We are big fans of choosing an adult dog in need of a home from a shelter or pound. It’s not just good for the dog; there are a lot of advantages for the person, too. Puppies can be exhausting. Their boundless energy combined with the need to take them out to piddle in the middle of night and teach them not to chew the furniture and everything else in sight takes a lot of energy — and sleeplessness.
At the same time, we know that there are advantages to choosing a newly born puppy, not the least of which is getting to rear her during the sensitive period of learning — weeks three through 12 — when she’s absorbing life’s lessons like a sponge and you can do so much to comfortably accustom her to the world in which she’s going to live. That, in turn, will bring out the best in her and make her all the more agreeable to live with.
But if you go that route, it’s critical to make sure the dog comes from a good breeder. After all, for at least the first eight weeks of her life she will be at the breeder’s home or farm, where you can come visit her but she will still be in someone else’s hands. And there are breeders out there for whom dogs are not sentient beings but merchandise. Here are three questions to ask a potential breeder to make sure that in her very earliest days the dog you have in mind is being raised with tenderness and compassion and that those qualities, rather than money, rule. It’ll put you well on your way to understanding if a particular breeder is the right choice — and help you bring home a puppy who, because her start in life was a good one, is not behind the 8 ball on socializing and adapting to life in a human home.
1 How many bitches do you own? Someone with two to three bitches who have, altogether, two to four litters per year is going to be able to give each newborn pup all the attention and care she needs. Someone with eight to 10 bitches who handles more on the order of a half dozen to a dozen litters annually is starting to sound more like a person who runs a puppy mill rather than a dog lover.
2 Where does the whelping take place? Whelping is a breeder term for labor and birth, and if it takes place “in the garage” or “the barn” or “down in the cellar,” something’s wrong. Dogs meant to become pets are supposed to be born right into a human family in order to acclimate them from the beginning to living with a species other than their own. Therefore, an acceptable answer to this question would be, “we have a whelping area right off the kitchen” or “we let her choose her location in the house.”
3 Are the puppies often in the company of people? If people are frequently coming and going and take time to pay attention to the dogs, the one you have chosen will have an easier time feeling good about humans and socializing with them. Even better if the people are all shapes and sizes — men, women, children.
Along with asking these questions, you’ll want to get a sense that the breeder is interviewing you, too, perhaps wanting to know how often you plan to walk the dog and how many hours a day it will be left alone in the house. That means you’re buying a puppy from someone who really cares about dogs and is willing to pass up a sale if a prospective buyer doesn’t seem like she or he will be acting in the puppy’s best interest.
Finally, go to the breeder’s house so you can check out the situation for yourself. Better not to just have the dog shipped. At the house, you’ll be able to see if the litter has warm blankets to sleep on, toys, and lots of fun and gentle interactions with their human caretakers. You’ll be able to tell, too, if the puppy is being protected from things that could make her feel threatened or alarmed — loud teenagers horsing around near where she’s resting, small children who are too in-your-face for a puppy’s sense of well-being, a discomfiting gruffness about the breeder, or aggressive dogs or other animals in the house who are allowed to get too close. These are not good signs. Gentle, caring, respectful people are.