With hundreds of breeds and cross-breeds to choose from, getting a puppy can seem like a daunting task but it's worth remembering that every dog breed was developed, often over hundreds of years, for a specific task.
This means that if you're choosing a pedigree puppy you can be very precise in your requirements. Whether it's size, length of coat or activity level there will be one to suit you. Sadly, some breeds do have inherited health concerns, so it's wise to find out as much as you can about these before opting for a particular breed.
Don't discount searching at rescue centres. Although you may have to settle for an older dog, charities will do their utmost to match a dog with the right home, whilst offering ongoing support. This chapter will guide you through the process of choosing a puppy, whether it's pedigree or cross, and then how to select a puppy from a litter. There's also a section about the basic equipment your puppy will need.
Deciding to get a dog is only the start of your journey… now you need to decide where he will come from. Once you've decided to get a puppy, choosing the breed of dog you'd like is only the start of your dog-buying journey. Be prepared to do plenty of research and exercise a lot of patience before you eventually find the perfect puppy.
Which puppy should I get?
Pedigree pups are expensive, and may not be immediately available. In addition, some pedigrees are prone to health problems and it is important to find out as much as you can before you buy one.
Some people prefer cross-breeds. A cross-breed can be the result of an accidental mating between two different pedigrees, or the deliberate mating of two breeds such as a Labrador and a Poodle to create a Labradoodle.
A mongrel is often the accidental result of two non-pedigree dogs mating. Mongrels can be unique, hardy and adorable but there are no guarantees as to how they will turn out. If you opt for a pedigree puppy, arrange to visit the breeder at home. A reputable breeder will happily answer all your queries and ask you lots of questions too as they care where their puppies go. If you get a puppy from a rehoming centre, be prepared to answer lots of questions about your lifestyle. Most charities insist on home visits and require a contribution towards the costs of the puppy's care to enable them to rehome more puppies in the future.
Finding a puppy
You may find puppies advertised in magazines, newspapers and on the internet. Other owners, your local vet and training club may also know of breeders either planning a litter, or with puppies ready to go to their new homes. If you have chosen a particular breed you should contact the breed club. Ideally speak to people you know, who own the breed you like, about their experiences.
They may also know someone locally planning to breed puppies. The internet can be useful but take care - watch out for stock photos of pups instead of images of real litters and note whether the website refers to the showing successes of the parents.
Be wary if the kennel offers more than two or possibly three breeds - most good breeders specialise in and are passionate and knowledgeable about one breed alone. Puppy-finding websites can be a minefield although some responsible breeders do advertise on these too, in order to offer buyers a comparison to perhaps less desirable set-ups. The Kennel Club Accredited Breeder Scheme tackles some of these difficulties by only advertising pups from breeders who have voluntarily signed up to an agreed set of standards.
Finally, if you visit a breeder and feel for any reason the dogs are not for you, however cute, stand firm and say ‘no thanks'. Should you find yourself viewing pups that you feel are not being cared for appropriately, take action. First of all, do not buy a pup as this will only perpetuate the situation.
Choose a responsible breeder
A good breeder will not only be more than happy to answer all your questions but will have quite a few of their own to ask you too, as they will be concerned about the welfare of the pup and want to ensure he's going to the right home.
Be a little wary if the breeder seems more interested in making a sale than in fi nding out about you, or if they have many different breeds for sale rather than having a specific interest in one or maybe two different breeds. Be cautious too, if you find one pup on its own and they are unable to show you the mother. Look around at the facilities. These should be clean and hygienic and the puppies should appear healthy and contented. If you aren't happy about any of the answers you receive, feel pressured to buy or are in any way uneasy about any aspect of their care, look elsewhere.
Do I get a dog or bitch?
The choice between dog and bitch comes down to personal preference. Some devotees of male dogs claim they are more affectionate and loyal, while bitch fans may describe their dogs as calmer and less prone to aggression - but this is largely anecdotal. For many breeds, there are likely to be few differences between the sexes in terms of behaviour and overall characteristics, particularly as problems associated with sex - such as bitches coming into season and males with wanderlust or inappropriate mounting - can be controlled with neutering.
However, there does seem to be some have quite different temperaments: some large guarding breeds and members of the terrier group in particular. The males may enjoy the challenge of confrontation, particularly with other dogs, while the females may be easier to handle.
Overall, no matter what the sex, all dogs need substantial amounts of socialisation and training in order to fit in with a family and the community at large. Male or female, this takes time and effort, particularly in those early weeks.
For specific welfare or cruelty issues you can call the RSPCA 24-hour phone number on 0300 1234 999, or for trading issues you may need to speak to the licensing local authority, Trading Standards, environmental health or DEFRA. The consumer helpline, Consumer Direct, may be able to advise you on who to contact, even if they cannot help you directly. Contact them on 0845 404 0506.