Choosing a puppy

Dogs have always been the epitome of loyalty for humans, so for many they are the very best of domesticated animals. However, taking a dog into your life demands careful consideration of a number of important questions.

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Which breed?

Certain breeds are known for having a dominant character; German Shepherds are said to be obedient, Labradors affectionate with children, Greyhounds independent. But despite their innate nature, dogs cannot be classified in such a categorical way, because experience plays a big part in how the dog’s character develops. Likewise, we need to be cautious about claims that a particular breed is hardy or delicate. Dogs are individuals too, so Chihuahuas can be hale and hearty, while Fox Terriers can sometimes be fragile.

It is best to choose a breed with a weight and height suitable for your lifestyle. It is probably not the best idea to choose a Yorkshire Terrier if you are looking for a guard dog, or a Great Dane or Border Collie if you plan to leave it behind in a flat all day. Generally, while smaller breeds can be more highly strung, they require less living space than medium breeds. Large and giant breeds always require a lot of living space.

Price will also be a factor. Price depends on its pedigree and how rare the dog is. Obviously, some people cannot afford a purebred and choose a crossbreed puppy instead. The problem here is that it is difficult to gauge how big the dog will eventually become.

Regardless of the breed and the purchase price, it is vital to bear in mind that throughout its life a dog costs money and demands care and attention.

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Sweden: One way to choose a dog…

The Agria Dog Breed Profiles provide statistics on health problems, causes of death and survival rates to 10 years of age in over 200,000 dogs yearly (1995-2002) for each of 80 pure breeds, mongrels and all breeds combined. The material is presented in graphs and tables with basic interpretations easily understood by dog owners and breeders. The findings highlight the specific health problems experienced by each breed and differences between breeds, genders and ages. There are 11 CDs each with profiles for 3 to 12 breeds and all breeds, available at:
www.agria.se or from Terese.Olofsson@Agria.se.

Bonnet

This work is the result of long-standing partnerships between Agria Pet Insurance (Agria Djurförsäkring), the Swedish Kennel Club and researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Guelph in Canada, coordinated by Brenda Bonnett, DVM, PhD.

Male or female?

Females are generally calmer and gentler than males. They are also smaller. Another advantage is that they receive preferential treatment from males in any encounter. Males often become more manageable and less aggressive in their presence.

The main disadvantage with a bitch is oestrus (heat or season), which generally occurs twice a year, although the frequency varies depending on the breed. This also attracts groups of persistent males that wish to mate. An ovariohysterectomy (spaying), which can be carried out before the first oestrus, will prevent the female from becoming pregnant: this process is is irreversible.

Males, which tend to roam more than females, can undergo a complete character change in the presence of a female in oestrus. A normally calm dog can become nervous and aggressive, even starting dramatic fights with other dogs.

A dog which lives alone can get bored, so having more than one dog may be considered. It is of course important to give each dog the individual attention and training it needs and they need to have a lot of space. More than two might be difficult. Even if they click well as puppies, you never know how well they will get on when they are older. Having a male and a female is a good solution, but you will have to think about family planning if you do not want any puppies.

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Two males is not a good idea: they are likely to become rivals for the affection of females as soon as they reach sexual maturity. Two females, on the other hand, can often get along well together. In every case, owners need to be aware of the potential difficulties of having two dogs.

Where to buy?

There are many different options for dog buyers, including private sellers, specialised stores and kennels. However, some places should always be avoided. If you buy from a private seller at a market you have will no information on the dog’s medical history or the parents and you will have no one to go to if it turns out to have any problems. This type of sale is banned in many countries.

The situation with specialised stores is highly variable. Some specialised stores do provide warranties, are able to furnish information on puppy origins and take care to ensure that puppies develop normal behaviour. Proof of origin and traceability are essential points that buyers must insist on. They should also carefully inspect how the puppies are housed. If there is any doubt, a veterinarian should always be asked for advice on the quality of a given outlet.

If you want a specific breed the best option is to contact a registered breeder. Kennel clubs, veterinary surgeries and breed clubs can provide a list. Individual breeds have a predisposition to a specific range of genetic diseases, so it is important to check that the parents have been tested for these, depending on the tests available.

Another option is to go to a dog shelter or a breed rescue organisation, which will have dogs of all ages looking for a new owner.

The ideal age?

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Good breeders know about every aspect of their dogs. It is important to check the living conditions of the puppies. The more contact they have with people of all ages, the less chance they will have any problems with children.

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Good breeders know about every aspect of their dogs. It is important to check the living conditions of the puppies. The more contact they have with people of all ages, the less chance they will have any problems with children. This also goes for other animals.

It could be that no puppies are available the first time you visit. However, this shows you are dealing with a serious breeder. At some times of the year no females will be pregnant and even if there are a few litters, the puppies may not be ready to leave their mother.

The puppy goes through a number of stages before it can move to its new home. It needs to live long enough with its mother to learn what it is to be a dog. Contact with humans is also important. This can start as soon as the puppies leave the confines of the whelping box. By around seven weeks old the puppy can begin contact with strangers. Even then it remains vulnerable and some breeders may be unwilling to let the puppy go to a new home until it is three months old. Buying a puppy under eight weeks old is against the law in some countries.

