Finding the very best puppy for you!!

II’ve had a number of conversations with people lately, about the “process” of finding a puppy, and how people tend to put less thought into the purchase of a living being that will hopefully spend a decade or more in their home, than they do into buying an appliance for their home, or a car.

One of the things that was said to me, was that there was no real “guide” available for people who have decided to add a canine to their home, so while I think there are many great books and guides available, I am hoping that this will serve as a synopsis of how to go through the process properly, and guarantee yourself the best chance of finding a happy healthy family member that with the best of odds longevity, with the minimum of major veterinary expenses.

 

Step 1 – Is it the right time to get a puppy?

Making the decision to add a new dog to your home, is not something that should be done on the spur of the moment.   A dog is a lifetime commitment and will change everything about your lifestyle.  Your schedule will need to take into consideration that there is a living being who is dependent upon you at home.

While it is very easy to make the last minute decision to not go home with a cat or a fish, a dog cannot be left alone for great stretches of time.  They need to go outside.  A puppy needs to eat 4 times a day.   You can’t just book a hotel for the weekend and go away.   You will need to make arrangements for someone to care for your puppy with the associated expenses. 

 

Do you have a fenced in safe area for the dog, or are you able to give it the exercise that it will need?  A fenced in yard does not mean that a dog should be left out in it all day!

 

Are you financially ready to take on the commitment of a puppy.   So many people look for a “bargain basement” puppy at the lowest price not considering that the purchase price is just the smallest part of dog ownership.  Quite often, unfortunately when it comes to buying a puppy, it is “pay me now, or pay me later”.   In other words, the bargain that people think they got, ends up costing much more in medical expenses.  Had they saved their money for a well bred dog without structural issues, many of the expenses could be avoided.

Step 2 – Choosing your breed

Not every breed is suited to every person.   Each breed comes with its own unique set of “options” – and just as some love sports cars, and others love SUV’s, you need to evaluate the features of each breed and whether they are things that you can or want to live with.    You wouldn’t buy a bar fridge for your kitchen, or a 48” wide sub-zero for a condominium apartment.   Perhaps you may find out that a purebred is not really the dog you need in your life, and a mixed breed from a rescue would be more suitable.

Here are come of the things to consider:

  1. Size – dogs come in all sizes from the smallest Chihuahua’s to the tallest Great Danes When considering size, consider the size of your home, and of your yard.  Who will be walking the dog – a child may be able to walk a well trained giant dog, but not a giant puppy.   A large rambunctious dog could bowl over a toddler in the home.   On the other hand, a small toy dog could be too delicate to live with active children, and may suffer broken limbs from rough play.    With these things in mind – make a decision if  you can live with a toy, small, medium, large or giant breed.
  2. Type of home – Do you live in the country, in a single family home, or an apartment.  The size of dog you choose will probably be related to the type of home you live in.
  3. Coat type – again there is a wide variety of coat types. Take into consideration a few different things when deciding what type of coat you are willing to live with.   Are you very house proud?  Would shedding hair drive you crazy?  Then most breeds will be ruled out.  Even short haired double coated dogs shed! Are you willing to spend the time brushing every day to keep a longer coat free of the tangles and mats that occur no matter how careful you are to ensure you brush thoroughly.   There are terrier coats that you might see in breed pictures that require hand stripping.  This is beyond the ability of most pet owners, and these coats, like the curly poodle type coats will need regular appointments with a groomer.  Are you willing to take on the added expense of that requirement? If you have an allergy sufferer in the house you may want to consider one of the breeds that are considered less likely to trigger allegies
  4. Level of activity – there are two things think about – indoor and outdoor activity levels. Some breeds are actual couch potatoes indoors, but need a great deal of exercise outdoors.   Some breeds are like wind up toys indoors also.    When you are researching breeds, be sure you find out about both the indoor and outdoor exercise requirements of the breeds on your short list.
  5. Protectiveness – There are breeds that have more protective instincts and are not as good with strangers as others. While this may seem to be a good thing, take into consideration people coming in and out of your home – children’s friends, family members, employees.   If they are not good with dogs, perhaps a breed known for its guardian tendencies is not the best choice.  
  6. Trainability – Some breeds are much easier to train, and some are headstrong. Some housebreak almost immediately, and some are very slow to get it.   When thinking about this factor, also think about your own experience in training dogs.   Are you willing to commit to attending training classes to ensure you raise a good canine citizen?
  7. Experience required – some breeds are very good for first time dog owners. Others require experienced owners.  No breed is perfect for “every” buyer.
  8. Sociability and suitability for children – Some breeds are more social with strangers, and some are not suited for young children, but are fine with older children. Again you will need to look at your own family situation to determine whether these factors are important to you.
  9. Noise – Barking can be a consideration if you live in a city, not usually as much in rural settings.

