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Choosing a Puppy

So, you’ve decided to get a puppy!  Congratulations!  It’s an exciting and joyous time but also one that is fraught with confusion and even pressure.  There are many decisions to make such as which breed to choose, where to get the puppy from and which one to pick.  And, of course, everyone around you will have an opinion.  Let’s break it down and look at each of these decisions step by step.

Researching the breed is the most crucial of all decisions.  With hundreds of possibilities including purebreds, designer dogs and even multi-breeds, the choices are limitless.  Fortunately, several of the premium pet food companies offer excellent ‘Select a Breed’ websites which allow you to answer questions in order to be given a list of possible breeds that meets your criteria.   Each Better Pets and Gardens store is even equipped with a touch screen ‘breed selector’ which provides a printed list of options.

The important questions to consider are what size dog would suit the house and garden; how much time and exercise can be given to the dog and whether there are children in the family.  Other considerations might be whether allergies are an issue and how much money is available for feeding and grooming.

Fortunately, there is a dog to suit every household and every budget and diligent research will help to figure out which is right for you but be careful not to be swayed by the opinions of others.  Friends may have their ideas of the perfect dog but this may not necessarily be the perfect dog for you so, although it is great to be able to ask their opinions, also seek the advice of dog trainers, groomers and especially a veterinarian as these have all had experiences with all types of breeds at all ages.  The team at Better Pets and Gardens is also able to help as most have had extensive experience with dogs and some are even involved with breeding and training them for competition.

There are many wonderful puppies and dogs looking for new homes at local animal shelters.  If dealing with a reputable shelter or foster home, the puppy would have been socialised, given a health check and also vaccinated and the carer would be able to give a very clear indication of the sort of household that the animal would suit.  People that choose a rescue dog often feel that the animal is even more loving because it appreciates its safe home even more.

For those that are after a specific breed, the only real option is to go through a good breeder and in the altered words of a well known West Australian, choose your breeder before you choose your dog.  This will ensure that the dog is healthy, comes from good parents and has been bred in a humane manner.

A good breeder will have a high standard of care and living conditions for their puppies and adults, will ask you many questions to make sure you are a suitable owner for their puppy, be interested in the welfare of the puppy after it is sold and allow you to see the parents and the environment in which the puppy is kept.  A good breeder will also offer a health guarantee, provide references on request and meet all legal requirements.  Many potential dog owners feel that the breeder is interviewing them in order to ensure that they are going to be good enough owners and this is probably the sign of a very caring and responsible breeder.

Recently there has been much public debate about puppy mills which are mass-production facilities that breed puppies for profit.  The animals are often kept in poor condition and the breeding adults continually mated with no time in between to recuperate.  There is no opportunity for the dogs to exercise, play or even socialise properly and resulting puppies often have long-term health and behavioural problems as a result of poor nutrition and housing conditions.  Being able to select a puppy directly from a breeder allows you to ensure that your puppy is coming from the best possible conditions and also takes away potential profit from those that run puppy mills.

Keep a steely determination when visiting the breeder to view the dogs and don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment.  Have a list of questions prepared to ask and make yourself walk away before making a decision on whether there is a dog there to suit you.

Ask the breeder to let you meet the parents as these are the best indication of what a puppy will be as an adult.  If looking for a dog for breeding or showing you must be able to see the parents’ registration papers but for those that are looking for a pet, these may not be necessary.  The health, behaviour and personality of the parents are a major consideration in choosing a puppy.

Before visiting the breeder, ask a vet for an indication of the different inherited disorders or diseases of the breed.  A good breeder will be aware of these and will screen for these problems in their breeding animals.  They should also be able to show copies of veterinary reports and screening tests to confirm this.

The breeder should be able to provide a complete history of the puppy including information on the background, size, breed and temperament of the parents as well as veterinary records and registration documents.  They should also provide information regarding the parent’s pedigree.

Ask the breeder to provide up to date references and expect one of these to be their regular veterinarian who should be able to offer advice on the breeder’s dogs.  Documents showing membership to dog clubs as well as registration of the business is also useful information.

We can all be overwhelmed by the cuteness of a puppy whether at the breeders or at a rescue shelter but given that this is an enormous emotional and financial investment, it’s a must to give the selected puppy a health check before purchasing.

The nose should not be running but should be cold and wet though a dry nose is fine so long as there are no other indications of illness.  Watery discharge is a sign of allergies or infection and green mucus can be a sign of disease.

