This Question and Answer guide will help you buy a sound and healthy puppy suitable for your living space and your way of life.
The guide provides basic information on the things that you need to consider before buying a puppy, and on how to identify a breeder who takes a real interest in the health and welfare of their pups, and in providing continued support to new puppy owners. You may wish to consider buying a re-homed dog or puppy from a shelter rather than buying a puppy direct from the breeder. This is dealt with later in the guide.
Choosing the right dog
Dogs come in many different shapes, sizes, and personalities. There is lots of information available on the web about different breeds and non-pure-bred types of dogs. But this can be confusing. The next few pages of this web site will help you look at some considerations for all types of dogs, but before moving to them you should start by considering some simple things like your own strength and energy – and motivation for buying a dog.
Have you got a particular breed or type of puppy in mind?
Nearly 500 breeds or types of dogs are recognized worldwide. In addition, there are many excellent dogs, from designer crosses to Heinz 57 mutts, that are every bit as good as (and sometimes better than) their pedigree cousins, although not qualified by breeding to be on Kennel Club pedigree registers.
Different breeds of dogs show more variation in size, shape, colour and importantly in behaviour and temperament than any other single species of animal. Of course behaviour and temperament also depend hugely on the dog’s upbringing, environment and training.
In considering what type of dog to buy, remember that in general bigger dogs need more space, food, and other resources; that you need to consider temperament as well as (or even before) looks; and that you will need a dog that fits with the way you live.
You don’t need to decide what type of dog to buy yet, but you should learn about the variety of types available. The characteristics of different dog breeds and types are available through a number of excellent books and websites. Detailed general information about different breeds of dog and about aspects of keeping dogs is available from:
- The Dogs Trust
- The Kennel Club (especially useful for pedigree breeds although a crossbreed page is included).
- Pedigree dogs are divided into:
The Miscellaneous group, dogs not fitting in to the other groups
When you own a dog, you have duties towards it. These include providing a suitable place for it to live, providing a suitable diet, allowing it to behave and exercise normally, protecting it from pain, injury, disease, or distress, and allowing it to interact with or retreat from other animals.
Will you have enough time and energy to walk, exercise, and play with your new dog properly? Even for small dogs, you will need 2 periods of at least 30 minutes per day, and some breeds will need considerably more time than this.
Every dog needs regular, consistent, purposeful, and supervised physical and mental stimulation in order to stay fit and healthy. Although the amount of physical work they need varies considerably, they do need at least one trip out a day with both on- and off-lead exercise plus, some other form of exercises such as play or training.
Exercise for a dog is more about mental stimulation, socialization, interacting with different environments, and engaging in play than about burning off energy. A dog who is not exercised and stimulated may exhibit destructive or noisy behaviors so it’s well worth working out what your best friend needs.
Just like humans, some dogs are more energetic than others – even within a single breed. But in very general terms, adults of pastoral and hunting breeds need the most exercise, followed by other large working dog breeds and then by remaining smaller breeds.
Growing dogs need plenty of stimulation but should not be worked (or walked) hard. An older dog, or one that is health compromised, will still need stimulation and some exercise.
The paragraphs below give an indication of the amount of exercise and stimulation a dog needs. They refer only to exercise and do not address toilet needs. If you walk your dog once a day remember he/she may need to have access to a garden or land to be used for toileting on three to five other occasions during the day.
How much exercise does a dog need?
Dogs tend to need more exercise than most of us humans think appropriate for our own needs. A rough idea of general exercise levels is given below
Dogs should go out on a walk at least once a day. Ideally, two short walks averaging thirty minutes including time off-lead to explore every day, plus a number of short play/training sessions during the day.
- Suitable for some toy and miniature breed dogs.
Dogs should go out on a walk that lasts up to an hour, or two shorter walks between half an hour and an hour in length. They will need some off-lead time and should also have some short play/training sessions during the day.
- Suitable for many small to medium dogs, as well as some larger ones bred for short periods of heavy exercise.
Dogs must go out every day and preferably twice a day. Walks should take at least an hour and include both on- and off-lead walking. The walk should include the opportunity to run and possibly swim for significant periods. They should also have a number of play/training sessions during the day.
- This will suit many medium dogs to large dogs.
Dogs require significant exercise and are happiest when a majority of their day is engaged in activity. They need to go out at least twice a day for up to two hours each time. The walk should include the opportunity to run and possibly swim for significant periods. They should also have a number of play/training sessions during the day.