There are a number of tests available on the internet that will match you to breeds.  The AKC, Purina, Iams, etc all have online breed selectors.  My favourite book to recommend for people is “Choosing your Purebred Puppy: A Buyers Guide” by Michelle Lowell.   This book has extensive breed profiles and has all the factors mentioned above covered.   It is out of print – but used copies or library copies are still available.

Step 3 – Meeting the Breeds

Once you have come up with a short list of breeds, the next step is to actually go and meet the breeds and talk to breeders.    How do you do this?

One way to meet breeds and breeders is to attend a dog show in your area.  You can find what shows are in your area utilizing the event search tools on the AKC or CKC webistes.

American KC: https://webapps.akc.org/event-search/#/search  

Canadian KC  https://www.ckc.ca/Event-Calendar/Default.aspx

 

Another option is to meet breeders of the breeds you are considering.   In order to find them start with the National Club for the breed and look at the Breeders Directory.   Contacting either the American or Canadian Kennel Club, or the Kennel Club in your own country will give you the names of the contacts for the clubs of the breeds you are interested in, if you can’t find a website.

A third option, but one which will require more screening on your part is to use the Canadian Kennel Club’s Puppylist   or the AKC Marketplace. While these sites cannot guarantee quality, they CAN guarantee that you are at a minimum, dealing with a breeder who is not trying to dupe you by selling you an unregistered dog. You will still need to meet and screen the breeders as detailed in Step 4.

When you are writing to breeders, introduce yourself, tell them what attracted you to the breed and something about yourself.   If your email to a breeder is solely “Do you have puppies and how much are they?”, your email is almost guaranteed to end up in the Deleted mailbox.  Breeders who do not make a living from their dogs, but rather breed smaller numbers of quality puppies, want to find the very best homes for their puppies.  Think of your opening letter as the cover letter of a resume.  You want to convince the breeder that your home is worthy of one of their puppies.

Join some “groups” on the internet for breeds that interest you.   Nothing will give you more insight of the good and bad features of a breed than reading about experiences of large numbers of pet owners.

Caveats and Scams

As people are using the internet more and more to find a puppy, so the number of breeders of poor quality dogs and scam artists has proliferated.   A slick website does not guarantee the quality of a dog.  Coming first in Google ranking just means that a company has lots of money to spend on Search Engine Optimization.

First is to be aware of Broker sites such as puppyfind.com and eclassifieds such as Craigslist, Kijiji, etc. .   These are paid advertising sites.   While reputable breeders do occasionally list puppies on there – the MAJORITY of the puppies are from backyard breeders and have not had health testing and are not registered with reputable registries.  Many of these breeders are using the acronym “CKC” which refers to the CONTINENTAL Kennel Club (basically a scam registry) instead of the Canadian Kennel Club.   There are a number of scam registries out there being used to market poor quality puppies not eligible for registration with a real registry – here is a link for a listing of a number of them.

When searching out breeders beware of breeders selling rare colours, patterns or sizes (for example “Blue Merle Pembrokes” or “teacup” or “King-sized” dogs).   The National Breed Club  will usually have the Breed Standard posted.  It will list the correct size, colours, temperament, etc and all the important features of the breed.

The other thing that is unfortunately happening is that scam artists are stealing pictures from reputable breeders websites, and showing puppies as available for sale.   Once the buyer has selected a puppy and sent the money, communication is blocked and the buyer has not only lost their money, but will never get the non-existent puppy either.

