Peter has been a breeder firstly of German Shepherds since 1982 and then of Rottweilers since 1992. He has been a member of the Kennel Club scheme to promote good breeding practice from its outset when it was known as the Accredited Breeder Scheme, up to the current date under its more recent title of Assured Breeder Scheme.
Whilst we still have the knowledge and experience to breed quality Rottweiler puppies, due to our training and behavioural commitments, it seems unlikely that we will be involved in any breeding in the immediate future. However, we can often advise you of respected breeders who do have puppies or are planning litters.
Please read below our tips and advice for acquiring and rearing a healthy puppy, whatever breed you are interested in. We try to avoid too much behavioural jargon so that our material is understandable by all!
Acquiring Your Puppy – Do Your Research
If you are hoping to get a pedigree puppy, it is essential that you research the different breeds, their specific traits, trainability, potential health issues etc. to ensure that the puppy will fit in with your lifestyle. Some breeds of dog are much more demanding of your time than others and also need experience in dealing with their higher behavioural drives. So for instance, I would strongly advise against getting a working breed of dog, with high levels of activity if you are going to be out at work for much of the day.
Actually, I question whether anyone should have any puppy if they are going to regularly leave it for eight hours a day. Mature dogs can often cope easily with long periods of absence, but young puppies will quickly become bored and destructive if left for too long. WHAT DOG? By Amanda O’Neill is a great book which lists the various traits, trainability etc of most popular breeds of dog.
If you are not getting a pedigree dog and simply want the ‘Heinz 57’ or mixed-breed type, you should still make sure that the predominant breeds involved in the mix, suit your lifestyle. If you are not very active yourself, think very hard before getting a Springer x Collie, Labradoodle, Cockerpoo or anything like that.
When to Get Your Puppy
The optimum age to acquire your new puppy is 7-8 weeks. This is at a point during the juvenile socialisation period when the puppy happily soaks up new events and experiences. The longer you leave it after 8 weeks, the more chance there is of the puppy becoming ‘institutionalised’ and less amenable to human interactions. See also the information on fear imprint periods below.
I would be very reluctant to acquire a puppy after age 12 weeks, unless I knew the breeder personally so I could vouch for the quality of their puppy-rearing environment and rely on them to have exposed the puppy to the various sights, human interactions, sounds and smells that they need to help shape them into well-balanced puppies.
Where to Get Your Puppy
There are many Kennel Club accredited or assured breeders of puppies of all breeds, but I am afraid this does not automatically mean that their puppies and the manner they rear them, will necessarily be ideal. It is I’m afraid, quite easy to acquire this status from the KC and I certainly know of KC breeders who I wouldn’t dream of buying a puppy from. However, it is generally a good place to start as most of them have good quality, health-checked breeding stock.
Go along and see their puppies at an early age and check out the environment they are spending most of their time in. These days, most Assured Breeders rear litters more as a hobby rather than a profession and often only do so when they want a puppy themselves. Personally, I would much rather go to this sort of breeder rather than some of the old-style breeders with massive numbers of dogs, who rear their puppies outdoors in kennels.
If you are not getting a pedigree dog, then I guess you will be looking for puppies via the internet or in your local newspaper. There are many lovely, well-meaning ‘hobby breeders’ of dogs who advertise their dogs in this manner and I certainly would not rule them out, although as with KC breeders, you certainly need to have your wits about you when making your enquiries.
Some of these breeders are ‘just letting their bitch have one litter’ and know very little about rearing puppies. Some are farmers, many of whom see rearing of puppies as another form of income. Either way, there are good and bad in all of them, but I would generally avoid farm puppies which are bred and reared in barns etc. It will certainly not help their early development.
Even worse, there are now many criminal types who are illegally importing puppies, pedigree and otherwise from Europe. There are cases where these people have rented houses just for the purpose of selling their puppies, so extreme caution must be exercised.
