Purchasing a Dog or Puppy: What to look for in a breeder
So you have made a decision to add a dog or puppy to your family. Congratulations!
But how do you make sure you’re getting a puppy from an ethical source?
It’s not a ‘black or white’ matter. There is no definitive issue that makes a breeder ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Instead, here’s a guide which talks about necessities, niceties, and red flags.
If your breeder doesn’t do this then walk away…
Breeder shows concern and regard to the health of dogs and puppies – either in health testing or in the studs used (e.g. choosing old studs that show they’re healthy, using DNA testing, using x-rays, and other relvant tests)
Breeder shows concern and regard to the psychological well being of their dogs and puppies – either in providing enrichment on site, by frequently taking their dogs ‘out and about’, by using Dunbar’s methods of raising puppies (with toilet area, kongs, socialisation), and preferably a combination of these methods.
The breeder has a clear purpose in their breeding program that goes beyond ‘breeding pet puppies’ – they may enter their dogs in dog shows, participate in agility or obedience with their dogs, or have dogs that compete in working dog trials
The breeder’s dogs approach you in a friendly and sociable way. You are able to interact with and handle all dogs on the property. The mother should be available and should show exceptionable sociable behaviour.
The breeder is willing to provide life-long support to you as a puppy buyer – including taking back the dog at any point things ‘don’t work out’
The breeder happily shows you all the dogs in their care
It’s nice for the breeder to do any of these things, but don’t be concerned if it doesn’t happen.
The stud dog is on site
The breeder asks you lots of questions about your household and what you’re looking for
There is a sales contract that goes beyond simple money exchange
The breeder can show registration or affiliation to an organisation with a code of conduct/ethics
The breeder can recite pedigrees and seems to be oozing with knowledge about the breed
If any of these items take place, you may want to reconsider purchasing an animal from this breeder.
The puppies are not vaccinated
The breeder seems overly concerned about the purchase price
Not all adult dogs are sociable and friendly
Part of the breeder’s sales pitch is ‘lots of colours available’ or ‘will grow up big’ or ‘will stay tiny’ or ‘rare!’
The breeder asks for deposits before a bitch is mated
The breeder sells puppies together to the same pet family
The puppies are crossbreeds which seem to have no real purpose (ask, how do they fit into the clear purpose of their breeding program?)
The puppies are crossbreeds and are given a fancy name like ‘labradoodle’ or ‘spanador’.
The breeder does seem to be putting the hard sell on you – they’re saying “if you put a deposit down today, I’ll take $100 off the asking price” or “If you don’t buy him now, I have someone coming at 2 o’clock who will buy him”.
The breeder breeds more than 3 different breeds of dogs
Do Not Buys!
If a breeder performs any of the following points, then do not purchase a puppy and look elsewhere.
You cannot meet the mother or father in any circumstances (e.g. ethical breeders, even if the stud dog owner is interstate that should be able to say ‘you can meet them if you really want to go interstate’)
Puppies are not microchipped – in most states of Australia, this is a legal requirement
The dogs or puppies seem unhealthy or in poor condition (dirty, matted, skinny, fat)
The adult dogs are not sociable and friendly, especially if many of the adult dogs are not friendly
The breeder is unwilling to show you all the dogs at their home
The panel questioned why anyone would have a pit bull when they’re ‘not pets’, and ‘they’re fighting dogs’, with a history of ‘bad accidents’. They criticised public response to this incident saying, “I don’t understand how they’re blaming the babysitter instead of the owner of the dog”.
Paula Abdul is the only one who says anything mildly positive, with “not every part of that breed is bad”.
Understandably, dog lovers were pretty unimpressed with this coverage and criticised Studio 10 through social media.
And Studio 10 then had a ‘right of reply’ panel. And here is how it went down.
While the guise of this discussion was providing balance, Studio 10 clearly pulled the shots, asked the questions, and didn’t provide adequate right-of-reply in many instances. Here’s a blow by blow of what was said… And what I would’ve said.
