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Jane Ardern's Guide to Choosing a Puppy

21/04/2023 - News

Deciding to get a puppy to join your family is a huge commitment and it is important to do lots of research beforehand.  

Puppies of all breeds are usually very cute and adorable; it is easy to impulse buy based on emotions and our natural attraction to something small and cute that needs to be cared for.  

The world is full of unscrupulous people that will do anything to make money. Sadly, there are many people who prey on this love for small, cute things that need care and it is very much a ‘buyer beware’ market when it comes to buying a puppy. 

I believe that the only reason these people can breed, and sell, purely for profit is because there is a market for it. If people did their research before buying and avoided these people, then they would have to find another way to make money.  

If a puppy is bred purely, or primarily, for financial gain then often their health and temperament is poor.  

My goal in life is to stop puppies being bred and sold for financial gain and for there to be fewer dogs ending up in rescue. There will always be dogs in rescue for genuine reasons such as the owner passing away. However, dogs going into rescue because of temperament problems due to poor breeding and early rearing conditions and dogs going into rescue because owners took on something without really understanding what they were letting themselves in for, is avoidable.  

There are unwanted dogs destroyed every day because there is no space for them, dogs with special needs have nowhere to go because the rescue cannot afford to use the kennel space long term while their needs are met.  

My aim, in this blog, is to help people make better decisions when adding a puppy to their family, reducing the occurrence of rescue dogs and stopping the market for unscrupulous breeding of dogs. 

Firstly, there are two options to where you can get a puppy.  

1) Rescue  

2) Breeder 

Now, there are good and bad breeders and there are good and bad rescues too!  

I would expect a good rescue to provide you with follow-up support, just as a breeder should. It would also be good if they had temperament-tested the puppy and can give you an insight into its behaviour and interview you to make sure you are going to be a good match. With a rescue puppy, its parents probably won’t be health tested but you potentially may be able to meet mum if she came into recue pregnant or with the puppies. It is unlikely you would be able to see the father. 

Some people would prefer to give an unwanted puppy a good home and this is a wonderful thing to do.  

I believe that when taking on a 10 to 15 year commitment, everyone is entitled to choose what is right for them and that might be a rescue or it may be a breeder. It is a huge commitment and if you have never done it before it is not all butterflies and rainbows, it is hard work. 


What is a responsible breeder?  

Now this is my view of the world and others may disagree. Firstly, a puppy that is going to live in a home as part of the family should be reared in a home as part of the family, starting life as they mean to go on.  

A good breeder should have health tested the parents. This is important for pedigree, crossbreed or ‘designer’ crossbreed puppies.  

If you follow this link and type in a breed, you can find out information about them and the recommend health tests for that breed. If you are buying a crossbreed puppy, then both parents should have had the tests relevant to their breed too. 

There is list of links on the right-hand side once you have your chosen breed up and you can select Health Information to see the recommend tests.  

Some bitch owners will not test their bitch, but they will use a tested dog, which means that the puppies could be carriers, or clear of, hereditary defects. This, for me, is just a lazy cost-cutting exercise on the breeders’ part and not someone I would purchase from because they will probably cut corners elsewhere too.  

There will be: 

DNA tests – These are where the parents have been checked with a swab to see if they carry any faulty genes that may be passed onto their puppies. The results are Clear, Carrier or Affected.  

  • Clear means they do not have copies of the faulty gene 

  • Carrier means they carry a copy of the gene and can pass it on but they will not be affected (get poorly). If these dogs are bred from, they must be outstanding in other aspects to justify their use. They should only be bred with a ‘clear’ dog and the puppies should all be tested before they go to their new homes, so that their owners know the genetic status of their puppy. 

  • Affected means they have two copies of the faulty gene and will get poorly, die or have to be put to sleep.  

If you breed a carrier to another carrier, some of the puppies will get two copies of the defective gene from the parents and be Affected.  

This is why you cannot just give a dog a veterinary health check to make sure it is healthy as some dogs will carry defective genes and pass them on, yet seem perfectly healthy themselves.  

