SELECT THE BREED
Before you head out to your nearest breeder or rescue centre, consider what breed of dog will best suit your everyday lifestyle and needs. As Adem Fehmi, dog behaviourist and trainer, explains: “You might be wanting a dog to take life at a steadier pace with you, perhaps joining you for a snuggle on the sofa, or maybe to fit into a bustling family home. What do you require? This is the question you must have in the forefront of your mind when selecting the breed of dog for your lifestyle and family home.” Lucy’s Law has recently come into force, too, which means anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead.
FIND THE RIGHT BREEDER
Once you’ve decided which breed of dog is right for you, try to find a reputable breeder or rescue centre by doing some research – and find one which is hopefully Kennel Club certified. As Dr Jessica May from FirstVet says: “The breeder should be happy to provide you with details of their vets so you can check on the health of their puppies and breeding dogs. They should also be happy to show you any paperwork, including Kennel Club certificates, vaccination information, health tests or screening scheme certificates.”
As a general guide, Adem recommends the following as good indicators of a reputable breeder:
1. Questions Should Be Welcomed & You’ll Be Asked Some Too
“A good breeder should want their puppies to go to the best homes possible. This does not necessarily mean who will ‘love’ them the most, but instead who will be most able to fulfil the dog’s needs and provide them with the correct environment, mental stimulation, physical stimulation and experiences. Polite interrogation should be welcomed and should be viewed as a positive thing.”
2. You Should Be Shown The Bitch & All Relevant Paperwork
“You should expect to see any relevant paperwork and pictures if the dog is not available for viewing. For pedigree and some cross-bred litters, you should expect to see the breed history of both the bitch and the sire. It is also useful to observe the bitch (and the sire too if available). If this adult dog matches the type of dog you are looking for in terms of temperament and personality, this gives you a good indication of whether a puppy from this litter is likely to grow into the dog you would like to be part of your family. Other useful observations are those of any dogs the breeder has previously bred and homed. If you are able to, speaking to the owners of these dogs will also help you to make your decision as to whether this is the right puppy for you.”
3. The Breeder Should Demonstrate Their Knowledge
“This doesn’t just mean what the dog looks like or typically behaves like. Instead, the breeder should also be able to talk you through the history and the bloodline descendants registered on any paperwork. The breeder should also offer their thoughts on whether a puppy from the litter is right for you and, if so, which puppy in the litter would best suit you. Their choice should be based on solid reasoning as to the puppy’s temperament and personality traits.”
4. You Should Be Able To Visit The Puppies On Multiple Occasions
“They should be willing to spend time with you and allow you to spend time with your puppy. While you are visiting, they might also allow you to carry out activities that will help you to create a seamless transition from their establishment to your home. This might be as simple as allowing you to introduce a blanket with your scent on it to the puppy or allowing you to introduce the puppy to your car so that they become familiar with the environment before travelling.”
5. A Contract Of Sale & Receipt Should Be Commonplace
“As with any important purchase in life, you should expect to receive a contract of sale. This should outline both the breeder’s responsibilities as well as your own. Puppies aren’t often cheap and they shouldn’t be. Raising a puppy correctly can cost a lot of money, not to mention take a lot of time. As with any other big purchase, you should expect a receipt.”
UNDERSTAND VIRUSES & VACCINATIONS
Contrary to popular belief, it’s no longer the case that puppies receive all of their vaccinations or are completely wormed by the time you pick them up. “We recommend all puppies are given an initial course of vaccination injections, starting at around eight weeks of age,” says Dr Jessica. “The vaccines must be given two to four weeks apart and should be followed by an annual booster. These are needed to boost the body’s immune response, as the level of protection naturally declines over time. Certain vaccinations, such as Leptospirosis, are repeated each year, whereas the parvovirus vaccine booster is repeated every three years.”
As Dr Jessica explains, some of the following diseases are treatable, however some can be fatal, which is why it is important to vaccinate against them. The following three vaccinations are given together in one injection as part of a normal vaccination protocol and will help protect your puppy against:
Parvovirus: “This is a viral infection that causes painful and severe diarrhoea and vomiting leading to dehydration, with over 90% of untreated cases proving fatal. It is a highly contagious virus that mostly affects puppies, although adult dogs can be infected too.”
Distemper: “A viral infection that has symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory and neurological disease, which can also be fatal.