The little starting introductory video/graphic describes some dog breeds being ‘banned in Australia’, and then describes that in 2011 half of dog attacks were by five breeds (Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, American Staffordshire Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs, and Rottweilers). It then goes on to make the claim that bites by restricted breeds are decreasing.
There’s a lot of stuff in this that the expert panel did not get a chance to address!
Firstly, no breed is banned in Australia. The five breeds listed are ‘restricted breeds’, meaning that the way they are owned is regulated by most states, but no state outwardly bans them.
While we can dispute the validity of the statistics on breed attacks, it should be pointed out that the pit bull terrier does not appear in the list of breeds involved in half of all dog attacks.
While bites by restricted breeds may be decreasing (and I’m not even sure if that is true), that doesn’t mean bites overall are decreasing.
Studio 10 asks, “Why do you think pit bulls have such a bad public perception?”
Dr Andrew O’Shea, from the Australasian Veterinary Association, answers this: Because the media chooses to report on pit bull attacks almost exclusively. The media sensationalistness has a lot to answer for. As Dr O’Shea points out, many reports are ‘it’s a pit bull terrier’, when it’s not really. Dr O’Shea points out that the media makes them out to be ‘more dangerous’, but in reality they’re probably just as dangerous as any dog of a similar size. Any dog with teeth can bite.
“But Dr O’Shea, I’m confused though, because the media is reporting we’re told, say by the police and other people at the scene, and I think, there is, like you say, there’s a bit of confusion about talking about pit bulls, er, are the crossed with staffordshire terriers, I mean, I must say, sitting here in the studio, I’m very nervous, I’m, I mean, because of the dogs. I feel frightened.”
Not really a question, nor articulately asked, but then you didn’t give the panel a chance to reply either.
What is significant is not just that the media is reporting on ‘pit bull’ attacks, but the fact that attacks by breeds that are not pit bulls are not reported on. For example, in Port Lincoln an 8 year old boys had his nose bitten off by an Australian bulldog. This barely made the news, and when it did, the report focussed on the death of Ayen Chol by a pit bull. While the news heavily reported on Isabelle Dinoire who received the first face transplant, but neglected to report that her facial injuries were as a result of a labrador mauling.
The fact that you feel frightened is probably a consequence of the media hysteria surrounding pit bulls. I am sorry that you’re fearful, but your fear is illegitimate, and proves that we need to reassess the way dog attacks are perpetuated in the media. When two dogs lay in a relaxed and quiet way in a studio (a totally foreign environment to them), and they are regarded as scary, then the community clearly needs a much more comprehensive understanding of dogs and dog behaviour.
“Centuries ago, they were bred as fighting dogs. Am I right in saying that?”
Dr O’Shea responds to this by basically agreeing, but argues that defining ‘pit bulls’ is complex, and many dogs that look like a pit bull are classified as one despite not being one. And despite being crossbreed. He says that because they’re a bigger breed and tend to be reactive, they seem to get a bad name.
However, I would’ve taken a different response in responding here… I would’ve said:
Yes, but many dogs have roles now vastly different to their original purpose. Many Labradors are bred to assist blind people – while their original purpose was to carry dead birds around. Many German Shepherds are bred for multi-purpose police roles, including biting people, while their original purpose was herding sheep. Many people own terrier breeds who were bred to kill small vermin. Overtime, breed roles change. Additionally, within a breed, there are many variations in terms of personality and type. If you look at the greyhound industry, you’ll see a vast number of greys are killed for not meeting the task at hand, despite breeding specifically for running fast after quarry. You can imagine, in our current era, where dogs are primarily bred as pets, the history of a dog does not have a large implication on the temperament of the dogs we see today.
“A big reactive dog sounds quite scary to me, though. I mean, why, why, what I don’t understand is why people are so passionate about pit bulls in particular. Like, why, I mean, surely, if if, the restrictions at the moment seem to be working at the moment, and the number of attacks is going down, and surely if there is, er, some evidence … For example, you’d be familiar, Dr Hugh Worth, the head of the RSPCA, in 2009 said that there was absolutely no place for these dogs in Australia. He said they were time bombs. He said they should be banned. Now everyone here, I’m sure, who has any knowledge of animal welfare issues knows who Hugh Worth is. He is a very respected veterinarian. The RSPCA is an organisation that is there to prevent the cruelty to animals and protect them. If he is saying it, surely, surely not getting your personal favourite breed of dog is a small price to pay for knowing that kids could be safer. And adults,” say Joe Hildebrand.
