Man’s best friend has long been the most popular pet in the UK. And in recent years, the number of pet dogs has skyrocketed to over 10 million. It is estimated that over a quarter of adults have a dog. With dogs being so popular, many people are wondering how to buy a puppy safely. It’s a good question, as questionable practices regarding the selling of dogs are on the rise. So read on to find out how you can purchase a puppy safely.
Is a Puppy Right For You?
Before you even get close to hugging a new puppy, it is really important you ask yourself if having a puppy is the right thing to do. Having a pet is not all playtime – it takes work, dedication, a lifetime of commitment and a lot of financial input.
Does a puppy fit your lifestyle?
Puppies need a lot of training, exercise and care in their first year of life. Some people even compare looking after a puppy to having a baby! If you work a 9 to 5 job and live alone, can you ensure your puppy has the time they need? On the flipside, would a puppy fit in a home with three rowdy children? Consider your current pets too – while many dogs may relish the chance to play with a new puppy, some may dislike changes in their routine that a new puppy would bring. Cats and other pets may struggle even more.
Your environment should be a factor too
Dogs need lots of room to stretch out and play, so if you live in an apartment or a busy city, can you ensure they get this space? Are there enough local parks your dog could visit? Is there a nearby vet? Are there other dogs to socialise with? Bored or unsocialised puppies can start having behavioural problems that can be very difficult to address.
Finally, think of the financial side of owning a dog
It’s never nice to think of money in this way, but it is important to know how much a dog can cost you. Puppies can cost thousands of pounds to buy, and will need regular vaccinations, health checks and neutering in their first year or so of life. It is recommended that dogs also have regular flea and worming treatment to protect them from parasites. Dogs will also need food, water, toys and other consumables that can cost quite a lot. And this is just the routine care. Accidents and emergencies, or even simple issues like ear and skin infections can result in expensive veterinary bills (remember that this is because the running costs of most vet practices are very high, and many do not make a huge profit).
Referral level veterinary care can cost thousands or even tens of thousands. Insurance, payment plans, health clubs or personal savings can reduce costs somewhat, but owning a pet can still take a considerable chunk of your monthly budget. As the cost-of-living crisis continues, are you in a good financial place to own a puppy right now?
What Kind of Dog?
A dog is not just a dog, and humans have created 200 or more (depending on who you ask) distinct breeds, each with their own sizes, needs, personalities, problems and quirks. Looking after a Pomeranian is very different from a Labrador which is very different from a Doberman which is very different…
…you get the point!
It is very important to research breeds thoroughly to understand what you may be facing. Do you want a high-energy working dog or a quieter lap dog? Are you intending to show your dog or just want a family pet? Can you manage a strong large-breed dog, or is a smaller one better? Have you got time to groom a long-haired breed, or is a short-haired dog easier? Are you prepared to deal with the myriad of genetic disorders that come with some of the more popular breeds (though remember that all dogs will have some genetic issues)? There’s a lot to consider – you can ask owners of your favourite breed how they manage their dog, or speak to a vet or breeder to get their opinion.
Remember that not all dogs stick to breed ‘standards’, so just because a pug should do this, doesn’t mean your pug will. And don’t forget that crossbreeds can be even more varied due to their mix of different genetics.
Who to Get a Puppy From?
If you have decided that a puppy is the right thing for you, next you need to decide where to get a puppy from. This is a very important step too.
There are a multitude of places where puppies can be bought or adopted from
They include licensed breeders, unlicensed breeders, pet shops, charities and adoption centres, from abroad, from online or paper advertisements, or family and friends. We generally advise looking in shelters or charities before purchasing a puppy. The UK’s shelters are full of homeless pets who would love a family. While many of these dogs aren’t puppies, for little cost you can help find them a home.
We would also advise against purchasing a dog from abroad
Dogs imported from abroad often carry rare infectious diseases, some of which can be fatal. On top of this, many are poorly socialised, in poor condition and may not be suitable for you. There is also an argument to be made that the stress of travelling and quarantine for these dogs is unfair. While many of these dogs are in need of help, there are rumours that some of these dogs are not actual street dogs, but bred to be sold, or even pets that have been stolen. While we cannot comment on each individual case, purchasing a dog from abroad is a contentious issue, and does little to actually improve animal welfare in the country of origin. Purchase a dog from the UK, then support a local charity in the country you are concerned about.
For the vast majority of people, puppies are purchased from breeders, so the rest of the article will focus on these cases. But please remember there are other options out there that may help dogs truly in need.
Researching the Right Breeder/Owner
Generally, you will find puppies from a breeder advertised online, on social media, at local vets, in breed-specific magazines or from family and friends. Before rushing out to buy the first lovable puppy you see, do some more research.
First of all, is the advertisement genuine?
It isn’t hard to create an ad online, and we don’t want you to face the frustration of dealing with a con-person, or even handing money away to someone with no puppies. Check where the ad is listed, and the person behind it. Do they have a website or social media page? Do they have reviews? Are they local? Search the name – some illegal puppy sellers sell their dogs up and down the country – having adverts in all corners of the UK is a big red flag. Confirm they are licensed with their local council, and if you want the highest standards, The Kennel Club has a list of Assured Breeders.