2) Hip and Elbow Scoring – This is where the parents will have been x-rayed to see the quality of the skeletal structure. Dogs are good at hiding pain and again sometimes you cannot see on the outside the quality of the dog in the inside. Hip Dysplasia is both genetic and developmental, which means that both influence it. Puppies are not born with hip problems, they develop them, but genetics influence the development along with exercise.  

3) Annual Eye Tests – These tests are performed where there is not a DNA test available, the dog’s eyes are checked for any signs of problems prevalent in the breed. They assess the dog on the day and these should be repeated annually. 

I have heard all kinds of reasons some breeders choose not to test and as you go on your journey to search for a puppy you will probably hear them too. For me, if you can avoid producing sick puppies, then why wouldn’t you?  

Health testing costs money and some breeders will somehow justify not spending the money… 

Pedigrees, Crossbreeds and Rare Colours 

Now this a controversial topic, again for me it is personal preference, there are people breeding these responsibly and some irresponsibly. Personally, I wouldn’t pay a fortune for a rare colour. That is because health and temperament matter more to me. It has become fashionable to breed ‘rare’ colours and often these dogs have been crossed with other breeds to get those colours. For example, we are now seeing Merle Cocker Spaniels. Merle is not a cocker spaniel colour so somewhere, something else was mixed in.  

I’m going to continue with the merle colour in particular because it is popular in many breeds now and one of my personal pet hates. Merles are beautiful and you will commonly see it in Border collies. It’s a Border collie colour. Many fancy colours like tanpoint and merle are recessive genes and these colour genes have also associated behaviour and health genes attached.  

If you breed a merle to a merle you will get a predominantly white dog and health problems with eyes and ears, this can be blindness and deafness or actual deformities of the ear and eye. Merle to merle breeding is dangerous and completely unethical.  

People, who just breed their pet with their mates’ pet, often have no idea about this kind of stuff.  

Pet Insurance is a massive industry because dogs get sick; many of these problems could be avoided with responsible breeding and purchases. 

A Good Breeder 

A good breeder will have planned a litter, carefully selected a stud dog and you should be able to meet the mother and the father. The father may be a distance away, but you can travel to meet them. Remember, this is lifetime commitment, don’t cut corners.  

A good breeder will have a waiting list and you will have to wait for a puppy, which means you should be getting pictures from birth and be able to visit as the puppy grows up, seeing it with its mum and seeing it suckle. Sometimes though, a good breeder is let down at the last minute and puppies become available at short notice. 

I’m now going to get onto pet shops and puppy farms. Puppy farming is a huge industry and this is where puppies are bred on a massive scale on farms in barns, they never see daylight and have very limited early experiences. Whole litters are then sold on, either to fancy looking pet shops or to third party people who sell via newspaper or online advertising pretending to be the breeder. They even have a female adult who they pretend is the mother, hence why I say see the puppy from the start, not at 7 weeks from an internet ad or newspaper.  

The dogs and bitches used for breeding in these establishments have terrible lives and the puppies often have terrible health and behaviour problems. As a behaviourist, I have seen some awful situations; children attacked severely, dogs biting because they are in pain from having no hip sockets. It breaks my heart and makes me really angry too, because it is so unnecessary. 

Feeling sorry for these dogs and buying them from these sellers, is not rescuing them, it is just lining the pockets of the people who do this and keeps the industry thriving. If you want to rescue a dog, then go to a rescue centre.  

What type of puppy should you get, whether you are deciding on a pedigree or crossbreed? Research your chosen breed, also be aware of what they were historically, or are still, bred to do. Different breeds have different traits and many potential behaviour problems develop because of the inbred behaviour patterns, some dogs are bred to bite, herd, hunt or be companions. Some breeds are high energy, and some are lazy.  

Some breeds are split as some are bred for showing (looks) and some are bred to work (ability). For example, the show-type and working-type cocker spaniel are very different in temperament, energy and looks. The same goes for working and show springer spaniels or working and show Labradors.   

It is important when choosing a puppy that you take all of these things into account making sure the breed is right for you, your family and your lifestyle. 

If your puppy’s parents have good temperaments then so should your puppy with the right upbringing. Ending up with a sound adult dog is all about having all the right pieces of a puzzle; good genetics, good upbringing from the breeder and good socialisation and training with the owner.  

