HOW TO CORRECTLY CHOOSE A DOG BREED & BREEDER SUITABLE FOR YOUR DISABILITY NEEDS. THIS IS ANOTHER CASE OF NEED OVER WANT; YOU WILL HAVE TO BEAR MANY THINGS IN MIND
Before even thinking about what dogs are your favourite, what breed you’ve always dreamed of, you need to consider something far more important.
This dog isn’t just a pet or family member. For some it won’t ever be considered a pet or family member until it’s fully trained if at all. This dog is primarily a piece of medical equipment. Its job requirements will limit the breed choice as will the handler’s experience and capabilities.
It should be noted, that Tale of Tails does not recommend buying non pure breeds (as a general rule) for assistance dog work. This does not mean that they are incapable of assistance dog work. We’ll discuss cross breeds, designer breeds, mixed-breeds and mongrels below.
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So how do we choose a breed?
Well first we want to ask some important personal questions. See more in-depth discussion of each below.
- Do I require physical assistance?
- Will I require scent based alert work?
- Do I have allergies to dogs?
- How much can I afford to pay towards a dog per month or year?
- What level of grooming can I do myself?
- What level of physical exercise can I provide?
- What dog experience do I have?
- What dog training experience do I have?
- What assistance dog experience do I have?
- Will I be getting help from a charity?
- Will I ever travel outside of the UK?
- Will I require the dog to be assisting me 365 days of the year?
Then we have specific breed questions.
- What common and uncommon health conditions will this breed have?
- What is the life expectancy of the breed?
- What are the size parameters of the breed?
- What are the breed traits good and bad?
- What was the breed originally created for?
- What is the general hip and elbow score of this breed?
This should be filled out for each breed you are considering
Then we have specific questions towards the breeders.
- What health tests have been done on BOTH parents? Check this against breed related health conditions.
- What titles if any do the parents have?
- Are both parents good representations of the breed? Ie are they to breed standard?
- What is the parents temperament and life style?
- Do either parents work? This includes, gundog, scent work, agility, trick titles, flyball, lure coursing and more.
- Do either parents guard the house or a family member?
- Can you see both parents?
- Can you see the mother and litter in their normal environment?
- Is this either parents first litter? If no what are previous litters doing nowadays?
- What vet checks do the puppies receive?
- Will the puppies be microchipped when they are rehomed?
- What age do they rehome puppies?
- What food are the puppies going to be weaned to?
- Does the breeder have a contract for each puppy purchased?
- How old are both parents?
This should be filled out for each breeder you are considering
Cross-breeds, designer breeds, mixed-breeds, and mongrels. Rescues and backyard breeders.
- What is the difference between cross-breeds, designer breeds, mixed-breeds, and mongrels?
- Rescue dogs. What are they?
- Backyard breeders. What are they and how do the operate?
- Rescue centres. The pros and cons, why they’re not risk free.
Do I require physical assistance?
This may seem like a unnecessary question if you are not what many would deem obviously physically disabled (such as a wheelchair, walker, or crutch user).
But physical assistance goes beyond obvious physical disabilities. Guide work is physical assistance. Forward momentum pulling – physical assistance. Counter balance, carrying items, bracing, picking up items, helping with laundry, helping with dressing and undressing, bringing items (retrieval), pressing door buttons or light stitches, closing doors, handing cash or cards to cashiers, help changing the bed, collapse response (rolling over/lifting up) – all of these are physical assistance tasks a dog may be required to do for you.
Some of these will require a large or extra large size dog. The specific tasks such as bracing or collapse response (where they stay rigid to break the handler’s fall) take a dog of a large build with a strong bone structure. The general rule is 50% or 1/2 of the handlers weight + any gear the dog will carry. This is referred to as heavy mobility. So for instance;
Human is 78kg including clothing and shoes (so what they weight when they’re stood still on an outing for example), dog gear is 2kg, totalling to 80kg. Therefore the dog would be required to weight 40kg at a healthy fit and muscled weight. There is also taking the handlers height into question.
