A number of you have asked me for advice on how best to choose a puppy or dog to be the family pet. While there can never be absolute guarantees there are a number of golden rules. Following these should help load the search in your favour and it is hoped that being well prepared you won’t be tempted to phone the nearest rescue centre as your dog approaches adolescence!

Before reading the list it is a given you can afford to keep a dog and have factored in weekly food costs, veterinary bills, equipment and annual insurance. If you work full time consider whether it is fair to leave a highly social animal on its own for most of the day, dog walkers can be pricey. Dogs need daily exercise, training and play, consider how much time you want or are able to give to this aspect.

Of course, a number of people badly want a dog but balk at the thought of a puppy. Let’s be honest, pups are very hard work, especially if you also have kids. Do think about an adult rescue; reputable rescue centres will be prepared to work hard to find the right dog for you.

  • First and foremost, don’t rush in and buy the first cute puppy you see. Pups that are really easy to get hold of, no questions asked, are unlikely to be the product of a thoughtful, planned breeding. Puppy farming is still big business- so caveat emptor!
  • Don’t be overly swayed by looks. Beautiful blue eyes or a ‘rare’ coat colour have little bearing on how good a family pet the puppy will make.
  • If you are going for a pedigree do your homework and research the attributes of a range of breeds. Consider whether the description of the breed temperament, size, and exercise needs will fit you and your lifestyle.
  • Consider attending the breed showcase Discover Dogs, in October at Excel.
  • Whether pedigree, ‘designer cross’ or mixed breed, ensure you visit the breeder in their home before you commit. If your pup is to live in the city with you and your kids it is probably unwise to buy a pup that has been reared in a childless home, in a shed, in the countryside.
  • It is probably best to avoid dogs bred from strong hunting or working lines. Working line dogs that are not worked can become easily bored and destructive. If you are looking at ‘designer crosses’ like labradoodles or cockapoos, ask if either parent is from working stock.
  • Gregarious breeds will probably fare better in busy urban parks, where they are happy to meet people and other dogs. One person breeds, aloof breeds and dogs with a strong guarding instinct, will be hard to keep in an urban setting.
  • Early handling by children and exposure to normal household noises, like hoovers and washing machines, is vital. City sounds, like sirens, are also important. Pups that are not exposed to these things early on may be fearful of them in later life.
  • Insist you see the pup’s mum (dam) and also try to see the dad (sire) and check both for temperament and health. Dad is important for inherited temperament and the pups will learn much from their mother’s behaviour in early development. Avoid buying pups from nervous, aggressive or ‘guardy’ parents.
  • Look for the pup that is neither too shy or too pushy.
  • Even if the pup is a crossbreed, ask for proof that DNA tests have been done on the parents for the relevant listed inherited diseases (look for the pedigree breeds in the cross). Remember, it is not a given that crossbreeds are healthier. Badly bred crossbreeds can inherit ‘bad’ genes from one or both parents.
  • Expect any good breeder to really quiz you. They should not be in a hurry to sell you their precious pup. A good breeder will always ask for return of the pup should anything go wrong and will want to stay in touch.

Leonie St Clair

This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of SE22 magazine.