Part 1: Narrowing down the choice
The time has come at last! You’ve decided that you are going to get a puppy for your family. Excitement is running high, ideas are fantastical.
Your older boy sees this new dog as a companion in his muddy adventures. Your younger girl views it as something to love and cuddle, brush and comb. You have fantasies about a dog curled up at your feet when your work is done and you at last hit the armchair. And perhaps your partner thinks of something butch and manly to show off at the pub from time to time.
How on earth can you combine all this into one dog?
The truth is that while different breeds have different mindsets and hard-wired behaviours, the individual dog will have his own ideas.
Just like when you have children you get what you’re given, so with puppies. It doesn’t matter how carefully you choose your puppy, he’s still going to have a mind of his own.
So you’re going to need to do a bit of educating your family so that everyone is not disappointed with the new arrival! Find out what it is they are expecting, and guide them to more realistic expectations.
But choosing the right breed or type in the first place is a huge help!
The right dog for your family
You’ll need to consider these points:
The larger the dog the more expensive he’ll be to feed, house, and take to the vet. Small dogs can be more inclined to jump up and scrabble (small child hazard). Very large dogs need very large beds, very large cars, very large floorspace. (Deerhounds traditionally live in castles …)
Importance depends on your time and housekeeping standards
Double-coated dogs can shed year-round in our heated homes. Fluffy dogs will need a full groom every six weeks or so. (You can easily do this yourself - the groomer’s bills will add up alarmingly.) Long coats get muddy and tangled. Very fine-coated dogs get cold and need a jumper in the winter.
Not terribly important
When you’ve decided on your breed or type, you’ll find that either dogs or bitches of that breed match your family better. They have very different characteristics, and of course size can vary a lot between the sexes. If you have an open mind you will have more choice in the litter.
• Original purpose of the breed
Hunting dogs (e.g. labradors, beagles, spaniels) will go all day long in any weather. Lapdogs (Shih Tsus, Chihuahuas) will expect a lap and as little weather as possible. Sighthounds (e.g. Whippets) want to sprint for ten minutes then sleep for 23 and a half hours. Jack Russell Terriers think they are German Shepherds. If your family is an outdoorsy one all year round, then you can get a dog used to striding over moors and mountain. If going to the shops is a big adventure for you, then something happy to mooch about at home is required. Be very honest about this.
You'll find a handy download about breed characteristics to be aware of here:
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Your pup should be 7-8 weeks when he comes home with you. I would not take a puppy a day older. I’d walk away empty-handed - that’s how important I consider this. And you should not take a puppy younger than 7 weeks, for any reason.
Visit your puppy at least once before you finally decide. 5-6 weeks is a good age to visit.
Your puppy’s primary socialisation window slams shut at 14-16 weeks. You can never get this time back again. Do not listen to any sob stories or cajoling from the breeder of the pups. See written proof of the dog’s age. WALK AWAY if you are not convinced.
How has this puppy been reared so far? In a shed? in the house? Some dogs will manage to overcome a poor start in life because of the resilience of their personality. Sadly, many never fully recover from a poor start. Family pet puppies should be reared inside the house - in the busiest part of the house. They should have an enriched environment with lots of different things to interact with. Here’s an example of a thoughtful breeder’s set-up for her puppies. These pups have been given the best chance to grow up with no fear and anxiety problems rearing their ugly heads later on.
The “running costs” of the dog will very quickly overtake any significance in the cost price. I tend to forget to ask the price till I’ve chosen the puppy. Proper, caring breeders are not looking to fleece you.
Chew over these points till next time, when I’ll give you more detailed advice on how to find your puppy.
You'll need to get your name down for the free e-course on common puppy problems.
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Meanwhile, arm yourself with good, force-free puppy-training info. You’d be surprised if I didn’t direct you to my books now, wouldn’t you? So I won’t surprise you. Go to my Books page where you’ll find years of experience with young puppies and their new families distilled into four how-to books, and see how you can get the first two books completely free!