Tall rigid handles for helping with bracing are NOT recommended as it can cause damage to the dogs spine. Neither of these heavy mobility tasks should be taken lightly and a professional trainer should be sourced in training them safely.
Other tasks such as forward momentum pulling, guide work and counter balance are what people class as light mobility. In light mobility the general rule is 33% or 1/3 of the handlers weight +a any gear the dog will carry. So for instance;
Human is 78kg including clothing and shoes (so what they weight when they’re stood still on an outing for example), dog gear is 2kg, totalling to 80kg. Therefore the dog would be required to weight 26.7kg at a healthy fit and muscled weight.
Then there are tasks like: pressing buttons or light switches, helping with laundry, picking up items, carrying items, bringing items (retrieval), closing doors, handing cash or cards to cashiers, help changing the bed, helping with dressing and undressing. These are tasks that may not require a dog of a certain size or weight but a small or medium size dog may struggle with them.
Retrieving or carrying items in their mouth comes naturally to gun dog breeds. They’re known as ‘soft mouth’ breeds (resulting in less likelihood of damage to the item) and for that reason golden retrievers are amongst the most popular breed for this work.
Another important note is that the dog should have a good hip score (less than the breed standard) and elbow score (ideally of 0-1) before doing any physical mobility work. Their hip and elbow scores should not be assessed before 1 years old (ideally until 18 months to 2 years old) to get the best idea of their health. As well as being 24 months old to allow growth plates to be fully developed.
This is why these questions must be asked because on this basis, the dog options are already massively limited. It should also be noted that if you can use a non-living auxiliary aid to assist then you should. Living beings fall ill, fail training, and ultimately will pass away.
Will I require scent based alert work?
Diabetes, seizure, allergy detection, and heart rate are either based off scent work or believed to be based off scent work.
Some dog breeds are built for better scent work than others and some just have a more natural ability towards picking up scent based or natural alerts.
Do I have allergies to dogs?
If you have allergies to certain dog breeds or know what breeds you’re not allergic to then this again will limit your choices. If you have a severe allergy (e.g. anaphylactic shock or asthma attacks) – think hard about whether an assistance dog the best option for you, even if you get a non-shedding breed.
Non-shedding breeds are a popular choice amongst people with allergies. While no dog is truly hypoallergenic there is evidence that non-shedding can cause less irritation. That said some people are still heavily affected. Many non-shedding breeds also need clipping and daily grooming to maintain their coat health which should be done by a professional, especially if you have allergies.
How much can I afford to pay towards a dog per month or year?
Not all dogs cost the same amount. The food costs (of the same brand feed) for a Great Dane and a Chihuahua vary greatly. Vet fees between these two breeds will be massively different too. One of the largest costs in surgery for pets is the anaesthetic which is used to induce a loss of consciousness. A larger animal requires a largest dose and therefore is more expensive.
There is also things to consider like grooming costs that will vary per breed. A Labrador Retriever can easily be groomed at home using basic tools, bathing is simple too with just shampoo and a towel dry. Where as a Standard Poodle will require roughly a hour of grooming a day, clipping and trimming on a 6 week basis. Bathing isn’t that simple either, a dryer is recommended as well. This means most Poodles are taken to professional groomers which is another cost to take into consideration.
Pet insurance will also vary per breed and level of insurance taken out. We recommend lifetime, liability and working dog insurance specifically for assistance dogs.
Other costs to take into consideration are worm control through worm counts or regular worm treatment, flea control, tick control, toys, treats, clothing, collars, tags, leads, harnesses, coats, basic training classes, advance training classes.
Something else to take into considering will be if you plan to have the dog hip and elbow scored when older, this again will not be covered by pet insurance, and can be fairly expensive.
