Following on from my last two blog posts about owners who decided to obtain a rescue dog instead of a puppy, this blog post is all about how we can help reduce the number of dogs that end up in rescue in the first place.
I have no qualms with admitting that both of my dogs were obtained as puppies. I researched the breeders thoroughly. I ensured that the parents were of sound temperaments. The puppies were reared in an enriched, domestic environment. Socialisation was well underway by the breeders. I selected my breed choices carefully. I then ensured that I continued with socialisation, habituation, basic training, and other problem prevention exercises. I prepped them well in advance of the arrival of my children. I planned my time, or asked for help, so that the dogs could continue to receive what they needed when my time was less freely available for them. I introduced them carefully to each other, and to other pets introduced to the home. I have provisions for them that cover any eventuality – they are even written into our Will should the unthinkable happen.
A vast number of dogs end up in rescue due to behavioural problems. But many are rehomed due to lack of consideration of unforeseen circumstances such as when families expand or split, when living arrangements change, with changes to careers or finances, or when new pets are introduced. One way of helping to reduce the number of animals in rescue is to adopt. But the problem can also be tackled from the bottom-up, by helping to encourage responsible breeders, educating new puppy owners in responsible dog ownership, and helping prevent behavioural problems from occurring in the first place.
Breeders have a greater opportunity to make a dramatic impact on a puppy’s temperament than any future owner ever will. By the time a puppy goes to its new home, the majority of its sensitive period for socialisation (i.e. the most sensitive period for learning about positive experiences, and vulnerable period for learning about negative experiences) is over.
There has recently been a huge rise in the importation of fashionable breeds of dogs from Europe, bred and reared in appalling conditions without any health testing, leading to both physical and behavioural issues. Puppy farms are also common in this country. You are not rescuing a puppy from poor conditions if you pay money for it! You are simply encouraging them to breed more by paying that breeder to continue making profit from animals’ misery. If you are concerned, contact the local authority and the RSPCA and WALK AWAY.
Responsible breeders build up a waiting list before a mating is even considered, and like to be sure that the pups are going to the right homes by putting new owners through the third degree. In return, they offer a lifetime of help and support, and include a contract that states that in the event of any need to rehome, they must be returned to the breeder. If you buy from someone who asks no questions but is just happy to take your money and wave goodbye, you may live to regret your purchase because if issues arise you have no one to turn to. The breeder should always show you the litter in their home with the bitch (still suckling, ideally, so you really know it is the mum!) and insist you visit at least once before you take the puppy home. You should also have the opportunity to meet the sire (which would be sensible, as your puppy will be 50% of the dad’s genes!). Pedigree dogs should be bred without extreme features, for example decent noses and open nostrils, and evidence of all relevant health tests should have been offered. Kennel Club registered breeders are a starting point but if they breed to breed standards, they can be producing the most extreme examples of the breed there are!
The ‘Puppy Culture’ breeding programme represents a gold standard in puppy rearing and early socialisation, and I would urge any breeder, or anyone considering breeding, to follow this plan. Raising a litter of puppies responsibly is not easy and involves a lot of hard-work, time and a lot of money! Ultimately, responsible breeders choose to breed due to a love of the breed and to help raise resilient, well-rounded dogs.
Responsible dog ownership
Making the decision to bring a puppy into your life involves a 10-15+ year commitment – longer than many marriages! Puppies should never be bought on a whim. If you aren’t sure if a family member may be allergic to dog fur, spend some time with dogs (volunteer at your local rescue) to ensure this isn’t the case. Are you sure you can financially commit to a dog? Do you have time for a dog? Even if you decide to have a family at some point in the dog’s life? Even if you are made redundant and have to change jobs? Consider all potential difficulties, and ensure you are taking on a puppy for life, not just while it is appealing.
Next, think about what breed might be the right one for your family. Please don’t get a Border Collie because you like going for nice walks at the weekend. Don’t get a St Bernard because your kids loved the film “Beethoven”. Research your breed – what exactly was it bred to do? What health issues does the breed often have? Small terriers are often not the best breed for elderly or infirm people – greyhounds might be bigger but they require short bursts of exercise… or look into breeds that are bred to be lapdogs.
Be prepared for the difficulties of puppyhood. Puppies explore their world with their mouths – anything that is freely available for them to explore, they will. They chew, they steal, they have sharp teeth, they don’t know right from wrong (neither does an adult dog, by the way – that requires morality), they require guidance and patience, setting up for success, not constant nagging, finger-waving, and attempts to suppress behaviour.
Most people expect a challenging few weeks when the puppy is first brought home, but many people don’t then consider the period of adolescence which makes puppyhood seem a dream! This is the age where most dogs are abandoned at rescue, so make sure you prepare and seek professional help to get you through it!
Check out your legal responsibilities as a dog owner too – did you know that a barking dog or a dog jumping up can have legal implications? The Animal Welfare Act, Control of Dogs Order, Public Spaces Protection Orders, Protection of Livestock Act, Environmental Protection Act, Dangerous Dogs Act, Dogs Act, and Road Traffic Act all apply to you now! For a summary of the above, click here.
Don’t assume you know what you’re doing because you’ve owned a dog once before. Attend a force-free training class with your puppy – look for a calm, relaxed environment – NOT a free-for-all play time. Puppies shouldn’t be frustrated, frightened or stressed. They shouldn’t be barking, lunging on the end of their leads to get to other pups, unable to focus, uninterested in food or toys. The environment shouldn’t be a sterile village hall with the puppies only focus being the other puppies and unfamiliar people. Training methods should be based on rewarding great choices and setting the puppies up for success. The emphasis should be on life skills – far more advantageous than traditional obedience classes. Punishment-based methods knock confidence, create frustration, lead to potential defensive behaviour, destroy trust, and ultimately learning is not as efficient.
It is vital that appropriate socialisation is continued in the new home, after the amazing breeder as already made a great start! Get your puppy out of the house before it is fully vaccinated! But be careful about over-doing it. Any negative experience will stick in a puppy’s brain and it can be very easy for a pup to feel overwhelmed in this crazy world. Carrying a puppy to see, smell and hear new experiences is ideal, but be aware that your pup will also feel restricted and unable to move away from anything it is wary about. Taking your puppy on the school run to ‘socialise’ it with children is likely to be too much – you are looking for calm and relaxed in all new situations, with the pup learning to focus on its new owner rather than learning to interact with all the distractions going on around it.
A puppy or dog’s training doesn’t just end with a puppy course. Difficulties should be anticipated and pre-empted throughout a dog’s life. Arrival of a new baby? Prepare your dog. Moving house? Prepare your dog. Introducing a new dog/cat/rabbit? Prepare your dog. Not sure how? Seek the advice of a qualified, force-free professional. Don’t let your puppy-purchase become another rescue statistic.
Not everyone is able to adopt a rescue pet for various reasons, and a puppy is sometimes the right decision. I feel strongly that education is of equal importance to help reduce the number of dogs having to find new homes later in life.
Problem prevention consultations are available as phone consults prior to bringing the puppy home or to get help in choosing a responsible breeder. Home visits are available once the puppy has been brought home. Further information can be found at www.pet-sense.co.uk/for-owners/