Written by Anna Hollisey
What breed is best? How do you check they’ve been ethically bred? And what’s it like bringing home a new puppy? I’m about to welcome one, and I’m here to share the experience with you!
It’s been 18 months since our much-loved dog died, but we’ve started to notice the lack of a dog in our lives.
We had a dog when our 3 kids were born, but they didn’t see her much during her prime. Instead, they knew a dog who required cautious, gentle care, short walks, and utmost understanding. That was great. But I knew a puppy would be a totally different experience. To convince Husband it would be brilliant, I started casually dropping these into conversations:
I think there are some important questions to think about before choosing a breed.
If you’ll only get out for half an hour every day, you should choose a breed of dog that’s happy with that. Do your research because exercise requirements don’t correspond to size. Surprisingly, some bigger dogs don’t need hours of exercise. Collies and working dogs usually need quite a lot, and French Bulldogs can be real couch potatoes! If you visit the American Kennel Club’s breeds guide, you can filter by exercise level using the menu on the left.
If you have kids then you should check the American Kennel Club’s rating (using the link above) for each breed for sociability. Do you work? Will there be somebody at home during the day? Some dogs like Dachshunds are prone to barking if they’re left at home.
If you like your home without free-rolling tufts of dog-hair, you could look at breeds which don’t moult. There are loads of hypoallergenic options created by crossing Poodles with other dogs (like the popular Labradoodle!).
It’s probably already obvious, but look for a breed that’s the right size for your space. A Chihuahua is a popular option for city flats and Great Danes are suitable if you have a big, spacious living area. We also looked at the usable floor-space in our kitchen, where we wanted our dog to sleep at night!
Introducing a puppy to the cat is not impossible (more on that later) but some breeds will be more placid than others – so remember to think about your other pets. Of course you can’t accurately predict your pup’s personality but most breeds have some common characteristics.
Our kids are aged between 7 and 12, which I think is a good age to introduce animals – younger kids don’t understand the need to be careful (and take it from me... a nippy pupster is stressful when you’re a parent watching both).
We have a medium-sized house with a medium-sized kitchen and floor-space for a medium-sized dog bed! But I’m not neurotically clean. I don’t mind dog hair. In fact, I love a furry dog to cuddle. We live near the sea and swim – so a water-loving dog would be a brilliant addition.
We thought about Collies (my son’s vote). As historic working dogs they need lots of walking (we think that’s a real bonus – we love long adventures) and we have a special collie friend who races across the dunes to see the kids whenever we’re out. But we know that collies benefit from very intensive training or agility to stay stimulated, and we weren’t sure we’d be committed to that.
Both daughters wanted a Dachshund but their exercise needs are very low, although they are, of course, adorable. Sausage dogs have a reputation for barking at squirrels and we have a big living-room window where they’d be able to watch wildlife (and annoy the neighbors).
Husband and I, completely biased of course, wanted to get a repeat of our first dog. She was perfect (aren’t they all?) and she was a Springador. Loving, gentle with other dogs and children, and energetic on walks – as long as they’re well-exercised, Springadors (and indeed Springers) are beautifully relaxed at home.
We looked around for English or Welsh Springers – they’re very readily-available but, as a pedigree breed, also very expensive. A cross-breed is a bit cheaper, and we knew that mixing breeds can produce healthier pups (by eliminating some genetic risk). So we settled on a spaniel cross-breed, and waited for the right litter to come up.
Puppy sales have dipped since lockdown, prices seem to have reduced slightly in some areas, and litters were going unsold near here. And then I saw the pictures of a litter of Sprockers about an hour from our house.
What’s a Sprocker? There are so many trendy dog mixes to decipher, but this one’s worth looking up. The Sprocker (Springer/Cocker mix) is smaller than a Springador with the same charm and energy, and the unmistakable curly ears of a spaniel. The advert said that the pups were socialized with children, microchipped, vaccinated, and could be seen with the mother. So we went to look. Just a look, of course.... don’t worry, Husband.
As a family of 5, even though we all love dogs, SOME of us had worries about buying or bringing home a puppy. If you want to persuade your family it’s a good idea, try some of these:
“Of course the cat will learn to get along with a puppy!”
“The litter is unsold! What do they do with unsold puppies?”
“It’s a buyer’s market! Prices have come waaay down since COVID!”
After some lively discussion, I get out my phone and arrange to go and see the puppies. “Well, we’ll just go and have a quick look, we can decide then.”
Husband groans. “There’s no way you’re just going to look.” But he still gets in the car at the right time. (I am stunned.)
“Should you empty the boot?” I wonder. “In case there’s another one of us on the journey back.” Husband has not thought this far ahead. (When he collected our cat, he popped her into a gift bag and placed it on the back seat.) But don’t worry, because I have a brilliant idea. I go off to ask our neighbor – who is a vet – to lend us her puppy cage. On the doorstep I quiz her on puppy-picking-protocol.
“Check ears – dirt is okay, but not soreness or redness. Make sure their jaw lines up, no protrusion. Feel their heart – you’ll notice if they have a murmur. Check the stomach for umbilical hernia. Look at their skin for allergies. You want bright eyes, shiny coat, and find out when they have been treated for fleas and microchipped.”
Not sure I will remember all this, as I am already over-excited. Kind neighbor says she will send it to me on an SMS.
“Oh, and choose a confident puppy – pick the one who comes to you first!”
When we arrive at the farm, we walk into a clean kitchen and the breeder’s toddler brings us an upside-down puppy. “Coco!” he beams.
“They’re all Coco,” whispers the breeder as she picks up two more poops from the corner. Four puppies tumble all over one another and us, attacking shoelaces with enthusiasm. The kids are already beaming. I can’t tell any of the puppies apart. How will we choose? We will probably have to take four, I think.
“What does a heart murmur feel like?” husband mutters to me. I grapple a pup and attempt to feel its chest. Heart is beating a million times a minute. Also, I have no idea which one it is.
Husband has an idea and craftily asks the breeder whether she has a favorite. “It’s this boy!” she says gleefully, squeezing the biggest pup. “Look at that face!”
The biggest pup puts his paws on our laps, throws his belly over our knees and makes himself irresistible while his sisters play with one another. “This one’s nice. Which one is this?” we all keep asking. She checks him with a microchip scanner and confirms. 076. (The pups don’t have names.) Does the breeder just think he’s the least saleable? The last family picked a small and shy girl, she says dolefully. And yes… that’s 076 on your lap again.
We feel bad as we drive away with her favorite, but not that bad.
Our new pup is coming home.