Buying a puppy or a new dog:
If you are looking to bring a dog into your family, please take the time to read this article. It may seem long. It may seem to have a million facts. It may seem “over the top” and anyway, can you really be bothered to read the whole thing? Well, in all honesty, if you don’t have the time to read an 8 page document, then a new furry family member probably isn’t for you anyway. A dog is a sentient being. A being that will be part of your life and family for well over a decade, and one who cannot be picked up or ignored should the facets of your life alter. You need to be looking to dedicate somewhere in the region of 12-15 years to its care and needs. If you can’t do a 5 minute read … then I’m guessing that 12-15 years is going to be too much of a stretch for you too.
If you’re still here and reading, excellent! Good for you for looking into doing it all properly BEFORE you take the plunge. Grab a coffee and strap in … here we go!
The demand for dogs has never been higher – dog theft, puppy farms, scams and the prices being charged for them are big business. Whenever there is money to be made, scammers and those of a more unscrupulous nature come crawling out the woodwork and sadly at the moment, the dog world is full of them. So, what can you do to make sure you are buying a healthy, happy, well-bred puppy or dog and not falling foul of those who simply want your hard earned cash without any thought for the welfare of the dog in your sights?
As you may already know, my breed is the Rhodesian Ridgeback and I will talk about how best to go about finding and buying a lovely smart puppy to join your family. However, the majority of this article is 100% applicable to any breed, save for the odd tweak when talking about specific health tests that are pertinent to individual breeds. So, BEFORE you fall in love and put down a deposit, please read and make sure that the dog you are signing up for is exactly what you want it to be – healthy, happy and well-bred with a good temperament from a breeder who has done everything RIGHT.
Rescue Dog or Brand Spanking New Puppy?
This is a very contentious issue and I can see both sides of the coin. Without good breeders, the breeds we love and hold dear would simply vanish. There is a world of difference between BREEDERS and GREEDERS. A good BREEDER will have so many checks and balances in place both before and after mating to ensure the life-long welfare of their puppies and to this end, very few of those puppies will ever end up in rescue shelters. The GREEDERS who breed solely for profit are an entirely different kettle of fish. They breed as many puppies as they can, without health testing and with little care or concern for their charges or the lives they will have. They are homed often to families who are entirely inappropriate for one reason or another and sadly, often end up sold on again and again until they finally end up in Rescue.
There are so many dogs coming through various Rescues who need and deserve a loving home. Each breed will have breed specific rescue organisations dedicated to the care, support, rescue and rehoming of a particular breed. If you would like to rescue a dog, and you would like a specific breed then these guys are the people to contact. Each dog they are looking to rehome will have been checked by somebody who knows the breed well, and as much information as possible gleaned about the history and temperament of the dog and the kind of lifestyle/family that dog needs. They will keep a list of potential owners and when a dog comes in who matches what an owner can offer (a little like a match-making service), then contact will be made and the rehoming process can start. If you go through a breed specific rescue you can be assured of the continued care and support from the rescue organisation. If you have questions or problems in the future, they’ll be there to help you through and if after all the checks it turns out that the dog wasn’t the right one for you, a rescue organisation will always take the dog back so you are never left in a difficult position.
The two Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue organisations are:
Ridgeback Rescue (www.RidgebackRescue.co.uk) and
Rhodesian Ridgeback Welfare Trust (www.RRWT.org)
In the current climate “Covid 2020” prices for puppies (both purebred and crossbreeds) have gone up massively. However, a good Rhodesian Ridgeback will cost anywhere from around £1,500-£2,250 but shouldn’t be any more than that. I have seen Ridgebacks and other breeds for sale recently at anything up to £4,000. This is excessive and no reputable, responsible breeder would ever charge you that much. If that is the price tag … walk away.
Research – Pedigree or Crossbreed?
So whether you are looking to introduce a new puppy or a Rescue to your family, please take your time and research the breed. Make sure you know as much as possible about the breed you are hoping to get – it’s not just about how the dog looks. You may well love the look of a certain breed – I adore the wonderful presence of Old English Sheepdogs but I’d be kidding myself if I thought I would ever get used to all the grooming they need and deserve!!!. Will the breed you have your eye on, and the traits it was bred with, actually fit in with your lifestyle? Do their energy levels reflect your hobbies? Are they difficult to train and if so, are you a good enough trainer to bring the best out of the dog or will he run rings round you until you finally admit you are out of your depth? Are they going to grow very big, be really active, lazy, drooly, barky, need grooming, need lots of exercise, good in a pack, good with children, good on their own, good in a town, need long country walks or be prone to chasing the local wildlife in a “Fenton-style”!!! …. The list of things to consider is endless before you even pin down what particular breed you think you would like.
