So you've decided you want a puppy - and a particular breed has taken your fancy.
The 'pedigree' of a dog's breeding refers to the veracity of its ancestry, going back five or more generations. In the UK, The Kennel Club manages the registration of purebred puppies and their breeding line, and for a dog to be considered a 'true' pedigree, they must be registered as such.
The 'quality' of a dog in terms of it's conformity to the breed standards can vary greatly in pedigree puppies, and even between puppies from the same litter. You will need to decide what is important to you, and exactly what you want from your pet. If you have set your sights on owning a potential future Crufts champion, you may spend years on the hunt for just the right puppy and lineage. If you just want a healthy, happy dog with all of the traits and good looks of a particular breed, your task should be somewhat easier.
First of all, how do you begin the search for your perfect puppy? Online classifieds such as Pets4Homes pet classifieds are a great start, as are breeder registration lists, special interest magazines, dog shows and word of mouth.
High profile breeders such as those with a line of successful show dogs, or those who keep unusual breeds of dog will often have a waiting list for puppies, so you may need to register your interest in their dogs months or even years in advance.
When you have found a breeder or breeders with a litter available for viewing, comes the best part of the whole process- visiting a litter of adorable roly-poly puppies!
If at all possible, try to visit more than one breeder and don't commit to placing a deposit on a particular puppy until you have done so. Depending on where you live and the breed you have set your heart on, you may need to travel a fair distance to do this, so be prepared to put in the mileage! It is perfectly acceptable to make two visits to a given litter in order to be sure that you are making the right choice. Professional, caring breeders understand this, and will be glad that you are taking the selection process seriously and giving it a significant amount of thought.
No responsible breeder will wean and home a puppy until they are at least 12 weeks old, so initial viewings are usually arranged during the first three months of the puppy's lives. That way, the new homes are all arranged by the time the puppy becomes old enough to go out into the world without their mother.
You should make arrangements to visit the litter at the breeder's home or kennels, while they are still with the mother and littermates. This gives you a chance to see how they get on with each other, how their individual personalities are forming, and the temperament of the adult dogs.
It can be incredibly easy to let one (or all!) of the puppies in front of you steal your heart at this stage, so have a clear idea in your head before you set out of the questions you want to ask and the things you want to look out for.
Make sure that the bitch and her puppies (and any other dogs that may be on the premises) are kept in clean and comfortable surroundings and have everything they need. All of the dogs should be alert, healthy looking and interested in you and what is going on around them.
Some breeders will also own the sire (the dog which fathered the puppies) and you should meet him too if possible. If the breeder sent the bitch to stud, there should be some information on the sire available, alongside the certification for the dam (mother dog.)
Find out if the puppies will have received the first stage of their vaccinations at the time that you would take ownership, and that the paperwork is all in order for it. Find out if they are microchipped (this is often left to the new owner, in order that the puppy can be registered with the correct details) and check on what flea and worming treatment is used.
Ask to see the Kennel Club pedigree paperwork of the puppies, and compare this with the information shown on the paperwork for the sire and dam (which should also be available for inspection) to make sure that everything is in order.
Find out if there are any terms and conditions of the sale, such as whether or not you may breed from your puppy, should you wish to. There is often a premium payable for pedigree puppies bought without an agreed caveat to have them neutered. Make sure that any agreements are all laid out clearly for both parties in the purchase receipt.
Some breeds are more prone than the majority of dogs to certain health problems- such as hip dysplasia in Labradors. Find out if there are any known health issues running in your potential puppy's breeding line, and consider seeking advice from a specialist veterinary surgeon who may recommend diagnostic testing such as hip scores and a health certification before you commit to buy.
Be prepared for any breeder you contact to want to ask you as many questions as you ask them- responsible, caring breeders are true dog lovers, and take a vested interest in the welfare of the puppies they breed, both before and after sale.
Never buy a pedigree puppy from a breeder or home where you have any doubts as to the condition or temperament of the dogs or the trustworthiness of the seller.
Do not consider buying your puppy from a pet shop or puppy farm. Not only are the conditions there not optimum for you to be able to make an informed decision based on the background of the animals and their condition, but the welfare of the animals may not be the seller's number one priority. Do not support unethical and possibly unsafe breeding practices. Continuing the blood line of a breed and promoting their ongoing health and welfare in the long term is not big business- it is a labour of love.