Making the decision to get a new puppy for yourself or your family is a big decision, and it should be a positive experience for all involved. Deciding on what you want from your dog, the breed or type that's best for you, and finally, going to visit some litters is an enjoyable time and something to look forward to- but the overall experience can be rather overwhelming. You've probably already done a lot of research and are finding out everything you can in order to prepare yourself to make an informed choice, but the sum total of the knowledge you are building up can all go out of the window in a hurry when you have a litter of cute, engaging roly poly little dogs in front of you! Remember to consider the following points once you get to the selection stage, in order to ensure that you do everything you can to come home with a happy, healthy new four legged addition to the family-and don't inadvertently set yourself up for any health problems or difficulties further down the line that could have been avoided.
The first thing to consider once you have decided upon the breed or type of puppy you wish to get, is if their breed or type is known to be more prone to any conditions or problems that you should be on the lookout for. Read up on any known health issues for the breed or type you have in mind, so that you can make an informed decision and possibly consider if you would like to have a veterinary health check or testing done for genetic predisposition to conditions such as hip dysplasia or other issues that have a high occurrence rate in certain breeds. Find out if you will be able to get your new puppy insured without any problems- are the premiums for one breed particularly high compared to other dogs? What might be the reasoning behind this?
The healthy puppy should have a moist but not runny nose with no discharge; clear, bright eyes which follow what is going on around him; a clean muzzle; a glossy, healthy coat; and no signs of diarrhoea or muck and discharge from around the back end. The puppy should be generally bright and alert, unafraid of people, and fairly rotund and with a healthy amount of 'puppy fat' for their age.
Any puppy which appears to have a cold, runny nose or mucky eyes should be avoided. He may have a simple infection which will clear up and nothing more- should this be the case, you might want to stay in touch with the owner or breeder until such a time as the puppy is in full health, and have a vet verify this accordingly. A dull coat, general listlessness, fear of people or any unusual behaviour may be indicative of current or future problems which you will want to avoid.
Checking that a puppy's hearing is up to scratch is simple enough- see if they react to the sound of your voice, clapping, and noises within the household. Try to separate the puppy which you are considering from his littermates to do this, as there will be less stimulation around which might distract him, and also as a deaf puppy may mimic the movements of his littermates if they turn to look in the direction of a noise when in fact he did not hear it himself. White coated dogs with either one or both eyes blue are sometimes deaf in one or both ears, so pay particular attention to their hearing and reactions if you are considering a dog of this colour. To ensure your puppy's eyesight is good, watch how he reacts to light, movement and how he moves around. Puppies are of course going to roll about and play and be silly, but he should be able to navigate any obstacles within his environment without a problem providing he doesn't have any problems with his vision.
You'll want to see any puppies which you are considering with the parents and the rest of the litter if at all possible. If the bitch isn't available for viewing, find out why- this may be a warning sign. Are the dam (and sire, if he is present) friendly, alert and happy, or are they wary, watchful and on edge? All of the puppies present should appear to be happy, interested in their environment and well, with no signs of ill health. The environment they are kept in should be clean, comfortable and suitable for all of their needs. A breeder or owner who does not keep their dogs in an optimal living environment may not be particularly fussy about other issues either, and you could be setting yourself up for potential problems if things do not seem right within the home or kennels.
Puppies should not be fully weaned and ready to go out into the world on their own until they are twelve weeks old- by which time they should have received a course of wormers, and the first stage of their essential vaccinations. Check that this is the case, and that the owner or breeder is able to give you the appropriate paperwork for your records.
If this is your first dog, you are buying a pure breed, or want to be sure of any hereditary health problems or genetic traits your dog may have inherited, you might want to consider having a veterinary surgeon perform a basic health check and possible testing for any underlying conditions on any puppy you are considering taking home. This will normally be at your own expense and not that of the breeder or owner- but no trustworthy breeder or owner will refuse you permission to do this- if they do, then move on.
If you come across a sick puppy, it can be extremely hard to suppress the instinct that tells you to look after it. Some puppies are not 'perfect' and of course they do get sick from time to time, and the responsible owner or breeder will be aware of this and have provision to take care of the puppy until such a time as they are healthy and ready to go, or for the duration of it's life in some cases. If you suspect that the breeder or seller of a litter does not have the best interests of the dogs at heart, and the animals are unhappy, frightened or not well, the urge to 'rescue' one or more puppies by buying them can be almost overwhelming. It is always incredibly hard to walk away, but remember that by buying a puppy from that environment, you are not only opening yourself up to a host of potential future problems, but supporting the ongoing trade and profit in breeding dogs in an unsatisfactory environment. If you have any concerns about the health or welfare of any dog, do not come away with a puppy, but instead contact the RSPCA or another animal welfare group and discuss your concerns with them. The only way to put a stop to unscrupulous breeding practices is by caring dog lovers speaking out against them- perhaps the most important thing to remember when choosing your new puppy is 'if you have any concerns, walk away.'
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