“What do you think about that Melanie?” says the host.
Wow, give poor Melanie a chance. There’s about a million points there.
Melanie tries, she says that while ‘the laws appear to be working’ you will probably see that attacks haven’t gone down, but they have stayed the same or risen. She asks if we want to see dog bites to go down, or do we want to see pit bull bites to go down? Maybe pit bull bites are going down, but surely we want dog bites to be going down full stop.
Then Melanie got cut off before she got a chance to say all I would’ve:
This is not about people having a dummy spit for not being allowed to own pit bulls. The issue is that banning pit bulls does not make kids and adults safer.
There is not a reduction in dog attacks in all, just dog attacks by restricted breeds. So the community isn’t safer from a pit bull ban, they’re just less likely to be bitten by them. (Just like if you banned Ferraris, no more people would die from Ferrari related accidents. But people would still die in car accidents.)
Dr Hugh Worth is known as Dr Hugh Worthless by many animal-lovers in Australia. ‘Nough said.
Joe Hildebrand talks about serious pit bull attacks, and includes footage of a guy severely mauled by three American Staffordshire Terriers. He argues that the severity and frequency of these attacks should see the breed banned.
Again, no real chance of reply is provided. So my reply would include:
Hi. The dogs in that video are American Staffordshire Terriers. Not pit bulls.
Also, people die from weimaraner and jack russell bites, too. The media often fails to report on these attacks, or when they do so, they report in a different way. (For example, Buster the golden retriever attacked 4 people and the media at the time mostly reported on ‘why would a golden retriever attack?’ instead of the ‘golden retrievers should be banned’ approach we see after bull breed attacks.)
“So you’re not hearing of labradors, or maltese terriers, or toy poodles causing this damage…” says Sarah Harris.
Ambulance guy (from the expert panel) says he’s been to attacks of lots of different breeds. He says that he “can’t tell the breeds apart to be honest” and “In my experience… all dogs can bite. It doesn’t matter what kind of breed it is” and ‘the bigger the dog, the bigger the bite’.
I would elaborate this response, if I had the opportunity, to when you say ‘you’re not hearing of’ attacks by different breeds, that’s because you’re not reporting them.
It’s how you train the dog, surely?
Yay, a decent question! Ambulance guy says that he trains his dogs and doesn’t leave them alone with kids. Good advice!
“Brad can talk through how the behaviour works. I mean, are pit bulls aggressive dogs?”
Brad was methodical in his response to this question.
It’s about preventing dog bites. You want the community to be safer, right?
Are you attached to the how (BSL)? Or are you attached to the outcome?
When we look around the world at measures used to reduce dog bite statistics to as low as possible, we see that success is based on behaviour-based strategies and not breed.
“You’ll never get rid of [dog bites] – get rid of 400 breeds – right? It doesn’t really matter.”
“When we were talking about this last week, a 4 year old boy had been attacked and terribly mauled and there was a question mark over the fate of the dog who did that. And I must say, as a mother, I would want that dog destroyed. I wouldn’t want to be standing up let’s protect this dog because he’s just.. severely injured this child, potentially could’ve killed this child. To me, isn’t that more of the issue?”
Brad answers this one as well.
This is the result of a ‘tragic convergence of errors’.
The dog was chained – chained dogs are more likely to bite.
The babysitter was there – not the owner.
The dog was large – larger dog, larger damage.
The child wasn’t adequately supervised
Well done Brad, again.
Joe Hildebrand wants hands to be raised for anyone who thinks dogs that attack a child should be killed. (That is, he fails to acknowledge the factors affecting the likelihood of a dog bite, as described by Brad.)
