I know it is hard, because I have been in this situation myself…….please, don't succumb to a desire to take a puppy home to "save it" from the poor conditions or lifestyle it is in. If you re-home a badly bred, ill or sick puppy then you are encouraging the breeder of it to breed again….. If you instead go to a good breeder with healthy puppies, then you are encouraging that breeder to breed again…. Which is better?
Be wary of any breeder offering you a brood bitch who clearly has socialisation issues, health issues or is in very poor condition. If you are truly concerned about the condition of an animal, then contact the RSPCA or that breed's breed rescue organisation for advice.
Breeding dogs and bitches kept in very poor or isolated conditions, for extended periods of time, can find it extremely traumatic when re-homed.
I myself was once involved with a retriever brood bitch, kept in a barn for five years, producing puppies and re-homed (for free) to a lovely, caring, well intentioned family. She never recovered from the shock. She never went outside, indeed for a week she never moved. They lived in darkness, to keep her calm, sunlight through the windows bringing about terrorised reactions from the dog, and eventually, after two weeks of totally trauma for dog, owners and their children, on the advice of two vets and myself the poor girl was put to sleep.
Be wary of any dog "kept on" for showing or work, but then later offered for sale or re-homing. Sometimes these dogs can make great pets, if they have been socialised well with other breeds apart from their own, people and home surroundings. But if they have been kept in a kennel, never socialised apart from with their own breed, and deprived of early stimulation or training, they can make difficult pets.
Check out the breed you are considering, very thoroughly.
Make sure that it is in essence, suitable for your lifestyle.
Make sure that it is in essence a healthy breed with good lifestyle prospects.
Google the breed and talk to breed rescue organisations for information. Visit lots of web sites - Don't rely on one being honest or accurate for information!
Choosing a healthy puppy
From the thousands of dogs that have come through CaDeLac Dog Training agility and obedience classes over the years, it has become obvious to us that an increasing number of dogs and some breeds in particular, have become more and more unhealthy.
When a person goes to chose a new pet dog, they expect to get a happy, healthy, long lived animal, which will bring them and their family joy and fun for many, many years. Sadly, too often these days, this is not the case. Instead they may be faced with one or more of the following problems….. Painful skin or bone conditions. in-growing eyelashes which can require operations, eye problems, ear problems, deafness, blindness or poor variations on vision or hearing, curved, deformed or weak spines, slipped disks, conformity issues that require major surgery, breathing difficulties, movement difficulties, problems with brains that grow beyond the size of the dogs skull, causing terrible pain and ultimately death, genetically pre-disposed allergy conditions, genetically predisposed digestive difficulties, conformity issues which bring about aggressive attacks from other dogs…. the list goes on.
There are some conditions which are KNOWN to result directly from poor breeding. For example, it is known that mating a dog of a certain coat colour to another of a certain coat colour will actually produce a high proportion of deaf/blind or deaf and blind puppies. Even though this is KNOWN, it still happens.
It is reported, that in some breeds, puppies which do not conform to the breed standard of how they are "supposed" to look, are still being culled at birth.
Many of these illnesses and deformities are breed specific. Where breeding practices select for appearance rather than temperament and good health, genetic defects that affect heath or temperament are often inadvertently bred in.
A dogs Pedigree
Many people appear to believe that a pedigree provides evidence of good health or a "good breeder". This is not true. They may also believe that a pedigree with many awards attributed to an animals descendant such as "Champion" often shown in red, means the dog is "well bred" or of "good stock". This too is untrue.
What is a pedigree?
A pedigree is a history of an individuals parents and ascendants as stated by the people who bred or registered each litter. Some pedigrees come on the back of a beer mat, hand written in the pub. Others are recorded officially by one of the dog "authority bodies" such as the Kennel Club, or say for working sheepdogs the International Sheepdog society. The main difference being that one is recorded and paid for by the people who submitted it and one is not.