Next, is it a purebred dog that you want … or a crossbreed? If it is a pedigree dog (ie a dog bred with the same breed of mum and dad, rather than parents of different breeds), then you will have a good basic idea of the size he will end up, any possible health problems to look out for and of course, what his instinctive nature will be. Remember, if you choose a crossbreed you will need to research all of the breeds that make up your chosen puppy … and all the traits and possible health problems that each breed has. Just because something has the word “Poo” at the end, doesn’t mean it will automatically be hypoallergenic! “Designer Breeds” as they have become known are just crossbreeds … please don’t be fooled into thinking you should be paying more for them just because they have a cool name.
A lot of people find it incredibly difficult to wait for the right puppy. Once they’ve decided that they want to add a puppy to their family they are, understandably, very excited and often want one RIGHT NOW. If this is what you are thinking then my best advice is be prepared to be disappointed. A good breeder (and you DO want a GOOD breeder) will have a waiting list of puppy owners before the next litter has even been conceived and, when their litter does finally arrive, those people will already have “first dibs” on the puppies that are born. So be ready and willing to wait. This time will give you a wonderful opportunity to chat to other people in the breed and find out what it is REALLY like living with a Ridgeback, or a Husky, or a Beagle or whatever it is that has taken your fancy. Go to dog shows. Speak to owners. Look at their dogs and see which ones you like the temperament and look of because believe me, not every dog from every breed looks the same. Some lines may be more stocky and heavy, whereas others may be naturally sleeker, or taller or shorter or darker or lighter …. they may well be dogs that conform to the “breed standard” but we all have bits that we like more or less (I particularly like dogs with a black mask, larger ears and bigger feet … that’s just me).
Puppy Co-ordinators are wonderful people appointed by individual breed clubs to direct potential owners to litters that are coming up. Good breeders will generally be affiliated with a breed club and when they have litters due, they will let the co-ordinators know. This way, you can be sure that you are only being directed to breeders who are ethical, responsible and adhere to the pre-agreed breeding practices of their club. These breeding practices will be more stringent than those asked for by the Kennel Club who are, essentially, just a pedigree dog registration service. For example, the health tests asked for by a breed club will be more in-depth and the breeding welfare of the dogs will always be a greater priority.
All breeds will have people associated with their Clubs who can assist you in finding a responsibly bred puppy, but specifically for UK Rhodesian Ridgebacks, the breed clubs who can help you are:
The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain
The Midlands & Northern Rhodesian Ridgeback Club
The Southern Ridgeback Club
The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Scotland
The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Ireland
Another place where you may be able to find details of pedigree dog breeders who are currently breeding is www.champdogs.co.uk. However, please be advised that breeders on this website may or may not be affiliated with any of the breed clubs.
Once you have decided on the dogs/lines you like, get in touch with their breeders. You will be able to email them with any questions you have and to make that initial contact. A good breeder will welcome questions from potential owners as this shows you are serious and want to make sure you are getting it right – it also gives them an opportunity to get to know you a little and whether or not they think your family would be a good fit for one of their puppies. Be prepared for the breeder to ask you a million questions too. A good breeder will want to be sure that their puppies are going to the right homes from the start where they will be cared for properly for their entire life. Should something go wrong and for whatever reason you find yourself unable to continue giving him the life he deserves, a good breeder will have it written into your contract that the puppy should come back to them and not be sold on without their knowledge.
“Health tests” are entirely different from a “health check”. If a dog has been health checked, it simply means that a vet has looked over the dog, done a basic examination and was satisfied that it appeared healthy on that visit.
Health tests are medical tests performed on the parents of the puppies BEFORE a mating has even taken place. Each breed has its own recommended health tests that should be undertaken because each breed has a different set of health problems that they could be genetically predisposed to. In order to achieve the best chance of breeding healthy puppies with as few problems as possible, a responsible breeder will always test the parents to make sure they do not carry the genetic blue print for various conditions that could be passed on to the pups. The Kennel Club will advise on the minimum health tests needed. You will usually find that responsible breeders affiliated with breed clubs will go above and beyond in their testing in an effort to rule out the chances of any undesirable conditions.
As I say, each breed is different but in the case of Rhodesian Ridgebacks for example, the parents of any litter should have been tested for AT LEAST:
Hip/Elbow Scoring X-Rays:
This is where the parents undergo an x-ray of their hips and their elbows to ensure nice sound joints and minimise the chances of producing puppies with hip or elbow dysplasia. You can go to the Kennel Club website, put in the full KC registered name of each parent then click on the dog’s name when it comes up to see instantly all the KC registered health test results. Breeders may have done more tests than appear on the KC website – this is simply because the Kennel Club only record the bare minimum of required health tests and not that the breeder is pretending!! Click this link to check out a dog’s results here:
Each breed will have a “breed average” for what is an acceptable score for hips, elbows and something called a breeding co-efficient which we’ll come to in a moment. You want the parents to have as low hip scores as possible, ideally below the breed average – these scores will be noted as 2 sets of 2 numbers, one for each hip and one for each elbow. (N.B. Both parents should score 0:0 for their elbows.)
