity level. Don't have expectations that this behavior will change.

It is important to remember that dogs are individuals and that there can be differences within a breed or even a litter.  The breed's bloodline, how the dog was raised, its early experiences and the environment all play a role in shaping behavior.

If you are set on getting a puppy, download the breeder evaluation guide here

Please choose carefully; I've met many dogs who when they were adopted believed they were going to a home with their new best friend and companion. Sadly, many ended up with an address and an acquaintance. Others ended up at an animal shelter and were euthanized because of overcrowding. 

Reasons not to buy a puppy!

  1. Puppies require a greater commitment then that of adult dogs.

  2. You do not have the time to visit the breeder during the puppy's 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th week of age to evaluate the litter and the environment.

  3. You are unable to obtain your puppy between 7-8 weeks of age during the peak socialization period which is the best time for the puppy to form a bond with a new family.

  4. After 8-weeks of age you will need to put in extra work to build a good bond with your dog. The older the dog, the more time it will require. The primary reason to get a puppy from a breeder is to obtain the puppy between 7-8 weeks of age. If I could not obtain a puppy at that age, I would save my money and adopt from a shelter or rescue group.

  5. Most puppies that one would purchase are purebred or pedigree dogs. Why is that a problem? These "pure breeds" have had most of the genetic variety bred out of them through artificial selection which has contributed to numerous genetic disorders in purebreds.

  6. At the local shelter or rescue there is no shortage of great dogs, both pure bred and mixed breed, adults and puppies for a fraction of the price that I would be asked to pay someone who would be more than happy to sell me a puppy that may be no better then what I could find at a shelter or rescue.

  7. There is an abundance of dogs in shelters that are lacking a home and millions are euthanized every year due to over-crowding in the shelters.

If you are set on getting a puppy, please download the breeder evaluation guide here


HOW TO BUY A PUPPY

Unfortunately and sadly, multitudes of people pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a puppy having physical and/or behavior problems that will not be apparent for months or years. These dogs could be called salvaged dogs, in that they were obtained from breeders who lacked knowledge or were neglectful breeders.

Being a dog trainer, I know firsthand the many issues people end up with when they obtain puppies from anyone other than a responsible and knowledgeable breeder. In my opinion, none of the following should ever be considered a responsible or knowledgeable breeder or, for that matter, selling by a responsible breeder:

  • Pet stores

  • Puppy breeding operations

  • Backyard breeders

  • Those conducting internet sales without getting to know the buyers and /or shipping a puppy during the sensitive development period.

Most puppy mills, which add 2.5 million puppies to the glut of dogs born annually in this country, are actually small home businesses run by amateurs whose ignorance and carelessness in breeding is a direct cause of much of the rise in congenital and health problems in many breeds.” 1

All of the above have one thing in common; their willingness to sell you a salvage dog at an inflated price. Although the puppy has not physically been mistreated or damaged, proper socialization for the puppy has been disregarded, thereby damaging the temperament and personality of the puppy.

  • My definition of a salvage dog is any dog that:

  • Was not raised with compassion and appropriate care

  • Was not raised with appropriate socialization from the beginning

  • Was not raised in a home environment

  • Was not raised in a sensory rich environment

  • Was obtained after 8-weeks of age missing the easiest socialization to the family in a new home

Breeding dogs and being knowledgeable about a breed of dogs is not enough. Breeders must fully understand a dog’s physical and mental and social development.

Improperly socialized dogs may appear to be hyperactive, have less coping skills than other dogs, exhibit anxiety, fear or aggression, display compulsive behaviors (i.e., licking paws, spinning, chewing on themselves), and vocalize more than the average dog.” 2

I know there are some who are reading this and saying to themselves that they have purchased or know someone who has purchased a puppy and it did not end up with any health or major behavior problems. Buyer beware, however, the potential for these problems is vastly increased when you purchase a puppy from those who put profit above the puppy’s welfare.

puppies who had dysfunctional backgrounds with inadequate socialization were 580 times more likely to end up with fear aggression towards strangers.” 3

Purchasing a puppy that is registered; “with papers” is no guarantee that you are getting a great pet dog. Pedigree or pure-breed does not mean better, especially if you are interested in having a good pet and companion. You can end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for puppies that may have behavior problems that will not be appear at the time of purchase when buying puppies from a pet store, backyard breeder, through the internet, newspaper ads, etc.