One further point on the subject of scams.  Many people are now finding it highly profitable to sell mixed breed dogs for high prices by giving them “cutesy” names.    If someone is trying to sell you a puppy with a doodle, poo, -sky, or some other combination of breed names, it is a mixed breed! It is not worth a high price tag!  The same can be said for cowboy Corgis – they are mixed breeds and not eligible for registration with any national kennel club. The registration these people are claiming to give you is from one of the fake registries where you send in money and they send you a registration (think of it as the equivalent of a forged passport).  They are never going to be recognized by a legitimate registry as much as the people producing them will try to convince you otherwise.  The marketing hype that is used is that hybrids are healthier than purebreds. This is False on two counts   First, off hybrid is not a blend of two breeds. It is a blend of two different species, such as a wolf dog or a mule which is a combination of a horse and a donkey.   Secondly, a study done at UC Davis has found that mix breeds are not any healthier than purebreds and in fact can carry the genetic maladies of all of the breeds used to create them.   So golden doodles have all of the health issues of golden retrievers as well as those of poodles in their genetic make up.   Click here to read the UC Davis study.

Shop smart!!  You wouldn’t send someone money without proof that any product exists – don’t pay for a puppy in advance without verifying that the puppy actually exists!  There are many ways to do this – arrange for a video chat and have them show you the puppy.   Have them send a picture of the puppy with a newspaper showing the current date.

Step 4 – Narrowing down your choice of breeder

Once you have narrowed down your choice of breed the next step is to align yourself with a breeder that you feel you have a connection with.    Arrange to meet breeders and meet their dogs whenever possible.  With less common breeds this may not always be possible.

Ask to speak to people who have purchased dogs from the breeder previously – specifically ask to speak to someone who had an issue, so you can find out how the breeder handled it.  Ask to speak to someone who can verify their membership in any breed clubs.

Ensure that the breeder you choose to work with is doing the minimum health testing recommended by the OFA for your breed here: Browse by Breed   Once again, ask to see the paperwork that will prove the health testing has been done.   Verify the results with the testing laboratory or the OFA website. 

When possible, I always recommend going with a breeder who shows their dogs.  You may ask, why do I need to go to a show breeder, when I don’t want a show dog.   It 5may surprise you to learn that the majority of puppies produced by show kennels actually go to pet homes.  On average 20-50% of a litter goes on to compete in conformation or performance events, the rest go on to be “Champions of the Couch”.  They have all the same health screening, and care as their littermates that show,  but don’t have the “it factor” to become show dogs.  Read the articles “Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners” on the blog.  These will explain the reasons why it is important to get a well bred dog.

Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 1

Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 2

Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 3

Further articles to assist you in finding a breeder of quality dogs can be found at the links below.

Selecting a Breeder

How to Recognize a Puppymill

I think the most important thing to remember is don’t select a puppy, select a breeder you feel that you can work with.  It is very easy to fall in love with a picture of a puppy – all puppies are adorable!!   However, what you should be looking for is a breeder that will match you with the best puppy for you, and support you throughout the life of that puppy.  A breeder who will provide you with a healthy puppy from health tested parents that has the best odds to live a long, happy and healthy life.

Step 5 – Be Patient!

In order to ensure that you are getting a healthy puppy, do your research thoroughly and take the time to find the very best breeder for yourself – someone you feel comfortable having a relationship for a decade or more.

Don’t make a rush decision – you will regret it later.   You will see many people trying to raise money to take care of surgical and other medical needs for puppies from backyard breeders.   A well-bred healthy puppy is worth the wait.

Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 3

Today we will address the midsection of the dog – basically the ribcage and loin.

While considering the angle to approach this from many thoughts came to mind.  The ribcage serves the purpose of protecting the vital organs of dog from injury – the heart, lungs stomach and spleen.   As many other “protective” comparisons came to mind, e.g Drivers cages in race cars, contact sport protection equipement – but truly the best comparison is human anatomy.

Internal Organs of the human

The rib cage is our protection for our internal organs.  However, while it has to cover all of those important organs it must also be large enough to allow the lungs to expand fully.   So not only does is need to be LONG enough to cover all of those delicate organs, but also wide enough to allow the lungs to expand.

