You’ve decided to get a puppy and you’ve made the decision to get one from a dog breeder. You’ve done your research on different breeds and picked a breed that is right for you. Now, how to find a good dog breeder?
Below is our top list of things to consider when choosing a good dog breeder.
Is your puppy coming from a dog breeder or a puppy farm?
Can you meet your puppy’s mother before you select your puppy? Ideally you can meet the father as well, however this may not be possible if the father does not live at the breeder’s place.
Too often we are helping puppies with anxiety disorders. When we take a history for these cases, we often find out that the breeder wouldn’t let the mother be viewed by the adopting parents. They might have said something such as, ‘let’s meet half way and we’ll bring the puppy.’ Or, if you get to the property the breeder prevents you having access to view some areas of the property.
This type of behaviour from the breeder are big red flags. Most likely these dog breeders are actually puppy farms where large amounts of dogs are bred. The majority of dogs from puppy farms have ongoing physical and behavioural conditions due to how they were raised.
How a good breeder can minimise genetic physical and behavioural issues
- If you do get to meet the parents and mum or dad appear anxious, hyperactive or aggressive, these behavioural traits have a good chance of being passed on to puppy.
- Has the dog breeder done any relevant health or genetic tests for the mum and dad dog, and if relevant, the puppy? Each breed will have specific health issues that can be genetic such as hip displaysia or luxating patellas and these should be tested for before the mum and the dad dog get together. If an adult dog has a health issue, this can be passed on to the puppies.
- The breeder should be keeping in contact with the families of previously adopted puppies to track if any behavioural or physical issues have occurred. This is important info for any breeder as it gives them information to alter future pairings of a mum and dad dog to avoid future issues.
Setting puppies up to be emotionally resilient
- Is the dog breeder open to you visiting multiple times before puppy is ready to go home with you? This is ideal as it allows you to observe puppy and parents a few times. It also allows puppy to become accustomed to you. Also, we have heard stories of puppy farmers setting up a house to appear like a good breeder. If you visit multiple times you may pick up things like the littermates changing.
- Can your dog breeder show you what socialization program they do with each litter of puppies? We now know that puppies can be set up to become more emotionally resilient individuals if they have a socialization program which commences at day one, that is at the breeder’s.
- Note that socialization should extend beyond just meeting other dogs and people, and your breeder should be able to articular more than just these things. For some basic info about dog socialization, watch this video: Puppy Socialisation.
- Can the breeder tell you when the sensitive or fear periods are for a puppy? This is important is it will impact the intensity of their socialization program each day.
- Does your dog breeder have a commitment to positive reinforcement methods. Ask them what happens if either the puppies or dogs do any behaviour they don’t like. Beware responses including shouting, hitting, ‘time out’ or any other form of punisher. These responses impact on the short term welfare of the dog. These methods can also have long term impacts and create behavioural issues.
Final things to consider
- Does the breeder interview you? You want a dog breeder who cares and wants their puppies to go to good homes.
- Is your dog breeder registered with the Queensland Government? Legally every breeder needs to be registered to sell or give away dogs. More info can be found here: Information · Dog Breeders Register (daf.qld.gov.au). In addition, your dog breeder should be affiliated with other professional organisations such as Dogs Queensland.
- Do they breed more than one litter at a time or multiple breeds? These are warning signs that they may be more focused on financial return rather than welfare of the dogs.
- Were the puppies raised in a normal home environment? If they were raised in sheds, this does not set them up well for adjusting to a domestic home and often means they may have trouble with independence training.
- Search google and social media for any stories or reviews about the breeder. Don’t be afraid to post on a breed specific Facebook page for experiences too.
If you have been in contact with a dog breeder and you aren’t so sure – trust your instinct and keep looking.
Once you get your puppy don’t forget to enroll them in a puppy school!
So, you have been referred to a behaviour vet…
If we are concerned that your dog may have an anxiety disorder we will refer you to see a behaviour vet for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. A behaviour vet can be the best thing for you and your dog in this situation.
