choosing a puppy

Your puppy’s first day home!

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“How do I ensure the most successful first day home? I want Finn to feel like this is home but I also want to start off on the right foot, from the moment we pick him up and the long drive home.” Maria

What an excellent question, Maria! You have obviously planned your puppy carefully, and thinking about that exciting first day you have reflected on the importance of getting it right. You’re setting the stage for your new puppy’s life.

For those just starting on this journey, first read my series on How to Choose a Puppy here

Getting things ready at home

1. The most important thing is to make a comfy den for your puppy. Somewhere he can feel at home, somewhere he is fed all his bowl-meals (you’ll be mainly feeding him by hand!), somewhere he is safe and may not be pestered by children, visitors, or other household pets. He needs to be in a quiet place to be able to switch off and sleep properly.

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I favour a robust wire crate. It need only be big enough for the size your puppy will be as an adult - big enough for him to stand up, turn round and lie down again, as lying down is mostly what he’ll be doing in there. You can half cover it with a cloth or put it in a cupboard space under the kitchen worktop to make it cosy. And you can use either a custom divider or a big cardboard box to make the space just big enough for your puppy. 

All naps will be taken in this crate, and he can sleep in it at night, in your bedroom. Now you have somewhere where you know your pup is safe and can’t be chewing the telephone wire, peeing on the carpet, or demolishing your furniture. He may protest to start with, but as long as you know he has had his needs met, regard the crate as soundproof - both ways!  He’ll quickly learn that being in the crate means rest and sleep. 

2. For travel you’ll need either the same crate if it’s small enough to move easily, or a custom car crate. Again choose a wire crate - I don’t use a soft crate till I know the dog is content in a crate and won’t chew or attack it. I’m not convinced about the safety of car harnesses and always travel mine in well-built crates with escape hatches on the inside. 

For the journey home you may want to shroud the bottom half of the crate with plastic sheeting on the outside (that pup can't reach) so that any vomit stays inside! Or one of those airline crates that split in half would be excellent for this.

On the day!

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3. Take your puppy’s new collar and id tag with you and put it on him before you leave his old home. Better to be sure, in case of accident or drama on the journey home. And puppies are much wrigglier than you may remember - always slip a finger or thumb through his collar when you’re carrying him.

Your pup’s breeder should give you - along with any paperwork - his worming schedule, a blanket that’s been with his mother, a week’s supply of the food he’s been on, a diet sheet - maybe a toy or a bowl. Breeders who care will also give you photos and info about the parents, perhaps some pictures of your puppy when tiny, and the benefit of their experience of puppies of this breed or type. They should also tell you what the pup is used to toiletting on - grass, concrete, gravel …

4. For the journey home, park your puppy in his secure crate with lots of washable bedding or screwed-up paper to make it cosy. Ignore wails and cries, throwing up and peeing in the crate. You need to focus on the road and not get anxious yourself. The journey cannot be avoided so get it over with fast! Gentle music on the radio may help, and covering the crate so he can’t see out of the vehicle will also probably help. Placing the crate in the body of the car, not the back end, will minimise swinging and lurching and maybe prevent carsickness. 

Arriving home

5. If you have eager children at home waiting to greet the puppy, ensure they keep cool and don’t overwhelm this poor scrap. He’ll be exhausted after his journey, and is being constantly bombarded with strange sights and smells and people. 

6. If he’s in a mess from the journey just wipe him over - don’t bathe him now. He needs to keep his own scent and a bath would be too stressful. 

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7. You can take him out on a lead to the garden to see if he needs to relieve himself. Don’t worry if he doesn’t. If he’s scared bring him right back in again. Get my Errorless Housetraining Cheatsheet and get it right from the start.

8. Introduce him to his new den, and put his mother’s blanket in there along with some chewables. Feed him a light meal in the crate, try the garden again, and have some gentle play with him before he crashes for the night. Puppies need an astonishing amount of sleep, and a young puppy should only be awake for an hour or so at a time. 


9. Stick to the food he’s already on for a week or so, then start to change to a better food. You can research those in advance. Breeders often get free packs of food from canny manufacturers, so you’ll want to improve on that. Here’s a good site which gives you the lowdown on dog food ingredients. It’s geared for the UK market but is very educational and would be well worth a visit wherever you live. 

For a free no-obligation trial of some excellent home-cooked food (UK readers) go to They provide instructions for how to change your puppy on to a new feed.

