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Guidelines to Finding the Perfect Puppy


Friday February 3rd 2017



Why research is so important to spot unethical breeders

Buying a new puppy requires a large investment of time, money and research to ensure you buy a healthy, viable breed that is a good fit for you and your family. Rachel Mulheron, Director of Pet Insurance at helpucover, discusses some of the ways buyers can avoid disreputable breeders and purchase happy, healthy pets from reliable sources.

The rise of the ‘puppy farm franchise’

The RSPCA has responded to more than 10,000 calls over the past five years concerning the illegal dog trade and an estimated 430,000 young dogs come from unlicensed UK breeders each year. The dogs are usually accompanied by false and forged documentation which leads buyers to believe they have been imported legally or bred in the UK.

Such puppies are being smuggled into the country, without having been vaccinated against rabies or have been given the vaccination too young making it ineffective and a breach of importation legislation. If found to have been illegally imported, the puppy will be taken into quarantine and the fees (which could be as much as £1,000) must be paid by the owners.

How to spot the warning signs from the seller

These puppies are often sold via adverts on the internet, in newspaper small ads and are generally a lot cheaper than UK bred puppies of the same breed. Such practices also tend to offer ‘multiple breeds’ for sale. This is unusual as the most experienced breeders will focus on one breed, perhaps two at a push and is a tell-tale sign the breeders may be running an illegal breeding program. Never agree to have the puppy delivered to your home address, meet the seller to collect the puppy, or pay for the puppy in advance, as these are all common warning signs.

If the seller informs you that the puppy has been brought in from another country, it must have a pet passport or veterinary certificate and be more than 15 weeks of age. You will need to find out if the animal has been health-checked prior to the importation and if their passport is stamped. Ask for the micro-chip details of the pet, which is necessary if an animal is imported into the country.

Believe it when you see it

The breeder should give you the opportunity to see the puppy with its mother, the rest of litter, and if possible the sire. This will give you an idea of the future characteristics and size of the puppy.

It is wise to have a vet of your own choosing examine your potential puppy prior to signing a sale contract, to potentially flag any problems that may arise. If your breeder is professional or semi-professional rather than simply breeding one litter for their personal enjoyment, they should also be willing to offer some references from previous buyers of their puppies. If your seller cannot accommodate any of these requests, then it’s best not to take the transaction any further.

Health factors to look out for

Often puppies from puppy farms can seem fine at first appearance, but gradually these young dogs display signs of typically fatal illnesses. The HSUS, summarizing the puppy buyer complaints they received over a five-year period (from 2007-2011), indicated that 40% of these puppies contracted diseases such as pneumonia and parvovirus and 34% had congenital defects, implying many may not have been bred properly by responsible breeders.

When seeing your puppy for the first time, check their eyes, which should be beautifully bright and shiny, the pink lining of the eyelids should not be inflamed or swollen. While a small amount of mucus and watery tears is normal, any yellow-green pus, a lot of watery eye discharge, or a sticky eye can all be signs of a problem.

A healthy coat, whether short or long, is glossy and pliable, without dandruff, bald spots, or excessive greasiness. There should be no redness or swelling inside the ears, and your dog shouldn't scratch its ears or shake its head frequently. Healthy gums are firm and pink, and teeth should be shiny and white. Your dog’s breath should not smell. If you notice any of these worrying signs, be wary of purchasing this animal, as its clear it has not been properly looked after since birth.

All responsible breeders will follow recommended breeding guidelines and make use of health screening schemes, which will help owners to predict the future health of their puppy. Your breeder should be able to paint a clear picture of what this involves and what they are aiming to achieve with their own dogs.

Common Behavioural Problems

Dr John Bradshaw, director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol, reports on puppy farm breeding practices leading to a rise in aggressive and dangerous dogs. If you notice any behavioural problems such as trembling, food aggression, erratic sleeping patterns and lack of height or depth perception, it is likely you have been duped into buying from a puppy farm.

A responsible breeder will provide background on socialisation they have already provided to your puppy and advice on continuing work in this area when you get home. If your puppy has come from a breeder who follows the Puppy Socialisation Plan, you already know it has had a good start in life, and is well on the way to making a perfect addition to your family.


Other factors to consider to avoid being duped

There are ways of ensuring you source your puppy from an eligible breeder, by looking at the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme. The Kennel Club provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of breeders and Kennel Club Assured Breeders with pedigree puppies currently available.

Ask the seller for details of a Contract of Sale before purchasing your puppy. This should detail both the breeders' and your responsibility to the puppy and make you aware of any caveats in your contract. If your puppy is a pedigree you will need detailing of your dog's ancestry, and it is the responsibility of the breeder to make you aware of any health issues.

If you are in the process of sourcing a puppy and think you have discovered one, which could be from a puppy farm or unethical breeder, contact the RSPCA or your local police station and report the incident immediately. Inform Trading Standards too, so the premises can be investigated from a business perspective as well.