The dog may;

  • Be harder to housetrain

  • Consume their own feces

  • Be Insecure and fearful / lacking confidence

  • Be Fear aggressive

  • Be Food aggressive

  • Be Aggressive when guarding toys or things it values

  • Not good with children

  • Play rough with other dogs

  • Be Fearful and/or aggressive with other dogs

  • Be Fearful of people

  • Be Harder to train

Without the proper foundation in the early weeks, these dogs will never be all they could have been if raised in the right environment.

How Should I buy a puppy?

I would interview several breeders and obtain the following information;

How many breeds of dogs do they breed?

How many bitches do they breed and how many litters a year?

If they breed several breeds of dogs, and several bitches a year, I will consider them a breeding operation that is focused on dollars not animal welfare. I will look elsewhere!

How many litters have they had? If this is their first, I will consider it an experiment for them and would not purchase. Why; because for the same amount of money I can find someone who is experienced.

They should be able to explain to me the health problems common with the breed. They should screen their dogs for genetic problems and produce proof that the parents of the litter are free of those problems. If not, I will look elsewhere! 

Breeders can verify health reports and test for genetic disease in dogs to dramatically decrease the incidence of genetic disease in their breeding programs with services like the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). www.offa.org Dogs can carry many harmful genes that do not manifest as detectable disease during the breeding age of the dog. These dogs may appear normal but can be affected by diseases that have a late age of onset that is not apparent at the time of breeding.

They should be able to provide me with their veterinarian information and the medical history for the mother. If not, I will look elsewhere!

If they present themselves as a professional reputable breeder, do they have a dog from every litter that they bred? If not, I will look elsewhere! Breeders who are dedicated to the breed and are aiming to further their breed will keep the best to show and breed from.

I will want to contact one person who purchased from each of the previous litters. If they cannot provide that information, I will look elsewhere.

They should be knowledgeable about the breed and its breed characteristics and be concerned  that my family is a good match for one of their puppies. If not, I will look elsewhere!

I will ask if they will sell me two from the same litter that I will keep together. If they will, I will look elsewhere! Puppies from the same litter will already have a strong bond to each other. If  they continue to live together their bond will always be stronger than the bond they form with the owners. This results in the owners having less influence over the dogs’ behavior.

I will ask if they sell puppies to pet shops, puppy outlets, or through the internet to people that they have not personally met and evaluated. If they do, I will look elsewhere!

A reputable breeder is concerned that the puppy goes to a home that is a good match for the puppy. Their primary focus is on the dog’s welfare, not making money.

I will inquire if they are willing to take the dog back if needed. If not, I will look elsewhere!

Breeders with a motive other than money will always take the dog back at any time and/or assist in finding a new home. If they have screened the adopting family well, this will be a rare occurrence.

Where is the whelping box and where are the puppies kept? If not in the home, I will look elsewhere! Puppies that will be companion animals should be raised in a home so they experience and get used to all the smells, sights, and sounds in addition to learning to live with humans.

I will ask them to explain to me what their socialization program consists of. Is the socialization program a planned and structured process? It should be a systematic program that begins from the very first week with nothing more than gentle handling. By 4-weeks of age the puppies should have as much room as possible to roam, explore, and interact with all types of surfaces, textures, novel items, toys, and be exposed to anything they may encounter in life, all without being overwhelmed.

Weeks 3-5, puppies are generally curious and will tend to approach people and will be investigate thing and be more exploratory. They should have toys to investigate and play with and other novel items to explore. Gentle handling should continue and they should be slowly introduced to things they may encounter in life. Smells, sounds, people, objects, etc…

Weeks 6-8, the puppies should be separated from their mother and littermates for about 20 minutes each day and should spend that time with human’s having pleasant experiences at a new place every day! 4

At about 6-weeks the puppies will become more cautious of novel things and new experiences as they approach the “fear period” around 8-10 weeks. During this impressionable time, the puppies become hypersensitive to negative experiences which can have a long-lasting impact on the puppy.

If the breeder does not explain to me a socialization process that is positive and pleasant for the puppy and not forced, I will look elsewhere!

If it does not include the following, I will look elsewhere!

Have the puppies been exposed to, but not overwhelmed by:

  • Children of all ages

  • Adults of all types

  • Other family pets

  • Handling & grooming

  • Roller skates, skate boards, bicycles

  • Baby strollers

  • Wheel chairs

  • Trash cans

  • Car rides

  • Umbrellas, canes

  • Household noises; vacuums, toasters, oven timers, radio, television, washer and dryers, hair dryers, power tools, etc…

Is there regular positive interaction with the puppies by adults and supervised children? Are the puppies protected from overwhelming experiences which can leave long-lasting negative consequences? Are children allowed to annoy or bother the puppies which will make it more difficult for the puppy to be around children because of past negative experiences?