The first week

10. By all means have some visitors to admire your new puppy, but be sensible! Give him a day or two without visitors. Then ensure your puppy wants to go forward to greet them. If he hangs back or hides, on no account force people on to him. As you’ve planned so carefully in choosing your pup, he’s likely to have been well-socialised in the litter.

You’ll probably be visiting the vet for a check-over and some jabs. Make this visit as gentle and calm as possible - don’t pass him round the waiting room of ooh-ing and aah-ing people! 

And while he can’t yet go out for “walks” you should certainly take him out and about with you on your errands. He gets used to travelling in the car on short journeys, and you get to carry him about to see new places, things, people, and dogs. He doesn’t need to meet the dogs yet, but he does need to see them. 

11. Build a routine of naps, food, garden visits, play … and more naps. This routine doesn’t have to be timebound, but the order should become predictable. He’ll be on four meals a day to start with, and most of those will be handfed by you, or in a foodtoy - not just slapped in a bowl.

Learn how to teach your new puppy

12. Lastly - and importantly! - learn how to teach your new dog. It’s important you find only a force-free trainer to work with, who will have small, calm, classes, and teach only through kindness and love. 

Stuck for a local class that fits this description? No worries! Check out this mini-course and enjoy training your puppy at home with me, with four specially-selected training videos. It’s much better value than a conventional local puppy class - you can take part for as long as you like!

I hope that helps you with your planning, Maria - and I wish more people thought ahead as you have!




Why did you get a dog?

And did it work out the way you expected?

Companionship                         ✅   CHECK!

Exercise                                       ✅   CHECK!

Making new friends                   ✅    CHECK!

To make you feel important?        ❎    WA WAA ...


For some people, getting a dog is just the next thing to do to complete the image of the corn flake family - Mum, Dad, nice house, a boy, a girl, and the pet dog. It’s part of the image. 

Some people have visions of themselves striding across the moors in all weathers, their trusty companion two steps behind them.

Another person may be hoping to combat loneliness or bereavement by having a dog to talk to. They know that having someone to look after will take them out of themselves, perhaps get them out meeting more people. 

Yet another may have admired a dog sport - agility perhaps, dancing with dogs, or search and rescue - and are dying to get their own dog and have a go.

Then there are those who are more down-to-earth in their expectations. They love interacting with another species, having to learn a way to communicate without verbal speech. They want their children to experience the bond they had with an animal when they were growing up, and they know it can teach their children empathy, individualism, patience, and resilience.

Some so miss their previous dog that they want to replace him. Their old dog fitted their home like a comfy pair of slippers. They have entirely forgotten the puppy months or years they had to work through to reach this happy state.

Some people just love having a large, busy household, with children, in-laws, cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep, hens, horses, you-name-it. They are busy from morning till night ministering to their flock of dependents, and they find it very fulfilling.

But I’m not even going to waste any column inches on the deluded people who buy a dog as a fashion accessory.


It takes all sorts …

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There are so many diverse reasons for people to bring a dog into their lives. Some are good and valid. Some not so much. Many are looking for the jigsaw puzzle piece that precisely matches the gap they are looking to fill. This is ok as far as it goes - but that’s sometimes not very far.



  • The sports dog fanatic, for instance, will choose the line and breeder very carefully, to get a dog suited to their purpose of speed, agility, soundness, temperament, and stamina. 
  • The corn flake family will want the perfect Walt Disney dog to complete their menage - a bombproof, undemanding, adaptable dog - probably of a fashionable breed or appearance. 
  • The outdoorsy type will want a dog built for long days in the field - a marathon runner rather than a sprinter. 
  • The empty-nester may be wanting something fluffy and cuddly.


What they may be forgetting is that their chosen dog will have an opinion about all this!


How many families do you know where the children are so different from their parents that they are almost another species? My mother was convinced they’d switched her baby in the nursing home, and referred to me as “The Changeling”. Even the adman’s dream - the corn flake family - may have children who don’t fit their vision of the perfect family. 

It doesn’t matter how carefully you choose the line, type, or breed - the dog you’re getting is an individual. He may slip perfectly into the mould you have ready for him. 

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Or he may not.

Then, as the saying goes, you’re stuffed.

Puppies first

Whatever made you get a dog in the first place, you now have a dog with his own personality. And just like with people, you’re going to have to work with that dog to make this “marriage” work. You may have to abandon your first idea entirely, when you find

  • your future agility partner is noise-sensitive and afraid of crowds of people 
  • your Disney dog gets sick of the children pestering him and snaps at them 
  • your forest-trail dog has a congenital hip problem 
  • and maybe your companion dog is not a people-pleaser and would prefer not to be cuddled 

You now have some work to do! 

