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Discover Dogs: Choosing the right dog

Carolyn Menteith

By Carolyn Menteith, dog behaviourist, trainer and writer

Many people still think it doesn’t matter what breed or type of dog they get, and so will choose their new puppy on nothing more than good looks. While it is important that the dog you choose does make your heart melt, it is much more important that you pick the dog who is going to share your life based on far more than just that.

Each breed of dog has been designed to do a certain job, and what that job is will largely determine what he or she is like to live with. Not only that but it will dictate the amount of exercise they need, what kind of exercise and games they will enjoy, how you can motivate them for training, how much grooming they require, how affectionate or aloof they will be, and much more. Some dogs have been designed to work all day and every day, some work with humans while others work independently, and others have been developed as companions. And don’t kid yourself – this isn’t just what they like to do, it is what they are hardwired to need to do!

Every breed has been selectively bred over sometimes hundreds (or even thousands) of years to produce an animal who can do their specific job spectacularly well. Some are bred to guard, others to hunt, others to herd livestock, and yet others to be companions. Only the dogs who were the very best at the job would be allowed to breed, and so the working ability was strengthened with each successive generation – just doing that job is self-rewarding for dogs.

The vast majority of training and behaviour problems, heartbreak and doggie disasters come from potential owners not choosing the right dog in the first place. Choosing one that needs endless exercise if you are a couch potato for example, or choosing one who is aloof when you want a dog to cuddle and hang Lassie-like on your every word! The big secret to having the dog of your dreams is to make the right choices and make sure you find a breed or type of dog who will fit into your lifestyle, whatever that may be.

Knowing this, the Kennel Club have organised the perfect exhibition for potential new owners – Discover Dogs at Earls Court on 9th and 10th November 2013. Not only does the show highlight responsible dog ownership, but it features examples of every single breed of dog in the UK so that anyone interested in getting a new puppy can meet ‘real’ dogs, find out more about them, and talk to owners to find out what they are like to live with.

As well as helping new owners discover the perfect breed for them, the show also gives people information on where to get their perfect puppy. For most people visiting Discover Dogs, their new dog is going to be a puppy from a breeder.

Just a note here, do not EVER consider buying a puppy or a dog from a pet shop or from a puppy farm no matter how much simpler it seems or how much you want to do a good deed and rescue one of these poor creatures. These pups have not been reared in the right way (i.e. with their mum in the home) and so are not properly socialised, and many come with health problems from the very start. You will most likely be bringing home heartbreak sooner or later. The kind of person who would sell their puppies to a pet shop, or who would mass-produce them for profit, is not the kind of person who looks after the welfare and health of their dogs. If you have any suspicions you are buying from a puppy farmer (generally they are offering several different breeds of dogs for sale, and are keeping them outside), walk away. There are plenty of good, conscientious breeders where you can find your ideal dog rather than to encourage this heinous trade.

While you are looking for your perfect breeder, the most important thing is to do some research (and not just at Discover Dogs). Talk to vets, talk to other people with the same breed, look in dog magazines, get a list of breeders from the Kennel Club, and do everything you can to get as big a shortlist as possible, then go and visit them. Expect any good breeder to quiz you mercilessly to ensure that you are a suitable owner for one of their beloved dogs. If the first thing they mention is the price, leave quickly.

Make sure the puppies are reared in the home – the busier the home, the better. Dogs have a crucial socialisation period that starts at four weeks old and goes on until somewhere around 14 weeks old (although in some breeds it stops even earlier). Anything the puppies are not exposed to during this time may well result in a fearful or unpredictable reactions (this can include household objects, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, men, children, noises, cars, cats etc.) You need to know that your puppy has had the best possible start in life and experienced the widest range of things that will be a part of his/her daily life, to ensure problems don’t arise later. If this period is missed, there is no replacing it, ever.

Make sure you can see the puppies with their mother to ensure that mum is healthy, friendly, relaxed and likely to have passed on good attributes to her babies in terms of temperament. If you can see the father as well, even better, but this is less likely and not something you should expect. If you can see other relations, spend some time with them and make sure you like their behaviour and temperament. Can you talk to other people who have taken this breeder’s puppies? If not, why not!?

Find out from the Kennel Club or Discover Dogs if there are any health checks that should be done on your chosen breed and make sure they have been done.

Once you are happy you have found a good breeder who does all they can to make sure they are rearing healthy, happy, problem-free, stable-temperamented puppies, and you have passed their requirements for a new owner, you can choose your puppy.

Once you have picked your perfect puppy, pick a name (make sure the breeder uses it until you take him home), leave some things that smell of you and your home with the breeder (so the pup is surrounded with some familiar smells when you relocate him/her) and then go home and make plans for your puppy to come home.

Visit your pup again as many times as you can before you bring him/her home (which will ideally be at about 8 weeks old) – and of course during these visits introduce him to the children, your partner or indeed anyone else in the household, so they can also begin to prepare for the puppy that is going to change their lives beyond all belief!

What resources do you need to have before you bring your new dog home?

So now you have chosen your new best friend and it is time to make sure you are ready for your dog to come home. Dogs are never going to be cheap animals to share your life with, and so get ready to make your shopping list – and do some ‘home improvements’.


  • Collar (plain flat collar either leather or strong material – not too narrow). Puppies grow quickly so until your dog is fully grown you may have to buy frequent replacements!
  • Lightweight lead with a secure clip
  • ID tag (it is the Law in the UK for your dog to wear a tag attached to his collar showing your name and full address)
  • Bed (probably more than one so your puppy has a place of his own in several rooms)
  • Crate (large enough your puppy can stand up and turn round, but not too big he can use one end as a toilet!)
  • Vet bed to line the crate
  • Bowls (water bowl & feeding bowl)
  • Toys (Kong toys are ideal but puppies also like soft plush toys or flossies. Make sure all toys are well-made, durable and that all play with them is supervised)
  • A supply of food (the same food as the puppy has been fed on up until now. You can change it later if you want, but right now he needs to have what he is used to.)
  • AdaptilTM plug-in units. AdaptilTM is a synthetic copy of the natural comforting pheromone released by a mother dog to reassure her puppies. These can be put in the room where your puppy will be to help him settle into his new home. There are also collars and sprays for other situations.

Other things to think about

  • Register with a vet that you like and trust (find them by word of mouth and then by visiting them). The time to find one is not when you have an emergency!
  • When you get your dog home, take him to your chosen vet for a check over and to introduce yourselves
  • Talk to your vet about vaccinations, microchipping (if not already done), possible neutering, and parasite treatment
  • Find a good reward-based, force-free trainer for puppy classes and later for adult dog training classes

Home improvements

  • Make sure all electrical cables are off the floor and unreachable
  • Move all pot plants out of dog reach – some are poisonous so better safe than sorry and move them all
  • Put up baby gates at the doors of rooms you don’t want your puppy to have access to
  • Lift everything off the floor you don’t want chewing
  • Designate a toilet area for your puppy to use
  • Check your garden for poisonous plants (there are a surprising amount of these so do some internet research)
  • Make sure your garden is dog proof – i.e. your puppy can’t escape
  • Make sure that your car is ‘dog friendly’

Prepare to enjoy life with your new dog!

Discover Dogs is at Earls Court 1, London on 9th- 10th November and tickets are available from the Discover Dogs website.

Pup Aid has launched an e-petition to help ban the cruel practice of puppy and kitten farming in the UK!, please visit the Pup Aid website to sign the petition. 

Dog owners can visit the Adaptil website to learn more about canine stress and to find their nearest stockist of AdaptilTM.