Puppy Boom - Avoid Buying Heartbreak
Whether you saw the BBC documentary 'Britain's Puppy Boom...' https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09nl348 or not, you'd need to be living under a rock not to have noticed that in the last 18 months, puppy prices have rocketed, as a result of the demand for puppies has increased due to the pandemic. Where a puppy would previously have cost between £500-£1500 for a well bred, KC registered pup from health tested parents and responsible, reputable breeders, the market is now rammed with puppies costing £2000+, including crossbreeds, non-registered dogs, dogs without any health testing, dogs with obvious health problems...
Behind the scenes, those reputable breeders whose puppies are KC registered, bred after serious planning and thought, from parents with excellent health results, proven not to be carrying hereditary diseases, with solid, dependable temperaments - they are still there, and their puppies are not costing significantly more than they were 2 years ago. But these breeders rarely advertise, they have never needed to, they are known within the breed, they are members of the official Breed Clubs, they have waiting lists as long as your arm ... and this means that Joe Average who is a newcomer to the dog world has no way of finding them. Last nights program demonstrated that prices for puppies have risen SO far beyond the typical costs, that buyers are now concerned that a 'cheap' (i.e. normal priced!) puppy must have something wrong with it!
So how do you source a puppy, whats right and whats wrong. Unfortunately last nights show didn't do a very good job of discussing this, neither breeder featured was experienced, reputable or responsible. Both bred their dogs with profit in mind, both appear to have bred without getting health tests done on their dogs for hereditary diseases (if they did, it wasn't mentioned), the idea that a bitch needs to have a litter for the good of her health was discussed and not shot down. It did look fairly clear that breeding was costly and filled with risk and hard work, but I don't think they went far enough on that front.
What to expect from a reputable, responsible breeder:
Expect to visit multiple times - it is rare that you would turn up, pay for your puppy and leave on the first visit unless you are already known to people within the breed community, have owned the breed before, or have had lengthy telephone or video call discussions with the breeder.
Visit the puppies in the breeders home, and check that the puppies are raised IN the home and look familiar and comfortable in the room you see them in.
Mum should look healthy and happy, she may find visitors stressful in the early weeks however breeders should manage the visit so she doesn't get upset.
The breeder should quiz you on what you know about the breed, expect from the breed, what sort of home and life you can offer their puppy. This should be thorough, they want to know your expectations are reasonable!
The breeder should expect you to quiz them about the breed, about health results, about the pups ancestry, and should be happy to answer questions and show you up to date health certifications where relevant.
Breeders should insist that should anything happen that means you cannot keep your puppy, you will inform them and return the dog to them at any point in their lives. This is how they ensure their breeding activities do not add to dogs in rescues.
Pups should have had a vet check, first vac and microchip implanted before you collect your puppy.
Pedigree breeds should be KC registered - whilst this doesn't guarantee quality, there are NO good reasons for NOT KC registering recognised pedigree breeds, only bad ones.
What about the red flags, what should you look out for?
Breeders who offer to meet you half way or deliver your puppy without ever having met you, without you having visited the litter in their home.
Excuses as to why the mother of the litter can't be seen - she should be there, if she is a bit puppy proud or worried, some sensible management like baby gates would be fine, but she should be there and should CLEARLY be the puppies mother, see them interacting, feeding, see her washing them etc.
Cagey behaviour - not wanting to answer questions about health tests, not wanting to share pedigree details, or give you KC reg. names, or pretending they've lost certificates.
Cropped ears - this is illegal in the UK and has been since 1895. It is unspeakably cruel, involving cutting off a little puppies ears and months of healing. There are very few good reasons for a breeder to own dogs with cropped ears in the UK. Any offering to find a way round the rules to get you a dog with cropped ears is hugely immoral and soon to be illegal. Many breeders are cropping dogs illegally here, and then pretending they imported the puppy already cropped.
Anyone who in answer to the question 'are the parents health tested' tells you that yes a vet has said they are fine. Each breed has health tests that are required to ensure the parent isn't passing on genetic issues - these are not tests run by a high street vet in a 5 minute consult, and there should be documentation to prove the parents are clear from certain conditions or are unaffected or have low scores.
Anyone breeding from dogs that are aggressive or anxious or nervous - temperament is important and it can be passed on genetically just like eye colour or coat colour.
Breeders who will sell you two puppies to 'keep each other company' - unless you are extremely experienced with the breed, have two adults to supervise the puppies near on full time for many months, this is a recipe for disaster for most people.