If you’ve convinced yourself they are genuine, let’s look at what they are advertising
How much detail is there? Do they list dates of birth, the mum and dad, have photos and addresses, prices? Lack of details can be a warning sign. You may even be able to get clues from the photos – do the puppies seem well cared for and playful, or are they in a dirty environment? But remember that pictures can easily be faked or false.
Next, it’s time to contact the owner
Express interest but don’t offer money straight away. Ask them any questions you have and confirm details. Ask if they are a licenced and registered breeder – anyone selling puppies should be registered with their local council. How far are they? You might be willing to travel a long way for your ideal dog, but this may make follow-ups with the breeder difficult, and it may not be kind to subject a young puppy to such a long drive.
And remember that good breeders will want their puppies going to good homes, so they will be interviewing you too
They may want to know what you do, where you live, what environment the puppies will have, and so on. If the breeder declines, don’t be offended – it’s better for both parties to take their time finding the right match. Above all, does the initial contact feel right? Often if something is wrong, you’ll feel it – trust your gut. If you have any suspicions, ask questions to clarify or move on. Genuine breeders will answer every question you have. If they are evasive or inconsistent, ignore the post.
Meeting Your Potential Puppy
Once you’ve found a good breeder, messaged them and you’ve both agreed there is a good fit, it’s time to visit. Again, good breeders will be patient and want you to meet the puppy with no obligations.
This should always be done in the puppy’s home environment, with the mum (and ideally dad) present.
Big warning signs are if the breeder wants you to come collect the puppy straight away, meet in a public place like a car park, doesn’t let you see the whole house where they live, won’t let you see the mum and more. Above all, never give out money before seeing the puppy. There are too many scammers out there. Much of this is a legal requirement for licensed breeders.
Once you get to the puppy’s home, again consider the “vibes”. There are reports of unscrupulous puppy sellers renting houses temporarily to provide a nice front for selling puppies. Does the house look lived in and genuinely a home? Are you allowed to look around? Does the person selling seem comfortable there?
Check how the puppies and the mum are too
Puppies should be bright, playful, eager to suckle from mum, clean and have plenty of space. Mum should also be looking healthy and interacting with the pups – again, there are stories of people having fake-mums to sell puppies. Don’t believe any excuse on why mum isn’t there – if she genuinely couldn’t be there, the breeder should not have accepted you visiting that day. If possible, a dad should be visible too, though some breeders will breed their dogs with stud dogs they don’t own, so it isn’t always a problem if he isn’t there (there should be details about him however).
Your puppy should have full details of the mum and dad with it, any veterinary visits, vaccines if old enough, flea and worming details, a microchip if they are 8 weeks or older (also a legal requirement), and so on. Even if they haven’t visited a vet yet, good breeders should be registered with a local vet who you can contact if you are unsure.
And again, trust your gut
Good breeders will be friendly, passionate, eager for you to spend time with your puppy and not pushy. If the breeder seems to be doing everything to get you to cough up money, be wary.
When to Buy Your Puppy
The age that puppies are sold varies, but no puppy can legally be taken away from mum under 8 weeks of age. Most vets recommend that puppies are vaccinated around this age, so most puppies should have had at least one vaccine before you take them home.
Otherwise, you can have your puppy at any age, depending on what the breeder prefers. Generally, your puppy will be in a key socialisation period after weaning, so getting into a new stable home soon is a good idea. However, some breeders may offer you a foster or trial period, in case your puppy doesn’t suit you. This is a good thing, as even with all the right research and preparation, you may find that this puppy isn’t for you.
Caring breeders will also want to keep in contact with you post-adoption or may even want to see your puppy again. This shows the breeder genuinely cares about their puppies. If your breeder disappears after purchase, this may be a problem, particularly if there are issues with vaccine, microchip, flea and worming or other details (which does commonly occur at the first vet visit with the new owner).
As we hope you can see from our article, buying a puppy should take a lot of time and effort. When dealing with the welfare of a little living thing, cutting corners just leads to problems or even heartbreak. There are lots of quicker, cheaper and easier options out there for getting a puppy, but they almost never are worth it. There are hundreds of stories out there of people burned by illegal puppy farming or dodgy breeders. Don’t become one of them. And we again want to reiterate that purchasing a puppy from a breeder is not the only option, and adoption should always be considered first so that lonely dogs can find homes, and rescue charities can continue to do their crucial work.
- Don’t buy on a whim – ensure you understand what being a dog owner entails, and can accommodate this
- Make sure you consider the financial implications of owning a dog
- Think about what sort of breed suits your lifestyle, and the health conditions it may have
- Consider adoption before purchasing a bred puppy
- We advise against buying/importing dogs from abroad or because they ‘need rescuing’
- Research the right breeder thoroughly, ideally one who is licensed
- Talk to the breeder online/on the phone first
- Visit your puppy before you hand over money
- Ensure the environment is genuine, mum is present, and all puppies are healthy
- Never purchase younger than 8 weeks of age
- Confirm all details and paperwork are correct
- Good breeders will want to stay in contact with you after you purchase, and should be easily available to contact if you have concerns
- Be prepared to report questionable business practices to the RSPCA or police