Your priority is to find parents with sound temperaments and all the health checks, along with a breeder who is going to give the puppies the best start in life. Then you can pick up your puppy and continue the journey with good training and socialisation.  

When puppies are born, they have all the brain cells they need as an adult but they are not connected or ‘wired’ as we call it. Most of this wiring occurs while the puppy is with the breeder, so the breeder has a huge responsibility to expose the puppies to different experiences. Some will do this more than others and some will do nothing.  

The more exposure and new experiences a puppy has the more neurons in the brain fire and the stronger the network is that is formed. This network of experience enables puppies to cope and process information from the outside world appropriately. A puppy-farmed puppy that has been in the dark for ten weeks and then in a glass cage in pet store will have a poorly wired brain and life may be challenging and tough for this puppy, because it was unable to develop a brain that can process information from the outside world properly.  

You want a breeder who interviews you and makes sure you are the right home, a breeder who cares about the future welfare and wellbeing of the puppy they brought into the world and wants to keep in touch with you. A breeder who is following an early neurological stimulation program such as Puppy Culture.  

How much should you pay?  

This is a tough one because you will see a variety of prices and this differs from breed to breed. At the moment puppy prices have rocketed during the pandemic, this is because there are fewer puppies as many responsible breeders cancelled breeding plans after the lockdown. Some people were just cashing in on the situation. That being said, there is nothing wrong with paying a higher than average price if:  

1) The parents have proved themselves either working or showing; this means achieving awards.  

2) They should be fully health-tested, both parents. 

3) The breeder should be following an early neurological stimulation program, taking time to work on house-training, being left alone and exposure to different experiences.  

4) They should be reared in the home if they are going to pet homes. 

Getting a new puppy is hard work and making sure that you choose the right puppy and you are prepared for what is ahead will make life a lot easier, it will also help avoid any difficult decisions or heartache later down the line.  

Before you pick up your puppy, it should have had a health check with the breeders’ vet. This health check should cover checking for:  

Testicles (you should be able to feel both testicles even though they have not dropped into the scrotum) - some dogs can retain testicles and this is a genetic defect. A dog with a retrained testicle can’t be used for breeding and will need neutering. The removal of a retained testicle is expensive as they have to go in to the abdomen to look for it and it may not be covered by your insurance. 

Heart Murmur - some breeds have genetic heart murmurs and these are graded, if your puppy have a heart murmur the breeder should inform you  

Hernia - puppies can have an umbilical hernia. This can be either genetic or the bitch damaged it chewing the cord. Either way if it is big it will need surgery to correct it. If a puppy is not going to be used for breeding then this is ok and the hernia can be removed during neutering, that is if you decided to neuter. If your puppy has a hernia, you should be informed. I have had customers come to classes with a puppy that is rare colour and they have paid thousands for, with hernias they were not aware of!  

Bite - this is how the puppy’s jaw is made up. There is undershot, overshot and level bites. Depending on your breed, will depend on the type of bite your puppy should have. Extreme undershot and overshot bites can create problems, this is also genetic. If you look at the Kennel Club website and breed standard it will tell you what bite your breed should have.  

The Law

Your puppy should be microchipped by law and your breeder should have given the first vaccination.  Puppies should not leave until after 8 weeks.

I would recommend that when you pick your puppy up you take it a vet within 24 hours to give it a full health check. Then, if there is anything wrong with it that you were not aware of, you can return the puppy before you get too attached.  

Many commercial breeders will offer a 6 month guarantee, which might sound great, however if your puppy has a defect and you want a refund you will need to return the goods, I mean puppy. They will just put it to sleep……  

I’m telling you now, it doesn’t take long to fall in love with these amazing creatures and if you have family, so will your children.  

So to wrap this up; please, please do lots of research, shop carefully and wisely.  

Do it for you and your family, do it for the puppies, do it for those poor brood bitches and stud dogs locked in dark rooms never seeing the light of day and do it for the rescue centres who cannot cope with the amount of unwanted dogs that are out there.  

Jane Ardern BSc (Hons) Dip CABT 
Kennel Club Dog Trainer of the Year 2015
Gundog Club Approved Instructor and Assessor