See the Mother
Any breeder worth their salt, will be happy for you to see the mother and any other relatives they have. The mother of the puppies has huge influence on how the pups turn out. My behavioural clients have over the years, told me of the many and varied excuses given to them by breeders, as to why they were not allowed to see the mother of the puppies when viewing a litter.
Please do not listen to any excuses, for example ‘Shes gone to a dog show, she’s at the vet, she’s under the weather, she’s out on a walk, she died giving birth’ etc etc etc. Before setting off to visit the breeder ENSURE that the mother will be available to see and if not, go on another day. If you still receive excuses, WALK AWAY, as there is a strong possibility that her temperament is suspect and she may well pass this on to some of her puppies. Even worse, the breeders may be illegal importers and of course the mother will be many hundreds of miles away.
Of course, the father or sire of the puppies plays his role genetically too and I have seen many Rottweiler puppies whose well-known sharp sire has passed on his temperament to some of his progeny. Reasons for not being able to see the sire are however often genuine, as many breeders will use a stud dog who may well live in a completely different part of the country, or even another country. Some (not enough) breeders particularly of the guarding breeds, have their puppies assessed at seven weeks
Of course, if you are really keen to see him, the breeder may well be prepared to put you in contact with his owner. As with buying a puppy, be prepared to travel. However, it is the mother who has the most influence on the puppies as she is with them from conception to their departure for new homes, hence it is absolutely vital to see her.
Puppy Assessment at Seven Weeks
Some breeders, particularly of the guarding breeds, go to additional lengths to assess the temperaments of their puppies by having them independently assessed. This should be done at exactly seven weeks of age by someone experienced in doing so. This procedure gives clear evidence as to the potential temperament of each puppy, its trainability, strength of character etc.
Unfortunately, not enough breeders go to the additional inconvenience and expense of having these assessments carried out, which is a great pity as they can be of huge importance in allocating the right puppy to the right owner. I have worked with many adult Rottweilers and German Shepherds for instance, many of them bred by well-known breeders, which have clearly been allowed to go to inexperienced owners who were always going to find this particular puppy too much for them.
This does rather place doubt on the contention of many breeders who do not have their puppies assessed, because ‘they observe their puppies for seven weeks and know best which puppy to allocate to which owner’. There are many reasons why an experienced breeder might not spot the potential for problems in one of their puppies and whilst no assessment will ever be fool-proof, it gives the best guide to the way a puppy is likely to develop mentally.
Of course, there are breeders who simply allow their puppy-buyers to choose their own puppy, regardless of whether the person has the requisite experience in the breed. This happens in all breeds, including Rottweilers and can be a problem for instance where a litter has lots of male puppies and the pressure is on to find enough homes.
So if the breeder you visit, seems to be ‘interfering’ in your choice of puppy as some buyers see it, then that is actually a good thing as they are normally doing so for reasons of allocating the right puppy to you. In Rottweilers for instance, a good breeder might even decline to let you have a male and encourage you to start with a female despite your wishes, if they feel that is right for you.
Consider the Puppies Environment
Many of the best-reared litters are raised in the family home, with children and all the other sights and sounds of normal family life. Puppies soak up these atmospheres like little sponges and start off with huge advantages over kennel-bred dogs. That is not to say that kennel-bred dogs are to be avoided, but certainly you need to assure yourself that such puppies have been coming into the home and also been exposed to plenty of varied human scent.
I do have huge concerns about farm-bred puppies, which are often seen as just another batch of livestock and can come with plenty of issues before you, the new owner even get them. Think about it; if the only human scent a litter of such puppies senses in their first six weeks of life, is the scent of the breeders, then the puppy is likely to be suspicious (nervous) of other human scent. This can be particularly so, if the pups mother is highly sensitive too and barks at any strangers who do visit, imprinting her suspicion of humans onto her pups.