An anxiety disorder is a medical issue that affects the brain. The only person who is qualified to diagnose and treat anxiety in dogs is a vet. As behavioural trainers we are not qualified to diagnose a disorder. However, we are experienced enough to know when your dog needs to be assessed by a behaviour vet. For dogs with anxiety disorders, training alone will not fix the issue, and may do more harm than good. Please take our referral seriously and act as quickly as possible. A dog that is left to live with untreated anxiety is a dog that is suffering.
What happens to the brain with untreated anxiety
Your dog can become more sensitised to situations or objects that they are anxious about if they are continually exposed to them. Each time your dog is exposed to the thing that causes them to experience stress, this stress response triggers the part of the brain that is responsible for flight and fight. The more this response gets practiced, the stronger that response will get. If you think of that response like a muscle, the more it is exercised the stronger it will get.
The part of the brain responsible for rational thought, learning and memory (the cortex) does not effectively work when this part of the brain is triggered. The cortisol spike caused by this stress response will block the cortex for hours. For dogs who experience chronic stress or anxiety, this part of the brain can remain blocked. So we need to decrease triggering this stress response in the brain. When we do this your dog can have the opportunity to instead strengthen their thinking and learning response.
For some dogs with fear response about specific situations, it may be possible to slowly change how your dog feels about these situations without the assistance of a behaviour vet. However for many dogs with anxiety disorders it is near impossible for them to be calm and relaxed at any point. An accurate diagnosis and treatment from a behaviour vet will help your dog stop having such extreme reactions of stress. This then allows behaviour modification plans be effective so we can help your dog start to have calmer responses in situations that would usually cause them stress. We can only do this because their brains have the right chemistry to think, learn and listen. They cannot do this under extreme stress.
Anxiety disorders are predominantly genetic
Most anxiety disorders are predominantly genetic and the dog is born that way. Similar to type 1 diabetes – lifestyle can positively impact the symptoms but it requires a medical intervention like insulin. We wouldn’t withhold insulin for someone that had type 1 diabetes and we shouldn’t withhold anxiety treatment for a dog that may have an anxiety disorder.
Behaviour Vets are an investment
Think of your local vet like a General Practitioner. They can be great to start a conversation about anxiety but this conversation should include a referral to a behaviour vet. This is because our general practice vets do not specialise in anxiety disorders. A behaviour vet is a specialist in behaviour and more like a psychiatrist. Behavioural trainers are like psychologists. Beware that the training industry is unregulated so a lot of trainers are more like school teachers and may not be able to identify the red flags that indicate a dog may need assistance from a behaviour vet. It is best to start with the method that will help you and your dog the quickest.
Fees for a behaviour vet versus a general practice vet are not comparable. The fee for a general practice vet usually covers 15 minutes of advice, a behaviour vet will spend hours with you doing an assessment, history taking and observation and spend lots of time in preparation and follow up to ensure you and your dog succeed.
I wish I was referred to a Behaviour Vet sooner
When I adopted my rescue Shimmy she was 16 weeks old and she was a tricky pup. I was an aspiring trainer and worked very closely with a dog trainer. Shimmy and I spent hours each week at the training school and in my own time working on different skills. I was basically playing behavioural whack-a-mole. I would address one problem and another would pop up. All I was doing was pushing those big red warning flags below the surface.
The experienced trainer I was working with should have referred me to a behaviour vet. Instead, they were using inappropriate training techniques which created an environment where Shimmy kept being stressed to the point that it was almost all she knew. Not to mention, I wasted thousands of dollars on training when it was not a training issue. It was not until I became a qualified trainer that I identified something was not right and saw a behaviour vet. It was the best thing I have done for Shimmy.
Shimmy now has quality of life and has come a long way with treatment. But this could have been done when she was younger. This would have been far less costly and far easier to treat. Most importantly, early intervention would have saved her years of suffering. Now I live with the guilt of knowing I could have helped her sooner. I have made it my mission to help other dogs like Shimmy get the right treatment as early as possible.
If you are unsure as to whether your dog needs training or a behaviour vet, we are always happy to chat and a detailed assessment is included as part of our Behaviour Consults.
What are they?
A LickiMat (or licking mat) is made of hard plastic, silicone rubber or both. It has a textured surface and is designed for you to spread something edible on so that your dog can spend some time licking at the surface to get all that food out of the different bumps and grooves.
