Puppy shopping 101

puppy shopping questions

You’ve made your lists and checked them twice; you’ve talked to owners, read magazines and watched TV shows, and now you’ve made the decision to get yourself a puppy. Congratulations! You’ve taken the first steps towards establishing a relationship that will bring years of pleasure, joy and happiness to both parties. You want to be sure you do it right, but you have questions – and lots of them! Where do you start?

Q: “I really love dogs, but I have a full-time job and busy lifestyle. How much time does a puppy need?”

A: Whether it’s a Chihuahua or Mastiff, all dogs need care and attention, and puppies even more so. Housebreaking, exercise, obedience training, playtime and socializing…the list is long and time-consuming.

It isn’t right to leave a young animal unattended for hours at a time, day in and out. Baby pups need regular handling and contact with other species, both two-legged and four. They can (and do!) get into all manner of trouble if left to their own devices, and the consequences can be catastrophic. If you’re determined to make it work no matter what, consider your options. Do you have a job that allows pets on-site? Are you able to work from home, or have the option to rearrange shifts? Perhaps hiring a dog walker or enrolling in a puppy “pre-school” is the answer, and don’t ignore friends or family who would love to lend a hand.

Q: “I have to go on a waiting list for a puppy; is this normal?”

A: Chances are the very best breeders will have waiting lists; how long those stretch depend on a myriad of factors. If you can’t live without a less-common variety with a history for whelping low-number litters, you could be in for a dry spell. At that point it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re willing to stay the course. It’s not unusual or unfair
for a breeder to ask for a deposit up front – this guarantees your ‘place in line’, and indicates a commitment on your part. Should you have to wait, don’t think of it as a setback; look at it as a positive opportunity to get to know your breeder, and to better familiarize yourself with the breed you’ve chosen.

Q: “I want my puppy to be the best. Shouldn’t I be asking for the “pick of the litter?”

A: Some prospective owners don’t want to settle for anything less than the “pick of the litter” but they aren’t exactly sure what they’re asking for and are subsequently offended when they get turned down. The goal of many breeders is to produce “The One” – that special dog who will bring home top awards in a chosen discipline, and then hopefully
go on to great things in the whelping box. It can take years – sometimes decades – to bring that prefect combination of beauty, health and brains together, and understandably
most breeders will want to keep that puppy for themselves.

Should you find yourself being offered a “pet” puppy, don’t think of it as being a put-down or insult, either to you or the dog. Many show standards list a number of disqualifications that are strictly cosmetic, aimed solely at describing the perfect individual. So while a blue-eyed Samoyed or oversized Shetland Sheepdog can’t have a career as a runway star, it won’t stand in the way of him being a winner in your family.

Q: “Do I really need registration papers for my dog? Why are they so important?”

A: Registration papers are like a birth certificate – they tell you who your dog is, who his parents are and where he comes from. Whether it’s issued by the CKC or another registering body, your certified pedigree gives you everything you might want to know about your puppy and his family tree. Many countries also indicate various health clearances and titles acquired by your dog’s forebears. However, be aware of different companies who claim to register cross-breds, hybrids or “designer” dog’s under the guise of producing “rare” or exclusive varieties, and remember in Canada it is against the law to charge more for a dog with papers than without.

Q: “Why are purebred dogs so costly?”

A: Chances are, when you made that decision to buy a dog, you did so with a certain “look” in mind. That’s one of the best things about buying a purebred; the puppy you so
carefully researched will grow up looking like the one you fell in love with. Trying to maintain the perfect mental and physical “breed type” isn’t easy, and sometimes breeder
costs reflect this.

In general, the price of a purebred puppy can run anywhere from $500 to $2,500. It seems like a lot – and it is – but in general this is a bargain. The costs of putting a well-planned litter on the ground can be substantial, starting with health clearances on both parents, stud fees, transport costs if the breeding is to be done away from home, and pre-and-post natal care and feeding. When you factor in kennel club registrations – it all adds up faster than you can say “housebroken”. Of course, this assumes everything goes as planned, and the dam and pups are healthy. If the vet must perform a C-section, or the breeding doesn’t “take” and must be repeated, then any hoped for profits become wishful thinking.
The fact is, at the end of the day a breeder’s bank account is rarely in the black, but the pride gained from placing sturdy, healthy representatives of the breeds we love into responsible and caring homes is enormous.

Q: “I don’t want just any dog; would a more rare breed fit my lifestyle?”

A: Researching, locating and obtaining an uncommon breed brings its own set of challenges and rewards, but those who take the extra time and trouble are seldom disappointed. It pays, though, to take a hard look at the work ethic and current usage of these “outside the box” canines. Many are hard to find because their fanciers want to keep them that way. It’s not elitism; in most cases this stems from a desire to protect the breed’s heritage and not have them changed to fit the whims of today’s society. Do your homework, and look for breeds that have a long-time association working closely with their owners; if you fancy sporting dogs, you might choose a Barbet, Spanish Water Dog or Lagotto Romagnolo. Herding types can look to the Norwegian Buhund and Swedish Vallhund; hound lovers may decide on a Norrbottenspets or Drever. With a little planning, “rare” doesn’t have to mean “incompatible”!

Q: “What happens if I can’t keep the dog?”

A: In a perfect world all dogs would live long, happy lives and pass away peacefully in their forever homes. Sadly, life doesn’t always turn out that way. Divorce, death, job transfers, changes in housing, relationship upheavals – these are just some of the many heartbreaking reasons people give up dogs. This is where a solid relationship with your breeder will really pay off. For breeders, the thought of their puppies ending up abandoned, sold, given away or in a shelter is the stuff of nightmares. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for assistance; most sales contracts will have at least one clause written in for the purpose of addressing this very circumstance. A great breeder doesn’t turn his or her back on you when you walk out the door; their responsibility to the animals they bring into this world lasts a lifetime, and they’ll be your first line of defence should you need help.

Breeding Jargon

If you think dog breeding has its own language – you’re right! Here are a few tips and definitions to help you understand the technical in’s and out’s of dog breeding jargon.


Refers to a breed with a higher chance of developing a specific health issue due to pre-existing characteristics – e.g. dermatitis in the skin folds of a Neapolitan Mastiff or Bulldog. But remember, being pre-disposed to a condition does not guarantee the animal will develop it.


This is a condition that exists at birth, but wasn’t inherited. Any number of factors can be responsible; sometimes it’s just a case of luck of the draw.


From the word “genesis”, for “beginning”. Specifically refers to afflictions passed down through the genes of one or both parents.


This term applies to conditions in related individuals where no pre-existing genetic explanation has been found.


One step along from familial disease. This explains why related individuals in a particular bloodline or “family” have demonstrated a higher-than-breed-average chance of developing a certain condition.


Refers to a dog in the sense of his genetic composition.


Refers to the collective appearance of an organism (in our case, a dog) based on physical and psychological traits.


Canine Eye Registry Foundation. CERF tracks and records ocular diseases in dogs, and maintains databanks on known conditions and pre-dispositions. Dogs may be given their first exam at eight weeks of age, and receive a certification that describes their phenotypical evaluation. See www.vmdb.org/cerf.html


Orthopedic Foundation For Animals. OFA tracks and records information pertaining to genetic and orthopedic diseases. Most commonly referred to in the dog world for issues related to hip and elbow dysplasia. See www.offa.org.


The University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program. A method for determining hip joint laxity, which can then be used to predict the likelihood of an individual developing hip dysplasia. This method can only be performed by veterinarians who are specially trained
in the procedure; PennHIP also maintains breed specific databases. See www.pennhip.org.