Please don’t fall into the trap of comparing this new dog unfavourably with your old dog, who was no trouble. You maybe had that dog for fifteen years, you knew each other well, and have long since forgotten what that dog put you through as a puppy! (Yes - he did. You’ve just forgotten.)

What to do?

If the chasm between what you wanted and what you got is so huge that you are not prepared to put the necessary effort into the relationship, then make a decision straight away to re-home this dog to somewhere where he will be valued for his own sake. Don’t go soppy and heartbroken about it. Better to break off the engagement before you get to the church!

The shelters are bulging with dogs who people held onto until they hated them. These poor creatures are now walking basket-cases - they have been emotionally neglected and generally messed up. Their new owner will have a lot of history to work against. Sometimes this works out brilliantly. Sadly some dogs become serial “abandonnees” and keep finding themselves back in the dogs’ home.

If you realise that this dog is not at fault for failing to live up to your lofty expectations, and abandonment is not an honourable option, then keep granny’s words in mind: “You’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it.”

Coming to grips with the fact that relationships are a two-way process, and give-and-take are going to win the day, will get you a long way along this path.

Force-free, and blame-free, training will come into its own here. You have discovered that trying to mould your dog to be something you want and he isn’t leads only to frustration and ill temper. Go back to the basic force-free mantra:


Reward what you like
Ignore what you don’t like
Manage what you can’t ignore


Take blame and stress out of the relationship and work on finding where your dog scores. 

  • Is he funny?
  • Is he kind?
  • Is he hyper?
  • Is he dozy?
  • Is he active?
  • Is he patient?
  • Is he thoughtful?
  • What does he love? Food? Play? Running? Barking? Sleeping?
  • Does he love company?
  • Does he prefer his own company?
  • Loves dogs?
  • Is afraid of dogs?


Find what he likes doing best, work in those areas, and use his favourite things or activities as a reward. Be sure that the reward is something your dog finds really rewarding - not something you think he ought to like. There’s a world of difference between a dry biscuit and a sliver of hot dog or a game with the frisbee.

What else is rewarding to your dog - activity? Games? A walk? Opening the garden door? Once he sees that doing what you like brings him his top rewards, it’s full steam ahead to a successful partnership. 

Whatever misfit you seem to have, locking it in a crate and moaning is not going to change it to what you want. Confronting the situation and working with it will bring you a companion you can be proud of. 

And open up possibilities to you that you didn’t know existed!

Maybe your child is never going to be the gregarious doctor you hoped he’d be, and is happier working on his own in a forest. Maybe your daughter won’t join the family manufacturing business and would rather become a history professor. You adjust. You don’t choose your child, you have to accept what you’re given. 

So maybe your agility career has been blighted before it started, but you now have a devoted lapdog who you have become very fond of. And maybe your friendly family dog gets attacked and becomes fearful of all dogs and strangers. You adapt. You accept that this is the dog you committed to, and you make a life for him that accommodates his fears and phobias, his likes and dislikes, as well as your own.

It’s not the end of the world

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And when you come across “problems” in your dog - things that he’s doing that you don’t like - take a longer perspective. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction of “Don’t!”, “Stop that!”, “Bad dog!” - that’s not going to help anybody. Adding your anger to the situation is only going to make it worse. (I tell you - I’ve been there! I know.)

You need to take the long view. Problems don’t usually arrive overnight. It just takes you time to notice them and realise they’ve become a habit you could do without. So they’re not going to disappear overnight either. Anyone who tells you they can effect instant change in your dog is likely to be using aversive methods - doing nasty things to the dog, in other words. This can have appear to be a quick fix, while your dog cowers into submission from this stranger who is unpredictable and unpleasant. But frightening anyone into doing something will never work.

You need to get your dog to decide to change his ways in order for there to be any genuine change

And this can only be done by force-free, science-based methods without using nasty gadgets or intimidation. Dogs may not have read the books, but their brains do operate in a pre-defined way - just as ours do. So learning how their brains work is going to give you a flying start with changing their habits.

You can start by getting Calm Down! Step-by-Step to a Calm, Relaxed, and Brilliant Family Dog which is free at all ebook stores.

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And tell us in the comments how your dog surprised you by turning into a great dog despite not being at all what you expected!


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Why did you want a dog?
What did you get your dog for?