There is no place in society for a dangerous dog. What makes a dog dangerous is based upon the behaviour of the individual.
The whole thing got a little bit messy, with Joe Hildebrand speaking over Brad and Brad refusing to be spoken over. In summary:
There is a perception in the community that dogs are dangerous and
NSW statistics show that the pit bull terrier is the most dangerous breed of dog.
Brad replied that:
Perception is only perception, and
Those statistics are invalid, and
It doesn’t matter: We know what causes dog bites, globally, and we know that BSL doesn’t work.
We were talking about whether a dog who attacked a toddler should be destroyed.
Dr O’Shea says it’s context based. A good call.
And this is where this exchange ends.
So do you think the expert panel was given a fair chance?
The ‘Week in Tweets’ is name in the optimism that I will post a Twitter round up on a weekly basis. This sometimes happens, and sometimes (like this time) it doesn’t. As such, we have a pretty big tweet list here for you to get through. Maybe get a large coffee to go through this time.
Firstly, though, some bloggy news. I was wrapped when I received a phone call last month from Julie from the Master Dog Breeders and Associates telling me I had been nominated for the MDBA awards. Instantly, I thought of a puppy buyer from my early 2012 litter, and that they may have nominated me. My next though was that maybe one of my rescue dog adoptees had nominated me – that was an exciting prospect to. Then Julie tells me that it was this humble blog! And it was a stranger that made the nomination too. How cool is that! Thank-you so much, stranger. Your nomination means a lot to me.
Bingo, one of the dogs in Leema Rescue, was sick this week and incurred $950+ in vet expenses. Luckily, Bingo is feeling a lot better – more than can be said for my wallet!
On with the tweets!
Tweet of the Week
My favourite tweet is a little bit old, but I loved it when I first saw it, and I still love it now. It’s a Facebook linky to Fetching Dogs ‘How we assign a blend‘. I share it a bunch because it’s so true. And so well presented. Basically, having a ‘guess’ at what breed a dog is in rescue is not really useful. Can we get on with talking about how amazing this individual dog is?
When most dog training focusses on ‘rewarding the good’ and ‘punishing the bad’, the importance of habits (and habitual behaviour) is often overlooked.
Sure, a lot of dog behaviour is based on consequences. This is well understood.
But sometimes dogs do things because they ‘always have’. The regularity of performing this behaviour in itself drives further incidence of the behaviour.
It’s not necessarily that a dog learnt that it was appetitive to partake in a particular behaviour, but that it learnt that it could do that behaviour, and did that enough times that it became a habit.
Sure, sometimes this habit behaviours start because of the consequences. For example, a lot of reactivity behaviour. Initially, the dog was concerned about other dogs so barked at dogs when they got too close. This behaviour was reinforced, as the scary dog normally went away when that happened. However, while that may have been the dog’s thought process two years ago, after the dog has practiced barking at other dogs for a two year stretch, what was initially goal orientated behaviour became habitual behaviour – “I bark at other dogs because I saw them”.
Often, dogs perform behaviours because ‘they always have’, and there is nothing intrinsically appetitive about the behaviour or its consequences.
Take for example my girl Myrtle. At one stage, whenever I let her out the door, she would run barking to the fence – and she did this enough that it became a habit. Myrtle’s thought process wasn’t based on reinforcement or punishment. If you asked her why she ran to the fence, her answer would probably be about the antecedent (“I ran to the fence because the door opened.”). It’s a very simple behaviour chain.
Habits can be fixed by concentrating on the antecedent.
While on one hand habits are hard to break, many are also easy to solve by simple management like solutions, which concentrate on the antecedent. In Myrtle’s case, if I put her into that yard through the gate instead of the door, she did not bark at all. After a week or two of putting her into the yard through the gate, she simply ceased to perform her run-and-bark-to-the-fence behaviour. The antecedent was removed for long enough that Myrtle got ‘out of practice’ when it came to this habit. She now can enter the yard through the door with no problems.