So how can you tell how long your dog’s ribcage actually is?  You can easily feel for the last rib, but in pictures you tell by where the “tuck up” in the underline begins, at the end of the sternum.  In this photo – the ribcage is about 55% of the length of the dog between the elbow and rear leg

Compare the dog above to this one with a shorter ribcage – about 40% of the length of the dog

Compare to this photo where the length of rib cage is about 40% of the length of the dog.

So what does the shorter ribcage mean?

The dog’s internal organ’s may not be fully protected, and this could allow for injury of internal organs.  It also reduces the capacity of the thorax where the lungs are housed, allowing for less expansion.  A dog like this would become more easily winded than a dog with a correct length of ribbing. 

But there is another factor in play here.   The shorter the ribcage is – the longer the loin is.   In some of the galloping sighthounds such as the Azawakh (below) the loin may appear longer because the chest is so deep, but since the breed is taller than long, so is the ribcage. AS well Azawakhs have a unique double suspension gallop where the rear legs wrap around the front, requiring a slightly longer loin. But being a hunting hound they are more muscular to support the back.   However, in breeds where the dog is longer than tall, such as the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the Dachshunds, and the Bassets, a long loin is a weakness in structure.

Photo of the Azawakh from Wikipedia

 

A long weak loin, will predispose the dog to spinal issues – such as Intervertebral Disk Disease.   This is different from Degnerative Myelopathy  which is caused by the degeneration of nerves similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in humans.   IVDD is usually sudden onset, and the result of a disc rupturing.   It almost always requires quick surgical intervention if the dog is going to walk again, and long recovery times, resulting in high veterinary bills.

When the length of the ribbing in the dog is correct, along with a correct front and rear assembly, the topline of the dog is LEVEL – does not slant upwards, or have any roach.

The are four young dogs that are related.  Take note of the level toplines, and the very slight rise in the underline, a sign of correct length ribbing and loin.

 

 

 

 

Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 2

I hope that the discussion in the previous post about engineering and dog breeding gave you some insight into the reasoning and thinking of knowledgeable dog breeders

Today we are going to look at the front end assembly of the dog, and compare it to the front end suspension of a car.

Just like the front end of a car is made up of numerous parts that create a smooth, road hugging ride, the skeleton of the dog is made up of multiple bones, angles and joints.   These pieces come together to allow the dog to travel at the appropriate gait for the breed, with a minimum of wear and tear on the remainder of the skeleton.

CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE

The upper and lower control arm pivot on brackets are attached to the chassis of the car, much like the scapula and humerus are attached to the body of the dog.

The coil springs act like the radius and ulna of the dog, and the shock absorbers act like the pasterns.   The feet of the dog are of course like the tires of a car where the rubber meets the road.

 
 

CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE

In the dog, the withers  are where the neck and spine meet at the top of the shoulder blade.  The shoulder blade (scapula)  meets with the upper arm (humerus).   These two bones should be equal in length, and ideally meet at a 90 degree angle in the Corgis.   This accomplishes two things – first it allows for the most ideal front extension of the foreleg, and secondly it places the front leg directly under the withers, putting the “suspension” under the heaviest part of the dog.

As I’m sure everyone who has owned a car for any extended period in their life knows, all of the parts of a car chassis must be properly aligned to not only prevent improper tire wear, but also to maintain a smooth ride and extend the useful life of the car. 

How the slope of the shoulder affects the movement of the dog.

In these two drawings you can see that the angle of the shoulder affects how far the front is able to extend.  With a steeper shoulder blade the dog is unable to extend the front leg as far.  In photo A the dog is able to extend its paw beyond its nose, whereas in B the front extension is greatly reduced. The shoulder joint is a pendulum and the swing of the pendulum can only go as far as the shoulder assembly allows it to.

Here is an actual photo of a front end in motion.   Following the column of the leg gives an approximation of the shoulder angle.  If this dog had normal length legs the paw would be extended beyond the nose. This type of frontal reach reduces the number of steps that the dog is required to take in its lifetime and wear and tear on its body. You COULD drive your car in first gear all the time, but would that really get you where you want to go in time?