The teeth are a great indication of the true age of a puppy.  At 6 weeks they still have their milk teeth but by 8 weeks they start to chew in order to stimulate their adult teeth to come through.  By 12 weeks the front incisors should be seen, the back molars appear at 16 weeks and they are all through by 20 weeks.

Dogs with teeth that miss each other when they bite down are inevitably going to have problems.  With the mouth closed, lift up the lips and check that the upper teeth sit directly on top of the lower teeth.  Then let the dog open and close his mouth and watch whether they naturally come together in the same position.

The dog’s breath should smell clean and the teeth free of any discolouration.  The gum line should be in contact with the teeth and not show any inflammation.  Check the roof of the mouth to make sure that there is no split in the hard palate.

The eyes and the pupils should be identical in size and shape. They should be fully open and the whites should be clear and not bloodshot or discoloured.  There should be no discharge or tears on the face which is a sign of blocked tear ducts. Eyelashes should not turn in and touch the eye as this will definitely be a cause of serious irritation down the track.

Check the ears for large amounts of wax. They should be clean and odour free.  That’s right, give them a sniff!  A strong, pungent odour indicates a bacterial or fungal infection with is probably a sign of long term problems to come.  White spots on the wax are an indication of mites which must be dealt with immediately.  Check that the skin inside the ear is smooth and clean.

Watch the dog walking from all directions and also move the limbs keeping an eye out for bow legs and odd bends.  All joints should extend freely and have no pain and there should be no clicking.  Feel around the knees and the elbows making sure that the caps don’t flick towards the inside and that they are stable.

Feel the belly for signs of lumps and bumps though a recent feed could cause a few.  The belly should be smooth and show no obvious changes in width.  A bulging belly could be a good appetite or may be a sign of worms being present.

The coat of the puppy should be clean and shiny with no signs of fleas on the belly or at the base of the tail.  Hairless patches show that an irritation is present.  Check the skin on the underbelly for any signs of rash that might be an indication of allergies.

Finally, if at all possible, check the puppy’s stool.  Diarrhoea may occur from time to time but redness around the anus might be an indication of worms, constipation or impacted anal glands.

Picking the personality of an adult dog based on its behaviour as a young puppy is an inexact science especially since the house that it grows up in will also have a major impact.  But, it is possible to observe a puppy and make assumptions about its personality.

A puppy that is quiet and withdrawn from the other animals may be naturally shy or not terribly energetic but it may also be physically unwell.  Check these puppies carefully for signs of illness but if they do turn out to be healthy, this level of calmness may be a desirable quality.

A puppy with never ending energy will be loads of fun and probably suit a very active household with owners that are willing to exercise it and entertain it daily.  But, these may also be the ones that become naughty and destructive when left without human companionship.  These may not be the best pups for small gardens or owners that work long hours.

Puppies that offer a nice blend of liveliness and calmness are possibly the most desirable.  These animals can play and be fun but then happily settle down for a long snooze on their own.

Puppies that bark may seem quite cute and with breeds that are not natural barkers this is not a problem at a young age but if not, an adult dog that barks a lot can be irritating to you and your neighbour.   Also watch for puppies that shake as this is usually an indication of anxiety and is common in small dogs.  These dogs tend to suffer separation anxiety and can cause the owner a lot of stress and concern.

Whilst mouthing to stimulate the teeth is common in puppies, avoid a young dog that actually bites with a definite lunge even if it is a small breed.  Whilst this can be trained out of a dog, in situations of great stress, this natural behaviour may be displayed again when that dog is an adult.

A good way to assess any dog, whether at a breeders or at a rescue shelter, is to watch its reaction when you approach it.  Signs of excitement and curiosity are good and indicate an affectionate animal.  When you have finished handling the dog, return it to its mates and walk away.  If the dog settles back down this shows that he would make a relaxed companion.  Remember though, dogs in a shelter are under a lot of stress which may affect the way that they react so spend a bit more time with them away from the others before making a decision.

Finally, the decision is made.  You have chosen the perfect dog for you and have finally brought it home.  There’s only one more decision to make and that’s what to name it.  Well, we can’t help you with that but we can help you with everything else that you need for your new best friend.

Download our ‘Bringing Home a Puppy’ factsheet which has lots of information to help you survive your first few weeks of puppy-parenthood and once your puppy has had all of its vaccinations, bring it in to meet us.  You might even like to join our Customer Care Club which will save you lots of money over the long life of your new pet.

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