Many of my clients who have experienced serious behavioural issues with their dogs, have told the story of how the environment the puppy was bred and reared in was totally inadequate and they took the puppy home because ‘they felt sorry for it’. Whilst this is all very benevolent, it does nothing to deter inadequate breeders from breeding poor quality puppies. When faced with poor quality puppies, bred in an inadequate environment, I urge you to WALK AWAY. If you are inexperienced in these matters, we would be happy to assist you in selecting a suitable puppy. Please contact us to discuss further.
Bringing Your Puppy Home
So, assuming you have found a good litter of a type which suits your lifestyle and personality and the breeder meets the necessary criteria. What do you do when you get this puppy home?
The first couple of days are settling in days, when you shouldn’t overwhelm the puppy with over-excited visitors, change it’s diet etc. Just let the puppy explore its new surroundings and then you can start getting it used to certain things. Many breeders put collars on their pups and if not, I recommend you do so fairly early on in order to get him/her accustomed to that feeling.
Ensure it is elasticated so that it cannot strangle the puppy if for instance, it snags on its crate if you are using one. It is good practice to remove the collar if the pup is left unsupervised for extended periods. After a couple of days, you can perhaps let it run around (under supervision) with a light lead attached and then build up to actually holding the lead.
We always try to bring a new puppy home early in the day, so that it has the rest of the day to settle in, before the all-important first night. During the rest of the day, of course we will spend lots of time with the puppy but we will also ensure that the puppy has sometime on its own, in the space where it is going to sleep. This tends to ensure that when bedtime finally arrives, the puppy finds the experience of being left alone far less traumatic.
As you can tell by the above, we don’t advocate letting the puppy spend the first couple of nights in our bedroom. There are many experts who do recommend this, but in our view this leads in many cases to the puppy actually remaining in the bedroom indefinitely, which on behavioural grounds is not a good thing.
Innoculation v Puppy Socialisation
Your vet will tell you not to take your puppy outside until fully inoculated, but this is advice I am more than happy to ignore, with certain provisos. I take the view that I need to balance the risk of lack of early socialisation against the risk of disease and for me, socialisation comes out on top everytime. Of course, you mustn’t take your puppy down to the local park or dog walking area. This would be reckless and asking for trouble, particularly in areas of high incidence of parvovirus for instance.
I have reared many puppies over the years and each one of them has followed the same routine from seven or eight weeks. They take early, short trips in the car to say, a quiet local shop, where I stand near to the door with the puppy either in my arms, or in a small box such as a recycling box. I start the car travel process even earlier if I have bred the puppies myself.
People will invariable approach and ask if they can say hello, which is to be encouraged, although their greetings should be low key and not too exciteable. At the same time, the puppy will also get used to passing traffic, but ensure that you are not located on a busy road. Quiet side streets, where you are not too close to the actual road are best. DO NOT allow any dogs (other than your own) to approach your puppy at this early stage, until fully inoculated.
Hopefully, your breeder will have already started this socialisation themselves. Many a time, I have put a whole litter of puppies in the rear of my car to start this process, before they have even met their new owners. If your puppy appears to be concerned, for instance at the proximity of traffic, then quietly move a little further away from whatever is bothering it, but try NOT to reassure it. This can have exactly the opposite effect than the one you desire, leading to an over anxious, overly nurtured puppy. Far better that the puppy takes confidence from you, rather than think you are concerned too.
Fear Imprint Period
This is the period from about 8-10 weeks when puppies can react adversely with often life-long effect, to significant things which happen to them which they have not already experienced. So for instance, an interaction with a boisterous large dog for the first time, a first visit to the vets where the puppy is handled less than sympathetically, the first sight of traffic etc., can all be things which can have an adverse effect on puppies who have not experienced these things before. That’s why the role of the breeder in exposing their puppies to lots of varied stimuli prior to this age is absolutely vital. Ask them just exactly what experiences the puppy has had prior to collecting him.
That is not to say that the owner of a new puppy must avoid all new stimulus during the fear imprint period, but it must be handled with care and sensitivity and should anything scare the puppy during the period (or at any other time actually) don’t make a big deal of it with lots of fuss and concern. This will almost certainly reinforce the puppy’s fear of that sort of occurrence in the future. Some puppies sail through their fear period without a care in the world and this is usually due to a combination of their genetic character, good breeder practice and sensible management by their new owner.