JME genetic testing:
Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy is a specific form of epilepsy which is known to affect some Rhodesian Ridgebacks. We can now test for this condition very easily with a simple cheek swab which will show whether the parents are positive for this condition, are carriers of the gene or are completely clear of it. You must see the results of both parents – either clear parents, or one clear and one carrier can be mated. Two carriers or positive parents should not be mated. Do not take a puppy from these parents.
A good breeder will often do more tests than these above. Likely they will also perform testing for DM (Degenerative Myelopathy), Spinal Vertebrae X-rays, Thyroid Problems and even colour dilution DNA testing …. The list of health tests that can be done is quite staggering and very reasonably priced, so these days there is no need for a breeder to cut corners in ensuring a healthy puppy is produced.
The Co-efficient for each parent is essentially how inbred the dog is. The more times the same dogs crop up in a pedigree, the more inbred the dog is, which can cause multiple genetic problems for the puppies. The lower the score for the breeding co-efficient the better, and certainly one would be looking for a puppy bred from parents that give a score below the breed average if possible. Again, this information changes year to year but can be found on the Kennel Club website. Currently, in Ridgebacks the breeding co-efficient average is 7.4%
Meeting your puppy:
It is good practice to visit the puppies before you are ready to pick them up. This will give you an opportunity to see the puppies with their mother and for you to ask any extra questions that may have occurred to you since initially making contact with your breeder. You may wish to “choose” your puppy yourself but in all honesty, a good breeder will usually be able to give you a much better idea of the puppy who will best suit you. Be honest with your breeder about what you hope to achieve with your puppy. Do you want to do a sporting hobby such as agility, flyball, obedience or man-trailing for example? If you do, then you’ll likely want a dog with enthusiasm and an aptitude for working. Do you want a quiet life with say just one 90 minute walk per day and the rest of the time for your dog to just chill at your feet? If that’s the case, then your breeder is best placed to select the puppy with the most relaxed and calm nature. You may well think the choice should be yours, but rest assured that your breeder has spent every waking moment with these puppies and has a much better idea of their temperaments, needs and potential than you do. Similarly, if you are wanting to show your dog, again your breeder will be able to direct you to the puppy with “all the right bits in all the right places” for the show ring, rather than just a lovely puppy to be a pet.
Taking your puppy home:
Puppies should NOT leave their mum until they are at least 8 weeks of age. They should already be microchipped, vaccinated and, in the case of Rhodesian Ridgebacks, have been checked at least twice if not three times by separate people for a condition called DS – dermoid sinus. A puppy with DS should undergo surgery at the breeder’s expense before the new owner takes ownership of them. A puppy with DS will be endorsed and should not be bred from at any time in the future.
When you take ownership of your puppy, he will come with a pedigree (a written “family tree”) if he is Kennel Club registered. On the pedigree, it should say that the puppy is “endorsed” which means they cannot be bred from or exported without the breeder’s permission. This is to safeguard the welfare of the puppy, the breeder’s line and to prevent over breeding. In the future, if the breeder is happy for you to consider breeding your puppy, they can lift the endorsements for you, but this is entirely their decision to make.
If your puppy is not KC registered, then there is no reason why you should not still be able to have a pedigree which shows 3-5 generations of his ancestors but that pedigree will be purely for your information and will not mean that he is KC registered. A puppy who is not KC registered should still come from parents who have undergone all the health tests as listed above. Not being KC registered is not an excuse to cut corners on health testing. If a puppy who is not KC registered is bred from in the future, none of the offspring will be eligible for KC registration either.
So, a quick recap to refer to if you think you are ready to purchase …..
If the breeder demands a deposit up-front … walk away
There are some scammers who are asking for deposits up front and when the time comes to take the puppy, they never turn up. A good breeder will have many people on their potential puppy owners waiting list so will not need a deposit from you. If you decide you have changed your mind, they would much rather you did so BEFORE you took your new puppy. Be up front. Let them know if you no longer want the puppy, for whatever reason.
If the price is above normal … walk away
Excuses such as “rare colours” or “rare breeding” are just that – excuses. Ring round a few breeders so you have a ballpark figure on what you can expect to pay for a puppy. Don’t let your heart sway you in to paying much more than you know is normal.
If the mother is under 2 years of age … walk away
Before 2 years of age, a bitch is really not much more than a baby herself.