Basically, if your dog always barks when he sees the postman, or always jumps up when you come home from work, or always scratches the upholstery in the car, your best way to fix this is to just not let the antecedent happen. Remove the postman from view, don’t allow your dog access to you when you come home from work, put him in a crate so he doesn’t scratch the upholstery of a car.
Every time a dog performs a behaviour, he gets in practice and it could become a habit. You need to minimise opportunities for dogs to practice any type of behaviour you do not want to occur.
Instill Good Habits
Want your dog to rest quietly in their bed of an evening? Tether them near or crate them on ‘their spot’ for them to settle there. When you remove the physical restraints, the dog will have learnt to sleep in that spot simply because they haven’t had opportunities to sleep in other places.
Don’t want your dog to barge through the front door when you open it? Scatter treats as you open the door – your dog will never practice barging through the door. They’ve learnt to be slow and stay inside (where the treats rain from the sky), and so never get in the habit of barging through the door in the first place.
There are many more examples. Let your dog practice doing all the things you want. Set them up for success in practicing good habits. When you stuff up, the dog learns alternative and possibly less desirable behaviours – and it’s easy for these to become a bad habit.
Habits and toilet training
Through rescue, I have had a lot of dogs come in that are used to living as ‘outside dogs’, and have never been toilet trained. Almost all these dogs have been easily toilet trained with no or minimal accidents inside. Why is that? I would argue that they are in the habit of toileting outside – they may not even know it’s possible to empty their bladder or bowels inside because they’ve never had the opportunity. A good habit has been formed.
The first two weeks that you bring a new dog into your home is the best time to instil good habits, especially surrounding toilet training. Many good habits can be formed by simply not allowing your dog or puppy to engage in bad toileting practices.
Ian Dunbar’s long term confinement area works on this principle. It prevents puppies from getting into the habit of toileting on carpet, tiles or floorboards by minimising opportunities for them to ‘get it wrong’.
However, there’s another upside to this – not only did you prevent the pup from learning the ‘bad habit’ of toileting on inside surfaces, they also learnt the ‘good habit’ of toileting on turf. It’s a win/win situation.
The moral of the story? Don’t let bad behaviours become habits! Everytime a problem behaviour is practiced, it becomes part of the dogs’ behavioural repertoire. Use management to break patterns of behaviour so they don’t become a bad habit.
Equally as important is to make sure your dog gets into good habits! Maximise the opportunities for your dog to practice behaviours you want.
When reading Terrierman he made reference to the work Schultz has done on the duration of vaccines. Intrigued, I decided to read one of his articles. I dug up a review Shultz wrote on the duration of vaccines. It looks at available research on vaccines and their ‘duration of vaccinal immunity’ (i.e. how long they last).
Whether a dog has immunity can be determined either by antibody titres (a ‘titre test’) or a challenge study (e.g. deliberately exposing the dogs to the pathogen).
For distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus the published data suggests an immunity period of 3 years or longer minimum.
Using blood products to test immunity, it seems that vaccines last 3 years or longer. When using challenge studies, dogs that were vaccinated 11 years ago did not contract the virus.
According to this article, if a cat or dog is:
Vaccinated with core vaccines at 12 weeks of age or older,
Is revaccinated at 1 year old, and
Receives a vaccination “not more often than every 3 years”
then this would be as protective to the pet as annual vaccination.
However, non-core vaccinations last a year or less.
Table 1 shows estimated minimum duration of immunity for the 4 core canine vaccines.
Shultz concludes, “Extending the revaccination intervals for canine and feline core vaccines does not place the animal at increased risk to developing vaccine preventable disease, but it does reduce the potential for adverse reactions”
He also recommends using titre tests to ensure that a puppy’s final vaccine enduces an immune response – and to revaccinate if the titre does not indicate that an immune response was produced.
Oh, and on cats? According to this paper, feline vaccines less researched, but feline parvovirus, calcivirus and herpes seems to last at least 7.5 years. Exception is feline leukemia which provides immunity for 1 year or less.
Reference: Ronald D. Schultz (2006). Duration of immunity for canine and feline vaccines: A review Veterinary Microbiology, 117 (1), 75-79 DOI: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2006.04.013