This is so straight forward, but so many puppy owners struggle to get them house-trained. Basically, encourage your puppy to pee and poo in your garden. On arrival home from collecting the puppy, take the puppy into your garden and it will almost certainly pee immediately. Use a trigger word, such as ‘hurry up/be quick’ and praise the pup when it does so.
At age 8 weeks, the puppy needs to relieve itself immediately upon; waking up, leaving it’s bed/crate, finishing food, drinking, after play etc. As a general rule, take the pup outside after all these events, which may be at least every 30 minutes during the daytime and you will soon build up the puppy’s desired habit of relieving itself outside. The more it does it indoors, the harder it gets to break the habit. Of course, there will be accidents, so always ensure you clean up effectively to prevent repeat marking. Biological washing liquid is very effective at completely obliterating all traces of smells of puppy urine and faeces.
This problem occurs from time to time with dogs of different breeds. Often, it’s where the breeder’s have fed the entire litter from one large bowl, which leads to a bit of a free for all, or survival of the strongest.
Regularly taking the food bowl away from your puppy was always seen as being the right thing to do, in order to prevent possessiveness. Unfortunately, some owners overdo this and make the already resource possessive puppy even worse. A more balanced approach is to get your puppy used to having your hand on or in its bowl whilst eating and sometimes drip-feeding its food into the bowl.
I still recommend occasionally taking the bowl away from the puppy whilst it’s eating, but this should be infrequent and shouldn’t be made into a big deal for the puppy. Giving and taking away of other resources is still important, because of course there will be occasions when the pup picks something up which it definitely must not have.
Again, when taking legitimate resources away from your puppy, try to generally give it back, almost like a game and the puppy is far less likely to develop a problem. If your are reading this too late and your puppy has already started snapping and snarling at you or your children over resources, I strongly recommend that you contact me immediately before the problem becomes much more serious.
Puppy Training Classes and Parties
Once your puppy is fully inoculated, you may be considering taking it to a puppy class or party. EXERCISE CAUTION. There are many puppy training classes/parties which have sprung up, to encourage early socialisation of these impressionable young pups. Whilst most of them obviously have the puppies welfare at heart, the skills and experience of many of the puppy trainers and veterinary nurses involved, can sometimes leave much to be desired.
I totally agree with the comments of well known TV personality and dog behaviourist, Robert Alleyne who has strong views that many of today’s puppy party participants are tomorrow’s aggressive dogs. Puppy’s early training and socialisation needs to be focused on forming a bond with its human family (pack) leaders and being more interested in them, rather than wanting to run around with every dog it meets. Puppies generally need to learn their canine socialisation skills with dogs of all ages and not with a bunch of similar aged puppies, some of whom will undoubtedly be boisterous and unruly.
If you are experienced in rearing puppies, then I’m sure you will know exactly what to do. If not, I would ALWAYS recommend one to one help from an experienced trainer/behaviourist. It may be more expensive than classes/parties but in the long run, it should prove to be a great investment in your puppy’s future and may save you even more money on behavioural rehabilitation work in the future.
If you still feel that the puppy training class or party is the way to go, then I strongly urge you to view at least one session before taking your puppy there. If the puppy trainer declines, then you should WALK AWAY. If they agree and you witness calm interactions under controlled circumstances, between puppies of various types and sizes, you have been fortunate to find a good puppy class. If you see lots of boisterous behaviour, excessive barking, poor trainer:puppy ratio or bullying of the more reserved puppies, WALK AWAY and consider consulting a one to one puppy trainer.
If you are experiencing problems with your adult dog, have a puppy who is developing behavioural issues, or simply want to give it the best start in life you can do no better than contacting Peter and Jayne Mounsey at Ashclyst Dog Training & Behaviour.