If the mother is over 7 years of age … walk away
At 7 years or more, a bitch deserves to draw a line under a breeding career.
If the mother has had more than 3 litters in her lifetime … walk away
3 litters is enough for any bitch to whelp … more than that is unkind.
If the breeder won’t meet you in their FAMILY HOME … walk away
Often this happens when the puppy is the result of a puppy farming situation. If you cannot see the puppy in its own home, you have to ask yourself what the breeder is preventing you from seeing.
If the breeder wants to meet you say at a service station … walk away
Again, signs of puppy farming or something dodgy – it could even be signs that the puppy is stolen.
If you cannot meet the puppies WITH their mother … walk away
You want to see the puppies with their mother so you know they are not just a conveyor belt of puppies and that they have actually come from the mother you see them with. This lets you see how they bond together, the temperament of the pups and that of the mother as well as her general health and welfare.
If you cannot see proof of health tests from BOTH parents … walk away
These days, it’s easy to find out the health test results you need to give your puppy the best chance of a healthy, happy life. You need the test results from BOTH parents, even if you only get to meet the mother in person.
If the breeder tells you the puppy is a “rare colour” … walk away
Rare colours are actually usually genetic mutations and although they may look lovely, or different, they often come with health problems in the future either for the puppy themselves, or for any resulting off-spring. Recognised colours are there for a reason and paying over-the-top money for a “rare” coloured dog is foolish.
If the house/environment is not clean … walk away
While having a litter is time consuming and keeping on top of household chores can be tough with 13 little monkeys running about, basic hygiene is essential for the welfare of the pups and the mother too. I’m not suggesting you want to be able to inspect the property like Kim and Aggie from “How Clean is Your House” … but you do want to know they’ve had a good start.
If the puppies look thin, dirty, have weepy eyes or fleas … walk away
Your new puppy should be a happy, chunky little monkey. His coat should be clean and soft, his eyes clean and bright, his ears clean with no dirt and his coat in good condition without evidence of flea dirt.
If the puppies are timid and/or cowering away from you … walk away
Puppies from a good breeder will have been socialised throughout the 8 weeks since they were born. Likely they will have been introduced to household appliances like the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, the television etc … and I’m sure they’ve had lots of cuddles and visits from many people too. They should be obviously content and reasonably confident.
If the puppies are not microchipped … walk away
The law states that puppies should be microchipped with the details of their breeder before they go to their new homes. This is the breeder’s responsibility. Once you take ownership of the dog, those details should be transferred into your name for future reference.
If the puppies haven’t had their initial 8 week vaccination … walk away
A puppy should be vaccinated at 8-10 weeks and then again two weeks later with the same vaccine. The breeder should give you a vaccination card when you collect your puppy which will state which vaccine was used so that your vet can administer the same vaccine for the puppy’s second dose when it is due.
If you are asked to take the puppy BEFORE 8 weeks of age … walk away
Puppies should stay with mum for a minimum of 8 weeks. During this time they learn many skills from mum and their siblings including playing and bite inhibition, how hard is TOO hard etc. They need the milk from mum with all the antibodies in to protect them in their early lives and they need the warmth, comfort and bond from the rest of the litter to give them confidence to be balanced little individuals as they grow.
In the case specifically of Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies:
If the puppies have not been checked for Dermoid Sinus (DS) … walk away
A good breeder will be well aware of the condition. If they seem uneducated as to its existence of the problems resulting from it, then walk away. This is a condition which can be tricky to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for and needs to be checked for several times as the puppy grows. Should the condition be detected, it is the breeder’s responsibility to arrange the surgery to correct the defect BEFORE the puppy is collected by the new owner.
If the breeder tells you their ridge will grow over time … walk away
This is simply not true. A Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy will be born with the same ridge he will have all of his life – it is not something they develop over time. If he has no ridge when he is born, then he will never have one. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with a Ridgeless puppy but they should be sold as “pet quality only”, should not be bred from and cannot be shown in the show ring. From a health, welfare, life expectancy and happiness perspective, a Ridgeless puppy is still a wonderful addition to your family and is no different from his brothers and sisters who have a ridge … a ridge is simply cosmetic just window dressing.
I know that all this is a massive amount of information but, in view of the fact it will probably take around a year or so to get your paws on your new puppy, I reckon you have the time. However, to help you out, below is a simply brilliant flowchart, created by the Midlands and Northern Rhodesian Ridgeback Club, which details what you need to know at a glance. Yes it’s about Ridgebacks but, again, you can use it as a template for the safe purchase of a puppy from any breed.
Makes sensible reading. Great to have all the information in one place. Thank you. And, yes , waiting is REALLY hard .