It is estimated that almost one in three people now buy their puppies online, via newspaper ads or in pet stores. Puppy farms tend to use these avenues to market their puppies and, because going down this route is quick and easy, more and more people are opting to do so, rather than spending time and money locating a reputable breeder or visiting a rescue.

Social media has made it much easier for young people to access puppies without too much thought as to where they came from. Unfortunately, of these puppies that are acquired online, from newspaper ads or pet stores, 12% will develop severe health problems that require expensive veterinary care to rectify, and, even more worryingly, roughly one in five will die within six months.

For this reason, it is important to think long and hard about where you are going to buy a puppy from and steer clear of dubious ads offering dogs cheaply or for exchange. Buying a puppy is one of the most important decisions you will ever make and - it goes without saying - you want your dog to live a happy and healthy life and to be with you for as many years as possible. Besides choosing the right breed and size of dog to best suit your lifestyle, there are many things to consider in the actual purchase process.

Although most breeders are experienced in the field and will have the welfare of their animals at the forefront of their minds, there are some unscrupulous individuals who will purchase from breeders and then deal in their new puppies, with the sole intention of making a profit. This practice often results in puppies being neglected or inappropriately re-homed. Other “breeders” will even bring in a dog to act as the puppies’ mother for the benefit of prospective owners who come to view.

While many people will endeavour to acquire their puppy from a rescue centre, for those of you who intend to buy from a breeder, hopefully this article will prepare you for all the eventualities so that you know what to ask, what to look for, and how to go about securing only the healthiest companion for your family.

What to ask your breeder (and yourself) before you arrive and while you are there:

  1. Am I able to view the puppies with their mother? – Bearing in mind puppies shouldn’t leave their mother before they are a minimum of 8 weeks old, there shouldn’t be any reason why this isn't possible. It is common not to see the father, but puppies should always be viewed in the presence of their mother.
  2. How old are the puppies? – Any breeder willing to let you collect your puppy before the 8-week stage is irresponsible and should be refused in every incidence.
  3. How old is the mother? How many litters has she had? – It is important that a bitch is both physically and mentally mature before she goes on to have her first litter. Maturity is generally reached between the ages of 2-3, although large dogs are slower to mature than small and toy breeds. Be wary of any breeder that tells you the mother is less than a year old. Also, if the breeder tells you the mother’s last litter was less than 12 months ago, walk away.
  4. Have the puppies been veterinary checked since their birth? – Make sure you inquire about vaccinations (are they up-to-date? If not, when are they next due?), whether the puppies are flea-treated/wormed/neutered/micro-chipped. Whilst a breeder might not respond ‘yes’ to every question, a responsible one will at least have ensured all puppies have been vet-checked and wormed since birth, as most puppies are born with roundworms.
  5. Are the puppies weaned? – It is important that this happens before you collect your puppy as it will no longer be getting its mother’s milk in its new home.
  6. What should I feed my puppy? – It is a good idea to request a diet sheet from your breeder so that you know exactly what your puppy has been fed since its birth.
  7. Have the puppies been socialised? What experiences have they had so far? – Ensuring your dog is properly socialised from an early age is central to its development, and it is worth buying from a breeder that has already begun socialising their puppies. Socialisation means introducing your dog to the varied sights and sounds of the outside world, so that when it encounters something unfamiliar, it won’t respond with shyness or aggression.
  8. Can I return the puppy? – It is recommended that you take your new puppy for a veterinary check-up within 48 hours of collecting it from the breeder. If your puppy is found to be in a poor state of health for whatever reason, most reputable breeders will accept the puppy back. If the puppy is in a good state of health but you are unable to care for it as you would have liked to, again, the puppy should be accepted back by most responsible breeders. It is vital you ask the question, regardless of how certain you are you will never have cause to return your puppy, just in case anything should happen that is of your control.
  9. Is the puppy Kennel Club registered?
  10. Make sure you take careful note of the puppy’s appearance – While you might be tempted to choose the most handsome puppy of the litter, bear in mind that it should reflect its state of physical health in its features – make sure your chosen puppy (as well as the whole litter) has clean, clear eyes and ears, as well as a clean bottom.
  11. Ask the breeder what to look out for in the breed – This includes any breed-specific health complaints, issues of temperament, how well it responds to training etc. Any breeder that tells you your chosen breed is perfect, susceptible to no diseases or afflictions, with an impeccable temperament, completely responsive in training, and amazing with all children and house pets, should not be trusted. You want your breeder to inform you of any flaws in the breed so that you are met with no surprises later on.
  12. Ask to handle the puppies – Breeders that have already begun to socialise their puppies should have no qualms with this. It will also allow you to take a better look at your chosen puppy and glimpse its temperament for yourself. If you visit your puppy regularly before bringing it home, handling it can help establish a mutual trust between you both, whilst allowing your puppy to gradually adjust to its new family.
  13. Find out whether the breeder has a follow-up policy after adoption.

Just as you will have your questions for a breeder, a responsible breeder will have their questions for you. If the breeder shows no interest in finding out about your lifestyle/family setup/expectations and preparations then they do not have a genuine care for their animals. The more questions the breeder asks you, the better. They are not being nosey or trying to catch you out, they are simply trying to ensure their precious puppies are going to a good home. Be honest – rescue centres reserve the right to reclaim their dogs if any information you provide is inaccurate.

Here is a list of questions you should expect to hear from a responsible breeder:

  1. Have you owned a dog before or will this be your first?
  2. Have you done your homework on the breed you are adopting?
  3. Is your puppy going to be a show dog or a companion pet?
  4. Are you welcoming the puppy into a family? If so, how old are your children and do they all want a dog?
  5. Do you have any other pets?
  6. What temperament are you looking for in a dog?
  7. Where do you live? (in a house/flat/rented house)
  8. Do you have a well fenced back garden?
  9. Are you aware of the financial costs of owning a dog?

When faced with a beautiful litter of newborn puppies, or a rescue centre enclosure containing two or more companion dogs, it is easy to get carried away and agree to take two animals. Though this is usually done with the best intentions, buying two dogs together is a bad idea. They will tend to bond with each other, especially in the case of puppies, instead of you and your family. It is slightly different with rescue dogs as they are usually older and will have been housed together for long enough to be able to form new attachments.

In certain cases, rescue centres will only offer dogs as a pair – siblings, for instance, or dogs that were rescued together. Introducing another dog to the home later (a few years later) is fine, as long as your existing dog has been well socialised and is confident enough welcoming a new canine into the fold; some dogs resent having to share their territory and space, although most will behave amicably and will enjoy the company.

Hopefully, by the time these questions have been answered, you will be well on your way to owning a dog, and having considered these guidelines you should be bringing home only the healthiest animal. Once your puppy is home, the early stages will bring about a whole range of issues to consider, such as how to go about toilet training your puppy, how much exercise it needs, and how to introduce other house pets to the new addition.

We hope this guide has provided you with as much in-depth information on purchasing a dog as you could possibly need, and that you now feel confident in beginning the process of adoption. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me directly: [email protected]

Written by: Hannah