How to choose a dog to suit your lifestyle


“It’s so difficult,” she went on, “he never seems to run out of energy! It’s wearing me out.”

“I guess you were expecting that, as you chose a Working Cocker Spaniel?”

“Oh no - I had no idea! Is that why he’s like he is?”

I wish I had a pound for every time this conversation gets repeated. It’s a shame, because the lady here was well-intentioned. 

Maybe she chose her puppy because she liked his looks; maybe a friend has an older, quieter, spaniel which she liked; maybe it’s because this particular breed is currently fashionable as it has royal approval.

Whatever the reason, she made a wrong choice! For her lifestyle she’d have been better off with a quieter, slower dog, one bred as a pet, not a working breed. 

Working Cockers are smashing little dogs, but they’re bred to go all day in the field, at high speed, through scrub, water - anything they’re put to. Teaching them an off-switch takes some skill. They can even be too much of a handful for some agility enthusiasts, though there’s no doubting their speed and commitment to the task. So this really is unlikely to be a good choice for a first-time puppy-owner - a complete novice with dogs.


What breed is right for me?

There’s no “right breed”. While you can make a general description of a breed’s temperament, there can be huge variation in individuals. The UK Kennel Club has a breed-finder tool which may give you a start. 

There are, of course, crossbred puppies you’ll find in family homes or in shelters. Then there are the “designer dogs” bred for money. See this article on designer dogs to get an idea of what you may expect there. Don’t get confused over the allergy thing either. If a dog is a cross with a non-shedding breed, there is no guarantee that your puppy will not shed, and may do so plentifully! While these crosses may sound attractive (largely because of their cute names) they may be a mixture of two breeds, neither of which are suitable for your home! Mixing them together is not going to diminish their behavioural characteristics. 

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So before you start looking for a breeder for your new dog, you must narrow down the breed or type to fit your requirements. You need to be scrupulously honest about this! Dreaming about 10-mile hikes over the hills, when the last time you walked more than a hundred yards was when the shopping centre car park was particularly full, is unrealistic.

Start from where you are. List what you do now, and what you’d like to do with your dog, and make sure the lists match. If you are particularly houseproud, for instance, it’s important that you choose a dog that doesn’t shed year-round, or fling strings of saliva across the room whenever they shake their head. If your house is tiny, perhaps a tiny dog would be a good option. If you have small children you need a dog with an excellent temperament and an off-switch. While being calm can be taught - there's a book here to take you through the steps - it does help to be working with a puppy whose ancestry allows him to calm down.

If you have a hankering to do agility with your dog - then visit some agility events and talk to the people there. Explain you’re a beginner. You’ll get some very useful advice, and you’ll learn a lot from what you see. You don’t start your car-driving career with a Ferrari, so start with something a bit more biddable and you can grade up to a more energetic individual as you become more skilled.

Whatever puppy you choose, you won’t be doing any of those 10-mile walks for a year or so anyway. Babies need to grow their bones and strengthen their joints and muscles with play and light exercise before building up a training regime.

And, of course, all of this doesn’t only apply to Working Cocker Spaniels! They are a delightful little dog, but like all dogs, they need to be in the right home. 


Homework time

High-energy puppies!

High-energy puppies!

The key message here is to “do your homework”! It’s not fair to your new puppy or dog to have to try and fit into a totally unsuitable home. This will lead to frustration all round. And you may find yourself doubting your decision to get a dog for a companion, which would be very sad. 

By all means go for a rangy working dog that needs a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, if you are able to furnish that. But whatever you choose, do keep in mind that the dog looks as it does because of what it’s been bred to do - through many generations.

There is a splendid sculpture on the hills near my home, of two buzzards landing - claws forward - possibly on their prey. A passer-by said to me, “I don’t like that sculpture - they look too vicious.” No doubt to their prey they do look vicious, but it’s because of their purpose that they look as magnificent as they do to us. They are efficient hunters and killers, and everything about them is designed to make that work. 

Your dog has been bred for purpose. So that efficiency is represented in his shape and behaviour. If you don’t want to bother to train a recall, then avoid a dog that can cover 200 yards in 12 seconds! (Only kidding, you need to train a recall with any dog.)

