Okay, I admitted it to myself. I have puppy on my mind. No, not a specific pup. And not now. After a few months observing almost 10-year-old Will, we are certain that as far as she is concerned we have enough dog. She doesn’t enjoy the prolonged companionship of an adult one, and puppies go on her nerves. Will wants to be our only canine sidekick for a while, and what Will wants, Will gets. It’s always been that way.
While hubby Mike and our daughter Yana look before they leap – me not so much, although I am getting better at it. Life taught me that acting on impulse sometimes creates little fires that require extinguishing. Although in the end things always seem to turn out just the way they’re meant to, could I turn back time I might have made a few different choices. Moving forward, especially with something that affects me for a decade or more, I try to make decisions more rationally than emotionally – or at least equally as rationally. And that means that when the time is right, and we fall head over heels for a pup like we did with Davie, we’ll have a pup and not before.
My friend Ann recently remarked, while we were planning a heist to abduct a blue merle mini Aussie we met at the September 03 Mutt Show in Windsor, that no matter how many dachshunde she’d have, she still needed an Australian shepherd. I share that sentiment wholeheartedly. So an Aussie we’re aiming for, Mike and I, and although she is a future aspiration, it doesn’t hurt looking around some now, right? Keeping in the loop what’s out there.
While the public at large is bombarded with all kinds of dog-related info, some factual and much fictitious, what to look for in a breeder is trickling at best.
Recently, clients of mine asked for my help in rehoming their young dog. Nice humans with the best intentions to do things right. They investigated food and the dog was vetted. He lived inside, was crate trained and never chained. He had toys and social inclusion, playtime, walks and training and was loved. Nice dog too - friendly, motivated, obedient, attentive and smart. He also wanted to do things right. Great people. Great dog. So why the need to rehome? Because dog and humans were totally mismatched. The people wanted a low-key companion that more or less hangs out with them. The dog is a Border collie under a year old from working stock. What kind of breeder sells a Border collie to people that would be a wonderful home for an older golden retriever? One who only cares about the bottom line. That kind. Of course, when my clients contacted him with their concerns, before they hired me, he wasn’t available to offer any help.
Would you buy a puppy from someone who advertises: "Sell my puppies to anyone who opens their wallet. No references or qualifications needed. I do not care where my puppies end up, or how they are treated, so don’t bother calling me after you handed over the moolah."
I am sure if you were to survey the general public if dog breeders should breed for health and temperament, or looks and to make money, the majority would choose the former. It’s a no-brainer. In reality, and that’s the problem, unscrupulous breeders don’t advertise that they like money more than dogs, and so the majority has trouble distinguishing good from bad ones.
Health is straightforward. Either the pup’s bloodline has been screened and cleared of common congenital diseases, or it hasn’t, and a good breeder offers that information.
Temperament is a bit more vague. The above-mentioned Border collie has a wonderful, very breed-typical personality. High drive and high brain, intense stimulation seeking, determination, endurance, strength, or even a heightened awareness to motion, sounds and smells, or acting independently, aren’t in themselves bad attributes. They are only troublesome when such a dog ends up with incompatible humans.
There is one huge red flag though. Aggression. The kind where mother dog is indiscriminately reactive and tries to attack everybody and anybody who walks by or enters the property, has a bite history, needs to be muzzled when vet checked, can’t be walked in the neighborhood, go on a trail hike, or partake in activities like dog sports. It is a huge red flag if the puppy’s potential new owners cannot interact with mom dog because it is too dangerous, or if they don’t see her because she is put away in the kennel, crate or yard. If aggression is hereditary or not is debatable. Regardless, if the pups’ social imprinting period happens with an asocial mother, and in a place that breeds a dog who’s behavior isn’t sound, I walk away.
We have a breeder in mind for our next Aussie girl. Their dogs are fabulous. They excel in conformation, agility, obedience and Rally O’, but are foremost companions and go for walks, to beaches and dog parks. They are friendly and approachable. The breeders love their dogs, and don’t give them away when they age and become less “useful”. The seniors get to live where they always lived, and get to do things they still love and can do.
If you are like me and want a companion who lives in the house, where do you think the pups should be raised? Yup, in the house. Not the barn, kennel, garage or basement, but underfoot where people live, come and go, where the doorbell rings and where there are normal household sounds, like a vacuum cleaner. In the house, but not only the in house. I also want my pup, during her most impressionable first few weeks of life, to experience that there is an outside world; want her to experience what a collar, a leash and car-ride feels like. Of course, our fav local Aussie breeders take care of that as well. Their pups are also well started on potty and crate training.
Although we hope that when we are ready that they have a litter planned not too far in the future – they don’t have puppies all the time which is another sign of a good breeder, and trust us with one of their precious babies, I also love googling breeders for fun. I can pretty much tell on the home page if I like someone or not. The good ones' sites are more informative and less commercial, and make it clear right away that just because someone can afford a pup doesn’t mean they get one of theirs. Good breeders specify, right on their site, that potential buyers need to qualify, and have a link to a form anyone interested can fill out. The form typically has a section for references.
Good breeders often don’t have puppies readily available, but put approved homes on a waiting list. They provide a contract with a health and behavioral guaranty, are always willing to answer questions before and after the purchase, and in case the owner isn’t able to care for the dog any longer will take the pooch back – in fact stipulate that the dog must be returned to them.
One question I never ask right away is the price of the puppy. Not that I am rich and money doesn’t matter, but it is the least important aspect. Good breeding and money doesn’t rule each other out, but greed rules out good breeding.
Good breeders’ priority is the welfare of every single dog they own and produce. They have more expenses because they care, and typically deserve every penny they are asking. Bad breeders priority is the bottom line, and they don’t give a rat’s tail about what happens to their puppies. Let me be clear, every puppy has the right to live and a life, and many born in dubious places turn into wonderful companions, but some don't, or it is a long uphill path peppered with financial, emotional and mental hurdles – and possible heartaches.
I wish I could say that the mismatched Border collie is an isolated case, but it isn’t. Many of the people I see have problems with their dogs that began when they chose the wrong one for their lifestyle and the breeder didn’t attempt to educate and steer them to a different breed. Or they ended up with a pup who, because of deliberate mistakes made in breeding and rearing, lands on their doorsteps with issues. Wouldn’t it be great if more and more people would support good, knowledgeable and conscientious breeders with their hard-earned dollars? Doesn’t everyone – the dogs, the owners and the breeders, deserve that?
In some countries, breeding is strictly regulated. There are laws and inspectors that protect dogs and potential owners. Not the case anywhere here in North America. Here it is buyer beware.
To help the layperson separate wheat from chaff, I am offering a new, very affordable, service. You can find details on my webpage www.voice4dogs.com/dog-problems.html.
Look for: Got Puppy on your Mind?