There are a range of different types of licking mats, from flat squares, to bowls that wobble, and even some with suction cups that you can attach to tiles or glass.
Why use them?
Well there are several benefits. One is simply that it occupies your dog. Giving them something to eat spread over a LickiMat will keep them busy for much longer than it would take them to eat the exact same thing from a plain bowl. They have to work at it!
More importantly though, the act of licking itself releases endorphins and dopamine. These are neurochemicals that create feelings of pleasure and relaxation in the body. So licking a LickiMat makes your dog feel nice!
This makes a LickiMat an ideal activity for your dog to engage in at times when you want them to feel happy and relaxed. For example if you:
– are going out and leaving them home alone
– need some calm time while you prepare dinner; or
– if your dog experiences something they find overly exciting or stressful like an unexpected visitor.
What can you put on a LickiMat?
You can put anything that is spreadable and safe for your dog to eat on a LickiMat!
Some ideas are:
– Cream cheese, cottage cheese or yoghurt if your dog can digest small amounts of dairy. Remember to get unsweetened varieties (artificial sweetener xylitol can be fatal for dogs)
– Peanut butter (again, check for artificial sweetener)
– Mashed pumpkin, carrot or banana
– Wet dog food
– Minced meat
– Canned tuna
– If your dog is on a specific dry food diet due to allergies, you can soak the kibble in warm water to create a spreadable food suitable for the LickiMat.
Get creative! Try adding some chopped fruit and veg pieces of dry dog or cat food to your spread for extra texture, or even better, freeze your LickiMat after you’ve spread it to make the licking last even longer.
Note: make sure you supervise your dog with a LickiMat initially to make sure they don’t chew it up or ingest pieces.
Dog anxiety is such a huge issue and needs the support and treatment of a qualified team that includes a behaviour vet and behavioural trainer. This article is just a taster of what you can do to help your dog in the moment if they are experiencing fear or anxiety.
If you have ever had a panic attack yourself or been around someone who has, you can get a sense of how terrifying the feeling is. As human beings, we can at least attempt to rationalise what we are experiencing. Unfortunately for our dogs this is not the case. They have no way of knowing or understanding the discomfort and physiological responses happening to them. This means it is our responsibility to comfort them and help them through it. Most importantly, to get the help you need to treat the underlying issues.
What does dog anxiety look like?
Firstly, let me clarify that I am not talking about a diagnosable anxiety disorder that should be treated and diagnosed by a behavioural vet. I am talking about the emotional and physical response a dog can have to a known or unknown trigger. This can be any of the following: panting, vocalising, barking, lunging, growling, howling or showing any signs of stress. If we see any of these signs, we should respond in a way that is kind, comforting and supportive. Even if we do not understand what they are feeling. Remember, dogs are not like humans. They are not motivated by the same things; they do not have the ability to plot revenge, or have any evil or sinister thoughts or plans. Their behaviour is simply a response to how they are feeling in the moment.
What can you do to help in the moment?
Do whatever will decrease your dog’s fear or anxiety. This can be different for every single dog, but generally speaking giving them distance from what is making them uncomfortable is a good first step and re-direct them to an activity that promotes a zen like state. This includes long lasting chews, Kongs, Lickimats etc.
Before you jump to asking if this will reinforce their fear, let’s go back to the human panic attack analogy. Imagine you are a good friend of mine and you are with me when I am having a panic attack. You are probably going to get me a warm cup of tea and share comforting words and perhaps rub my back. You do this because you want to lessen my symptoms and help me through it. A cup of tea and some kindness is certainly not going to cause me to have more panic attacks. It is no different with our dogs: you can not reinforce fear or anxiety.
What to do next
Contact a qualified behavioural trainer that has been certified by the Pet Professional Guild of Australia. Please don’t delay getting help. Not only is fear and anxiety an awful thing to live with, but the longer you leave it the harder it may be to treat. Having said that, it is never too late to seek help. You should also avoid triggering this anxiety or fear response again until you get help. Repeatedly exposing them to what makes them uncomfortable will not mean they will “get used” to it. All you are doing is filling the bucket further with negative experiences that will be harder to undo later on.
If you need help with your dog, we offer Behavioural Consults that can be face to face across Brisbane or via video anywhere in Australia.