IT’S INCREDIBLY EASY TO FALL IN LOVE WITH that warm little creature snuggling in your arms and licking your fingers. Puppies are made to cuddle. They’re programmed to convince you that you will be the sole recipient of their unconditional love forever. They’re irresistible. They crawl onto your lap and steal your heart. And then one day you realize the puppy trying to crawl onto your lap weighs 55 pounds. She’s not a puppy anymore. She’s a dog. And she’ll be a dog for the rest of her life. This is when you begin to learn she’s truly the right dog for you and you made the perfect choice. Or not. A lot depends on whether or not you did your homework before you brought that precious puppy into your life.
DO research breed traits
In 2010, England’s Kennel Club conducted a survey to find out how people chose their dogs. A disturbing 45 per cent admitted they did no research at all regarding their chosen breed’s temperament, traits, health concerns or history. Nothing! And yet, that’s one of the real advantages of purebred dogs. They’re predictable. For generations, they’ve been bred for certain qualities. It’s positively simple to find a ream of information on a breed.
For example, terriers dig. They were bred to be feisty little characters that would fearlessly excavate their way into the dens and hidey-holes of all manner of vermin. So a terrier might be a perfect fit for someone who wants a pet that rejoices in ridding the stable of mice, but not so great for a person who basks in the beauty of their well-tended garden.
Breeds are grouped according to function
The Canadian Kennel Club has simplified things for potential dog owners by dividing the recognized breeds into groups according to their original purposes. The Terrier Group is for breeds that hunt vermin. Then there’s the Herding Group for energetic, intelligent breeds whose primary function was moving livestock. The Working Group encompasses strong, loyal breeds used for guarding, pulling sleds or carts, or for rescue work. A variety of setters, pointers, retrievers and spaniels make up the Sporting Group for dogs with stamina to spare utilized in hunting birds. The Hound Group is comprised of dogs used to pursue four-legged game by sight or scent. The sighthounds are usually swift, long-limbed dogs that run down game, while scent hounds follow their noses to locate the quarry. The Toy Group is a collection of small lap dogs meant to be loved, pampered and treasured companions. Some of the Toys are miniature versions of larger breeds. Though the Toy designation may sound like these cunning canines are meant for children, that’s not the case. Many are too small and fragile to be pets for active kids. Finally, there’s the Non-Sporting Group, composed of breeds that didn’t seem to fit into any of the other six groups, though each was bred for a particular purpose.
DON’T choose a breed based on looks alone
If you like the looks of a breed, that’s okay, but don’t let it be the only reason for choosing a breed. Personality and temperament are more important than looks. The English survey mentioned earlier found 60 per cent of those questioned revealed appearance was the prime reason for their selection. But what price appearance? It may take many hours of grooming for some breeds to look as handsome as they do in photos or the show ring. Are you up for snipping, stripping or clipping your dog to maintain the look you love? Other breeds may require only a weekly brushing, but even hairless breeds need skin care.
Why do I want a dog? A companion, a guardian or perhaps to take part in dog sports. Fine. Remember, dogs are not fashion accessories or fads.
How much time can I devote to a dog? Training, grooming, walks and feeding all take time.
Can I afford a dog? It’s not just the purchase price, but the cost of food, veterinary care, equipment (leashes, dishes, beds), training classes, etc.
Who will be responsible for its care, feeding and training?
No matter what the children promise, the work usually falls to an adult.
Are there any health concerns in the family? Is there someone with allergies? Find out before you bring that pup home.
Are there any major changes coming up in the near future? A new job? A move? A baby? If there’s an upheaval imminent, don’t introduce a pup to the house until things have settled down again.
Can my home accommodate a dog? Is it filled with priceless ornaments or expensive antique furniture? Is there a fenced yard? If not, are you willing to take the dog for regular walks?
What are my interests and hobbies? Do you enjoy hiking, kayaking, skiing or would you rather curl up in a comfortable chair with a good book? Decide on a breed whose energy level and interests mirror your own.
Do learn as much as possible about the breeds that interest you
If you’ve been honest with yourself and truly believe a dog would be a welcome addition to your home, then it’s time to decide on the breed. Knowing about the groups should get you started in the right direction. Check out the breeds and study their descriptions in the Directory of Breeders. Look at breed books and breed club websites to delve more deeply into the breeds that interest you.
DO know the signs of a good breeder
When you’ve settled on a breed, the next step is to find a good breeder. You can recognize one by the following criteria. A good breeder:
• Has been breeding for several years.
• Belongs to a breed club.
• Runs all necessary health checks and tests on the dogs she uses for breeding.
• Knows all about the breed and is happy to tell you everything you want to know… and more.
• Will tell you if this is not the right breed for you.
• Will ask all about you, your family, lifestyle, if you’ve had dogs before and all about them.
• Probably shows her dogs or participates in obedience, agility or other performance activities.
• Is happy to have you meet the puppies’ dam and all the other relatives on the premises.
• Raises the pups in her home where they will be well socialized.
• Is more interested in finding the best home for her pups than in making enough to pay off the mortgage.
• Wants to know what plans you have for the pup so she can help you pick the best one for your requirements.
• Will probably ask for references.
• Will offer a guarantee of health.
• Will stay in touch after you buy a pup and will be available to answer questions.
• Will provide a certificate of health issued by a veterinarian for your pup.
• Will dispense breed information, write out the pup’s schedule, and let you know what food the pup has been fed as well as how much and how often, give you a record of shots and wormings, and furnish hints on housetraining and basic obedience.
• Will probably shed a tear or two when she hands you the pup and tells it goodbye.
DON’T fall for clever marketing
Steer clear of so-called “designer” breeds such as puggles, yorkie-poos or goldendoodles. They’re not breeds but crossbreds. By giving them names, the breeders feel entitled to charge big bucks for these mixed breeds. And discount any comments that “The CKC is going to recognize them shortly.” It isn’t going to happen. Nor is there any truth to claims of hybrid vigour. If a mixed-breed dog is your preference, visit your local animal shelter.
DO know your rights about the puppy’s “papers”
In Canada, registration papers belong to the dog, not the breeder. It is illegal to sell a dog as purebred without a registration certificate. It’s also illegal to charge extra for the registration certificate. If a seller offers either alternative, just say “Thanks, but no thanks.”
By Alice Bixler | Photo courtesy of Kate Walker and Ty Gailits