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Choosing to bring a fur baby into your home is both an important decision and a big responsibility. First, you need to decide what are the goals for the dog as an adult? Do you want a working breed who demands high levels of exercise to be an agility competitor, or do you desire a couch potato to cuddle with after a busy workday? Pondering these questions will help you narrow down the breeds and size of dog that will fit your lifestyle. It’s critical to consider the activity level of the breed(s) in question and not just look at the cute face! If you told me you liked to hike and camp, I would not recommend a bulldog, as they can overheat easily and are often a low energy breed. Instead, I would recommend a more active breed like a Weimaraner or herding breed for your family. If you told me that you like to take a walk after work each day but aren’t very active outside the home, you may consider a less active breed like a Pug or Greyhound. Some people are surprised to know once adulthood hits, Greyhounds and Great Danes are typically easy keepers that will happily warm your couch while you work…even though they are BIG dogs.

The next decision is to decide if you are going to adopt a puppy from a shelter/rescue or look for a breeder. Many shelters and breed-specific rescues have purebred puppies that need forever homes. If you elect to find a breeder, I recommend finding one who is reputable. This means finding a breeder who is interested in breeding healthy dogs and is not just breeding to produce a lot of puppies for income. A reputable breeder should health screen the adults prior to breeding. Health testing for some large breeds could mean having hips, eyes, elbows, and heart evaluated by OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, prior to breeding the adults. Health testing doesn’t guarantee a healthy pet, but it can be a step in the right direction. I also recommend talking to the breeder on the phone and asking why they bred the parents, what the dogs’ personalities are like and requesting to at least meet the mother dog. In addition, ask the breeder what illnesses or diseases she’s witnessed in the lines. Anyone breeding long enough will see illness and disease and should feel comfortable telling you. Ask how many dogs they own? How many litters do they have in a year? Are the puppies raised IN the house? Can you visit their home before you take home the puppy? If the breeder breeds three or more breeds of dogs, has multiple litters available at once, and raises the litters outside, all of these things could raise flags for a puppy mill. If the breeder does not allow you to visit their home to see the puppies before the purchase date or meet the mother dog, I would move on to another breeder. In reference to puppy mills, adult dogs that are pregnant in a puppy mill experience stress during their pregnancy. Studies show that stressed moms can have stressed puppies. As a result, behavior problems are more common in puppies born from mothers experiencing stress during pregnancy. Puppy mill puppies also often lack key socialization exposures as a result of being raised in a cage and not in a home. Furthermore, puppy mills are an animal welfare concern for the adult dogs who live their entire lives in cages, are bred repeatedly well beyond the recommended breeding years, and sometimes are sent to a shelter or abandoned when they are of no use for breeding. How sad is that?!?