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A dog fit for purpose

And while you’re looking at a dog of any breed, be sure to check up on its parents’ health record. Breed societies and national kennel clubs have stringent guidelines for health assessments for breeding animals. Since the appalling scandal in the UK when it was shown that the majority of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are affected by a distressing and painful degenerative brain disease, the UK Kennel Club has focussed more on this. See their breed health guidelines here

So some breeds have particular problems with, say, Patella Luxation, Hip Dysplasia, maybe Progressive Retinal Atrophy or other eye problems. You need to have sight of the certificates showing their score on the relevant tests, and know how to understand that score. These tests are not cheap, and breeders who can show you evidence of going to this trouble and expense are demonstrating their care for the animals in their charge. 

And just because you’re getting a crossbreed, with some extra hybrid vigour thrown in, don’t think you can skip these tests! If one parent has poor hips, there will be a high chance of your puppy developing such a condition. Not when he’s old - maybe in his first year.


We owe it to our new charge to ensure the best start possible for him.


There is a dog out there that is perfect for you and your family! Research has never been easier. Spend some time in the planning of your new puppy and that will pay you back for the rest of your dog’s life.


And once you have chosen your new puppy, you can avail of all the resources to help you start right. Check out the other posts under the  Puppies & Dogs tab above, and be sure to start following the free email course for new dog-owners.


How to choose the right dog for your family

Choosing a Puppy, Part 3

Part 3: Here’s the fun bit!

And for the big challenge!

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Your carefully-chosen breeder will help you here. She’s a fanatic for her breed, usually totally devoted to her own dogs and her own line that she’s working hard to improve. She will have spent many hours with this litter of pups. While everyone else thinks they look identical, she’ll have given them all nicknames and can tell them apart at a glance. She knows their fads and foibles, their faults and failings. She also knows their best points.

Of course, the breeder of a carefully-reared crossbreed from a much-loved pet in a family home will also know her puppies well and be able to advise.

While you’re entitled to see the whole litter together, the breeder will bring out for you the pups that are available - and which she considers suitable for your family and experience.

It’s a good idea to visit them twice if possible. The first time they could be half-asleep and dopey and give you a wrong impression. Puppies who appear to be bullying their siblings at 6 weeks will have been taught some manners and bite inhibition by their littermates by the time you see them again at 8 weeks.

Have fun choosing your puppy

I like to play with the puppy and see how interested he is with my toys. I’ll bring several different sorts. Interacting with toys at this early age is a good indicator of a strong retrieve later on (great for playing ball on the beach …) and general teachability.

Unless you are of a shy and retiring disposition yourself, don’t feel sorry for the shyest puppy (unless the breeder considers this is the one for you: shyness in a litter is relative!).

And all that homework you did? This is the moment of the great pay-off! Because you don’t have to consider all those other very important questions any more, you are free to follow your heart.

Spend some time with the puppies the breeder is offering you … and see which one you fall in love with.

Follow your heart.

Just let yourself fall in love.

And something surprising might happen

When I went to choose Cricket the Whippet, I’d spent several months narrowing down the type of whippet I wanted, the breeder (who had the same concerns about breed health as I had), and the mating. The breeder kept me updated with photos and info - first about the dam’s pregnancy and whelping, and then about the pups’ personalities.

I wanted a bitch. There were three bitches. The breeder was going to choose her favourite for her showing and breeding program, and I had first pick of the other two. I first visited them at 5-6 weeks.

All three puppies - Poppy, Daisy, and Hannah - were delightful. Poppy outgoing and friendly, Daisy energetic and comical, Hannah sweet and shy.

It was Daisy who “spoke to me”. She was the one I really wanted. The breeder had told me she was going to decide between keeping Poppy and Daisy at 7 and a half weeks.

So I told her I’d really like Daisy, but would be perfectly happy with Hannah if Daisy had been chosen by them. The funny thing was that I just didn’t relate to Poppy at all. Nothing at all wrong with Poppy, she was a lovely puppy - it just wasn’t love at first sight for me.

As it turned out, Poppy was the pup they chose to keep, I got Daisy who became “Cricket”, and Hannah went to the delighted third person who had been waiting patiently for us to decide.

Now get this - I had actually wanted a solid colour (same colour all over) which Hannah was, and Daisy was a brindle with white markings. But the heart ruled the head and Cricket is very much loved, adored, and admired.

You just don’t know!

But getting all the thorny questions about breeding and health ironed out first gave me complete freedom when I met the pups.

Now you know what to do: go choose your lovely new companion!

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You can find the first post in this series here.


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How to choose your puppy

And let us know in the comments below how you got on.

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Choosing a Puppy, Part 2

Part 2: Where should I get my puppy from?

