Buying a puppy
- Can you afford the time, patience, energy and cost?
- Do you know where to get a healthy and happy pup from, and avoid funding puppy farmers and irresponsible breeders?
- Do you have lots of love to give for up to 15 or so years?
Blue Cross rehomes unwanted and abandoned pets, including dogs and puppies, every year, so we would always encourage anyone looking to add a dog of any age to their family to visit a rehoming centre first.
But we know many people buy a puppy for lots of different reasons, so we’ve put together a top guide to help you avoid common puppy pitfalls and make the best decision for your family.
Where do I start?
Is a puppy right for me, right now?
Puppies are infant mammals, and as such they need a lot of care and attention. This may sound obvious, but some people underestimate just how needy puppies are. They are also pretty much a blank canvas, which means they are totally reliant on their owners for guidance on how to live in human society. Before you commit, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you around for most of the day? Or if not, can you easily make arrangements for someone trustworthy to be there when you are not? If you work in a job where you will be away from the house 9.00am to 5.00pm without being able to take your pet with you or find someone who can spend time with the puppy during the day, we would really recommend reconsidering whether this is the best time for you to get one. Dogs are social animals and don’t like being alone.
- Can you afford it? The average pup will set you back anywhere between £400 and £1,400 upfront. Dogs need to eat, they will need to visit a vet if they become sick or injured and for annual check-ups and vaccinations – we highly recommend getting pet insurance for your dog, they’ll need to be cared for if you go away and they can’t join you, they need toys to keep them mentally stimulated, a collar and tag. The costs of dog ownership add up, so do your sums.
- Do you like a challenge? There aren’t many things cuter than a puppy, which is a good job as it does help the frustration quickly subside when they’ve gone to the loo on your carpet… Puppies are brand new to the world and they don’t know right from wrong. You’ll need to teach them every single thing you want them to know. They need positive encouragement and patience to help them learn how to be a good member of the household. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding!
- Will you be a responsible dog owner? There are laws governing dog ownership, and there are also things you can do to help make sure your pet is a good member of the community. You’ll need to train your puppy to behave around people and other animals, pick up after them, and make sure they are never out of control or allowed to harm anyone.
- Is everyone in your family keen? If one person has serious doubts, please talk about this with each other first before diving in to puppy ownership. Owning a puppy is hard work and they learn faster if everyone has the same house rules and uses the same words and actions for training, so everyone needs to be committed. If you can’t resolve the issue, right now probably isn’t the best time.
- What breed or crossbreed is best for you? Dogs were developed to have different jobs, so some suit some lifestyles better than others. If you’d like a cuddle monster who isn’t bothered about long walks, consider a greyhound. If you’re an outdoorsy type who loves hiking and is interested in agility or other brain games, try a collie or spaniel type. Avoid active, intelligent, working breeds like huskies if you’d prefer a quick trip round the block twice a day – they will get bored, which can lead to problems.
Puppy vs adult dog: Would an older dog suit you better?
Adding an adult dog to the family will suit some people better than taking on a young puppy. In fact, if you’re completely new to dog ownership, an adult dog may give you the best introduction. Adult dogs’ personalities are already formed and, depending on their age, older dogs will be out of the non-stop whirlwind puppy phase. Many adult dogs are already housetrained and will have basic training such as walking nicely on lead, good recall and knowing when to settle, and they will be less likely to keep you up all night. Puppies learn from exploring their new world – they need lots of guidance and time investment to get your relationship off on the right foot, and to prevent your furniture from suffering!
If you’re looking for those nice long walks from day one, then an adult dog will be better suited as puppies need to wait several months before they are ready for this level of exercise.
That’s not to say that all adults dogs will fit into your home life immediately with no issues, but the benefit of rehoming an older dog from a rescue organisation like Blue Cross is that experienced people who have assessed the dog can give you a much clearer idea of your pet’s personality and the type of home that would suit them best. We will also give you top advice on how your dog may react in certain situations which will help you in managing your day-to-day dog ownership. Plus, you’ll be giving a much-needed home to an unwanted pet.
At Blue Cross, we offer advice with coping with any behavioural issues for our rehomed dogs’ lifetimes, and will always be there if things don’t work out and you need to part from your dog. Although some breeders will offer to take a puppy back, the majority do not offer that safety net.
If a puppy is for you and now is the right time, congratulations! Having a dog as part of the family is one of the most rewarding, amusing and joyful things you can do (even if it is hard work!).
