Expert Puppy Training

Stages in Locating and Buying a Puppy


The process of buying a puppy cannot be rushed, remember you are buying a 10+ year investment and commitment. You must therefore be prepared to be pro-active in ensuring that your decision will be the best to enable you to acquire a sound puppy in body and mind who will become a fantastic member of your family.

Whether your decision is to buy a pedigree or non-pedigree puppy, the same rules and safeguards apply. Never be tempted to buy on impulse.

Once you have decided what type and breed of dog you wish to share your life with, it is important to find a responsible and reputable breeder. This can be a minefield for the uninitiated. For guidance and availability, the Kennel Club web site is an excellent ‘first port of call’. Go to and you will find a puppy locator service, where litters of K.C. registered puppies are advertised some under the kennel Clubs Assured Breeder Scheme which offers a degree of safeguarding. One of the leading pet insurers, Petplan, has a similar find-a-pet scheme and details can be found on their web site,
Local vets are also a good source of information as they will usually have knowledge of the medical history of the bitch, although probably not of the stud dog used. Many bitches travel long distances to be served by a good example of the breed and it is not unknown for bitches to travel abroad or even be artificially inseminated with a blood line located in another country.

Once you have located a possible breeder it is a good idea to before contacting them by telephone , to write a list of questions you wish to ask. As a breeder I prefer to speak to people over the phone rather than via email , as it gives me the opportunity to suss the people out on a more personal level, although I am happy to send pictures via email once I have spoken to a potential owner.

In your discussions with the breeder, ask what age they allow a puppy to leave for its new home the optimal age is between 6-8 weeks, alarm bells should ring if they allow puppies to leave sooner- walk away the pup will have been deprived from vital interaction and learning experiences from its mother and litter mates .Ask whether a puppy purchase contract exists and if so, what are the terms? Will the puppy be insured? Most breeders can take advantage of limited period free puppy insurance, offered by a number of the major pet insurance companies. It is usual for breeders to worm pups at 2 weeks, 5 weeks and 7 weeks. Has this been done? Many vets offer a 1st vaccination at 8 weeks of age and also provide a pre-sale health check. Are these included within the sale price?

In addition to preparing and asking questions yourself, be prepared for the breeder to be diligent and to ask you equally probing questions. A reputable breeder will want to ensure that their puppies, carefully and lovingly reared, will go to good homes. Do not be offended if you are interrogated but view this as a positive sign that you are negotiating with a responsible breeder.

Be prepared to wait the chances of a breeder having a litter available is pretty slim but by speaking to them you can ask to be added to their waiting list.

Always make an appointment to view the puppies in their own environment where they have been born. Never purchase a puppy delivered unseen or exchanged at a motorway service station. If you are not prepared to make the effort to travel a distance to view a puppy, you should not be considering buying it in the first place.

It is essential to see the mother. You will be able to assess from her physical appearance, whether she is healthy and from your research, you will be able to tell whether she is a good physical example of her breed. Do however be aware that rearing a litter of pups puts a strain on any animal and this may be reflected in the appearance of the bitch’s coat and it is quite common for a bitch to lose some coat.  However, if the coat is dirty, tangled, matted or unkempt, there is no excuse for this and it is an indication that the breeder has not given her essential care and maybe this lack of care could have been extended to the rearing of the puppy.

It is vital that the bitch is friendly and confident. A nervous bitch may have a genetic weakness which could have been inherited by her puppies. Even if this does not apply and it is learned behaviour due to her own early life experiences, the puppies will copy her behaviour and mature into nervous adults. Occasionally it will be possible to meet the father. If so, the same rules apply. However, for reasons already stated, don’t be alarmed if he is not available.

First impressions count – are the puppies kept in a clean and tidy environment or has the breeder brought them into the front room to be viewed? Avoid at all costs, puppies reared in the factory-like conditions of a puppy farm, where they are seen as a commercial commodity and certainly have not been socialised, don’t purchase a puppy because you feel sorry for it you will only be encouraging this cruel trade. These breeders have become quite clever at disposing of these puppies as home-bred. Indicators are:

  • Are all the puppies, supposedly of one litter, a uniform size? Or are some more developmentally advanced than others?
  • Consider the colouring of the bitch and dog. Would it be genetically possible for her to have given birth to all the variations of colour seen in the litter?
  • What about the size of the litter? Is this the average number for the breed?
  • Does the bitch display appropriate maternal instincts to all the puppies?

All things being equal and with the bitch, breeder and home having passed your stringent scrutiny, it is time to turn your attention to the puppies themselves. Of course, all puppies are adorable bundles of fur & fluff. However it is essential you examine the puppies using the same strict criteria used when judging the home and bitch. Attention to detail must be at the forefront of your mind, although it may be difficult, try to adopt an objective approach using all your senses, sight, sound, touch and smell. Healthy puppies have bright eyes, clean ears and are free of discharge from eyes or nose. Look for tell-tale tear stains on facial fur. The coat should look and smell clean. Use your forefinger to brush the coat backwards against the natural lie of the fur. This should reveal clean skin, free of any redness or signs of irritation. Nor would you want to see any black specks, indicative of flea infestation. Open the puppy’s mouth. Are the gums pink and healthy looking? Check that the puppy has the full compliment of milk teeth. Are there any signs of the puppy suffering from diarrhoea?

Smell the puppy’s breath – a bad odour might indicate digestive problems. Also smell inside the ears. If there is a musty smell this could indicate ear mites, often invisible to the naked eye. These are frequently present in puppies who have been reared alongside cats, which are the host animal and usually display no symptoms of infestation themselves.

If the puppies look pot-bellied, this may indicate that they have a heavy worm infestation. Do investigate this with the breeder and if the regular worming has been undertaken, then the possibility is that the puppies are suffering from a genetic condition. Err on the side of caution and resist the temptation to purchase from this source.

Are the puppies confident, friendly and outgoing? Do they wake up when you enter the room and are they alert, active and inquisitive? As you watch the puppies together, note how they play. Is one dominant, is one shy or submissive? When play-fighting, does one seem to be over aggressive towards its litter mates, failing to back off when its brother/sister yelps or rolls over? Such a puppy might be too sharp to settle in as a family pet with small children.

So, you are happy that all is well and that you want to purchase your pet from this litter. How do you go about choosing the one for you? To start with view the puppies as a litter then narrow the choice down. This can been done by asking the breeder to separate pups that have already been reserved and then separating those available by sex. The breeder will be able to guide you listen to their advice and take note as its important to choose a puppy with a temperament which suits you best. Assess the pups carefully, the final decision is yours – remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

This is the time when it is permitted to be subjective, allowing your sub-conscious mind to take over and go with your gut-feeling. An embryonic bond is now beginning to form and shared empathy starts to establish itself. Sometimes there will be no obvious, logical reason why you are drawn to an individual puppy. You just know that that’s the one for you. A lot is down to the dog’s air or demeanour. A Cavalier King Charles puppy was once described as “having the look of eagles”. That puppy grew up to stand out from the crowd.

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Sue Williams

Sue has vast experience gained from working with both dogs and other animals over the last 20 years.

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