Canine Hepatitis: “This disease can cause severe damage to the liver and kidneys. It can be fatal, however it is now rare due to vaccination.”
An additional vaccination is also administered at the same time:
Leptospirosis (the canine equivalent of Weil’s Disease): “This is a bacterial infection that can cause liver and kidney failure. It can be caught from interaction with water that has been exposed to rat’s urine e.g. in puddles, canals and ponds.”
GET TO GRIPS WITH WORMING
Because puppies are curious, they are often at high risk of contracting several parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms and lungworms – all of which can be picked up in a number of ways: from other infected animals; from their mother if she is infected while pregnant; eating worm eggs contained in faeces, urine or grass. Dr Jessica explains below:
Roundworms: “These are the most common worms in puppies, but they can also infect humans. They cause varying illnesses from mild abdominal pain to blindness, and can occasionally cause death.
Tapeworms: “These are less common than roundworms but the risk is increased if the puppies have fleas or have been fed a raw diet. The main way that puppies get a tapeworm infection is by eating fleas that are carrying tapeworm eggs. However, tapeworm eggs can also be found in raw meat. It causes hydatid disease in humans, which is serious and difficult to treat, so regular treatment for tapeworms is recommended.
Lungworm: “This is a life-threatening disease caused by angiostrongylus vasorum. Vets are now seeing significantly more cases of the disease than in past years. It is passed on by dogs accidentally eating slugs or snails - for example when a slug or snail is sitting on a bone or a favourite toy. As yet, it is unclear why there has been an increase, but the worm is known to favour warmer temperatures.”
KNOWING WHEN TO PICK THEM UP
Although it largely depends on the breed, and how vaccinations and/or worming is progressing, Adem agrees you shouldn’t pick up a puppy before it’s eight weeks old. “It’s largely because of the social requirements. Puppies need to interact with their mums and other pups in the litter during what’s called the ‘nursery school’ stage – which is when they form the foundation of good socialisation. A reputable breeder would not allow a puppy to leave before eight weeks.”
ESTABLISH THE RIGHT DIET
By the time you pick them up, Adem says a puppy should definitely be weaned and onto food, although what constitutes the right diet will largely depends on the puppy’s individual energy, size and weight. Dr Jessica explains further: “For the first week they are with you, it is best to keep puppies on the same diet that they were on prior to arriving. Arriving at a new home can be stressful, so keeping their diet consistent can help to avoid stomach upsets. Afterwards, you can introduce a scientifically formulated complete puppy food, containing all of the nutrients that young dogs need. Your vet can also recommend a selection of good quality brands to choose from. Puppies can’t eat large meals initially, due to their small stomachs, so for their first four months they’ll need four to six small meals a day, reducing to three meals between four and six months of age and then to two meals after that. Although it may be tempting to shower your puppy with treats, remember to use them sparingly to reinforce good behaviours.”
DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH
While there are some basic rules which make a good breeder, Adem says it’s important not to expect too much. “Don’t expect the breeder to have got that far in terms of house training – it’s difficult to train an entire litter. That said, a well-run litter will at least have some sort of pattern going.” It’s also important to take responsibility for getting your puppy interacting with other dogs – even during this difficult time of limited social contact. Adem explains: “Dog walkers are generally still out and about, and day cares are running services. What’s key is to devote enough time to your puppy’s development – inappropriate socialisation or negative experiences can lead to problems later on.”
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS…
“Getting a puppy now needs careful thought,” warns Adem. “You might find yourself going back to work during a critical stage of the pup’s development and find there are issues around separation anxiety or a sudden lack of exercise. If you notice any medical issues, get advice from a vet first and foremost. Otherwise, issues around aggression, fear or anxiety could be a job for a behaviouralist.” By law, it’s also important to remember your puppy must be microchipped by a vet, or trained technician, before they are eight weeks old, adds Dr Jessica. “The chip provides your puppy with a unique personal identification number, which will help return them to you, if they ever go astray. You will need to share your details with an authorised national database and it’s important to keep these details up to date. As well as a microchip, dogs should wear a collar with their owner’s name and address on it when they are outside the house.”
Adem Fehmi is the owner and founder of Dog-ease. He has also worked with Crufts, as well as organisations like the Kennel Club and RSPCA.
Dr Jessica May is one of the UK’s leading vets at FirstVet.