You’ve got an idea from the last post of what type, size, sex, and age of dog you’re looking for. Now, in Choosing a Puppy, Part 2, you can source your puppy.

• Breeder

Super critical! 

There are some fantastic breeders, dedicated to the improvement of their breed, and fanatical about rearing the best puppies possible. They invest a lot of money in genetic testing to ensure their puppies do not suffer from inherited problems (e.g. Hip Dysplasia, Eye diseases, temperament issues). They devote three months of their life to each litter. They really earn their money! They will give you a detailed Puppy Pack, with pedigree, registration forms, medical history, diet history, breed-specific advice, and so on.

• Then there are those who have a pet dog who has pups. If there is enough hybrid vigour in the mix you may get away with the absence of genetic testing, as long as the puppies are reared right. These puppies are often reared in the home with lots of love and attention from family and friends, so can be a good bet temperamentally. This would be the old-fashioned household mongrel dog, now sadly disappearing through over-zealous neutering programs. You may be taking pot-luck on size, type, and health.

• Sadly there are many people who I refer to as greeders. Their interest is in getting as much as possible for as little investment of time and money as possible. They often focus on the most popular breed of the time - currently the troubled brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs - or more often the fashionable “designer breeds”. Greeders usually focus on small dogs, as they can pack more into their sheds and they cost less to feed. They may try and offload the puppies at 6 weeks for some spurious reason (the real reason is laziness - this is the most labour-intensive stage of puppy-rearing). No genetic testing is usually done. In my experience it’s not uncommon for dogs from these greeders to develop chronic conditions like Hip Dysplasia within their first six months of life, necessitating lifelong medication or surgery. This suffering is appalling when it could so easily have been avoided. These people couldn’t care less.

• The worst of these greeders are the puppy farms aka puppy mills, who have lots of tricks to fool you into buying something that was reared in a filthy cage in a cellar or shed, with no human contact. The poor, overbred bitches live a life of loneliness and misery till they’re thrown out as spent. Often these puppies are much older than is claimed. They even charge a lot of money for them! You’ll soon be paying much, much, more for behavioural and veterinary help to try to partially repair the damage these monsters have inflicted. A disproportionate number of dogs bought off the internet classified listings die within their first year. Do NOT feel sorry for the puppy and take it, even knowing or suspecting its background. You will pay for the whole of the dog’s life. Worse, you are giving money to help further this cruel trade.

As one otherwise intelligent businesswoman said to me, as she regarded her puppy who had clunky hips, wonky teeth, and was afraid of his own shadow, “I can’t believe I fell for those tricks”.

• You’ll find advice about all this through your national kennel club. Here’s the UK Kennel Club’s page. Many kennel clubs have a breeder assessment scheme.

Meeting your prospective puppy

• Your first viewing

Very important

When you first visit a litter, do NOT take the family with you. You’d be better taking a friend who hates dogs and will not be beguiled by the cute little fluffy puppies! Decide on your priorities before you go in, and interview the breeder carefully. Ask penetrating questions and require thorough answers with written proof. A genuine breeder will be interviewing you at the same time, to see if you are a suitable owner for their precious puppies.

The pups should be spotlessly clean and smell sweet, with no tangles or mats, no sticky bum, no runny eyes. Their mother should be interested but not concerned at you handling her pups. (This is an important pointer to the litter’s temperament later on.)

• Buying

Oh so critical!

On no account agree to a puppy on your first visit. You are looking at a commitment for the next 12-17 years: be fully prepared to WALK AWAY.

• Beware of a breeder who wants you to take a bitch and rear puppies from it for them. It’s your choice what you do with your dog. It’s not uncommon for a breeder to prevent you being able to register progeny at your national kennel club without their permission. They are trying to protect the health and standards of the breed and protect their puppies from those greeders.

Now you have some concrete issues to research. See how this will all pay off in the next post.

Thinking ahead - enrol in our free e-course on how to change the things you may not appreciate in your new puppy into the things you like - all force-free, of course!

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Choosing a Puppy, Part 1

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:

• Size


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 …)

• Coat-type

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.

• Gender

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:



• Age

New Puppy? | Choosing a puppy Part 1 - See your chosen puppy early, at 5-6 weeks old | FREE EMAIL COURSE | #newpuppy, #puppypottytraining, #puppytraining |

Absolutely critical

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.

• Rearing


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.

• Price


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.

Check out Errorless Housetraining page too - this free cheatsheet will get you started fast when the time comes!

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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!

Superb online Puppy Training Course for you - no need to struggle to find a local one! 

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