The whole purpose of the socialization program is to prevent the puppy from developing unreasonable fears during this sensitive period.

If I receive the answers that I am looking for then I will visit.

I will want to visit the litter at 4-weeks to observe the puppies and the conditions. If I cannot, I will look elsewhere. I will want to verify the information that was obtained above and observe the living conditions, health of all dogs, and the life experiences the puppies are receiving as outlined below.

I will want to meet the mother and all the other dogs on site. If I cannot, I will look elsewhere.

Nervous traits are usually inherited. Just as important is the fact that the dogs in the household will be the role model that the puppy will learn from during this very impressionable period of puppy development. If the behavior of the other dogs in the household I observe each week is not what I would want my puppy to behave like as an adult, I will look elsewhere.

Are the puppies on surfaces like can be found in most homes? (Carpet, wood, title, or vinyl  floors)  If not, I will look elsewhere!

Are there two surfaces so the puppies will learn to discriminate for housebreaking? If not, I will look elsewhere! Puppies have an instinctive desire to leave the sleeping area to relieve  themselves. We can maintain that behavior by helping them learn to relieve themselves on a surface other than where they sleep and eat. This will start to happen at about three-weeks of age.

Approximately 1/3 of the floor surface should be a surface that is not found in my home. This is the surface for them to eliminate on. It can be a section of the floor covered with newspapers.

Is the mother of the puppies able to leave and return to the puppies at her choosing so the puppies learn to be without her for short periods of separation? If not, I will look elsewhere!

If the puppies mother can come and go at her choosing, I have fewer worries about the early weeks of life at the breeder’s home contributing to attention seeking behaviors or separation anxiety. 5

Are there 50% more food and water bowls then there are puppies? If not, I will look elsewhere.

If there are six puppies, I will be looking for nine food and water bowls. I do not want my puppy learning that food and water are a scare resource that must be guarded from others. 6

Are there toys in with the litter for the puppies? If not, I will look elsewhere.

There should be plenty of toys for all the puppies so that they are not considered a scare resource that needs to be guarded from others. Toys can be as important to a dog’s development as they are for children. Toys can do more than keep pets entertained and occupied. They can assist dogs with their social and emotional development. The puppies gain more confidence exploring and interacting with new toys. They also learn to play with other dogs with toys, rather than using the other dogs as a toy.

I, as a pet owner, will want to use toys to play with my dog to strengthen the social bond between me and my dog and to assist in training so that I am not limited to using treats for everything.

Rules for Dog Toys:

No toy is indestructible, anything the dog considers fun can be a toy; toys must be nontoxic, large enough that they cannot be swallowed, destroyed or ingested.

Is there a completely different set of toys in with the litter this week for the puppies? If not, I will look elsewhere. Toys should be rotated daily so that the puppies have something new to explore and interact with. This also assists in keeping them from getting bored with the items.

I will want to visit the litter at 5-weeks to observe the puppies and the conditions. If I cannot, I will look elsewhere.

Each week I will want to visit the puppies to verify all the items mentioned above. Additionally,

I will want to see a different set of toys in with the litter each week for the puppies? If not, I will look elsewhere.

I will want to visit the litter at 6-weeks to observe the puppies and the conditions. If I cannot, I will look elsewhere.

I want to verify all the items mentioned above and will want to see a completely different set of toys in with the litter this week for the puppies? If not, I will look elsewhere.

At 7-8 weeks before the full onset of the “fear period” I would go and observe the puppies and the conditions and would bring my new family member home after the following evaluations. If I cannot, I will look elsewhere

During my final visit, I would ask the breeder to handle the puppy and check its teeth and then groom the puppy for ten-minutes. If the puppy does not accept the handling, I will look elsewhere.

I will ask the breeder to separate the puppy from the litter and place a bowl of food on the floor.

As the puppy eats I will ask the breeder to approach the puppy as he is eating. If the puppy eats faster, freezes, covers/protects his food bowl, or look uncomfortable in any way, I will look elsewhere.

I will ask the breeder to stroke each puppy as it is eating. If the puppy’s behavior indicates it is not comfortable with or trusting of the breeder while it’s eating, I will look elsewhere.

If the puppy trusts the breeder around the food bowl I will ask that they place a water bowl on the floor and to do the same exercise.

I will pick up a toy from the puppy area, I want to see the puppies approaching and wanting to play with me with the toy. If the puppies have no interest, I will look elsewhere.