Small vet charges such as cuts, rashes, ear infections which will not usually be covered by pet insurance until they become expensive and chronic. Also the more you use your insurance, the more the premiums go up, usually dramatically. Nor will any kind of neutering or spaying be covered by insurance.
What level of grooming can I do myself?
Grooming a dog is a mental and physical toll on the body. Certain breeds need a quick wipe down and brush through once or twice a week such as the Labrador Retriever or a Chihuahua. Whilst others like Rough Collies, Poodles, etc require multiple hours of grooming and professional setups for clipping (poodles only, never clip a rough collie) and drying after bathing to prevent hotspots from developing.
You need to be realistic about what level of physical care you provide to a dog. There is no shame in admitting you are unable to cope with care. Professional groomers are there to assist with grooming and make it easier when you are unable to cope. But as the recent covid-19 situation has shown there are times when we can’t take our dogs to the groomers and we must provide a certain level of care for them ourselves. It’s important to be able to provide some self care for a pet ourselves.
Do thorough research into breeds care, many breeds need surprisingly more grooming than people realise, in order for them to be comfortable.
What level of physical exercise can I provide?
There is mental exercise and physical exercise. Although mental exercise can be physically exhausting, it is not a long term substitute for good physical exercise provision.
Most breeds will require an hour walk daily. Some are comfortable with less, some require more. There are also the unicorns (PAGE LINK – JARGON) out there who defy their breed standards and require minimal or excessive exercise.
You do not have to have a physically disabling condition to be limited in providing physical exercise to a dog. Many people with mental health issues are unable to provide masses of physical exercise to a dog and there is no shame in admitting this. As mention earlier, mental health can be equal to physical symptoms and limitations.
Working lines of any dog breed will require more exercise, these dogs are bred for their high energy output, and while they may be higher drive (which is great for work drive), this also means more exercise needed.
What dog breed experience do I have?
This can mean breed specific, breed variety, behavioural variety, trained variety (what type of training each dog had), age and handling.
Having experience with your family’s elderly pet Japanese Chin is on a whole different level to having experience with a pack of mushing Huskies, an agility Border Collie, obedience competition German Shepherd, or a reactive and aggressive rescue mutt.
There are so many factors that come into consideration.
The biggest one here is being exposed to a variety of breeds and breed temperaments. Knowing and experiencing are two very different things. We might know that Golden Retriever is a gun dog breed and therefore a natural retriever, but experiencing it is something else entirely. Experiencing the behavioural habits that come with different breeds is important and allows you to have a wider view and understanding of many breeds, including the ones you haven’t experienced due to collective experience of others. They often need completely different ways of handling and have very different ways of communicating. For instance;
If your experience is solely with Staffordshire Bull Terriers then suddenly working with a Bichon Frise could be a difficult change. Same as someone used to working with Herding breeds like Border Collies or Rough Collies, two breeds who are eager to please and very handler orientated. Then suddenly go to a Alaskan Malamute which is a very stubborn breed, independent and not a breed that is eager to learn. Maybe your experience is with Lhasa Apso. Going from that to a Belgian Malinois is potentially setting yourself up to fail.
Whereas our goal with assistance dogs is to be successful. Set yourself up for success by recognising your experience and/or lack of, when you consider different breeds.
What dog training experience do I have?
Dog training goes beyond sit, lay and stay. Many people actually use “stay” incorrectly as well (they mean wait), but for the general pet home it works well enough.
There are masses of training tools and techniques available in the world and having at least a knowledge of them all, including the ones you don’t agree with, allows you to learn and develop off them. Not all dogs are the same, what worked for your previous dogs might not work for your next one and knowing how to adapt is important. Having a wide variety of dog training experience allows you to adapt quickly and correctly.
There isn’t just ‘obedience’ either, training techniques are applied differently in other activities. Learning about agility, mushing (bike-joring), flyball, trick training, gundog trials, lure coursing, scent work and more. These different activities will cross over in many sectors and many, if not all, will apply to assistance dog work in one way or another. Assistance dog work is not just obedience.
