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By the time puppies are seven to eight weeks old and ready to go to new homes, they will vary greatly in brain development depending on how they have been raised. This will have a profound effect on their future behaviour.
Puppies kept in isolated or barren environment with limited access to adults, children, other animals and other situations will find it very difficult to cope in a normal busy household. They are likely to be anxious and fearful which may develop into aggression and other behaviour problems later.
To avoid this, always choose a puppy that has been raised in a family home. Always insist on seeing the mother with the puppies and check on her temperament. Avoid buying puppies where the mother is absent, can’t be trusted with people around her puppies, or is aggressive. Make sure the puppies are well socialised with people, and well habituated to novel objects, smells, sounds and sights.
Ask how the puppies have been socialised (see ‘How to Socialise a Litter’ for how it should be done). Check these videos for further ideas on how to distinguish a socialised puppy from a poorly socialised puppy.
Puppies lacking in socialisation.
These nine week old Golden Retrievers were raised outside in a stable and have spent most of their time in a barren environment which is quite unlike the new pet home they will soon be expected to cope with. Although they appear healthy and happy, carefully watch their interactions with humans. Although they are attracted to them, they show no social behaviour towards them and are often afraid, flattening themselves or turning their faces away. Notice how they are happy to move away once released. The mother is absent and we were told that ‘she doesn’t tolerate her puppies any more now that they are weaned’ so we could not see her or see them together. These puppies have the potential to develop fear-based problems later in life and will have difficulties bonding with humans easily.
Well socialised puppies
These seven week old Labradors were raised in a house and have spend most of their time in the busy, enriched environment of a pet home. They have frequent access to normal family life with its attendant noises, smells and sights. Notice how sociable they are with children, adults, cats and dogs. Their environment is full of objects for them to investigate. These puppies will make ideal pets that will readily form happy friendships with people and other animals. They are likely to be relaxed and confident in most situations and will find it easy to adjust to their new lives with their new owners. In addition, because of their routine and care, they are already nearly housetrained.
Recognising a good breeder
Good breeders take care to select good parents, provide proper health care, take time to raise a litter properly and put in a lot of effort to ensure well-adjusted, healthy puppies. They rarely breed more than two or three litters a year, sometimes less than that. Finding a good breeder is not easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. You may like to begin by going to dog shows and talking to breeders and owners there about their dogs.
Dog shows are advertised in the specialist dog press or via the internet. Find out about breed clubs and ask people who run them how to find a good breeder. Usually, these people are real breed enthusiasts and will have lots of useful knowledge. Ask people who own nice dogs of your chosen breed where their dog came from and talk to their breeder.
Good breeders do not breed often and do not breed to order. They will be able to tell you when their next litter is planned so be prepared to wait – if you have chosen your breeder well, it will be worth it.
A good breeder is one who fulfils the following criteria. Be prepared to ask questions and if you cannot get satisfactory answers, look elsewhere.
A good breeder
- will be concerned about the health and temperament of the puppies (rather than breeding only to win prizes in the show ring)
- allows you to see the mother with the puppies.
- lets the puppies live in the house or have regular access.
- socialises the puppies with people and other animals and gets them used to things they will encounter when older (see videos above to tell from the puppies if they are doing all that is necessary)
- is knowledgable about dogs.
- cares about what happens to the puppies they breed.
Avoid buying a puppy from an advert in the paper or from a pet shop. Both of these can be outlets for puppy farmers who keep dogs in small cages, breed from them continuously, and often take the puppies away from the mother too early. The resulting puppies are often physically compromised, unhealthy and often show abnormal behaviour caused by the early stress. It is not possible to tell whether a puppy comes from such a place just by its appearance so it is better to avoid these outlets altogether.
Puppy farmers go to some lengths to disguise their trade. They may arrange to meet you in the car park of a pub or service station close to your home. Or they may deliver the puppy to a colleague’s home so that you see the puppies there rather than on their premises. Avoid places which keep many different breeds of puppy under the same roof. It is very likely that these puppies came from puppy farms and you may end up with problems as a result.
This is an extract from ‘Choosing the Right Dog for You’ by Gwen Bailey.