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10 Things: What to Look For in a Puppy Program

Updated: Oct 7, 2019

I always highly recommend adopting a trained puppy when clients or others start asking me about where to go and what to do once they've decided they want a pup (and decided against my encouragement to adopt older - see future blog post).

Luckily, there are quite a few trained puppy programs out there now. It's not really so unheard of like it used to be. But, of course with lots of programs out there, there are lots of differences.  You will find that some are in the field purely for the money. Unfortunately, that is actually pretty common. I'll never forget the first time I heard a breeder tell me he literally saw puppies as "dollar signs." Infuriated much?

But there are others who are truly in this specialty in order to raise and offer happy, balanced dogs who provide the classic pet for a family. Someone who is really in this kind of program for the right reasons is the person who wants to make sure that the family, not just the puppy, is educated. They want to bring out the best in pet-human relationship. 

So here are some of the things I tell my clients to look for if they are pursuing a trained puppy outside of the Classic Canines rosters. 

1. If you're choosing a trained puppy program that is also a breeding program, inquire about how many adult dogs the breeder has. Some programs will have well over 10 dogs in rotation. I've seen and heard of as many as 20 in some cases. THIS IS TOO MANY. With these numbers, it is not possible to control quality of litters, parents, OR training with this many dogs. When I say quality, I do mean the quality of health, development, and enrichment. Don't let the person or company fool you into thinking they can. 

2. If you are breed-specific, do your research on the parents being bred. Age is important (prime ages being between 2.5 years old and around 5 for female, and 2.5 years old and around 6 for males). Health screens are important, too, so check those out if they're available. **Note: Not all breeds commonly practice genetic health screening.**

Don't be too overwhelmed by the "Champion" lineage; especially if you're looking at parent dogs who have been imported from overseas. Unless you are seeing obedience trials, hunt-tests, agility trials, or other task-related achievements, just seeing "Champion Sired" or "Champion Lines" means that - at some point - a dog in the lineage was considered within bred normalities at a show. **There are exceptions! Do your research on what shows the lineage has placed in! Some are REALLY high-quality. Others (a lot of others) are NOT. There is a major difference between a Jr. Champion and a World Champion.** 

3. You don't need breeding rights. Don't pay more just to later have the option of breeding.

Please don't later breed your dog simply because he or she looks good...There is a lot to consider when thinking about producing offspring and adding to the genetic pool of a breed. These considerations will be listed in a separate blog post. 

4. There is often a price difference between males and females; there shouldn't be unless there is a Breeding Rights option available! The only reason a male or female should be priced differently is if you are looking to later make money with their offspring. Don't fall for the, "Well, males have higher hunt-drives," or "Females learn faster!" lines. Not true. All puppies are unique, and their gender does not dictate these future achievements. 

5. Don't be pressured to choose a puppy before 6 weeks old. I can't tell you the number of times I've had a Board and Train or behavioral client tell me they didn't get the energy level, affection level, or drives they wanted in their dog...And when I ask why they chose that particular puppy, they say they didn't know what he or she was like; they had to pick one at 2-3 weeks old.

You cannot choose based on personality, quirks, and unique qualities before 5 to 6 weeks! If you have a place in the litter roster, hold your spot until you can assess (or have a behaviorist/trainer assess) the puppies for your family life-style and qualities. 

6. When choosing a trained puppy, please (PLEASE) inquire about the methods of training as well as the environment. I've seen everything from e-collars used on 12 week olds, to pinch collars on 9 week olds... I've also seen pups trained with great methods, but raised in a kennel environment only. This makes the transition to home-life stressful for both of you! I'm not kidding! Puppies raised in kennels may have weird fears of: Ceiling fans, stairs, cars, TVs, different kinds of flooring, etc. They may be trained to "Sit/Stay/Down" but they have not been raised with a balanced behavior method. 

7. Don't be afraid to ask for photos and videos! In this day and age, there should be no reason your trainer or breeder can't provide you with photos and videos. Granted, they may not be the best quality for a spur-of-the-moment glance, but that's ok. Just see how your pup is doing, how he or she is growing, and what methods are being used. 

8. Don't forget follow-up training! When your trained puppy comes home, he or she will need some time to adjust. You will also need time to learn how to keep the rules up and keep on training! Your training program should provide you with training material (literature, videos, etc) and/or training sessions for you.

Remember that puppies and dogs are not products!! Trainers can't program them to act the same at your home as they do at ours...We have to teach you how to help them learn, use their skills properly, and how to advance further. If you don't learn these things, you might as well have gotten a puppy who was trained in a foreign language.

You are not free of responsibility with a trained puppy! You must do some learning of your own! 

9. Don't be fooled with "Health Guarantees." Yes, these are nice to have, but have you noticed that most breeders will only offer this guarantee for 12 to 24 months? Ever wonder why? I'll tell you: Most genetic issues such a bad elbows, hips, or heart can only be tested after 24 months! So, when your "warranty" is expired, you discover your dog has bad grade elbows...There's nothing your breeder or program will do. 

And, what's more, who is really going to want to "send their dog back" if he or she has an inherited health issue? Not many people I know. By the time it is discovered, the family is bonded and so is the dog. You can't just apply a "return policy" to dogs and puppies (although I have actually seen people do this...Much to the distress of the pup). 

10. Remember to be forgiving. Your puppy or dog will not be perfect. And, neither will you. You need to be sure to be forgiving of mistakes on both your parts. When your new addition comes home, it will take time to adjust to each other. But, when that time is well-spent and valued, I can promise you that it will make a lifetime of difference. Dedicating that first adjustment period to being consistent, positive, and affectionate will set the tone for your dog's future in your home. This is called "imprinting" or "setting the precedent." And, honestly, it's a good thing for both of you.  

As you move forward in your search for your family's new canine addition, enjoy it! And don't be in a rush. When you find the right puppy or dog, patience will have paid off. Remember that even if you're breed specific, every puppy and dog is a different individual.

Not every dog is right for every family; and vice versa. Do your homework! Talk to specialists and professionals. I'll be one to bet we're happy to help when we see someone putting in such consideration and time for their future adoptee! 

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