The best thing you can do for your new puppy and your family is to make sure you give your new pet the best start in life, and that begins with choosing a trustworthy and caring breeder who has the pup’s interests at heart.
Where should I get a puppy from?
We’re an animal welfare charity that rehomes thousands of pets a year and treats animals that have got into difficulty with unexpected illnesses and difficult pregnancies, so it won’t come as a surprise that we would encourage you to look to rehoming centres first. If a rescue pup isn’t for you, read our advice below on choosing a good breeder.
Getting a puppy from a rescue centre
Puppies and pregnant bitches often find themselves in rescue. They are often given up, or abandoned, when the person using them for breeding or selling them is unable to give them the care they need.
Good rehoming charities, like Blue Cross, will give a puppy a full vet check and behaviour assessment to make sure the puppy is going to the best home for them – and any training they need to get the best start to life as a pet. They will offer ongoing support for the life of your dog, should you ever have any problems, and will take your dog back and find them a new home should your circumstances change and you are no longer able to keep them.
Blue Cross doesn’t have blanket criteria about where we rehome dogs to – we do this based on the individual pet’s needs. We rehome dogs and puppies to families with children of all ages, with cats, other dogs, and without gardens, if the pup and the family are the right match.
You may have to wait a little while for the right puppy from a rehoming charity, but please get in touch with your nearest centre for a chat about what you are looking for – we’ll be happy to help.
Rehome a pup now
Visit our rehoming pages to find the pet for you. If we don’t have any right now, give us a call for a chat and we’ll help find your perfect match.
Choosing a trustworthy breeder
From 6 April 2020 it will be illegal to sell a puppy or kitten under six months old that you haven’t bred yourself. This doesn’t apply to animal rehoming charities, like Blue Cross, who will continue to be there for animals who need us.
Make no mistake; there are lots of people out there who make large sums of profit by selling puppies that have been poorly bred, often in terrible - and even cruel - conditions. Unfortunately, these unscrupulous breeders and sellers can be tricky to spot, as some will go to great lengths to convince you they care about the puppy. Please don’t be caught out by them. Don’t fund this cruel trade.
Thankfully, there are lots of people out there who have decided to have a litter because they have a passion for a particular breed or want others to get the same enjoyment they have had from dog ownership.
How to spot a good breeder
- Gives lots of information in an advert for selling the puppies
- Has a waiting list for puppies
- Encourages you to meet your puppy several times before taking them home
- Has a clean and safe area in their home for puppies and their mum
- Will ask you lots of questions about why you want a puppy. Be prepared!
- Will want you to ask lots of questions about them and their puppies
- Gives you their vet’s details so you can ask the vet questions about the litter and parents
- Sells puppies with a contract that promises to take the puppy back if there are any problems
- Will keep in touch after you’ve taken the puppy home – ask them if they are still in contact with previous litters
- Has the puppies microchipped before you can take them home (this is a legal requirement, unless they have a certificate signed by a vet)
- Puppies and mum are obviously happy in the environment they are kept in
- Won’t let you take the puppy home until they’re old enough to leave mum, at least eight weeks
- Encourages you to meet other members of the litter’s family so you can be sure about temperament
- Can tell you all about the socialisation they’ve been doing, eg taking them in the car, meeting lots of people of all ages, meeting other animals, playing etc
- Has started housetraining the pups by the time they are old enough to leave
- Gives evidence of relevant health testing, if needed. Some breeds and crossbreeds should have genetic testing to rule out inherited disease. Read more on this below.
- Provides pet insurance for the first few weeks to cover illness
Warning signs: walk away if you experience this from a puppy breeder or seller
- Gives very little information in an advert, for eg one or two sentences
- Won’t let you, or makes excuses about why you can’t, meet the puppy’s family members including mum and littermates
- Offers to meet you in a public place such as the street, a service station or railway station to hand over the puppy. Or, offers to drop the puppy off at your home
- Will not let you meet the puppy or mum before the occasion you take the puppy home
- Puppy has a pet passport. Puppies that are offered for sale with a pet passport are very likely to have been bred abroad for commercial sale in the UK, meaning they will have been transported hundreds of miles at a very young age. Not only does the travel have a negative impact on the puppy’s welfare, but you will have no way of checking the environment the litter and parents were kept in. You also run the very real risk of funding a cruel and illegal industry. If you are concerned contact Trading Standards and the RSPCA. It is illegal for puppies under 12 weeks to be imported, and bad for their welfare.