Another experience to consider is dog behavioural experience. By this I’m referencing dog behaviourists, a great resource for any dog owner – have you had interactions with actual dog behaviourists, and/or your own experience doing things, involving reading and understanding complex dog behaviour.
What assistance dog experience do I have?
This one is probably the more difficult questions to answer and most people looking into assistance dogs have zero assistance dog experience. It’s an entire sport in its own right, and it goes beyond agility, obedience, or trick training. A dog is required to work and be alert for long hours (not something expected of any dog sport, except perhaps gun-dogs), they’re expected to go into a large variety of environments, many where no other animal is allowed to be and therefore no dog will have any prior experience of it.
If possible see about meeting other assistance dog handlers. Go places with them, see the dog, see their interaction together and with their environment. Ask them about their experiences, issues, benefits and negatives, any surprises they experienced. It is an eye opener into the world of assistance dogs – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Will I be getting help from a charity or organisation?
This is probably a question that you may not realise will limit you. Many organisations have breed limitations, dog and handler age limitations, training limitations, health care rules and much more. Health care can involve mandatory vaccinations, vet-administered wormer and flea treatment, specific diet which may cause handler allergies. They may also have mandatory spaying and neutering at a young age. If you have any intention of joining an organisation then it is important that you check these now.
Will I ever travel outside of the UK?
This will unfortunately limit your breed choices. Some breeds are banned in other countries, flight lines ban certain size dogs from flying and there may be limited space for a dog on a flight as well. Bear in mind that the general policy on airlines for accommodating assistance dogs is that they should fit in the footwell space of one standard airline seat. Beyond that, you would usually be required to purchase an additional seat.
Will I require the dog 365 days of the year?
Some dogs can’t work on year round, this does not mean due to illnesses or injury but is a result of the dog’s breeding itself.
A husky or Nordic breed will be limited in the year due to their dense double coat. These coats are designed to keep them warm in temperatures as low as -51c (-60f). This means summer months are particularly tough for these breeds, they often spend hours of the day attempting to cool down. It could be dangerous for them to work in hot temperatures.
Other breeds that suffer are dense or thick coated dogs like the Bernese Mountain Dog, black coated dogs, and brachycephalic breeds. The larger the dog the easier it is for them to overheat as well. These things should be taken into consideration. You should also be able to recognise the signs of heatstroke.
In-depth research should be done into any potential breed. Breeders clubs are a prime research source, but a variety of sources are recommended.
Every breed is different, every dog is different and they require different levels of training and expertise.
Set yourself up for success!
What common and uncommon health conditions could this breed have?
Every breed is prone to certain health conditions, some are prone to more than others. It is your responsibility, as a potential owner, to know what you are buying into. You should know what health testing a breeder does and that information should line up with your research. Some health conditions are life threatening and potentially deadly to a poorly bred dog. Some are unavoidable in certain breeds, but many are preventable.
Be aware, research them all. You may not be able to prevent and/or avoid issues, and there may be issues that are not common to your breed that arise – all dogs are different, but it is best to be prepared. Check out our page about common ailments and symptoms found across many breeds.
What is the life expectancy of the breed?
Some breeds have a long life expectancy whilst others (usually giant breeds) have very short life expectancies.
Small breeds such as the Chihuahua, Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, Dachshund, Maltese, and the Pug are known for their long life expectancy. Anything from 14-17 years is normal for many of these breeds, some even reaching as old as 20.
Whereas breeds such as Dogue de Bordeaux, Great Dane, Bernese Mountain Dog, Irish Wolfhound, Neapolitan Mastiff, Leonberger, Newfoundland and Saint Bernard are known for having a short life expectancy rarely exceeding 10 years. The Dogue de Bordeaux having as short as 5 years. With all of these being classed as giant dog breeds they also take longer to mature and grow meaning their puppyhood can be as long as 3 years, so your reliable working time period is generally fairly short.