Then there are some grey areas, and these often cause confusion. Breeding multiple breeds - this can be a sign of a commercial outfit, someone producing poodle x lots of breeds, where they have a few stud poodles and lots of bitches of various breeds, that would be a red flag. However a breeder who for example, produces Salukis and Basset Hounds, and doesn't typically have more than one litter at a time, and is not producing crossbreeds - thats probably just that they like both breeds! Multiple litters at the same time - again most breeders doing it right, have planned things out and will be producing only one or two litters a year, possibly less than that, and will only have one litter at a time. However, as bitches only come into season twice a year (and in some breeds just once), and because ethically, its wise to only take three or perhaps four litters maximum from a bitch, sometimes it can happen that two bitches are in season at the same time, and its the last chance to do these matings, if they wait that opportunity is gone.. and so they have two litters. This is rare, and if its a breeder of KC registered puppies it IS possible to look up the details of their dogs and SEE how many litters they have had and if they frequently do this or not. Breeder owning both bitch and stud - typically, breeders own one or the other and as each breeding is aiming to perfect the breed, they want to find the perfect mate, which is unlikely to be the dog they own themselves. So the norm is that the bitch will be taken to visit a stud who lives elsewhere. Breeders who use their own stud frequently on their own bitches, could be doing so simply to save money and churn out lots of puppies. Just occasionally though, particularly in rare breeds that are perhaps mainly imported from other countries, breeders may import a stud dog that suits several of their bitches - or indeed may import a bitch specifically to breed with a stud dog they own. Generally speaking it will be quite clear when this has happened, as it will be a rare breed, not a numerically large breed - if its happened with Labradors or Staffies, that's a red flag, these are common breeds with many studs to choose from. If it happens with Grand Basset Griffon Vendeens or Picardy Sheepdogs however, it isn't a red flag at all, these are rare breeds with very few in the country. Breeding of crossbreeds, with or without designer names. The 'doodle' is seeing immense popularity and these cannot be Kennel Club registered as they are not a recognised breed but a cross between a poodle and some other breed. However, any breeder of these crosses SHOULD still be using quality pedigrees who are health tested and are good examples of their breed, healthy and with good temperaments. A cockerpoo or labradoodle (or any other crossbreed of two pedigree breeds) has NO good reason to use unregistered, unhealth tested examples of the parent breeds - it is NOT true that the offspring cannot inherit genetic conditions as many of these breeds carry the same genetic conditions (for example, Poodles and Bichons both carry the eye condition Progressive Retinal Atrophy, so a litter of Poochons is at much at risk of PRA as a litter of Poodles or Bichons). There are some reputable breeders of these crossbreeds but unfortunately they are rare, the market is absolutely flooded with money-grabbing puppy peddlers who care about their cash, and not your puppy!
So how do you start your search for a puppy?
Start with identifying the breeds you like - make a list of traits you like, and those you do not like.
Research those breeds by watching videos, reading articles, looking at the Breed Club website - each breed has one, just google 'Breed name Breed club uk' so for example 'Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen breed club uk'.
Arrange to meet and visit examples of the breeds you like, ideally see them out and about AND see them in someones home to get a real feel for what these dogs are like.
By the time you have gone through the above process and have looked at the Kennel Club website, been in touch with the breed club and met dogs and owners you will then be able to contact breeders, the breed club will have a list of breeders and possibly a puppy list of those planning litters or litters currently available.
Reputable, experienced breeders rarely advertise outside of the breed clubs listings and their own websites - they simply do not NEED to advertise as they produce few litters, that are so sought after they are often spoken for before they are born.
If you need further help, many trainers, myself included, offer a 'before you get your puppy' service which can include helping you research breeds, suggesting breeds you may not have thought of or heard of, finding breed club details or contacts, possibly putting you in touch with owners or breeders, helping you understand the things you need to do before you get your puppy and immediately afterwards.
Why should you do all this, when there's a kennels down the road producing 16 different breeds, they take credit cards and you can have your puppy tomorrow? A puppy is a 10-15+ year commitment, and the idea that all puppies are equal, that a puppy is a blank slate is unfortunately just NOT true. Puppies can inherit physical health problems, they can when imported too young or from filthy dirty puppy farms, come with diseases, some of which can kill the puppy - in rare cases they could bring in diseases like rabies that could kill YOU. Even if your puppy farmed or illegally imported puppy doesn't have a physical disease or inherited condition that costs thousands to treat or shortens their life or causes them lifelong pain... they can also have a genetic predisposition to behavioural problems such as fear, anxiety, sound phobias, aggression. These are sometimes very hard to treat, costly to treat, take a long time to treat and may not be fixable at all! More than this though, behind the scenes, each puppy bought from a horrible puppy farmer or illegal puppy importer means theres a bunch of bitches suffering in awful conditions producing these puppies. There are puppies transported around the world without vaccinations, too young to travel, dying on transports or dying after a few days in their new homes. A common scam is to import puppies under the legal age of 15 weeks, therefore below the age they can be vaccinated for diseases like rabies. Then pretend that they bred them here, and either tell the buyer that the puppies mum is away or out for a walk or has died, or even pass off another bitch as mum. Buying puppies from such sellers is not saving them, it is funding an industry that continues to exploit dogs, and paying for suffering!