- Suitable to breeds adapted for long periods of exercise (such as some sled dogs, some hunting and some pastoral breeds).
A reputable breeder or re-homing charity or organization should always provide purchasers with guidance as to an applicable exercise program, appropriate to the breed or type, age, or size of dog they are selling.
Are you able to devote the time, energy, and playfulness to a dog that he/she will need?
If Not: Dogs are pretty demanding, but there are alternatives. Please reconsider buying a dog.
The cost of dog ownership
Total costs of owning a dog are unlikely to be less than $2500 per year and can be much more, depending on breed. Are you confident you can afford food, bedding, vet bills, and insurance for your new dog?
Purchase of a pedigree puppy typically costs anything from several hundred to a few thousand pounds.
- Puppies and juvenile and adult dogs are also available from rescue and shelter agencies, usually for a small charge to cover some of the shelter costs.
- You will need to feed your dog appropriately. Costs vary upwards from about $1 per day (including treats and some variety in the food) depending on breed and size.
But this is only a part of the costs.
- You will need supplies such as bowls, leads, collars, toys, brushes, a bed and bedding, a crate or indoor kennel, etc. You will spend at least several hundred pounds and perhaps considerably more on these items in the first year.
- Grooming if you do it yourself, means you will need the right equipment (brushes, combs, scissors, electric clippers, shampoo) and costs could be considerably more if done professionally, especially for trimmed breeds (Poodle, Terriers, Schnauzers, Cockapoos/Labradoodles) on a regular basis (every 6 – 8 weeks).
- Visits to the Veterinary Surgeon for consultations, vaccinations, worming, and sometimes expensive treatments and surgeries. Costs range from $200 – $600 per annum in the first year but can vary considerably depending on the health of the dog.
- Insurance premiums vary with dog breed or type but are generally well over $100 per annum (not including substantial excesses).
- Training with a specialist or professional group will cost several hundred dollars, but is money well spent for the inexperienced owner.
- The use of a good kennel or pet-sitting service for holidays, or other periods of time away from your home but when you cannot take your dog, could cost in the region of $15.00 per day for small dogs and more for larger ones.
Have you found out as much as you can about your chosen dog?
For instance, have you found out about the health tests you can ask to see? What problems does the breed have? What should you look out for?
Through their genes, dog types inherit specific characteristics that give them their special characters, but also may include breed- or type-specific health problems. These breed or type-specific characteristics even include average life expectancy. For example, giant breeds have shorter lives on the average than smaller dogs, often dying relatively young as a result of characteristic life-threatening diseases – including a form of heart disease, bone cancers, and bloat.
Dogs with short skulls such as bulldogs and pugs breathe less efficiently on average and so are less able to exercise and to keep cool in hot weather. There are potential problems associated with exaggerated characteristics such as excessively wrinkled skin or elongated backs. Many breeds have higher than average incidence of a number of particular diseases.
So you need to know what to look out for. Many breeds have particular health tests (some DNA, some clinical) which breeders are recommended to use and it is advisable for you to find out what these tests are and whether the breeder of the type of dog you are interested in has used these tests or not.
Information about the disease problems you should ask about for particular breeds can be found under A-Z indexes at web sites including:
- A number of dog owner run sites such as the Dog Breed Health. These sites are not subject to full professional review but are nonetheless largely accurate and very easy to use.
- The Canine Inherited Disorders Database and in more detail at Inherited Diseases in Dogs (most suitable for a veterinarian).
- The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare maintains an easy-to-read site documenting known problems in the more popular breeds.
- For guidance from a veterinary surgeon before making a purchase, you can consult “Find a Vet” at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ website.
It is important to be able to recognize and buy a puppy that is individually healthy.
- Healthy skin (flexible, smooth and pest free),
- Coat (full and usually fluffy or glossy)
- Body and weight (well covered with a nice round tummy but able to feel ribs)
- Eyes (bright and clear)
- Ears (inside – clean and free from discharges)
- Mouth, gums, and teeth (gums firm and pink, teeth free from tartar, white and no evidence of damage)
- Nose (cool and moist)
- Normal temperature (38.3 – 39.2C)
- Regular heartbeat and pulse (this relies on a veterinary check, where available)
- Normal bowel movements (firm and formed, never yellow, pungent, runny or containing blood)
- A lively temperament showing curiosity and not too timid
Although it may seem tempting to buy a sickly individual to look after and make well again, a reputable dealer or breeder will not wish to sell you such an animal, whilst moving the animal will often exacerbate problems, and buying from less reputable sources would only perpetuate conditions that caused the problem.