Life expectancy affects working life length so it is important to bear in mind the general life expectancy of your breed, even though obviously individual dogs are different
What are the size parameters of the breed?
If you require light or heavy mobility assistance then you will require a dog of a certain height, weight, bone structure. Find out what to expect from certain breeds and sometimes even specific breeders. Some breeds can vary excessively in standards depending on the breeder. Also, working lines and show lines can vary massively in size (as well as drive, energy etc.).
Sighthound type breeds (such as greyhounds, whippets) are not recommended for mobility work. The long spine and thin bone structure can cause health issues when used with mobility work.
You’ll also want to take into consideration that a small dog may get picked up, stood on and will be incapable of performing some tasks. If you get a small breed, you will need to consider how you will transport your dog safely but appropriately.
Remember that there are always dogs which sit outside of the breed standards so you cannot guarantee that your dog will be a specific size or weight, even if that breed usually reaches that.
What are the breed traits good and bad?
Breeds traits come in good and bad. It’s important to not just focus on the positives of dog ownership and breeds. There are negatives to breeds which you need to be aware of before signing up to getting one. Once you have your dog, it is important to embrace these and in time you’ll come to love the fact your dog has a high prey drive, is a talker, mouthy, a people person, reserved or independent. You may already love these traits about dog breeds, you may not.
Breed traits play a lot into breed selection. It’s not just how they’re raised, how you raise them has a massive impact but you can’t train breed traits out of a dog. Sure, you can get a herding dog to herd less, a talkative dog to talk less, a guard dog to guard less, and more. In the same way you can get a non-herding dog to herd, a quiet dog to talk, a non-guard dog to guard, and more. But it is kinder to just get a herding dog if you want a herding dog, a naturally guarding breed if you want a guard-type dog. It’s less work and stress for you and the dog and they can fulfil their breed needs.
What breed traits you want in a dog is entirely down to your requirements. As a standard it’s best to avoid guarding breeds as a whole. Several herding breeds are natural guarders as they were often left to guard the stock from intruders or alert their owners. Breeds that are prone to aggression against people and other dogs are best avoided too. Again you can’t force a dog to socialise, you can encourage it to be tolerant but it’s kinder to all parties to avoid these breed traits as they are asking a lot of your dog (and of your training).
What was the breed originally created for?
This will give you a massive insight into the abilities of the dog. Did you know that Schipperke and Keeshonds were used on barges as watch dogs? This makes them both natural talkers/barkers.
Greyhounds and sight-hounds have a high prey drive. Unlike breeds such as pointers they work entirely on sight, hence the name sight-hounds. Unlike sight-hounds other breeds such as the Beagle which works of scent which means they’re bred to be excellent with their nose. This could potentially make them great for scent work (alerts etc.), however other breed traits may act against this e.g. stubbornness and even the same trait that makes them good at something, also can make them worse at other things (e.g. having total focus on their handler is difficult when their noses are working overdrive in their surroundings).
Herding breeds are natural herders and less likely to attack the ‘prey’ than sight-hounds or other hunting dogs. The stalking habit is bred deeply into them along with a deep handler bond and a high trainability with a willingness to learn. They read their handlers deeply which means they pick up on good and bad signals easily, they also pick up good and bad habits, they absorb information quickly too. Herding breeds are usually ‘nipping’ dogs, this is their prey habit and herd habit combined. They nip at the legs of stubborn animals to move. It should be noted that some herding breeds are prone to strong anxiety and behaviour issues. They’re thinkers which can be there downfall when having negative experiences.
Gundogs and retrievers (e.g. water retrievers) can be great for assistance dog work as they are great for (unsurprisingly) retrieving items – a common assistance dog task. However, it can become obsessive in high-drive lines and they can be demanding and sometimes indiscriminate (retrieving anything and everything, rather than specific named items on command).