Here is the same dog standing still with approximate angles marked.  Note how the line drawn from the elbow to the tip of the shoulder blade goes up through the withers to support the heaviest part of the dog – the chest. 

All dogs have the same bones, in the same place and so what is the difference?

Here are some examples of poor fronts.

Compare the dog above to this dog.    First note that the two bones that make up the shoulder are NOT equal length. The base of the “L” is shorter, and is what we refer to as a “Short Upper Arm”. This throws off the center of balance as the forelegs are no longer under the withers (the top of the yellow line) but rather further forward under the neck.

What problem is this causing?  Along with the physical characteristic of lack of prosternum (forechest) the dog is knuckling over in the front, to compensate for the poor construction along with straight pasterns and flat feet.

  Here is a Pembroke front with similar issues.  Again, the upper arm is short, about 2/3 the length of the shoulder blade, shown by the green lines.

There are a number of issues at play here including a shoulder that is too steep, leaving a sharp angle at the withers, instead of a smoooth transition from the neck to the spine as shown by the orange line.

This dog will most likely suffer from neck and shoulder injuries and lameness as a results of the incorrect front.

As well the pasterns on this dog are very long, which will result in additional weakness of the front end allowing too much rotation in the feet, splayed feet  (which long nails make worse!), and carpal issues and artthritis.

When all of the parts are not “assembled” correctly there are many issues that can arise out of the weaknesses in various areas.

Just like an out of alignment car front can wear the tires on the outer edges, so the long pasterns, short upper arms and steep fronts can cause dogs to not land properly on the pads of their feet.  They can land on the inner or outer edge of the foot causing rotation (pronation and supination) and resultant joint issues.   Among these are poor posture, stress on the outer joints, tight tendons and painful inflammation and/or arthritis.

Other deformities that can occur are Valgus Deformity, whereby the growth plates close prematurely and the ulna stops growing, while the radius continues to grow creating a twist in the pastern.  As a result the dog develops a severe turnout on one or both sides.  Depending on the age of the dog this can require one, or several surgeries to correct as the final surgery cannot be performed until  the dog is finished growing.  If the dog has not finished growing the ulna is cut to prevent the elbow joint from popping out.  Once the dog is finished growing, a wedge shaped piece of bone is cut out of the radius and rotated 180 degrees to attempt to reduce the turnout.  Dogs suffering from this condition suffer from arthritis, elbow and shoulder pain.

This wraps up the discussion on the front assembly as discussed from the side.  A future post will tackle the subject of the dwarf front on the Cardigan and the Pembroke.

Again please feel free to forward any questions that may have come to mind.  The next post will deal with the ribcage and spine. .

 

Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 1

Again and again I read the statement “I don’t want a show dog, I only want a pet. So why is it a problem if I buy a puppy from someone who just has dogs and raises a couple of litters a year?”

I am going to try and explain why it is important to buy a puppy from someone who cares about the quality of their puppies.  To do this I am going to discuss this from the viewpoint of health issues that can arise as a result of a breeder not adhering to the breed standard.

Each breed has a standard that describes a perfect specimen of the breed    Some are very detailed, some less so   Some state how breed attributes are to be ranked   All are a word picture and subject to interpretation which is why quality breeders exhibit at shows.  By doing this they get objective opinions about how the dogs they own/produce stack up against the standard and the competition

Every sentence that is in a breed standard is there for a reason  It says what the correct attributes are for the breed and what faults are   It is the severity of these faults that can affect the pet buying public

I’m going to discuss this in terms of the two Corgi breeds – the Cardigan and the Pembroke – but what I am going to write can really be applied to ANY breed  

First, I am going to say that I have never bred the perfect dog   I think I have bred some very nice ones over the years, but not even Dolly was perfect, as magnificent as she was.  So don’t think you will ever get a “perfect” dog, but you want to try and get one as close to the standard as possible.

