Buying a responsibly bred Labrador Puppy – During Lockdown, and after!

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I’m writing this article and publishing it as widely as I can, in response to the unprecedented demand for puppies since Lockdown began here in the UK in March. I want it to be an easy guide to sourcing a responsibly bred family Labrador puppy.

I am Diana Stevens from Wylanbriar Labradors, and, I’ve been around in all parts of the Labrador and Gundog world for nearly 30 years. I’m desperate to keep this article as short as possible because I don’t want to bore folks, but please do read to the end for maximum information.

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To show the current market difference, I would usually, directly and indirectly, get around 30-40 Labrador puppy enquiries a week at this time of year. However, at the moment, we are receiving around 20 – 30 puppy enquiries a DAY.

I’m not here to write about the pitfalls of buying at this time, especially as a kneejerk reaction to stay at home boredom. Nor about how life will go on after Lockdown, and you REALLY should know this is a creature for 14 years, not just for the next 14 WEEKS….. as I really hope buyers have thought about that thoroughly already.

Thankfully, many potential purchasers do seem to have sensibly planned for a puppy, and, are just plain unlucky that they have run into Lockdown, when they had decided on this Spring/Summer, to look for a Labrador puppy. It must be very frustrating for them AS GOOD PUPPIES ARE HARD TO FIND AT THE BEST OF TIMES.

When to start the ball rolling on finding a litter?

Its not something many realise, but most GOOD breeders have a long waiting list, literally weeks before the puppies are born through various channels and reputation. So you REALLY do need to start your search several MONTHS before you plan to bring puppy home to maximise chances of quality and choice.

Therefore breeders (and anyone that mates a dog to a bitch is a breeder, this is not a label to indicate experience, quality, or doing it for a living….) with pups available almost immediately, or, in the next few weeks, are usually going to either be at the poorer end of the market, or are just very unlucky having had a single cancellation, or similar. But know this is unusual *especially at this time* so ask SEARCHING questions if so.

Purchasing a responsibly bred puppy – Finding the right questions to ask.

Having spent probably the last 10-15 years mostly concentrating on informing through our website, and through our large Facebook group, I HAD made the assumption that the internet would be FULL of great websites, and, Facebook groups FULL of the basics of buying a nicely bred Labrador puppy. After all this IS 2020!

This information NEEDS to be easy to obtain, for even the laziest purchaser, who wants to just tap a few keys, not make it a research project……..

However market research recently has shown, to my huge disappointment, that generally advice is still really mixed. Scarily uninformed. Often the wrong things are being focused on, and its still VERY HARD for your average pet buyer wanting a lovely, healthy, decently bred family dog, to find what they need to ask.

I’ll try and paraphrase so you can remember the key points:.

  • Buying a Kennel Club Registered puppy is a good thing. However, It is not fool-proof, nor does it ever claim to be. Simply because a litter is Kennel Club registered, it does NOT mean both parents definitely will have undergone ANY of the basic and necessary breed health-tests that should be done before any dog or bitch is mated. HOWEVER, you can almost guarantee, that if the litter is NOT KC Registered, then either one or both parents almost certainly won’t have been officially health-tested (and this does NOT mean generally checked by the breeders vet!) to any level, probably at all.
  • You want to be paying between about £750 and £1000 for a decently bred puppy from health-tested parents. Lockdown has created rip off merchants to be advertising stupidly high prices of £1300 – £2500 and even higher! This is because they know puppies are gold-dust right now. Much cheaper, and there is DEFINITELY *something missing* from the mix and you’d need to ask serious searching questions as to why they are selling so cheaply as trust me, NO breeder sells cheap from the goodness of their heart. It WILL mean there is a ‘hole’ in health-testing or something else equally important.
  • During Lockdown, DEFRA and KC advice, to responsible breeders, is that you should ONLY be viewing the puppies by way of Facetime or other online methods. You should NOT be going to the breeder’s house. Breeders should also be delivering puppies on leaving day, and, whilst this USUALLY would be a *very dodgy thing to offer buyers*…. Currently it is NOT. It’s the responsible thing to do to not break ‘non essential travel’ guidelines for buyers. There are grey areas in all this, like any part of Lockdown, BUT if a breeder is offering you a visit at their house, OR asking you to collect, they are not acting responsibly, and, genuinely, I’d seriously consider walking away, as, it says *an awful lot* about them, and how much research they’ve bothered to do, generally.
  • A puppy should be 8 weeks old at the time of purchase. A day or two before is fine, but there is no excuse for a great deal earlier. If a puppy is more than a few days OLDER, you might also want to ask why. It may have been bought in and be being sold on by a third party who is NOT the breeder. Be CAREFUL!
  • Of course everyone has an idea of sex, colour, and possibly body type and size, that they ideally want. But this should NEVER become a priority. If it IS, fine, but make sure it is ONLY a priority ALONGSIDE Healthtest results, KC Registration, sensible purchase price, and a reasonably knowledgeable, responsible breeder.

The complicated part. Health-tests you should demand.

The health-testing schemes for ANY breed can be a little confusing, so puppy buyers can be very much forgiven if they find them baffling, or complex, as we have more than most other breeds to try and understand. :-)

I’ll try and give a no frills explanation.