What is the general hip and elbow score of this breed?
Some breeds are prone to horrid hip and elbow scores – particularly large/giant breeds, and unfortunately even Labrador and golden retrievers. Even if your dog isn’t doing weight bearing mobility work a good hip score is still essential for an assistance dog.
Hip and elbow dysplasia is painful for a dog, it can even lead to hip replacement and elbow surgery which are extremely costly, this can happen as young as 1 year old or later on in the dog’s life. There is also the long term physiotherapy the dog will have to undertake as well. A hip replacement is still uncomfortable for dogs to walk on at times too. There is a risk with the surgery and the replacement will wear away eventually too.
What health tests have been done on BOTH parents? Check this against breed related health conditions.
Health tests are important and there should be evidence from vets that correspond with the dog’s name and the breeders address. When asking what health tests are done, you want them to tell you the health tests not you asking what specific health tests you know of. It is important that they know what health tests need to be done. It is a sign of a good breeder. If there are tests they don’t mention that you are aware of, then enquire about them. Good breeders won’t be angry or annoyed at questions. They should be the experts and you the novice.
What titles, if any, do the parents have?
Titles refer to showing and competition. These aren’t essential but are a great indication of the stock your pup has come from. You can also look into titles from the grandparents of the litter too (the parents’ parents).
Titles for showing mean they’ve been judged against the breed standard. As mentioned in the questions beforehand, this is important as without breed standards you’re essentially buying a unknown animal.
Competition titles are also a way of showcasing whether a dog’s offspring has the ‘trainability’ traits desired, is good under pressure, and more. It’s a good way of getting a background of the parents.
Are both parents good representations of the breed i.e. are they to breed standard?
Using your own gained knowledge from the previous questions you should be able to make a judge on whether the parents are good representations of the breed. You can ask others what they think of the conformation (physical appearance, build, stature etc.) and the information you have gained too.
What is the parents’ temperament and lifestyle?
This can be very crucial to choosing an assistance dog. Some breeders keep studs and breeding stock outside in kennels for most if not all of their lives. They have a very different interaction in life compared to household dogs. This isn’t always a negative thing but you should get a informative background on the parents temperaments and lifestyles to understand what their behaviour is like.
Do either parents work? This includes, gundog, scent work, agility, trick titles, flyball, lure coursing and more.
Working dogs are often bred from high energy or high drive bloodlines, often both. This can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to assistance dogs. Working as an assistance dog is often just a fraction of the outlet these types of dog need. Assistance dogs are required to be calm and focused, whereas dogs with high energy want to be on the go constantly. If you go for a dog which has working parents then it’s important to provide these outlets so that the dog is calm and collect when working.
Mental and physical stimulation is equality important for all dogs, working dogs more than others. It can be challenging to satisfy a high-drive dog’s needs in both areas, and yet it is essential for them to perform at their best (e.g. remain focused, settle well). Mental stimulation comes from puzzles, games, training, hide & seek etc., while the more obvious physical stimulation comes from running, walking.
It is particularly challenging to satisfy a high-drive dog’s needs when you are disabled so you need to bear this in mind. Some of these dogs need to be constantly on the go, so if you have long periods of rest in bed or struggle with motivation, energy or pain then this may result in undesirable behaviour from your dog (destructiveness, excessive barking) which in turn can be stressful for everyone. In this case, a lower-drive dog may be a better option. In general a show line is lower drive than a working line but individual pup temperament also varies significantly.
Most dog sports combine mental and physical stimulation. For example, agility involves problem solving (how to navigate an obstacle), quick decision making, following hand signals and sound, as well as physical exertion.
Do either parents guard the house or a family member? Do they resource guard?