- Can’t provide proof of vaccination, worming, health certificates etc
- Cannot give you information about, or proof of, relevant genetic health testing
- Cannot provide a genuine vet’s contact details
- Puppy isn’t microchipped (this is a legal requirement before the pup goes to a new home)
Questions to ask your puppy breeder before committing
1. Will the puppies come vaccinated, microchipped and wormed with the relevant health certificates?
2. Have any of the puppies been poorly or had any ongoing health concerns?
3. Can you see all of the litter and interact with them?
4. Are you able to see the puppy with their mum? Ask about dad and any siblings too.
5. Where do the puppies and mum sleep at night and do they have regular human contact throughout the day?
6. What training/social interactions have the puppies had so far? Will your pup have started toilet training before you take them home?
7. Is your puppy Kennel Club registered (pedigree dogs only)? If so, can they provide the relevant certificates?
8. If you’re buying a breed that suffers from inherited health problems, can the breeder provide evidence of screening for these?
9. If there are any problems, will the breeder take the puppy back?
Pet shop puppies
A pet shop environment is not a suitable one for pet dogs to spend their early weeks of life.
From 6 April 2020 it will be illegal for pet shops to sell puppies under six months old.
Good breeders will not allow their puppies to be sold in pet shops before this time, so you risk buying a poorly bred and poorly socialised puppy who will struggle to cope with life.
Pet shop pups often come from puppy farms.
Please don’t buy puppies from pet shops.
[Pictured: Puppies being sold in a licensed UK pet shop in 2016]
Meeting your puppy
- You should see the puppy with their littermate and their mother, several times if possible but at least twice before you take your pet home.
- Watch mum and puppies interacting together to make sure they are happy. If they don’t appear happy, or if you’re not allowed to see the litter with mum – walk away.
- Is the mum a happy relaxed dog, not fearful, and comfortable in the presence of people? Parental influences have a big effect on future character.
- Pick up and play with the puppy. This is great socialisation.
- Take a blanket to leave with the puppy. This will smell of the puppy when you bring them home, and comfort them for their first few nights away from mum.
- Taking your children with you the first time you meet a puppy will make it harder to say no if it's not the right fit. We recommend taking your children on second or third meets, once you've committed.
What is Kennel Club registration, and what does it mean to have a KC registered litter? Purebred puppies will come with a pedigree certificate from the Kennel Club, the body that registers pedigree dogs in the UK. These tell you that the dog you have bought is the breed the seller says it is.
A Kennel Club registration certificate is simply a record of a dog’s birth – just like a human baby’s birth certificate. It is not a guarantee of health, and it gives no indication of whether or not the puppy’s breeder is responsible.
A pedigree certificate displays a dog’s family tree. This alone is not a guarantee of healthy breeding either. See below for tips on buying a health-tested dog.
If you see the phrase ‘KC registered litter’ on an advert, this simply means that the birth has been registered. Sometimes, an advert might say the puppy 'comes with papers'.
The Kennel Club also runs an Assured Breeder Scheme. Breeders who register with this scheme are inspected by the Kennel Club and must meet certain standards, including screening mums and dads for relevant genetic problems.
Beware of fake pedigree certificates. We often see certificates that look credible but are not. You can check a puppy’s pedigree with the Kennel Club to ensure it is genuine.
Regardless of whether or not your puppy has pedigree paperwork, we still recommend doing your homework and making sure you are happy with the breeder before committing to purchasing a pup from them.
Avoid puppy farms
Puppy farms are large-scale, factory-style breeding facilities. They cannot provide the right environment to ensure a puppy is happy, healthy and will become a good family pet.
Breeding parents suffer in these places too, and once they are no longer any use, they are often dumped or killed. Don’t fund this cruel industry.
Health matters – how to buy a healthy puppy
Things to look out for when visiting and picking up your pup to take them home
- Bright eyes. No weeping or discharge.
- Clean nose. No discharge or sign of sores.
- Shiny and clean coat, with no sign of flea dirt. They shouldn’t smell bad.
- Clean teeth
- Clean ears. No redness, discharge or dirty, thick wax.
- Clean bottom. No sign of diarrhoea or worms.
- Neither skinny (though some breeds are slim), with the bones visible or easy to feel, nor too fat
All puppies, regardless of breed, should have their first vaccination between six and nine weeks of age, and their second at 10 to 12 weeks.
