Posted by Dr. Pamela Barker
So you’ve made the big decision: you’re going to get a puppy. Congratulations! You’ll enjoy unconditional love and lowered blood pressure — and you’ll give total strangers a socially acceptable excuse for striking up conversations with you.
For many of you, your ideal companion will be found at the local animal shelter or adopted from one of the many fine rescue organizations that help provide loving homes for dogs in need. We’ll talk about how to find that perfect match in an upcoming post.
Others of you may have your heart set on a certain breed. Maybe your family had a Doberman Pinscher when you were growing up. Or maybe you’ve long been dreaming of a St. Bernard or an elegant Afghan Hound. If you are interested in a purebred dog (and there are several hundred breeds to choose from), the wisest course is to do your homework first. Dogs have been bred for centuries to perform different tasks, and their behavioural tendencies and activity levels vary as much as their appearances.
Even if you’ve already decided on a particular breed, it’s still important to do some research before shopping for a puppy. Virtually all breeds have a national club with a Web site offering a wealth of information — not only about physical and behavioural qualities, but health concerns as well. No breed is entirely free of genetic health issues, and you’ll want to know what questions to ask. These inherited disorders can spell pain and heartbreak for you and your pet, and may require expensive corrective surgery or lifelong treatment to manage symptoms. Moreover, many — if not most — such disorders don’t become apparent until a puppy has reached maturity. A one-week return guarantee means little if your much-loved family member becomes disabled or develops epilepsy as a young adult.
So how do you know if the breeder you are considering is responsible and ethical breeder or a backyard breeder?
Many people believe that if you have no intention of showing or breeding your dog, it’s not particularly necessary to seek out a high-quality breeder who might have a long waiting list or require a spay/neuter contract. It’s certainly true that high prices and a flashy Web site do not, by themselves, mean quality and health. But there are sound and sensible reasons to steer well clear of backyard breeders.
One reliable way to identify a reputable breeder? He or she will have a long list of questions for you. They will want to know why you chose the breed and what expectations you have for your new dog. They will inquire about your household and the environment where the dog will be kept. They may ask if you have a fenced yard or other pets in the family. They will want to know the ages of your children and what plans you have for the dog when family members are at work or school. They may even ask for references.
Quality breeders will expect you to have questions too. They will be well-versed in the health and behavioral issues associated with the breed, and will be able to produce documentation of health clearances for their breeding animals.
Bear in mind that every breed has issues, and that health screening tests are the only way to definitively identify such potential concerns. Dogs that have’t been tested for health issues aren’t necessarily free of them — theirbreeders simply choose not to know.
Breeders who are taking steps to produce healthy puppies will be proud to explain the process — and, most important, can provide documentary proof that the puppies come from sound breeding stock. Registration papers themselves only signify that a dog is purebred. They give no indication of health or quality of the dog.
A quality breeder will serve as a resource for you throughout the life of your dog. They will always be there to answer questions. And, if for some reason you are unable to keep the dog, they may require that the animal be returned to them. This is one way that responsible breeders ensure the puppies they produce do not end up being abandoned or joining the thousands of purebred dogs that are surrendered to animal shelters every year.
Many buyers don’t realize that they can get a healthy, stable puppy from a quality breeder at a price comparable to what they would pay for an unsound, randomly bred dog from a backyard breeder or a puppy mill. Responsible breeders don’t use puppy sales as a money-making endeavour. They breed their dogs carefully and give great forethought to how these dogs will contribute to the breed. Only a fraction of the puppies they produce will go on to be winners in the show ring. But the remainder will be exceptional dogs puppies, exemplary of their breed: physically and mentally sound, and destined to make a wonderful addition to your family.
Dr. Pamela Barker is a professional veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience, currently practicing in 100 Mile House, B.C. Her special areas of interest include animal behaviour and training, nutrition and condition for canine athletes, and public education about animal health and care. If you’d like to suggest a topic for one of her future blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment below.