When you think of guarding, you might think of a dog standing at the window endlessly barking at every person, dog, car, squirrel, leaf that dares to pass. This is property guarding and is common in many dogs – it is essentially communicating their territory and letting everyone know its theirs. Property/house guarding (usually just vocal and pacing), while annoying and loud and disruptive, is generally not as problematic as other forms of guarding (unless you are a postman!!!)
Guarding can be a genetic behaviour inherited from their parents (hence identifying whether the parents do this behaviour), and it can also be instinctive due to the origins of their breed. Unfortunately the way some dogs guard can veer into the territory of aggression which is obviously undesirable and could end up with them, and you, in a lot of trouble.
Some breeds are more prone to guarding property than others but many of the ones most prone to guarding property vocally don’t look typically imposing e.g. Chihuahuas, Schipperke. They generally bark VERY loudly and persistently. Some breeds look imposing and may naturally be more prone to an “offensive” style of guarding including lunging, pacing, running e.g. German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Belgian Malinois. If appropriately handled, these dogs can safely be watch dogs (a more “defensive” style of guarding), where they look and sound imposing but they alert you to intruders rather than approaching the threat (a more desirable behaviour in most situations).
Resource guarding is unfortunately all too common a problem in many breeds and is a frequent cause of bites to humans and dog fights. The dog feels the need to protect the bone, toy or food they have from the human or other dog, and then prevents the person or dog from taking it – usually by snapping, warning, growling or even biting.
Person guarding and “protecting” is the biggest guarding issue as dogs can often misread a situation and feel the need to protect their owner from unfounded threats including other humans. Unfortunately, this is very hard for a typical dog owner to keep under control once encouraged, and can potentially result in nasty incidents.
Even defensive guarding of people is potentially problematic in assistance dogs because they are frequently exposed to people approaching their human and it can be incredibly stressful for them to continually need to override their instinct. Barking at everyone who approaches is neither appropriate nor practical when you have an assistance dog. The biggest issue is if you were to have a medical event and emergency services were called but your dog guard you and not let them close. That means you can’t get the help you need, and you risk someone getting hurt or your dog being separated from you.
Can you see both parents?
If it’s a paid-for stud fee then you may not be able to meet the father. That said you should be able to obtain all relevant information about the father from the mother’s breeder, they should know all the answers about him or be able to get them. Some breeders may even be able to get you in contact with the studs owner to get more information or maybe meet him. If you don’t have information on them, or you are unable to see either parent when you are in contact with the breeder then it may be something to reconsider.
Can you see the mother and litter in their normal environment?
This means the puppies are seen where they sleep with mum and play with their siblings instead of them bought to a different area. You want to know that the mum and pups are kept in a clean and healthy environment. It should be warm, clean, spacious and depending on the pups’ age the mum should be able to escape them for a while for her own health.
Is this either parents’ first litter? If not, what are previous litters doing nowadays?
It’s perfectly acceptable to ask about previous litters and how they are doing. They may lie to you but they may equally have interesting stories and photos they can show you.
For assistance dog work, knowing whether any of the previous litters are therapy dogs or perhaps even successful assistance dogs, over the age of 3 ideally, is particular useful. Assistance dogs in training are not the same as assistance dogs. In training dogs may yet fail in their training. Again the breeder may lie about this information.
Also knowing if any of the previous pups compete in shows or sports etc is also good to know, but remember many buyers may have just wanted a family pet.
It’s also important to know if there were any complications with a previous litter; if there were or the mother was stressed, many breeders will not continue to use that bitch for breeding for her own health and safety.
A bitch also shouldn’t have a litter before the age of 2, the dog is still growing at this point and is still a mere puppy herself. On the flip side they also should be having their first litter very late in life either as it is dangerous to their health and life (and to that of the pups).
What vet checks do the puppies receive?
The puppies should be checked over by a vet at least once before being rehomed. Again it’s okay to ask the breeder what checks the vets do. Ears, eyes, feet, joints, teeth are the basics. There should also be record of these – they can be very useful later in life.