Finding a trustworthy supplier for your pup
Puppies may be bought directly from a breeder or from a rescue or rehoming center or an animal shelter.
Rehoming centres charge a fee of about $25-$100 to cover their costs.
Rehoming and rescue centres and shelters will usually have much larger selections of juvenile and adult dogs, and only small numbers of puppies.
- The shelters will have made a veterinary check on the health of the puppy or dog.
- They will have microchipped, wormed, and vaccinated the puppy or dog. Most rehoming centers also neuter dogs before rehoming.
- They will have collected as much of the history of the animal as they can.
- Their own handlers and trainers will have assessed the animal’s character and temperament.
- They will ask you to fill in a form, to interact with potential purchase dogs or puppies, and to talk to handlers to assess your compatibility.
- They will make a home visit to you to assess whether your property is suitable for keeping the dog you have chosen.
- In most cases, you will miss seeing the dog develop from a puppy and your input into his/her character and behavior will be a little reduced.
- You will have less choice of dog type and know less about the dog’s background than you would for most pups.
- In a few cases, you may have to work hard with the dog to regain its trust in its owner and in other humans.
Web pages introducing the process are provided by:
A number of pedigree dogs are rescued or rehomed through breed societies.
The AKC operate a central “Rescue Network” to help locate these dogs
Good luck with finding the right puppy or dog for you.
Your new puppy will come with all those responsibilities for care, socialization, training, exercise, and health that you have taken over from the rehoming center. But (s)he will be a bundle of joy!
Finding a trustworthy breeder
Over several years some quality assurance schemes for dog breeders have started to operate. For pedigree dogs, the most prominent is the AKC breeders of merit program. These schemes are aimed at raising breeders standards and are useful in doing so, but do not offer an absolute guarantee. Some are limited in scope or have standards that are not sufficiently policed. Many excellent breeders have adopted such schemes, but many also exist outside them.
These are the questions you should ask about each breeder. It is essential that you are confident that your pup is what the breeder says it is and comes from the background and conditions that the breeder claims.
Q. Is the breeder happy for you to visit the puppy where it was bred and see it with its mother?
If not, please reconsider using this breeder or supplier. Please notify the authorities if you believe there is a welfare issue.
What a puppy learns in its first few weeks is very important to its future development.
During the first weeks of life, puppies are developing very rapidly. The environment they are in and the experiences that they have, influence how the brain develops and the behaviors they show. They learn what is important in life and how they can achieve it. Where they do not experience particular things, they are more likely to be worried about them later.
For example, if a dog does not experience children as a puppy, he or she is more likely to be wary when they first meet children later in life. If they have never been apart from their mother and siblings, they are more likely to be distressed by being separated when you take them home. It is therefore very important to check the environment of the puppy that you are considering carefully and ask the breeder lots of questions about the experiences that puppies have had.
What should I check in particular?
You should check whether the puppy has been kept in a house or similar domestic environment, or in a kennel. Puppies that have been kept in a house may be more likely to experience the normal things that happen in a domestic situation, such as people coming and going, the noise of domestic appliances, etc. However, that is not always the case – puppies may be kept in a back bedroom or out-of-the-way place where they experience very little. Equally, where puppies have been born in a kennel environment, breeders may have been very careful about ensuring they have a range of suitable experiences.
Ask lots of questions to get a feel for how much the breeder has done with their puppies – in general, the more varied experiences a puppy has had will prepare them better for the changes and experiences of living in a new home. Ideally the puppy that you are visiting should have experienced the following things as a minimum.
• Contact with a minimum of four adults other than those in the family, including at least one person from both genders;
• Contact with children, preferably in different age groups;
• Familiar and unfamiliar people coming in and out of the area in which puppies are housed without necessarily interacting with puppies;
• Contact with adult dogs, other than the puppy’s mother, preferably of a breed or breeds which are morphologically distinct and without any behavioral problems;
• Handling all over, including being picked up, feet handled and ears checked by at least four people;
• Wearing a collar;
• Being housed briefly in a restricted environment (e.g. indoor kennel);
• Brief separations from mother and siblings in the company of people;
• Normal household noises, such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines (through direct experience if possible, or via recordings in a kennel);
• Exposure to other noises that dogs are likely to experiences as an adult, such as traffic and fireworks. These should initially be played to a puppy at low volume to avoid causing a fearful response;
• Being in a vehicle and preferably being taken for one or two short rides;
• Periods in contact with people without interaction.
