Thinking about getting a dog?

I love dogs. Goes without saying really seeing as I’ve written three books on the life I share with mine, as well as maintaining this website, my Twitter and Facebook accounts, so yes, it’s more than obvious that I love dogs. I’m like millions of other perfectly normal people and it’s only natural that we want to share our homes and lives with our canine companions, but it can be so difficult to know how to find and buy dogs these days. It’s a cliché, but a true one, it’s a minefield. Puppy farming, backyard breeders, online advertising, sly duplicitous puppy dealers, all make it a terrible maze to find our way through.

The simple answer to avoid supporting in any way the cruelties within the puppy industry is to adopt one from a rescue shelter. They are full of perfectly healthy, homeless dogs, the vast majority are not damaged, not problematic, they simply lack a home. If no-one buys any puppies, the unscrupulus involved in the puppy trade won’t have a market. But, this is too simplistic an answer in my view and whilst I wholeheartedly advocate adopting rescues, I do recognise that not everyone is going to be able, or willing to go down that route. But, more can consider it if we encourage them to do so. Older dogs are often more suited to people’s lives than puppies.

But, puppy buying is going to continue. For one thing, people like particular breeds of dogs – I love schnauzers – and whilst there are many perfectly healthy breeds of dogs in rescues, for some people, a puppy is the only option that they will take. I’d be a hypocrite if I objected to this, seeing as I’ve bought two puppies during my lifetime and rescued three dogs. Without Renae being the fabulous sister that she is to her damaged siblings, they wouldn’t be living the happy lives they do these days; so puppy buying has a place in our world, alongside rescue and adoption in my opinion.

It isn’t not going to happen, so what we need to focus on, is ensuring that the puppies that are bred and bought, are from healthy, loving home breeding environments. It may be idealistic of me to hope that puppy breeding will one day only happen where the single motivation of the breeder is to ensure continuity of a supremely healthy breed of dog that they love, and do it on a small, intimate scale, not for commercial gain. I can have my ideals and dream, allow me this, for I live with the current reality in the form of my adopted ex-breeding dogs every single day.

So, to find a puppy from a good, responsible breeder is key. They do exist. It’s a question of finding them amongst the far more numerous shoddy, and irresponsible, ignorant and money-driven breeders, downright cruel puppy farmers and devious dealers that sadly also exist ready to dupe the puppy buying public.

When I was more naive and less knowledgeable about the puppy trade than I am these days, I used to direct people to the Kennel Club, in the UK, once they’d brought in their Assured Breeders Scheme, which they say, aims to improve the standard of breeding. You can read more information here. But, the scheme has failed to live up to the promises, terrible, volume-breeders have been on the scheme and only removed when investigators pushed the KC to do so – the KC should not have to rely on others to police their scheme. The other real issue when people head to the KC as a source for breeders, is that they have their other registration scheme, which they make no claims about in terms of it being any kind of assurance, it’s a register of litters, nothing more. Oh, as well as a source of registration fees for the KC. And it’s well known puppy farmers register on this scheme.

People need to be aware that KC papers, are meaningless by themselves. Puppy farmers can and do and have for a very long time, registered litters with the KC, and sold puppies with those papers, or sold on to dealers. The KC could scrap their scheme, they could end this ‘marketing tool’ for the puppy sellers, but they won’t. It brings in money to the KC. Which is a commercial business, not a welfare organisation.

I’d love to be able to recommend the KC as a source for puppy buyers, but I cannot, and will not until they tidy up their act. If they ever will.

I do send people to the RSPCA website and tell them to read up on what getting a puppy involves. The RSPCA have their Puppy Contract which is worth having a read of and understanding what you should be doing and expecting.

Finding a puppy on a website is the modern equivalent for many, of finding one in a pet shop. Pet shops do still sell puppies, which many people I speak to find remarkable in this modern day. It shocks me, still, after all the hours and hours of research I have done, that puppies only a few weeks old are sold in pet shops. That environment, however comfortable it may appear, is no place for a puppy to be spending time, puppies need to be with their mothers, they need to be living in a loving home environment until they move on to their new home environment. Not sold in a shop. If we stop and wonder about where a pet shop sources its puppies from, it’s pretty obvious they are from commercial scale breeders – aka puppy farmers. Don’t believe anything else you are told. It just isn’t true. Website sales are the same. Dealers advertise on websites, make up stories, tell lies, dupe the public. Avoid pet shop sales and internet sales and advertising if you want to avoid supporting puppy farming.

If you do manage to find your way through the minefield and find a litter of puppies, make sure you visit the home environment. Never, ever allow a puppy to be brought to you, or meet anywhere other than the breeders home. If the puppy’s not in a home, personally I wouldn’t be buying. But perfectly ‘reputable’, licensed breeders do operate from kennel environments, not home environments. You will need to make up your mind if that is acceptable. Those breeders are in business, they’re licensed, inspected and meet animal welfare standards and are not the same as puppy farmers who don’t. But, the puppies and parent dogs are not raised in normal home environments, they live in kennels; for me, this is not my ideal and not something I would venture near. Not when I know what I do these days about the psychology of dogs and their need for human love and company being as essential to them as air and water.

So, visiting the breeder, looking at the litter, take a good, critical look at the home environment. See the puppies interacting healthily with each other but most importantly with their mum. If you’re in the presence of a puppy dealer trying to dupe you, they may well have wised up on the “where’s mum” question and may ensure an adult dog is around to satisfy you. But, this may not be the mother, or if it is, she may have been brought indoors from the shed out in the garden – take a look out the back and see if there are kennels or sheds which may be housing other dogs or puppies. A decent breeder will keep the environment scrupulously clean, there should be no unpleasant smell from the puppies, no sawdust about, no signs of illness or sickliness in mother or puppies. Don’t listen to any excuses for mum not being there that day, being out with the sister, the wife, visiting the vet, etc etc, all these are reasons to walk away and report the dealer in whose presence you probably are.

Do not be tempted to buy a sick puppy because you feel sorry for it, however awful it is to walk away, this is what you must do, for if you take the puppy and hand over your cash, the misery continues for the mothers like Susie-Belle as the demand continues. You create space for another puppy to be bought in and sold. But by walking away, doesn’t mean you are doing nothing, for if you come across this, report it.

If you come across a dealer, or you suspect a puppy farmer or bad breeder, report to the local authority, Trading Standards and RSPCA, the local press, report to everyone you can. Be prepared to be bumped around from person to person, for the buck to be passed round, but keep reporting, keep following up. The more reports from the public that are received, the more action is likely to take place to stop the dealers, the puppy farmers, the abusers. We have to ALL make it harder for these people to make a living from the suffering they cause.

There are brave, stoical campaigners who have been battling away for years, reporting, documenting, filming and compiling evidence. They are well worth consulting and supporting.

Puppy Love Campaigns have a website full of names and details of dodgy breeders and dealers. Worth taking a look before visiting any breeder you are considering.

If you are put off picking your way through the puppy buying minefield but still want to have a dog, find a good rescue shelter – your perfect, loving, loyal new friend is almost certainly in one today waiting for you to come along:

Dogs Trust
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home
Oldies Club
Diana Brimblecombe Animal Rescue Centre

If you think that adopting a dog is not for you, read this guest blog for 5 good reasons why I think it’s worth you considering it.