Additionally, dogs who do not have a Kennel Club registered pedigree can not be shown in the show ring of a Kennel Club Show, or compete in field Trials or Gundog Working Tests, if they are a gundog. A KC pedigree is a ticket into the show world, field trials and Working Tests.
Non KC registered dogs can however, be registered (for a fee) onto the Kennel club activity register if owners wish to compete in Obedience, agility and similar.
Puppies of parents or ascendants, who have won awards within the show world, are often valued higher financially, than non-winning or un- shown parents.
Is a pedigree a sign of good health?
No. A pedigree indicates nothing about health whatsoever, merely the dog's predecessors names and show status. Potentially, all the dogs on a pedigree could all have died a horrible genetic death at two years old and nothing would be shown on the pedigree.
Are pedigrees accurate as a record of an animals predecessors?
Hopefully yes. Possibly not. It is down to the honesty and knowledge of all the breeders of all a dogs predecessors. There are many recorded cases of people falsifying pedigrees and it only takes one false entry to make the whole pedigree of descendants below that false entry, to be wrong.
Show champions and titled ascendants
This simply means that an ascendant or ascendants have won an award(s), an award that says that on a particular day, a particular judge, or a number of judges in the case of "champions", liked that particular dog the best. And that (those) particular judge (s) felt that it matched up with the breed description.
A breed description
When a dog "breed" first becomes established, breed descriptions are written in an effort to discern why this particular "type" of dog is different to other "types". So why is a Labrador, different from a husky?
A breed description can list the function that the breed was originally developed for, like herding or hunting, but more so it is likely to list what the dog should look like to conform to its breed "standard". I.e., what it should look like to be judged by a judge as a good representation of the breed. Things like, Muzzle length, coat colour, depth, consistency, height of the dog, ear size and position, length and shape of limbs and the way a dog might move.
Typically in a breed description, there will be one paragraph concerning what the breed should be able to "do" and about 20 paragraphs, detailing what the dog should "look" like.
Sometimes there might be a reference which says that the dog should "look" like it can perform the function for which it was originally bred, but in modern UK shows there is no requirement for most breeds to have actually ever been tried or used in the role that its breed was originally created for.
For example, a Border Collie (The most common Sheepdog), might "look like it can run for hours working sheep up hills, but it doesn't actually have to be physically able to do that, or indeed to be remotely interested in sheep, to win a Border collie show class.
Are Crossbreeds healthier?
The latest "craze" in dog breeding is the crossing of two pedigree breeds to produce the so called "designer breeds", labradoodle's, cockerpoo's", springerdoor's etc, etc. h
It seems many people believe that the crossing of two breeds alone will mean that the offspring will be healthier. This is not necessarily true.
Genetics is a very complex subject and I am not going to attempt to cover it in detail here, but basically, the "theory" of a bigger gene pool (which is what you get when you cross two different breeds), providing the potential to produce healthier animals in the future, is fundamentally, at a very basic level, correct!! However, what is crucial for any benefit to be got is that both parents are healthy and from healthy predecessors.
The health implications of crossing two breeds is as follows…..
If unhealthy parents are selected, and you cross breed A (that has potential for inherited hip problems) with Breed B (which has potential for skin problems) then the likelihood, if the litter is big enough, is that you will produce some puppies which carry the potential for both health problems, some puppies will have one problem, some will have the other problem and some luckily will have neither! But how do you know which is which until the puppy reaches the age at which the problems manifest?
For reasons that I simply do not understand, the price tags for some of these cross breeds (which where sold only a few years ago as "X-Breed" for about £10 in the local paper…… ) are often even higher than the price of the parental breeds. This too I believe, contributes to a potential buyer believing that somehow they are getting a "better" puppy.
The marketing of such puppies as "rare", "unusual", or " a one-off cross of…..?"
Also appears to add to the attractiveness. Actually, they are not that rare, I think that if you go to a few rescue centres, you will see a variety of these "rare" X-breeds at a fraction for the cost!