Q. Can the breeder provide a lot of information about the puppy, its behavior, its socialization and its experiences?
If not, this may not be a reason to abandon this breeder but is not a helpful sign as it suggests you are dealing with an agent rather than the real breeder. It is important that you deal directly with the puppy’s breeder to be confident that the puppy’s first few weeks have been handled well. You should continue with questions about this breeder.
Q. Does the breeder insist that the puppy is at least 8 weeks old before you can take it away?
Weaning of pups is typically complete by eight weeks, and socialization has proceeded to a point where re-homing is acceptable, although many breeders consider that it is better to leave rehoming a little longer.
Q. Can the breeder tell you all about their own dogs and how often they breed from them?
Any genuine breeder will have this information.
Q. Can the breeder tell you about the dogs they have bred before and put you in touch with owners?
This may not be a reason to abandon this breeder, who may be careful and honest, but inexperienced. But for most breeders, it is not a helpful sign. You should continue with questions about this breeder.
Q. Can the breeder advise you whether information that you have found out about the breed is correct and offer you long term guidance?
Puppy contracts contain information about the puppy, its parents, and the way it was raised. They are a very useful way of avoiding misunderstandings that can arise in buying a puppy, for example about the care that has been given and the obligations taken on by the seller.
A very good example, drawn up by the AKC.
Q. Will the breeder provide all the relevant paperwork with the puppy – a Puppy Contract or Health Pack? This should include details of the health and health tests for the pup’s parents.
If not, This may not be a reason to abandon this breeder but is not a helpful sign. A less experienced breeder may not have come across puppy contracts. You should continue with questions about this breeder.
Q. Will the breeder direct you to a professional for advice if you are unsure?
This could be for example the puppies’ veterinary practice, a breed club secretary or another established dog breeder.
Things to Think About when Buying a Puppy
“A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”
The Dogs Trust’s famous slogan must be uppermost in the mind of anyone considering buying a puppy or re-homing a dog.
A dog will be your friend, companion, entertainer, and playmate for the next fifteen or so years, but will also be your responsibility for all of that period.
So you need to know something about what you are taking on, and to get things right, right from the start.
The Dog Advisory Council web site goes through some of the questions you must consider in detail.
First and foremost, what type of dog is right for you?
Dogs come in many different shapes, sizes, and personalities. There is lots of information available on the web about different breeds and types of dogs, although the sheer amount of this information can be confusing.
Pedigree dogs breed true to type and within a breed may also exhibit behavioral traits that are more associated with that breed. If you visit the mother of a pedigree litter, you will get a good idea of the general shape, size, and appearance of the offspring. For a mixed breed dog, on the other hand, the type and adult size of offspring may vary quite markedly from that of the mother.
Space and size
You should consider the size of the dog that you want in relation to the space you have available in your house or flat, and in your garden, if you have one. You should also think about your own size, health (and likely future health) and temperament, and the ease with which you will be able to handle and manage a given size or type of dog.
Time and lifestyle
You need to consider the time that you will need to socialize, exercise, stimulate, groom, and toilet your dog. This could be from at least one to several hours per day. Do you like being outdoors? People with dogs tend to get outside more than the general population. Dogs are social animals. What will happen to your dog during the working day?
You will need to consider the costs of dog ownership, especially in the first year, when they are likely to be around $2000.
First and foremost, are you buying a healthy puppy from an environment where important early socialization has already taken place? A home breeder is in the best position to provide this, whilst for re-homed dogs, there may have been issues prior to re-homing that cause additional later difficulties. You need to be able to spot a healthy and well-socialized dog and a good breeder.
Where to Purchase
The Council advises against any purchase from the back of a van or from a breeder who brings the pup to you, and we advise extreme caution if considering a purchase from a pet shop. It is far preferable to see puppies with their mother and where they were bred. We will suggest some questions to ask breeders and some observations you should make, and about the “puppy contract” that you should agree with the breeder of any dog that you purchase.