BVA/KC Hip Scoring:

This scheme has been running for nearly 50 years now in one form or another. So no excuses whatsoever for BOTH parents of any litter you are considering to not have been hip scored.

  • The WORST possible score that a single hip can score is 53. The BEST is 0 (zero).
  • A hip SCORE is shown as TWO numbers such as 2:4 or 18:8 or whatever, indicating the left hip and the right hip scores. To calculate the Sire or Dam’s total score you just add those two numbers together.
  • The current breed average sits at around a total of 12 for both hips. There are other totals and ‘means’ but this is a good and fair way to think of it.
  • It is ideal if a dogs or bitches score is fairly ‘even’…. so if they scored a total of 12, you would ideally want that to be 6:6 or so…. Rather than say, 1:11.

It always needs understanding, that, good scores on both parents, does not GUARANTEE against joint disease or problems in the offspring’s hips, however responsible breeders use the scheme to show they care about the health of the puppies they produce and that they are ‘doing their best’ by all involved.

BVA/KC Elbow Scoring:

This scheme has been running for nearly 25 years now and *most* good breeders do use it. It has massively increased in uptake in the last ten years and it is now nearly as commonly used as the BVA Hip scoring scheme.

  • The WORST possible score that a single elbow can score is 3. The BEST is 0 (zero). PLEASE NOTE: This is very different to the wide-ranging scores of the Hip scheme.
  • Only Elbows with a 0:0 score should be bred from. This is Non negotiable.

It always needs understanding that this 0.0 score on both parents, does not GUARANTEE against joint disease or problems in the offspring’s elbows, however responsible breeders use the scheme to show they care about the health of the puppies they produce and that they are ‘doing their best by all involved’.

BVA/KC Annual Eye Test:

This is a very simple eye examination, by a specialist (so not your average vet), that checks for several conditions that our breed can be most commonly affected with.

The examination should be, in breeding animals, repeated EVERY year throughout their breeding life, and a buyer should always be able to see an eye test certificate for BOTH parents at the time of purchase, and that should be dated within the previous 12 months (so exactly like a car MOT).

DNA testing:

This is a huge and complex subject with many views and standpoints. The fact of the matter is, that over the last 20 years or so, a number of conditions have had the faulty gene identified by Laboratories, and, DNA tests have been developed to test for these conditions before breeding, OR, to be used if a dog is suspected of having the condition.

There are many, DNA tests out there on the market, some for very minor conditions that do not unduly affect a dog’s quality of life. A number are, however, important tests that DO affect the dog very much, if AFFECTED by the condition.

There are only THREE results that a DNA test can give:

CLEAR: The dog will neither ever HAVE the condition nor can PASS the condition along to their offspring.

CARRIER: The dog will NEVER, themselves, HAVE the condition but can pass the condition along to their offspring IF (and this is important!) they are mated to another Carrier of that condition. What is crucial to understand is that if a Carrier is mated to a Clear the puppies will all NEVER develop that condition as the worst they could, themselves, be is a Carrier.

AFFECTED: It is extremely rare for dogs with Affected results for anything are bred from. There are matings that can take place that still will produce healthy offspring but it is so unusual it’s probably not worth going into too much detail about.

So you hopefully understand, ALL we are trying to AVOID, to produce healthy puppies, are Carrier x Carrier matings. Everything else produces healthy puppies for that condition.

The most common current situation is that, only one parent has been DNA tested, usually the stud dog, and, IF that dog (or the bitch) is CLEAR for all the tests undertaken, then there is no need for the bitch to be tested (or visa versa), as WHATEVER her status, NO Affected puppies can be produced for any of the tested conditions.

However, if BOTH parents hold DNA test results, that is a bonus :-)

Health-testing Summary:

When you make enquiries on litters, basically, the minimum you should expect is BOTH parents Hip scored, and those scores on or below that breed average of 12 (or a few points either way of it), AND a Current clear BVA/KC Eye test certificate.

MOST Litters these days from good breeders, however, will have a lot more than that, between both parents. Usually including two ‘0’ elbow scores, and a number of DNA test results between one or both parents.

Where to look for a nicely bred Puppy?

I am not going to directly quote ANY suitable sources, as nowhere will ALWAYS be PERFECT. I want BUYERS to ask important, very basic questions to ANY breeder, sourced anywhere, and act INTELLIGENTLY on the replies. Never be embarrassed. If they make you feel bad for doing so, it tells you everything you need to know.

The one thing that you CAN be sure of as regards sourcing a puppy, is that you are FAR less likely to find a nicely bred, healthy puppy from free ad’s and their equivalent sites on the internet. If the site/source makes it sound like you are *buying a new fridge*, I.E. ‘Puppiesforsale.com’, ‘Fabpups .co.uk’ ……or suchlike, you can rest assured NO decent breeder in the LAND would advertise in such a place (However if you want to practice your questioning technique, try asking a few a couple of searching questions, and you’ll immediately see what I mean…. )

You walk away from purchases you decide not to make ALL THE TIME as an adult. So PLEASE walk away from any litters that do not meet at least the basic criteria above. Please WAIT. Winter and next Spring will bring a wonderful plethora of litters again, nationwide.

I hope that’s fairly clear. Good luck and, of course, stay safe.

Diana Stevens – Lockdown 2020.

 

 

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