Puppies are vaccinated against:
- canine distemper
If your breeder has sorted the first vaccination, make sure you get the vaccination card (check that it’s been signed by the vet) so your own vet can give the second.
Did you know...?
All dogs in the UK must be microchipped by the age of eight weeks, by law, unless they have a certificate of exemption signed by a vet. The breeder is legally responsible for getting them microchipped. As soon as you take them home, make sure your correct contact details are listed with the database.
Buying a healthy pedigree pup or crossbreed
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and there are literally hundreds of breeds to choose from – even more if you count crossbreeds!
Years of refining breeds have inevitably led to dogs with pools of very similar genes. This means that some problems are inherent in some breeds. Unfortunately, some of these inherited conditions cause dogs discomfort and even real suffering. Some of these problems (but not all) are entirely preventable thanks to genetic tests being available to breeders; allowing them to screen breeding stock and select the healthiest mums- and dads-to-be.
Crossbreeds are often thought to be healthier because of ‘hybrid vigour’ and only the healthy genes winning the race. While there is some truth in this, there is also a risk that the bad genes from both parents could be passed on to their offspring. If you’re buying a cockapoo, for example, insist on a breeder who has screened both the cocker spaniel parent and poodle parent for the problems inherent in their respective gene pools.
If you want a puppy with the best chance of a healthy and happy life ahead of them, research the genetic problems within the breed and make sure you choose a breeder who health tests for hereditary problems diligently. If the breeder you have found doesn’t do this, then choose another breeder who does.
You will pay more upfront for a puppy from a health screened litter, but you will avoid the financial and emotional costs of your pup developing a preventable disease.
If you’re unsure what the results of a health test mean, give the dam and/or sire’s vet a call for advice.
Inherited problems with no health test
Unfortunately, genetic screening tests don’t exist for all conditions, and some problems are ingrained in some breeds. However, some problems can be detected from examining a dog physically, for example by looking at facial shape.
Fifty per cent of Cavalier King Charles spaniels have a heart murmur by the age of five, and brachycephalic dogs for example, including pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, have been bred to have flat faces, and as such suffer from breathing difficulties and other problems which can limit their ability to enjoy a happy doggy life. They are not the only ones to suffer. Even good breeders of dogs with such ingrained health problems will be unable to produce a truly healthy litter.
If you want a breed that suffers from genetic disease, be prepared for the high chance of costly vet bills, the fact that your dog could need one or more operations during their lifetime, and for additional care needed. We are seeing ever increasing numbers of flat-faced dogs for breed-related issues that require owners to take a lot of extra care of their pets, and we would seriously recommend reconsidering getting a puppy of these breeds.
Puppies that have been bred with no regard for their health are at risk of needing frequent trips to the vet and even operations throughout their lives.
Frank underwent an operation to widen his nostrils and airway before undergoing a 'face lift' to address his eye problems.
Happy and content puppies
Socialisation sets a puppy up for life as a family dog. Pups have a crucial period between the age of three and 12 weeks. During this time, they learn how to cope with being around people and other animals, and about reacting to different environments and situations.
Several of these vital weeks will be spent with the breeder or rescue centre, so it’s important that whoever is caring for the pup makes sure they meet a variety of people of all ages, and experience situations and other animals in a positive way. You, as their owner, will then become responsible for continuing their socialisation with lots of positive experiences and encouragement. It’s important that puppies aren’t forced into situations where they are scared; socialisation is a gradual process allowing puppies to become familiar with potentially scary things, starting from a distance.. We highly recommend signing up to a good puppy class. Visit before you sign up to check there is no uncontrolled play, that training is by reward and that the trainer does not use harsh and outdated training methods.
A puppy who lacks experience with the world will find many things that we take for granted scary and is very likely to grow up to be a worried dog. A frightened and anxious dog is more likely to develop behaviour problems than a dog who has had a rich, varied and positive puppyhood.
Ideally, a breeder should introduce a puppy to the following in a positive way
- Dogs, and other animals eg cats, horses and livestock (if appropriate)
- Going outside
- Travelling in the car
- Visiting the vet
- Different noises, including normal household noises (vacuum cleaner, washing machine)
- Different smells
- People of all ages and appearances
- People wearing different clothing, eg hats, uniforms etc
Care must be taken to ensure puppies don’t mix with unvaccinated dogs when they are susceptible to illness.