Just as most couples prefer to “plan ahead,” for their anticipated parenthood; it is best to plan ahead before your take on the responsibility of a Puppy/Older Dog/Rescued Dog. No matter what age, origin, breed, sex, size, color, training or history, he or she wants and needs love, companionship, protection, food, shelter, toys, grooming, training, playtime, veterinary care, and socialization. This is a relationship that should be entered into with not only the best intentions but with the expectation of a lifetime commitment. If you think of your perspective dog as a family member and not a disposable commodity, and take the time to find the right match, your life with your dog will be enriched. So go get a highlighter because I’m going to tell you lowdown.
The first thing to do before you even begin your search is have a family meeting and ask the following questions. Does everyone agree that this is a good idea? Is this the right time to get a dog? Will someone be home to care for him or will he be alone all day. Are you sure you’re not getting the dog for the wrong reason like a present for a child? Can you afford the additional expense? Do you know how to care for, housebreak and train this dog or are you willing to seek professional help? Does anyone have allergy concerns? Do you travel often? Will this dog be a part of your household or are you planning to keep him isolated in a basement, garage or yard??? And the million dollar question is…and give this one considerable thought, WHY DO YOU WANT A DOG? Yes, I’m serious. So, if your heart is beating a little faster at the thought of finding a new best friend; let's start with, where to go and what to look for. The where will be obvious but the WHAT to look for and WHAT to ask, is WHAT you really need to know.
BREEDERS A breeder that is recommended by someone you know and trust is better than one listed on the internet that you know nothing about. The breeder can be someone in a private home, or a six acre facility. Preferably the breeder you choose raises only one or two specific breeds and not a canine grab bag. So whether you go to a pet store, large kennel facility, or find that special puppy on the internet, it came from a breeder and you need to find out whatever you can about them.
Don’t be put off by a breeder who questions you about your intentions and your home life, as well as your dog expertise. It shows care and concern. That’s a good thing!
What breeds does this breeder specialize in? How many dogs are on premises? Where are the dogs kept? How many litters do the females have in their lifetime? How long do the puppies nurse for and how old are the puppies when they’re taken from their mother? Are the dogs let outside to exercise, play and bathroom? Are the breeding dogs as well as the puppies cared for by a vet and what is his name? Do the puppies have any interaction with humans or are they isolated? (Yes, you are going to check him out too.) How old are the puppies before they are allowed to go to their new home? If the dogs are pedigree, what is the breeder’s standing with the AKC? (Don’t ask the breeder, ask the AKC.) If you go to a large facility, find out where the puppies come from because they probably do not breed all of them.
WHAT to look for
Look around the premises. Is it clean and ventilated or DOES IT SMELL FOUL? Is it too crowded for the amount of dogs? If it’s a private home are there cages or kennels, referred to as APARTMENTS, everywhere including the kitchen? Is there molded dog kibble in the corners of the floor? Are the food and water dishes clean? Are there drip bottles in cages which might indicate long periods of confinement? Do you see birds, or wildlife? This may mean that the breeder is a“COLLECTOR” who has too many animals to care for properly?
PET SHOPS . Bigger is not always better. Chain store pets do not necessarily live in better conditions or come from better breeders than privately owned small stores. Just like any other business, the conditions of the shop will depend on the proprietor or management. HOWEVER, FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED.
It is not a good sign if you walk into a pet shop and you can’t catch your breath. I agree that is doesn’t mean you won’t find a fabulous puppy, but I do want you to keep it in mind when you look around at other questionable conditions.
WHAT to ask
Do the puppies come from a local or out of state breeder? How long has a particular puppy been at the shop? How old is the puppy? Do they have “papers” you can review? Are the dogs ever taken out of the cages for bathrooming, grooming, playing, or socializing? Are they veterinary checked and do they have records? WHAT IS THE VET’S NAME? Can you take a puppy into a private room or special play area and spend time together? What is the store’s policy in reference to veterinary care? What will they be responsible for prior to and after your puppy purchase? What are the store hours and who is there to care for the puppies when the store is closed? How long has the shop been in business?
WHAT to look for
How many puppies are there in the store? How many puppies in each confinement? How many employees? Are the puppies eating, drinking, playing, sleeping, urinating, and defecating in their small cages? Are there any play areas to indicate that the puppies are not always locked in cages? Do you notice anyone cleaning kennels or changing water and food as a routine? Do the puppies have identification tags? When asking about a puppy, notice if the tag is checked and the records or “papers” pulled to match that tag. Don’t be so sure that the “papers” belong to the “puppy”!