Which puppy in the litter?

The health and character of the dog are two good criteria for choosing a puppy. The puppy should have a pedigree certificate (if appropriate), and may have ID and a bill of sale (obligatory in some countries). A vaccination certificate is preferable, although vaccination is not obligatory and depends on the age of the puppy. A veterinary certificate may also be needed, depending on the country.

The breeder should show all the puppies from the litter as well as the mother. The mother may be a little thin and have sensitive teats from suckling the pups, but she should look content, well cared for and affectionate. The puppy should not smell unpleasant or dirty. Its stools should be well shaped without any traces of blood. It should have bright eyes and a clean nose and ears. The coat should be neither dull nor brittle. Character-wise, the puppy should be happy and playful with both its littermates and humans. It is advisable to take the puppy for a veterinary check after you have bought it to confirm that it is healthy.

You should also check how much living space the puppy has. It will of course find it strange moving to a new home, but it could have some serious adaptation difficulties if it has been kept in a confined space without opportunities to go outside.

© Diffomedia/Royal Canin
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It is important to develop, from a very early age, the puppy’s motivation for an object – a ball say – which will be used during the various stages in the learning process.

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© Diffomedia/Royal Canin
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A certain degree of discipline can be rapidly developed in a playful way, using the puppy’s motivation for the object, including such commands as heel, sit, down and fetch.

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© Diffomedia/Royal Canin
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Once the dog has mastered the basics of discipline, which will not be before eight months of age, you can teach it obedience exercises such as heeling with or without a leash, changing direction, changing pace, assuming positions (stand, down, sit)…

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It can be hard to make a choice if all the puppies are healthy. This is where the tests designed by the American animal behaviourist William Campbell can be helpful. They should preferably be carried out on seven-week old puppies. Prior to this, the mother has too great an influence on her puppies; after this the puppies go through a period of emotional vulnerability.

The tests should be conducted in a quiet, enclosed space unfamiliar to the puppy. The person conducting the tests should remain neutral throughout, displaying no joy, anger or irritation.

© Diffomedia/Royal Canin
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A better understanding of your dog improves your life together

When it comes to training a dog, it is often said, “You have to train the owner before you can train the dog”. I myself feel you have to educate owners, teach them how a dog functions and how it might react in a given situation, so they are better able to anticipate and prevent any problems. You also have to teach owners to communicate with their dog – to understand and to make themselves understood. Most problems or conflicts stem from a lack of understanding and mutual ignorance of the rules and social behaviour of the other species. Owners and dogs have to learn to live together.

Owners have to create a language of signals that their dog understands. They cannot begin training their dog until this language has been established. The purpose of this training is to establish the dog’s hierarchical position and the house rules it must abide by in its new “family pack”

It is important to develop, from a very early age, the puppy’s motivation for an object – a ball say – that will be used during the various stages in the learning process.

Initially, the focus will be on discipline rather than obedience. Ground rules need to be laid down: no food at the table, no access to certain rooms and the designation of where the puppy is permitted to go to the toilet.

A certain degree of discipline can be rapidly developed in a playful way, using the puppy’s motivation for the object, including such commands as heel, sit, down and fetch.

Once the dog has mastered the basics of discipline, which will not be before eight months of age, you can teach it obedience exercises such as heeling with or without a leash, changing direction, changing pace, assuming positions (stand, down, sit), staying, recall (very important), wearing a muzzle (if necessary) and group work to develop sociability towards people and other dogs.

Dogs need authority if they are to be well rounded. It is, however, important to understand that they need to obey, but not to fear. Excessive submission or strictness will be counterproductive - the dog should be willingly obedient. The relationship will develop positively in a climate of trust, which will help the dog to overcome its natural apprehension in all circumstances.

It is vital to follow a number of rules:

* Maintain a consistent attitude, always react in the same way in a given situation. This will help the dog to quickly understand what it can and cannot get away with. Inconsistency breeds a lack of understanding and defiance.

* Trust is the foundation of all communication. Dogs have an acute sense of fairness, so be sure to be even-handed.

* Display your feelings. Be very positive if the dog does something good and be severe and dry when saying “no” to be sure the dog knows it has done something wrong. Dogs soon learn to gauge the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of their owner.

* Be patient and above all very attentive, and learn to recognise tiredness, excitement, curiosity and fear. This will help you to anticipate and avoid incidents.

* Finally, take on the guise of a good “pack leader” with all the authority and responsibility that entails.

Owners should be given this advice, while being reminded that, first and foremost, dogs should be a source of pleasure and joy in their life; that they should appreciate their dog’s company, and not simply put up with it, which is unfortunately all too often the case.

J.-P. Petitdidier,
Education of the dog,
education of the owner,
From The Adolescent Dog,
SFC, Paris, 1997

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Campbell tests

Campbell tests can be used to determine the main character traits of a puppy. Other behavioural tests are available too.
Bear in mind also that the new owner can modify even dominant innate traits in the way in which he or she cares for the dog, reinforcing some personality traits and discouraging others.

© Diffomedia/Royal Canin
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