Puppies – How much is that doggie in the window?

Short noses, googly eyes and wrinkles have hit the news recently.  A selection of traits which, vets from the British Veterinary Association have said, are harmful to the dogs that carry them and the purses and emotional reserves of their owners.  Radio 5 Live and Radio 4′s You and Yours programme both covered the story and came to the House of Mutt to ask about our experiences of these brachycephalic breeds.

What I said, in between trying to stop the presenter goading the dogs into barking (‘for background noise’ – argh!) was that the short noses et al of the breeds under discussion (Bulldog, Pug, Cavalier Spaniel, Shitzu) were unhelpful and high maintenance but far more damaging to the dogs and to their owners’ pockets were bad breeders rather than the particular breeds themselves.  (Radio 5 Live Coverage; Radio 4 Coverage)

The Radio 5 Live presenter was going from here down to Essex to report on a case of two puppy farmers caught with a warehouse full of breeding bitches kept in appalling conditions, and with a network of ‘friends’ on their books who were happy to advertise as home-bred the puppies taken from the warehouse. (Later convicted, thankfully BBC News ).  Those are the kind of bastard (excuse the french) breeders who are damaging dogs’ lives.  And trying to con good-meaning folk like you or I into buying puppies that will have issues – whether those be behavioural or health. Or, most likely, both.

Interestingly  The Dogs Trust charity has recently initiated their own campaign to increase awareness of illegal puppy smuggling / farming.  They’ve set up a rather brilliant billboard in Shoreditch made up of hundreds of toy puppies each with a dog tag collar telling the  stories of a real smuggled dog.  Passers-by are invited to take one of the toy dogs home with them, and as they do some of the horrible truths behind the business are revealed underneath the fluff.  The full article makes for an interesting read … Illegal trade of designer dogs highlighted by charity 

So how to avoid these bad breeders?  I’m increasingly being asked to find puppies for people –  because I speak the lingo and have contacts in the dog world.  And I’m very happy to help.  But if you’d rather do your own search, here’s my basic Top Ten list of how to go about finding a great pup:

  1. Word of mouth beats online ad every time.  Ask your vet, ask someone in the park who’s walking a lovely example of the breed you’d like, ask friends where they got their dog.  Dog owners generally love talking about their dogs – give them free rein to do so and try and get some valuable info for yourself at the same time.
  2. If you find you need to go online, go to trusted sites.  The Kennel Club has a good register of recommended breeders on their site.  Breed Societies will often hold similar lists.  And if you want to go to adverts, I’d try somewhere like Dog Quest or Horse and Hound rather than Pets4Homes or Freeads
  3. When you phone, ask questions galore of the breeder. If they’re good they should want to chat about their puppies and they should want to chat about you to glean as much information as possible about where the pup will be living and what kind of owner you’ll be.  You should ask about the temperament and health history of the mother and father, whether there have been any health issues with the pups, how many in the litter, where they have been brought up so far, are they used to people etc etc etc. Just chat, wiffle, get a feel of whether the breeder knows the pups individually and cares about where they go.
  4. A note on when you phone, it can be an idea to say you’re phoning ‘about the puppy’.  If they ask which one, it should just raise a flag in your mind that they’re breeding multiple litters, and you may not end up with a puppy as socialised as one who has been covered in love and affection from day one.  It’s not always the case, but at least you start the phone call knowing what you’re dealing with.
  5. Go and visit the pups.  Make sure you see the mother with the puppies. Or if they’re old enough to have been separated already, ask to see the mother separately.  You need to see her health and temperament, and you need to know that your pup has until very recently been brought up by her.
  6. Pups will often take their behaviour patterns from the mother. If she’s very nervous and/or yappy, the chances are the puppies will be too.  Allow her to be protective, they’re her babies after all, but she should calm down when she sees you mean no harm.
  7. You’ll love the puppies, obviously.  But keep your cynical hat on for a little while longer. If the puppies are being shown to you in an immaculate front room, ask to see where they’re living day to day.  Expect there to be a bit of mess around (hey, they’re puppies) but there’s a point at which mess becomes unhealthy…  If your head is telling you there’s something not quite right, go with your instinct and don’t buy the puppy. There are always others around.
  8. Try not to choose a pup because it looks sad and unloved.  If the breeder can’t sell sad and unloved puppies then hopefully they’ll stop doing whatever it is that’s made the pup sad and unloved…
  9.  Ask about veterinary care, worming plans, flea treatments etc.  A good breeder will have all these under control and will want to share the details with you.
  10. Finally, be prepared to pay a sensible amount for a good puppy – a good breeder will have earned it and the vet savings you make in having a hopefully healthy dog will be far greater than the initial cost.  But don’t assume a hefty price tag necessarily means a healthy puppy – there are plenty of puppy farmers out there charging £2k for a puppy, and plenty of wonderful hobby-breeders in the countryside charging a great deal less than that.  It’s another go-with-your-gut thing; if you feel ‘fleeced’ you probably are being!






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