INTERNET, NEWSPAPERS, & DOG MAGAZINES OK… I know…The pictures on the internet are too cute for words. I also know that these dogs deserve a loving wonderful home. Been there. Done that. I just want you be aware and know what to expect.
WHAT to ask
If you only see an e-mail address, ask for a phone number. Get as much personal information as you can. Name, address, phone, cell phone, veterinarian name, address and phone number and use them to ask questions. If they are out of state, have them send additional photos of the puppy and premises. Ask them how the dog will be delivered to you. If by plane, call the airline and the airport where the dog is coming from and ask what their regulations are. Notice if the seller shows concern and says something like “it’s too hot for the puppy to be at the airport in the middle of the afternoon, so we need to do an early flight.” Ask if the puppy will be given tranquilizers or motion sickness medication before the flight? Question the age of the puppy before it leaves home. If you’re looking for a toy breed, will the breeder tell you that the puppy must be old enough, big enough and strong enough to travel? Asking for pictures of the parents is always something that makes me roll my eyes. Someone please tell me how you know that those dogs are the parents.
WHAT to look for
How many listings for puppies does this breeder have? How many breeds does this breeder advertise? Do they offer personal information and welcome e-mail inquiries? Can you call to talk to someone? Do you always get a recording or have to leave a message? Notice if the photos are professional from dog shows. Sometimes the photos will have a winner’s plaque next to the dog, with usable info on it. Ads that say no photo available at this time should make you think twice about the site, even though the photo might not be of the dog you receive! Does the advertiser or seller offer only a P.O. Box? I’m also weary of e-mail addresses that are free to the user because it doesn’t show as much permanence for a reliable business as someone with a cable service address. Requests for too much of your personal info on the internet would make me uncomfortable too. DO A BACKGROUND CHECK VIA THE INTERNET. It’s worth the nominal fee. Also check out any pet abuse websites. You might find more than you’re looking for.
Local being the operative word, I would check this out. If the flyer is in a vet’s office, they SHOULD know who the breeder is. If the flyer is in a pet or feed store, it might be anyone who walked in and posted it. If the breeder is local, they have to be using a local veterinarian.
Take a long hard look at the dogs, adults as well as puppies. Check their hair (fur) and skin. If the dogs are not well cared for, the adults will be in worse condition than the puppies. Look for matted hair, especially behind the ears, under arms, groin, and tail and under the tail. Look closely at the skin and check for flaking, rashes, discoloration, feces and urine stains. Is the hair thin or balding in patches? Look at their paws and nails. Do they look well manicured or is the hair in between the pads, (under the paws) matted and dirty? Are the nails long and dirty as well? Are the tips of the paws discolored which can mean anything from neglect to ear problems to allergies? Look in the dog’s ears and take notice if they are dirty or have a bad odor. Are the tips of the ears hard and crusty? (This may be a sign of mange.) Check the dog’s teeth. Look for overshot or undershot jaw. Teeth and breath should be clean and fresh. Adult dogs with missing, broken or tartar encrusted teeth are dogs that are not well cared for. Inspect belly and groin areas for discoloration, (black or red) rashes, bumps, or sores. Puppies that sleep on urine soaked blankets will have skin infections (staph) and need medical treatment. Umbilical hernias need to be surgically corrected. Visually examine of the rectum for any donut-like protrusions referred to as prolapsed rectum, which has multiple causes and needs medical attention. One of the causes can be neglect by failure to keep the puppy/dog clean.
Pay close attention to how the puppy interacts with you and with the other puppies. Is the puppy too quiet or lethargic, or frightened and submissive to its litter-mates? Is the puppy you’re eyeing for your small children, the one that seems to be biting and jumping on all the other puppies? Your toddler will be the replacement subject. Is the puppy too thin or does it have an extremely large protruding belly?
Don’t be fooled by a HOME breeder, who shows you 2 or 3 puppies in the kitchen or living room. Is she going down to the basement or out to a garage or trailer to bring you another puppy? Does she have 100 more dogs some where in the house?
Don’t be fooled by looking at the mother and father. Unless you see a dog nursing or in the whelping box with the puppies, you really can’t be certain that the female you’re shown, is mom. If you are looking for a Maltese puppy, Maltese mom should not have long luxurious snow white hair that is perfectly groomed like a show dog. And what about that perfectly groomed male? Is he really the proud dad?
I never met a dog I didn’t like. I never saw an ugly puppy. People like me are the first to take the puppies that are the neediest. So I’m right there with all of you who can’t resist that wonderful feeling of picking up a puppy and holding it for the first time. I know your heart is open but keep your eyes open too.
* Look for Jenna’s follow up on breeds, male vs. female, and puppy vs. older or rescued dog.