Whether you are picking a puppy from a breeder or rescue/shelter, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Are you prepared for a puppy? Are you ready to get up during the night for potty breaks and come home during lunch so the puppy isn’t crated for 10 hours? Standing outside in the snow, house training a puppy in January in Ohio can be miserable, but much more enjoyable when it’s warm in the summer! Do you have the time to socialize a puppy when they are 8-12 weeks old to set up for lifelong behavior success? Winter is also a tough time to socialize puppies because in Ohio many people are inside their homes. It can be easier to socialize a spring/summer puppy here because more people are outside enjoying the weather, and we have longer daylight too! Has your family decided who will be sharing responsibilities? Things like house training and socialization are best handled by the adults in the house so the puppy has consistency. It’s important for all family members to follow the same potty ritual outside to aid in house training the puppy. Also, do you have the crate, toys, food, bowls, and bedding needed? Have you considered the cost of care during the first year – wellness, spay/neuter, professional grooming expenses, heartworm and flea prevention, puppy class, canine life skill classes (aka obedience), boarding and daycare expenses? Many pet owners are shocked to find out how much grooming costs. If you aren’t prepared to have your long-haired dog professionally groomed every 3-4 months, then it would be wise to consider a short coated breed that you can bathe at home and trim nails with ease. You may also want to consider wellness plans to spread out the cost of basic annual vet care AND pet insurance to help prepare for the unexpected. Many times I see families who were prepared for food, water, and toy costs but were not prepared for wellness, sick/emergency vet visits, grooming costs or boarding/daycare expenses.
  2. Next on the list: Do you have the opportunity to meet Mom and Dad of the litter? How old are they? Most dogs are physically mature by age one but not emotionally or psychologically mature until age four. Behavior is highly inherited, so if the parents are under four years of age when bred, you will not know what your puppy’s adult behavior will be because the parents are not mature yet. If the adult dogs are hiding from you, growling, or avoiding you, this suggests the parents are fearful/aggressive and may have fearful/aggressive puppies. Ideally, the parent dogs would be happy to greet new people, have fluidy or floppy body language, and willingly seek engagement with you and your family. If you only get to meet one parent (hopefully mom), you will get to see if she is anxious, stressed or relaxed. Remember a stressful pregnancy can lead to behavior problems in puppies. For many adoption puppies, parents aren’t around for you to visit, so there is a lot unknown about the puppy’s adult potential. If the breeder has both parents but you aren’t allowed to visit them, then I would continue your breeder search, as this is a red flag. Also worth mentioning – sometimes pups are advertised as a pure breed, but if you don’t get to see the parents, you won’t know what the pups will look like as adults. I’ve had clients buy purebred puppies, not view the parents and then be disappointed when the dog does not look like they expected when fully grown.
  3. Where were the puppies raised? Ideally, the puppies (whether rescue or breeder owned) should be raised inside a home. This allows them to hear sounds/ experience smells and sights that occur on a daily basis (vacuum, hair dryer, doorbell, garage door, kids playing, etc). Hopefully, the puppy is already practicing going outside the house to potty. Many pet store dogs never get to potty on grass, so when they are purchased, they have a hard time translating to pottying outside on the grass. It’s also important to ask who’s living in the house with a puppy: children, adult men, and women? What about cats, other dogs or pets? If a puppy grows up with children in the foster home/breeder home they may adjust better to a home with kids than a puppy who’s never seen a child until adoption day.
  4. What age is the puppy? Studies have shown that during weeks 8-12, the puppy brain makes sweeping generalizations about what is safe or unsafe in the world. It is very important to either get a puppy around 8 weeks and have a month to shape their world with ‘everyday things’ in your house OR adopt them from a foster home after 12 weeks whose environment is similar to yours. If a puppy never sees children or strangers(not just the family they live with) during the 8-12 weeks of age, they may have a tougher time accepting unfamiliar people as safe lifelong. The same applies to car rides, garbage cans on wheels, tents in the backyard…We need your puppy to experience as much as possible (without being exposed to disease) during this time in order to understand what is fun/safe in the world. On the flip side, if the puppy experiences something very scary, we may have to work really hard to make that scary thing, fun/safe again. If you bring home a puppy after 12 wks, you can always teach them new tricks, but there may be barriers to making them comfortable socially with certain things/people that they haven’t experienced. Some dogs who come from hoarding situations, puppy mills, or accidental litters where the breeder didn’t have time to socialize puppies, can have a very hard time adjusting to new things or life outside the walls of a house if they never experienced it.
  5. From the puppies available, take a moment and observe the litter. Who’s running up to greet you? Who’s hiding from you? Who’s pushing the other puppies around, and who isn’t? It’s best to get a puppy who ‘plays some, sleeps, snuggles, and then plays again’ versus a puppy who’s playing constantly or in constant motion, as these can be signs of anxiety in a puppy. Ask the foster family/breeder what the personalities of the puppies are? They often spend a lot of time with the puppies and have a good idea of the personality types. If the breeder or foster parent can’t really answer these questions, you may be guessing based on what you see at that moment. Shy puppies are often shy adults, and pushy puppies may have anxiety or be socially inappropriate later in life. This is especially important to consider when you are adding a puppy to a home with another dog. You want to match personality types and not have a clash when you bring the new puppy home. Also, consider, does your family dog even want a puppy?
  6. Lastly, most puppies are physically mature by age one but aren’t emotionally/psychologically mature until age four. When you get a puppy, the behavior of the parents gives you a fair idea of what the puppy will be as an adult, IF they are four years of age or older when you meet them. If they are younger than four, the adults are not psychologically mature to tell us what the puppies will be like as adults too. If you don’t get to meet the parents, you don’t know what you are getting besides the current personality state of the puppy. This means if your puppy has any behavior concerns as a puppy, we need to start working on it as early as possible. It’s important that you tell us if you notice a new behavior as your pet matures so we can help. With puppies, we have the hope that nature(genetic) + nurture (upbringing) can offer the best possible outcome for the perfect family pet. However, if you decide you aren’t ready for a puppy and decide to add an adult dog to your home (4yr+), you have a pretty good idea of what you are getting behaviorally.

I hope you find this information about finding the perfect puppy helpful. We are here for you at Liberty Pet Hospital for all of your puppy needs. We hope you will trust us with your puppy’s care when you find the perfect new addition to your home!

Dr. Miller