7 Tips on How to Choose the Perfect Puppy ...

Do you know how to choose a puppy? As a veterinarian, I’ve always advised clients to meet the litter several times, and choose the puppy that seems the best fit for them. There’s a lot more to it than that, though, and the rise in puppy farming has led to an increased need for actual guidelines. Here are my top tips to help you learn how to choose a puppy that’s healthy, happy and just perfect for your family.

1. Where’s Mum?...

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Never buy a puppy if you can’t see mum with her young. Puppy farmers will come up with a variety of reasons for her absence, from sickness to going on holiday, but you really need to see them together to figure out how to choose a puppy properly. If you don’t see the parents, there is every chance that mum and dad are in cages, being bred far too frequently, and your puppy was taken away at a very young age. But that’s not the only reason you should always meet the parents. Mum and Dad’s personalities and temperaments will be a good indication of how the pups will behave, so it’s well worth meeting them and seeing if they’d be right for you. Accept no excuses – always meet the parents before taking your puppy.

2. Get Health Tests…

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Once you’ve decided what breeds you’d like to look at, find out what health tests are recommended for the breed. You can usually find this information on the breed page, and it’s always online somewhere! For example, Labradors should have hip scores, elbow scores, a clear eye certificate, optigen PRA testing and ideally multi-focal retinal dysplasia tests. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels need cardiac and vision tests, along with hip and elbow scores, and neurological tests if possible. Make sure you see the scores for these tests – they’ll tell you how likely it is that your dog will get ill. It’s utterly heartbreaking if your dog becomes immobile or has a severe heart condition because of a preventable illness, so do the testing first and reject anyone who hasn’t tested. It’s simply not worth the risk – good breeders test!

3. Talk to the Breeder…

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Good breeders will be very keen to make sure that you are a suitable home for their little one. They’ll probably ask you a hundred questions, including your family set-up, whether you’ve had dogs before and your experience with their breed. They’ll also talk about diet, worming, training etc. If you haven’t had a dog before, it doesn’t mean you won’t get a puppy – just be honest and open, and the breeder will mentor you through the future. Breeding is expensive, poses risks for the bitch and it’s very difficult not to become attached to the puppies, so be very cautious of a breeder who doesn’t seem to care where the puppies go.

4. Be Aware…

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You wouldn’t be the first person to be taken in by a bad breeder, but you can minimize the chances! Pay attention to their home when you visit. Most breeders absolutely love their breed, and devote themselves to bettering it. It’s unusual for a good breeder to breed more than one or two breeds of dogs. Run from anyone who breeds three or four – that’s a real puppy farm signal! It’s also worth putting the contact details for the breeder into a search engine and seeing if they are advertising anywhere. Ads on places such as Gumtree or Pets4homes suggests a less than dedicated breeder. Most good breeders won’t need to do much advertising, because their particular dogs are in demand, and they operate a waiting list.

5. Agree the Legalities…

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Talk through the legal side of buying a puppy with your breeder. You should aim to pay around the average price for the breed you’ve chosen – very cheap puppies are usually bred on puppy farms, and you’ll end up spending a lot more than you’ve saved on medical bills down the line. Ask about when you can collect the puppy – 12 weeks is the ideal time. Some breeders prefer to have puppies collected closer to 11 weeks, but 12 is optimum. At 12 weeks old, the puppy will be able to eat, drink and toilet, and will also have learnt very important social lessons from his littermates, such as bite inhibition. It’s much easier to train a dog who has gone through this socialization! Never collect a dog at 6 or 8 weeks old. He may well be able to eat on his own, but he’s missed a huge amount of development by leaving his mum so fast. Most breeders will also tell you that if for any reason you need to give the dog up in the future, they will take it back. Good breeders do not want dogs that they have bred in rescues, and will often either take the dog on themselves, or rehome among their friends or network.

6. Meet the Puppies…

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Picking out the perfect puppy isn’t as easy as it might look! It’s always best to meet the puppies a few times, and see them both with and without their littermates, so you can properly evaluate their personalities. Usually, an experienced breeder will discuss the personality and temperament you need with you, and suggest which puppy matches your needs. As the breeder spends all day with the puppies, they are in the best position to know! Be aware that confident puppies who bound to the front could have dominance issues, and very worried puppies may become very anxious. Interact with the puppies in a variety of ways to see how they behave and respond. What happens if you stop stroking them? What do they do if you move out of eyesight? How do they respond to noise, or a strange object such as keys?

7. Do a Health Check…

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Do a visual health check of each puppy. Do they look fat, or too thin? Puppies should be round. Look for a puppy that holds his head high, and wags his tail. The pup should have bright eyes, a shiny coat, and no discharge from the ears or rear end. Gums should be healthy and clean. Touch the puppies paws and tail to see how he responds – he should be curious and playful, and show no signs of aggression.

Once you’ve chosen the one (or two) puppies that you think are ideal for you, discuss the next steps with the breeder. Usually, you can visit the puppy until he is ready to go home. The breeder will usually be in touch frequently, and be full of tips and information on how best to care for and train your new puppy. So now you can go shopping, and get excited for your new family member, knowing you’ve taken the best steps to choose a puppy. How did you choose your puppy? I’d love to know!

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