As with single breed pedigree dogs, what matters when it comes to health is that the predecessors are healthy and that all relevant health checks are performed on breeding stock and puppies. And where a dog consists of two breeds - that means that both breeds health checks should have been done.
Dog aggression and short nosed/heavily skinned breeds
Increasingly we are seeing more and more aggression directed at or coming from breeds with shorter than average noses, and those that have more than average skin folds, or heavily extended droopy lips. These include boxers, pugs, shar-peis, some mastiffs, bulldogs and similar.
It is my belief that because of the unusual expression created by additional folds of skin or very shortened muzzles or droopy lips, many dogs find it difficult to recognise or "read" the facial expressions of such dogs. Often these types of dogs will become the receivers of unprovoked "attacks" from other dogs who appear to see such faces as being unfriendly, or aggressive. Dogs which regularly get attacked for no real reason, sometimes, understandably, take a " I'll get you before you get me" approach in later life toward other dogs, instigating aggression themselves. Being aware of this potential is crucial when choosing a life long companion.
So what can you do to help pedigree dog health improve?
Be aware that having a pedigree or what someone else might call a "good pedigree" is not an indication of health.
As with any "market place" (and be assured that for some breeders the production and selling of puppies is just that, "a market place", same as for cars, apples, nails, or computers), DEMAND (for a certain breed) dictates SUPPLY to some degree. Just like cars and computers, if we stop buying a certain breed of dog because it is considered unhealthy, or unlikely to lead a long and healthy life, then production and sales of these breeds which have hereditary problems, will surely reduce.
The rate of puppy production in the UK is not entirely due to the pet market, much of it is due also to the current popularity of breeds for showing, working, agility, obedience or other dog disciplines. But in my view, most puppies are brought as PETS. The PET market is the single biggest driver behind the production of puppies.
Check out your breed and check its hereditary issues. Most breeds have a "Breed Club" and depending on the breed, this can be a good starting point for establishing what hereditary problems exist with the breed you are considering and what health checks can be done to improve health. Also, the Kennel Club has a web site that offers advice on what problems each breed is likely to suffer from.
Be aware though that whilst the Kennel Club might suggest that breeders perform the health checks and tests on their breeding stock - they do not enforce it for most breeds!
Be aware that the Kennel club accredited breeders scheme itself does not offer ay real assurance that the breeder is "good" and sound of ethics - many puppy farmers are known to advertise and subscribe to the Kennel Club accredited breeder scheme.
How to identify a "Good breeder"
The most pertinent question to ask any breeder is... "Why did you choose this particular pairing". A breeder with a well thought out breeding plan will immediately respond, detailing good temperament, performance, health or better breeding intentions... Any breeder giving unclear, delayed, unethical, financial or confusing responses is probably not the best breeder or hasn't got a specific "plan" in mind.
Good breeders often have waiting lists for puppy buyers.
Good breeders care about their puppies health, they attend to issues of worming, flee infestations, and at the right age vaccinations and socialisation.
Good breeders can make it difficult for you to acquire their puppy - insisting on details, proof even, of your lifestyle and suitability before even considering you as a buyer for one of their puppies.
Breeders who care about their puppies, often ask for the puppy to be returned to them, if for any reason the new owner cannot keep it so that it does not end up being re-homed in an unsuitable home or end up in a rescue centre.
Make sure you ask the breeder what health conditions are of concern to the breed in question and make sure that you know the answers, to check that they do. Good breeders should fully understand their breed!
Where there are congenital conditions check what health checks and tests are available for the breed and ask the breeder for evidence that they have been done.
Ask to see the mother (or both parents if possible) of the puppies. Check that they look healthy and happy and their living conditions are good.
If possible, contact purchasers of previous puppies from the same pairing - if they have produced before.
