Buying a dog…

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So, you want to get a dog. Great!

But before you shop online and submit your credit card information, let me ask you this:

Where do your puppy’s parents live? Inside a home, where they are loved and cared for and groomed and trained? Or outside in a kennel, with food tossed in once or twice a day, whatever water can be hosed in or collects from the rain, with little human contact unless someone is dragging them to a different cage?

Are your puppy’s parents tested for the health issues common to the breed? Does the breed have heart problems, dysplasia, eye issues, skin problems, kidney diseases, bleeding factors? Is there documentation easily available for you to see on your own and compare with other dogs in the breed? Or are you supposed to take the seller’s word that “Oh, my lines don’t have any of that kind of problem”? Or “These are from European lines and they’re much healthier than these inbred American show dogs.”

Sigh.

Puppies bought over the Internet are almost always the “product” of commercial kennels – otherwise known as ‘high-volume breeders” or – yes – puppy mills. They are manufacturing puppies with the purpose of the highest possible profit, with the puppies’ parents as the machinery or the raw materials.

Even if you are lucky and *your* puppy is healthy and long-lived and temperamentally sound, consider that puppy’s mother and father. Where are they? What conditions are they living in? Buying that puppy online or from a pet store just tells the puppy miller (excuse me – ‘professional’ kennel — they would have us believe that selling dogs for a profit successfully makes them professionals) that he or she was right to breed those dogs and that doing it again (and again and again and again and again) will be a boost to the old profit margin.

If your puppy has problems — major, minor, fatal — what does the breeder expect to do? Will they be there to offer advice and support for the life of that dog? Or does their relationship with you and your dog end as soon as your credit is approved? What happens if you find a few years down the road that your dog has a late-onset genetic disease? Will you be able to contact the breeder to share the information, will you know where your dog’s littermates and siblings are so that you might be able to share notes with their owners and figure out what treatments work best for the dogs? Will you be able to share moments of joy, training tips, anxiety, and even grief with the owners of your dog’s siblings?

When you get a dog, you should be developing a relationship with a number of breeders and other people involved in the breed you want. You will need support, advice, someone to share pictures and accomplishments and worries with. Your relationship with the breeder of your dog is one that should last before, during, and after the life of your dog. The breeder (or even the shelter manager, if you’re getting a pound puppy) should understand your lifestyle, what you *say* you want and what will be a temperament that will work with your household.

They’ll *want* to know a few weeks and a few months down the road how things are working out, whether you have any questions, how they can help. You have a dog they helped bring into this world, that makes you very important to them. Much more important that the size of your wallet.

We are a society enamored of instant gratification. That may be fine for buying books or dresses or toasters. It’s not okay when you are making a commitment to another living being for as long as that life shall last.

So when you see that picture on the web advertising healthy, happy puppies in this rare breed or that one, ask yourself why all the puppies weren’t already spoken for before they were born? When/if you contact the seller, see whether they can give you a coherent explanation of *why* they bred that pair of dogs, what health testing was done, what their health guarantee is, what their availability will be if you have questions in a month or a year…

*IF* they don’t hang up on you/ignore your e-mail, and are willing to talk to you about why they breed and what activities they participate in with their dogs and what their commitment is to those puppies and to you, be ready for a lot of questions about what kind of you you have and will provide to their pup, and other questions to determine what YOUR commitment to the dog will be. Be glad that they do.

You might even have found an ethical breeder.

Check with the kennel club, the regional breed club, see whether there are Yahoo groups related to the breed where you can learn more about the dogs and the people. Find the breed clubs breeder referral list or breed stewards and see whether they know this breeder and whether they can recommend them.

Okay, this is not a process in which you can decide today that you want a puppy and go pick it up tomorrow. Get over the frustration and impatience. This is a living being, a companion who will be sharing your home for the next decade and a half, god willing. So you be willing to put in the time, effort and patience to find a breeder you can live with for the same amount of time.

A breeder who breeds for health and temperament and type. For the love of the dogs and the breed. From the Latin root, an amateur.

“Professional” breeders be damned. A puppy mill by any other name is still a puppy mill, and I have yet to meet an ethical breeder who sells through pet stores.

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