I will observe the puppies and watch to see how long it takes them to recover after they have been startled by a sound. If they do not recover quickly, meaning that even if they move away and go hide, I want to see them come out of hiding and at least investigate at a distance in less than a minute. If not I will look elsewhere!

Breeders have a responsibility to begin the socialization process by exposing and familiarizing the puppies with anything they are likely to encounter during their life. This is vitally important because the experiences of a puppy between 3-16 weeks will have a lifelong emotional and cognitive impact on the puppy’s personality and temperament.

If you get a puppy from any other source other than a responsible and knowledgeable breeder you will now have a much harder time overcoming negative events, or lack of experiences during this sensitive development period. You will now have to overcome negative experiences with a great amount of positive experiences in addition to retraining to overcome previous learned behavior.

If you obtain your puppy at 8-weeks you realistically only have until about 12-weeks before the sensitive socialization period is over. Learning does not come to a complete stop after 12-weeks, but new learning after that time is ingrained less easily. 3

The breeder can contribute good genetics and proper socialization to your puppy to give him a great start in life, but the work is far from over. The breeder has only laid the foundation. The biggest influence on a dog’s character and development will be the family and environment in which he lives. Your work does not end, but it should get much easier by the time your puppy is an adult.

You can get a puppy and ignore the above, but why would you want to overpay for a puppy or dog that you will need to put in a considerable more amount of time and work to rehabilitate its behavior?

All this may seem excessive to many just to get a puppy. But I caution those who would ignore the above warning signs because many behavior problems will not surface until the puppy reaches adulthood.

Millions of families each year adopt a dog, often a puppy. The next year, half of those dogs will be surrendered to shelters because their owners are unhappy with how they turned out, and two of three will be put to sleep. Sadly, almost half of the dogs in the USA never see their second  birthday. 3

For those who believe they can recognize a good puppy based on their own gut feelings or through any number of temperament tests I leave a note of caution. Your gut feelings are no better than chance, and temperament tests are less reliable with younger puppies because their personality is still developing.

The prospective puppy owner, who does not conduct a thorough interview and verify the  information obtained from the breeder, is like the carpenter who does not waste his time measuring. Both are set for challenges.

Puppy Training & Quick Start Guide


References

John Rogerson seminar talks on puppy development. www.johnrogerson.com Author: The Dog Vinci Code: Unlock the secrets to Training Your Dog; Publisher John Blake (2010) John Rogerson is widely acclaimed as one of the world's leading trainers and behaviourists, and he pioneered many of the techniques that have now become standard practice in behaviour therapy and training. He is much sought after by organisations that are not only involved with training dogs but are also working towards a greater understanding of our canine friends.

Fogle, Bruce; The dog’s mind: understanding your dog’s behavior; Howell Book House; New York, NY (1990)

Hart, Benjamin L.; Canine and feline behavior therapy 2nd ed; Blackwell Publishing Professional; Ames, Iowa (2006)

Bailey, Gwen; The perfect puppy: how to raise a well-behaved dog; Octopus Publishing Group; London, England (2009) it is also called “The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Adult Trade Publishing; Pleasantville, NY

The Humane Society of the United States“ How to Find a Good Dog Breeder” http://www.hsus.org/web-files/PDF/Good_breeder.pdf

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Companion animals - Pedigree dogs - Saving the pedigree dog http://www.rspca.org.uk/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RSPCA/RSPCARedirect&pg=pedigreedogs

Companion animals - Pedigree dogs - Our position http://www.rspca.org.uk/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RSPCA/RSPCARedirect&pg=pedigreedogs&marker=1&articleId=1233061353310

Puppy Vaccination and Early Socialization Should Go Together Anderson, R. K.; Puppy Vaccination and Early Socialization Should Go Together: An Open Letter to My Colleagues in Veterinary Medicine: http://abrionline.org/article.php?id=75

1 Pitcairn, Richard H., DVM, PhD, and Pitcairn, Susan Hubble; Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs & Cats; 3rd ed., rev, and updated ; Rodale; (2005)

2 Silvani, Pia, CPDT and Eckhardt, Lynn; Raising Puppies & Kids Together: a guide for parents; T.F.H. Publications, Inc.; Neptune City, NJ (2005)

3 Faculty of The Cummings School Of Veterinary Medicine At Tufts University; edited by Nicholas Dodman with Lawrence Lindner: Puppy’s First Steps The Whole Dog Approach to Raising a Happy Healthy Well-behaved Puppy; Houghton Miffin Company; New York, NY (2007)

4 The Enriched Puppy Protocol (EPP) Suzanne Clothier

5 John Rogeron – Puppy Development

6 The Dog Vinci Code by John Rogerson