Look at the parents of the puppies to see if the hereditary conditions are obvious, skin complaints, eye problems, conformation problems can usually be easily spotted (bear in mind that an unethical breeder may not show you the REAL parents of the puppies).
A good breeder knows the background of their breeding animals and will be able to tell you of it. Find out all you can, especially WHY they chose to breed from this pair?
Ideally puppies destined for pet homes have been raised in the environment in which they will live as adults - the home, at least for part of their young lives. This allows them to acclimatise to humans, washing machines, hoovers, TVs etc. If a puppy is outdoor reared, this is not the end of the world, they can acclimatise if re-homed at an early age, but it can be more problematic.
Often good breeders breed because they are keeping one or more puppies themselves, not just to make money from sales - ask which puppy they are keeping and why.
Good breeders care about the welfare of their own animals and breeding stock. Make sure all adult dogs at the puppy's home, look healthy, happy and content.
Puppies that have been well socialised with people or dogs are usually very happy to see a new face, wagging their tails and appearing keen to approach.
How to identify a not so good or bad breeder
A lack of any of the above.
Poor condition or living condition of the breeder's own animals, breeding stock or puppies.
Puppies raised in barns, stables, sheds or rooms, which are poorly lit, ventilated, or unclean or where there is no water available.
Puppies who appear shy, frightened, overly quiet, ill, weak, pale in the gums, overly itchy, reluctant to move about.
Ask to take the puppies out of where they are usually kept into the garden, or a field, or into the sunshine - avoid puppies that are nervous of the outdoors, seem daunted by this new experience or stay sat still or crouched wherever they are placed.
Happily, there are many breeders out there who have the health and wellbeing of their breed at the forefront of their minds. They take utmost care in finding the right homes for their puppies and will happily take a puppy back if for any reason its owner is unable to keep it.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find out whether any specific breeder is one of the good ones or not. And even within the "good breeder" fraternity, there are some who sadly have come to accept that their breed is just one of those that has health problems and still loving the breed, healthy or not, keep breeding it.
If dogs where cars and we all knew that manufacturer x produced cars that rusted quickly or had defective brakes, we would generally stop buying that make of car. Sadly for the dogs involved, it seems that the breeders of some breeds have just come to accept that this type of car has rubbish brakes, so hell, we'll just drive slower….
Puppy purchasers also it seems, have to some degree come to accept that some breeds have health problems, something which is just "how it is" and buy puppies which have a good chance of some genetic health problems.
So…. How do you find a healthy pup? Or indeed a good breeder? How do you work out which breeds are least healthy and to be avoided? And what can you, as a potential new puppy owner do to help the plight of some pedigree breeds?
Lets look at a few helpful facts.
Visit local dog trainers, vets or groomers to ask for advice on the health of the breeds and possible contacts of "good breeders".
Remember that what you "buy" may well be "replaced" by a breeder so please look for healthy, happy, well cared for puppies whose breeder understands the breed, its hereditary issues and has a real concern for the happiness and wellbeing of the offspring its dogs produce. Encourage the "Good" breeders to breed again and discourage the "bad" breeders from their actions, by buying the right puppy.
Remember that a crossbreed may or may not be healthier - check the parents' health history no matter what the breeding!
Remember that what a dog "looks" like, can affect how many dog "friends" it can make and keep!
Consider a rescue dog. Often (but not always), congenital issues show up early in a dog's life. Older dogs that are healthy into their later years, are often a good bet for ongoing good health, even though they may (or may not) have training or behavioural issues that younger dogs or puppies don't have.
Remember that the power of any "market place" lies in the hands of the purchaser.
You have the chance to make a difference, please use it wisely!
Finally. I apologise if anything I have said offends anyone, breeder, owner or purchaser. My intent is only for the best for all dogs, living and to be born.
I hope that together we can and will make a difference.
Copyright Denise Mcleod - CaDeLac Dog Training and behaviour
Potentially harrowing viewing.....please consider your breed with care