Now that the holidays are almost over, you may be considering having a baby — with fur and four legs. Puppies are all cute and cuddly, but how do you choose the pick of the litter? On The Saturday Early Show, resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner offers some advice, with the help of a few puppies on the set from Holly Hollow Kennels.
Puppy vs. Adult Dog: Getting a puppy is a long-time commitment and a lot of work. Yes, they are cute, rambunctious and adorable. But they can also be mischievous, defiant and destructive. So, first, you and your family must be ready for the responsibility of raising a puppy. It is similar to raising a child in a lot of respects. The puppy is going to need visits to the doctor, house training, behavior training and socialization. He will teethe, go through a rebellious adolescent phase, and require almost constant supervision. Unlike human children, though, puppies don't grow up and leave for college! And remember, puppies grow up to be adult dogs. Their size, temperament, activity level and coat all are going to change.
Which breed? Before bringing a new pet into your home, do your homework. Whether you do your research on the Internet, through books or by talking to experts, find out about the breed that best fits your lifestyle. If you want a lapdog, then you'll want to research smaller, more docile breeds. If you have children, then you want to find a dog that doesn't mind a little poking and a lot of activity and noise. Do you have a fenced-in yard? How much time will you have to train and walk the dog? All these factors and many more go into finding the right pet for you.
How big will the puppy get? The best way to predict the size that a puppy will grow up to be is to get a purebred dog. By the very nature of a purebred, size, color, appearance and temperament can be predicted with fair accuracy. Looking at a puppies' paws to determine growth potential is not scientific but if a puppy has big paws and/or long, gangly legs, it's a good indication that he will be pretty big. If the pup is a mixed breed, knowing what the parents looked like will help. If the ancestry is not known, you might not know what your puppy is going to look like until he finishes growing.
Also, don't forget that puppies grow fast. So if you don't know the exact breed of the pups, visiting the litter a couple of times will help you see their rate of growth and may be an indicator of how big they will ultimately get.
Personality: Much of your dog's personality will depend on you. A well-trained, well-socialized dog will be more enjoyable than a dog that is out of control. So taking time to train your pup, giving him plenty of love and attention, and socializing him will get you a nicer pet.
But even when you are looking at a litter of puppies, there are a few positive indicators. Pick a pup that is bright, energetic and friendly. The one that is playful with you and his littermates is a good bet. The puppy should let you handle it. Try to pet it, handle its feet and ears. The puppy might nibble at you playfully but shouldn't snarl, cower or bite. Turn the puppy over on its back with his belly up. This is a position of submission. While most pups will resist this, an even-tempered pup will not panic or become aggressive.
When going to see the puppies, take the whole family. It is important to see how everyone, especially your children, interact with the pups.
Male vs. Female: Females tend to be slightly smaller than males. Females don't always have as strong an urge to roam as males. While both male and females dogs are territorial, a male that is not neutered can show great aggression. No matter what you decide, have your pet spayed or neutered at the appropriate age. Spaying a female will dramatically reduce her chances of getting mammary tumors (breast cancer) as an older dog. Neutering a male reduces his tendency to roam, be aggressive or dominant, and it reduces the likelihood he will get prostate or testicular cancer.
Questions to ask: You should ask lots of questions before making your purchase. Ask to see the parents of the puppy. Ask exactly how old the puppies are. A good breeder will not let you take one younger than six weeks old, the weaning age, and most will wait eight to ten weeks. Ask whether the puppy has been started on vaccinations. Ask whether it has been dewormed. The answers to both of those questions should be yes. Ask if the puppies have ever been sick, and if so, with what illness?
Where to get a puppy? Turner believes there are only two good places to get a puppy: a responsible breeder or a shelter. The animals at the shelter are desperate for a loving home, and sadly may be doomed to euthanasia if one is not found.
As for breeders, ask your veterinarian, groomer, neighbor or friends to recommend one. There are many breed clubs in most cities, and these are good resources for responsible breeders.
You also may consult the Breeder Directory on the American Kennel Club Web site. You should go to the breeder's home or kennel and see the environment in which the dogs live. It should be clean and orderly, and all the animals there should look healthy, energetic, well-fed and alert.
Ask the breeder for references and check them! Also ask for a health certificate for the parents. The parents should be clear of the common genetic diseases associated with that breed. Also find out how many dogs the breeder keeps, and how many different breeds. It is best to go with a breeder who doesn't have rows and rows of kenneled dogs, or several breeds. This could be a puppy mill in disguise.
It is a good idea to visit the litter more than once before taking your puppy home. That way, you are able to see the growth and progress of the puppies over time.