Before buying a puppy, there are many things that the careful and wise buyer wants to educate themselves about in order to have the best experience with what should be many happy years with their dog. First questions are about yourself and what type of dog will best suit you. Then it is important to learn about the breed, what are the positive and negative attributes, and what health and genetic issues the breed, or particular family of dogs, may be at risk for. Finally, it is then important to find a breeder whose goals and investment coincide with yours.
The first thing to consider in purchasing a puppy is what type of dog do you want? Or better stated, what are the qualities in a dog that will get along well with your personality and activity level. Do you want a puppy at all? Do you want to raise a puppy; socialize it, potty train it, teach it commands, and, in general, how to be a model canine citizen? This involves living through the stages of puddles and landmines, puppy chewing with the potential destruction of some of your favorite items, adolescence where you think that the great well mannered dog you have been working with must have been swapped in the night for some unruly creature that looks like your dogs but could not possibly be. Instead of behaving like the wonderful puppy that you thought you had almost raised, it is behaving like you never taught it a thing and is saying nanny nanny boo boo and running the opposite direction when you call. Puppies require a certain commitment, investment of time and patience. If the idea of all of the "puppy stuff" does not appeal to you or does not suit your life at this point in time, there are many nice mixed breed and even purebred adult dogs available through shelters, breed rescue organizations and even breeders. It is just as important to do due diligence to be certain that an older dog will suit your reality. For instance, if you have four young children and the dog has never been around kids, there could be a problem. There are advantages to older dogs but rescued dogs and older dogs may come with their own baggage. There are also many advantages to puppies. Raising them in your reality and the idea that purebred puppies and/or those with known heritage purchased from a breeder, provide the advantage of knowing the ancestry of the dog, how the puppy has been bred, raised, socialized and knowing their health and genetic background.
One of the best things about buying a purebred puppy is that breeds have known physical and behavioral traits that are associated with the breed. Golden retrievers are friendly, loyal, exuberant, shed a lot, need a fair amount of exercise especially when young and are at risk for specific disorders like hip dysplasia, heart problems, cancer and ichthyosis. Airedale terriers do not shed much but may not love strangers and can have a strong mind of their own. They are at risk for hip problems, heart problems and certain genetic conditions like hemophilia - coagulation Factor VII deficiency and a form of juvenile renal dysplasia. The first step in considering a dog is to take an honest look at yourself and decide what characteristics you like and want in a dog and which actually suit you. It is important for people to research breeds and pick a dog that suits their personality, lifestyle and interests. Like marriages, many dogs end up not working out because people did not really do their due diligence about compatibility and what they were getting into before committing. I have a friend who asked me about getting a border collie, one of the highest energy of all breeds and a true working dog - they are not an easy dog to just "hang out" with and really do need a job (or many jobs). My friend had a busy life running kids to activities like tennis and youth group so, naturally, I asked what interested her about a border collie. She told me all about her husband having read about the breed and they were supposed to be "the smartest breed" and that he really wanted one. Well I happen to know her husband quite well and his idea of a good time is taking a NAP! I explained that she did not need the extra job of entertaining this dog; that they were really meant for people who were seeking a lot of activity with their dog, not the best choice for someone who was just looking for an easy to live with family dog that they could hang out with after work/school.
You can get a general idea about breeds on breed information websites. Once you narrow it down to a few breeds that appeal to you, then it is good to talk to people about specifics and what living with those dogs is like. I knew I wanted a smart herding dog that was active but not too active; a breed that was really attached to its people. I had narrowed it down to a couple of breeds. I went to dog shows to observe the dogs in both appearance and behavior and asked people who owned the dogs about the breeds’ positive and negative qualities and watched the dogs to observe those attributes. I asked about personality differences of two breeds of interest from a breeder who had lived with both. With one breed he said they stuck their nose on the table, you tapped them on the nose and they went in the corner and sulked for half an hour. The other, you tapped them on the nose and a couple minutes later they were back...a couple of minutes after that, they were back etc. I chose the "persistent optimists" - other might call them difficult and disobedient! (I am certain if I told my kids that story right now they would say "seriously mom, THAT is why all of our dogs act like this" as the dog sticks their nose between their body and their sandwich.)
Once you have the breed or breeds that appeal to you and have learned the positives, negatives and which traits you are willing to live with (for instance, some people do not mind shedding and would rather live with that than "non-shedding" breeds which typically have substantial grooming requirements) then, the next step is to educate yourself about the health and genetic issues that are potential in the breed. You could rely on the breeder to educate you about such things but how would you know if you were getting a biased view or not. The Internet is a wealth of information from many different sources. It is not true that you can believe "everything you read on the internet" but with a relatively small amount of effort, you can get information from many different sources and educate yourself about what rings true and how to ask intelligent questions. There is no breed, line or family that is free of health and genetic risks. If someone tells you this, then their information is suspect. I had breeders tell me “we have bred these dogs for 30 years and never had a problem”.
Now, some people may read this article (or not get that far) and say “it is just a dog”. Many people, when wanting to purchase a puppy, their only real questions are how much do they cost and when will my puppy be available? These people may not be interested in investing a substantial purchase price in their puppy. That is all well and good, but these same people need not cry foul when there is something wrong with that puppy. There are breeders that bend over backward to produce the best puppies possible. However, such breeding practices require substantial investment. These people typically put a great deal of time, money and energy into their dogs and those dogs are often not inexpensive to purchase-nor should they be. There are extremely diligent breeders who do not charge a "high" price for their puppies and there are some breeders who invest little in their dogs and get hefty dollars due to marketing. Price does not tell you much about the quality of the puppy.
So, assuming that you are one of the people who knows that your dog will be an investment of time, energy, love and money for many years to come, the final task is to find a breeder whose goals and investment coincide with yours. You have done your research and now want to find a breeder who is doing their best to minimize the risk for health and genetic issues and who is truly interested in providing the best dogs possible for the needs of those buying their puppies. You should have a series of questions for them (and expect them to have a series of questions for you). We will talk about finding a breeder and specific questions to be asked and answered in my next blog.