There should also be a record of the worming the pups received, either by the breeder or a vet, regular breeders will more than likely keep and administer their own wormer which is normal. It is a 90% chance that young pups will get worms in the first 8 weeks of their life, as they get older they become less likely to get them, but regular worming prevention should be done. Worm treatment should be done up to 6 months old. Then either worm treatment or worm counts.
Will the puppies be microchipped when they are rehomed?
Microchipping is a compulsory legal requirement for the BREEDER before homing. This includes oops litters and even the ‘once every 3 years’ breeders. If you have acquired dogs through breeding or rescuing they must be microchipped before rehoming. For ease of reference, you should have record of their microchip (when it was done, what brand/type and the number). See Microchip Law.
What age do they rehome puppies?
Puppies should not be rehomed before they are 8 weeks old and we mean 8 weeks exactly, not 7 weeks and 5 days, not 7 weeks and 6 days. 8 weeks.
The reason for not rehoming before 8 weeks is because the puppies need to learn key communication skills from the mother and their siblings. Even if the mother abandons the pups its still important for them to learn communication skills from each other. If the pup is a only pup and abandoned by the mother then again it is still important for it to stay with the breeder until 8 weeks, this place is the pups safe space and removing them from it at such a young age is not healthy. A responsible breeder will continue to help the puppy develop and learn those ever so important communication skills.
Puppies start weaning off their mother at 3 weeks old, they’ll start showing an interest into food other than mother’s milk and will start to become independent.
Some breeders choose not to rehome pups until they are 11 weeks old. This is because they feel it’s important for the pups to continue to learn them communication skills from the mother and siblings. If your breeder decides to keep pups until 11 weeks they should be working on some basic manners and toilet training. You may wish to check what techniques they’re choosing to use in this time frame so you are working from the same page.
What food are the puppies going to be weaned to?
You’ll want to know what the parents are fed on, in particular the mother. This will give you an insight into the health and care the breeder puts into their dogs. Some foods and brands are a major no-no, but for the most part it’s a personal choice, same as human diets.
There is a lot of speculation about types of feed dogs should be on but the most important thing is the feed quality, not the type. Wet, dry, raw are the main three. There is also homecooked, dehydrated and more. – we discuss this further in our section on dog diets [include link to page]
A regular thing seen amongst breeders is feeding of rice pudding and Weetabix to puppies. This is not good for them, rice pudding is high in sugar and milk and Weetabix has no nutritional value. We’ve yet to see a good reason for feeding either of these to a puppy.
Does the breeder have a contract for each puppy purchased?
Many breeders have a return clause contract with their puppies. This means that if there is a problem related to health within a certain time frame (usually 6-12 months of age), then the puppy can be returned for a full refund.
There is also the clause that during any point in the dog’s life, if the new owners want to rehome the puppy then it must be offered to the breeder first (a refund is not given in this instance). This is a sign of a good breeder, a good breeder will want to find a knowledgeable or experienced home for a dog that is returned. That or they will at times keep the dog themselves depending on what home they can offer. The aim is to prioritise the dog’s welfare. If you are a responsible owner then the money lost will be accepted as that, a loss. Pet ownership is a gamble.
Another contract type is a breeding contract. Some have a neutering requirement where the dog must be spayed or neutered by a certain age. Some breeders do not allow breeding from their stock, if they do then it’s usually at a higher selling fee or another form of contract.
How old are both parents?
Elderly dogs shouldn’t be used for breeding, nor should puppies (aged up to 18 months although often 24 months). It is stressful and can potentially be painful and life threatening to them and can therefore affect the pups’ welfare after birth. A good breeder will know this and wouldn’t allow them to breed.
Despite all this information, you should do your own in-depth research into what you feel makes a good breeder.
Hopefully this will give you direction to start in if nothing else.
Cross-breeds, designer breeds, mixed-breeds, and mongrels. Rescues and backyard breeders