Second, note that there are two types of faults, cosmetic and  structural faults    A cosmetic fault is one that will prevent a dog from being shown, even if it is structurally perfect   A structural fault will affect a dog physically.  And a structural fault can affect a dog physically and seriously if it is severe enough   Cosmetic faults can include coat length (excessively long and fluffy or extremely short and tight), colouration  (mismarks, unacceptable colours, etc), and pigmentation (nose is brown instead of black)    Cosmetic faults are undesirable for showing but have no effect on the health or longevity of the dog    Some faults, like fluffy coats,pop up even in well-bred litters, but good breeders do not intentionally breed to produce them  

What should be of concern is the severity of structural faults  in any puppy you are considering purchasing.

A couple of Ferris Wheels

Behold the Ferris Wheel back in the early days of Amusement Parks.   The ride is a miracle of engineering and balance, and it is critical that each angle and section of steel is precisely equal to all of the others.    Yet, despite the precision of the angles and lengths of steel, it is still imperative for the ride operator to load the ride-goers in a balanced manner., loading equal weights on opposite arms, and ensuring that the ride is totally balanced before beginning higher speed revolutions.  Physics and art combined to create a safe and strong amusement park favourite.

But how would you feel if you saw one of the pieces of steel wasn’t quite as long as the others, or not quite as wide?  Or if it had some sort of a bend in it?   Would you still feel safe on that ride when it picked up speed?  Or if the operator loaded it an unbalanced manner – loading all of the weight in consecutive seats and leaving the other side empty? 

The twin Grand Island bridges over the Niagara River

These two bridges were built in 1935 (the bridge on the right) and in 1962 and carry approximately 72,000 cars a day safely over the rushing waters of the Niagara River.   What is interesting to note is that even though the decks of the bridges have needed replacing the structure of the trusses has maintained their integrity for 8 decades with simple maintenance painting.   Again it is very important that every angle and truss length be exact in length and angulation to maintain the safety of the crossing, and ensure that vehicles don’t plunge into the rushing waters below.

Dog breeding, to a breeder who is committed to breed integrity, is a combination of physics and art, just as bridge building is, or designing amusement park rides that are subjected to high levels of centrifugal force.

Skeleton of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi from the Illustrated Breed standard of the CWCCA

The canine skeleton is also a miracle of engineering.  While the basic number of bones is unchanged from breed to breed, each individual breed has unique differences based upon the purpose for which the dog was bred.  The front assembly of a terrier which needs a specific structure to dig for rodents, is different from that of a galloping sighthound.   The front assembly of even the Cardigan and Pembroke corgi differ, due to their difference in the shape of the chest, and the terrain upon which they had to work.

Each feature of the breed is there for a specific reason.  Deviations of structure, not only do not look correct, but also give rise to health issues. 

In this article, and follow up articles, I am going to discuss the various features of the corgis  and the issues that can arise from improper structure.

Lets start with the head.

Many of the features of the head were bred into the two breeds to ensure that they could do their function of herding cattle.

The bite, should be preferably a scissor bite so the dogs can pinch the legs of the cattle, but a level bite is acceptable.   What is not acceptable is an overshot, or undershot mouth, as these dogs could not do their job properly.   Since the majority of today’s dogs are no longer herding cattle why should you care about the bite?   Because an improper bite can give rise to dental problems.   Teeth that are not properly placed can dig into the gums causing painful sores and/or ulcers.  A dog with a severe overbite or underbite could have problems eating.  A dog can have a wry mouth, where one side of the jaw grows faster than the other.

There are some wonderful photos of all of the different types of bites on the “JaneDogs” website. 

Dog with proper stop and muzzle

Dog with not enough stop

The shape of the muzzle is  a feature which differs between the two corgi breeds.  The Cardigan has a shorter blunter muzzle than the Pembroke.  Another feature of the breed is a well-defined stop – the transition between the back skull and muzzle.  The reason for this and the distinct eyebrow ridge, was to protect the dog from the kick of a cow.   The bony prominent structure should deflect the kick and protect the eyes of the dog.   While most dogs are not in danger of being kicked by a cow, they still should have this protection for their eyes from other dangers – branches on forest trails, for example.

I hope that this first explanation will help to open the eyes of future corgi purchasers to some of the reasons we stress the importance of breeding to the standard.

I hope to follow this up in a day or so and hope to tackle the subjects of the front assembly and the topline.   Please feel free to pose questions that you may have about the structure of the Cardigans and Pembrokes.