They’re cute and cuddly, but choosing a puppy that suits your needs can be a hugely difficult decision. To make the task a little easier Kate Garside, a breeder of cockerpoos, in Norfolk, shares her words of wisdom…
Well, the first thing to say is there is no such thing as a perfect puppy. If you try to find one, you will just be setting yourself up for disappointment. Be under no illusion, puppies are hard work, and require a lot of time, patience and effort on your part to turn them into well behaved, sociable, obedient good mannered dogs. Having said that there are lots of things you can do to ensure that your puppy has the best possible start in life and the best chance of being as close to that ‘perfect puppy’ you so desire.
Pick the right breed for your circumstances
The first and probably the most important thing is to select the right breed or cross breed. Read up about the different breeds online and in books. The library is a great source with lots of books on dog breeds and puppies. If you have children let them get involved. It will encourage them to read. There is a huge variation in breed size and temperaments and how much exercise each breed requires.
All dogs love to go for a walk but some dogs, such as Weimaraners and most gun dogs and working dogs, need a long walk at the start of every day, whatever the weather, and another one in the evening. When our Weimaraner Toby was a puppy we had to walk him three times a day, just so we could live with him. Otherwise, he hared around the house like a lunatic banging into the children and furniture and drove us bonkers.
Walking a large active dog is a big time commitment, so if this is not for you, then you need to make sure that you pick a less active breed. On the other hand, if you are a very active family who likes to walk, run and cycle then a lap dog or toy dog may not be for you as they do not need or want this much exercise.
All dogs need mental stimulation but some need it more than others. Working breeds like Collies and gun dogs including Spaniels and Weimaraners do not like to be left for long hours alone with nothing to do. Dogs are not naturally solitary animals and they feel stressed when you are away from them. This separation anxiety is stronger in some breeds than others so if you have to be out of the house for long periods each day and leave your dog alone you need to think carefully about which breed will cope best with this and consider using doggie daycare or a dog walker to come in to play with or walk your dog.
Do your research
Once you have decided on a breed, talk to dog owners at every opportunity and ask them what their dogs are like to live with and how much exercise and training they require, and crucially what they were like as puppies.
Go to local dog shows and talk to the breeders and competitors and meet their dogs. Most dog owners (me included) are happy to talk endlessly about their dogs including their good and bad points. You may come to realise that the breed you have chosen is not right for you, or it may be that you fall in love with the breed, but at least you will be prepared for what lies in store.
Choose your breeder carefully
Puppies are big business currently in the UK with many going for between £850 and £1,200 depending on the breed. This means we have seen the emergence of puppy farms, where multiple breeding bitches are kept permanently in pup, and run like a production line. Sometimes puppies are brought in from Ireland or abroad and sold on through these farms. Often the puppies have been separated from their mothers too young. This is not good for the bitches or the puppies and you should avoid buying from them.
A puppy’s early environment is crucial to its development
For the fi rst 3-4 weeks a puppy is in the nest with its mum. After that age they start to explore their environment, play with their littermates, meet more people and this is a crucial period of development for them. Puppies on puppy farms rarely get enough social interactions and experiences outside of their litter. Pick a breeder where you can visit and see that the puppies have been well socialised, ideally raised in the home (although that is not always possible with the bigger breeds) and that they have had lots of love and attention from humans.
You should be able to meet mum, and ideally dad, and see that they are happy well socialised dogs. Your dog’s temperament is very important and so it is good to meet the parents.
Be prepared to walk away
If when you visit the puppy you feel everything is not as it should be with the breeder or if the puppies or bitch seem withdrawn and nervous then be prepared to walk away. I know it is hard to do but it will save you a lot of heartache and extra work in the long run.
The puppies are all gorgeous, how do I choose one?
This is a very common experience particularly if you have the pick of litter or are one of the fi rst people to visit the puppies. Choosing can be very tricky and there are no hard and fast rules. Some people let the puppy choose them, although this is usually the most outgoing or adventurous puppy, and may not be the best fi t. My tip would be to ask the breeder about the puppies different temperaments. We have reared two litters of Toy Black and White Cockerpoo puppies and the personalities have been obvious from a very early age.
A good breeder will know the puppies personalities intimately by 6-8 weeks and be able to advise you. Most puppies are probably picked by looks, but this is often a mistake as the personality of the puppy is a big factor.
A highly intelligent, lively, outgoing and very confident puppy is going to need lots of training and stimulation or it may get bored easily and quickly and develop bad habits, so it is best in a household where it is going to get plenty of activities. A quieter more placid puppy may struggle in a very noisy and busy household but may be perfect for a retired couple.
The safest option for many is to pick from the middle of the litter. The easiest option, in my opinion, is when you have the last puppy in the litter and simply have to decide yes or no. The last puppy in a litter is often the quietest most placid puppy and in our experience usually makes a very easy going dog. Winston, our oldest dog (a poodle cross), was the last one left in his litter, and he has been a wonderful dog. Remember the quieter puppy does not sell itself as well as its more boisterous littermates but it might be the right dog for you.
We can’t choose, so we’ll have two, please
A final word of warning: it’s very easy to get carried away when you see a gorgeous litter of puppies and think I’ll have two or even three. Although it’s nice for the puppy to have company, this is rarely a good idea unless you are a very experienced dog handler or trainer and have lots of time to devote to training them.
The puppies are very bonded onto each other and this can interfere with the bonding to you. Although your puppy will miss its littermates, it will quickly get over this, and you will become its new pack. Training a puppy takes time and patience, and this is much easier with just one puppy at a time. If you really want two puppies then get them from different litters, and ideally leave a gap, so you can get the first one settled in and the training started.
Kate lives in North Norfolk and is owner of a super dog-friendly holiday cottage rental in Blakeney. Book your break at www.blakeney-cottage.co.uk | www.facebook.com/blakeneycottage/
See Kate’s puppies at www.facebook.com/CockapooPuppiesNorfolk