by Nannette Newbury © 2000 AKC Breed Column (USA)

The popularity of the Australian Shepherd as a companion dog is growing rapidly among the general public. The good news is that many new Aussie owners are taking the time and effort to educate themselves on the breed before they buy. The not-so-good news is that many are not. They fall prey to the pervasive modern cultural lure of immediate gratification when purchasing a puppy. They typically spend more time researching the purchase of a new sport utility vehicle that may have a lifespan in their household of four to five years. But when it comes to buying a new puppy, that will hopefully share their home for fourteen years, they may just as easily grab one out of a cardboard box at the local supermarket. This is not the way to buy a puppy! The odds of this animal becoming the ideal companion and exhibiting the traits and temperament that we in the breed have come to know and cherish are slim. So how does one acquire an Australian Shepherd puppy and avoid some common pitfalls in the purchase of a dog?

The first tenant should be “take your time!” Enjoy the process of finding an ideal breeder to work with you and your family. Research the breed and breeders to make sure that an Aussie is truly the ideal dog for you. Seeing one in the back of your neighbour's car, or running on the beach are not great ways to determine that this breed is for you.

Never take your cheque book with you when looking at puppies! Let's face it. There is no such thing as an ugly puppy. They are adorable, loving fuzzballs at this age and hard for even the most wizened breeder to resist. Get to know your breeder. Get to know the sire and dam of the litter. Make several visits. If a breeder won't allow you on their property, don't buy a puppy from them. This can be an indication that the manner in which the puppies are raised is not up to standard.

Don't buy your puppy from a classified ad in a newspaper. Local puppy mills and backyard breeders use classified ads (and now the Internet) to sell puppies. Generally, qualified and respected breeders do not. There is the rare occasion when one might, but for the most part breeders of quality animals tend to shy away from this method of selling. Word of mouth, reputation and satisfied previous buyers are what sell good puppies.

Don't buy the cheapest puppy you can find. You will generally get what you pay for. Breeders rarely make money on a litter if they are doing the right things in producing the litter. The price that you pay for a well-bred puppy buys quality food; quality rearing of the pup including: socialisation and proper stimulation; hip and eye clearances for the sire and dam; testing for sexually-transmitted diseases in the sire and dam prior to mating; health clearances on the parents and the pups; quality vaccinations and shot schedules; and hopefully a genetic history of your new dog; as well as years of experience you can rely on in the future.

If a breeder doesn't call you back in three minutes don't jump on the Internet and order your new puppy that will be delivered via Airborne Express in the morning from “Puppy Express,” a dog distributor (also known as a puppy mill). Let me add, that anyone that tells you they have the exact puppy you are looking for, in the exact colour specifications you have asked for, on the exact date you want it, is probably not the person you want to buy from! The odds against this happening are quite high. You will need to exercise some self-control and patience in the search for your new pup. In our modern lifestyle we have dictacted to business that we want it our way and we want it fast! While satisfying, successful and revolutionary in the food industry, I cannot stress enough how 'not great' this is when applied to acquiring a new dog.

Buying a new puppy is not like ordering at Burger King. You may want it your way, but this may not get you the best dog for your household. When dealing with a breeder, you must find one that you can trust. Trust also that after spending an intimate eight weeks with the litter, a quality breeder will be able to tell you the tiniest details and personality quirks of each puppy in their litter. Rather than focusing on sex, hair colour or eye colour, you will be much better served if, instead, you ask the breeder for the best puppy for your family.

A breeder will more than likely ask you questions about your lifestyle, dogs you have owned previously, your living situation and the make-up of your household. Considering this information and getting to know you personally, a breeder can make a well-informed decision about what puppy will be best suited for you. If a breeder asks you no questions, be concerned. It is often a sign of someone trying to dump puppies.

Even with the best of breeders, mistakes can and do happen. However, after establishing a relationship with your breeder, you will be able to either return the puppy or make restitution on your contract. The operative word here is contract! This is rarely the case when a puppy is purchased out of the newspaper.

Breeders want to provide you with a dog that you can love and live with for many years. They cannot do that if you don't let them do their jobs. Don't call breeders and expect them to have a red merle male, large-sized, with just a speck of blue in the left eye available for you to take home at 5:00 pm on the afternoon of the start of your two-week annual vacation. Resist even the tempatation of making this absurd request at all costs!

I sometimes think that today's puppy buyers would be tickled if, the moment they decided they wanted an Australian Shepherd, they pile the family in the sport utility vehicle, dash down to the Open-24-hours-A-Day Aussie Supermarket. They grab a shopping cart, cruise the aisles and pick the perfect puppy off the shelf in Aisle 9B. Blue light specials would be even neater! However tantalizing a marketing idea it seems, it will not bring the perfect puppy into your home. There is much more involved in a commitment to a puppy and finding the perfect pup for you.

Enthusiastic buyers can unwittingly turn off outstanding breeders by limiting their parameters for a puppy. It is not unusual to receive a call from a puppy buyer asking for a small, blue merle female with two blue eyes. There is a rather ancient saying that is appropriate here, ”Be careful of what you ask for. You just may get it!” What about some thought to the new pup's temperament and disposition? What about energy level? What about the genetic background of the parents? You should be asking about puppy eye clearances, hip and eye clearances on the sire and dam, any genetic faults in the line.

If you are determined to have a specific sex and coloured animal, you may have to wait. You also may have to broaden your search to surrounding states or nationwide. To assume that one or more local breeders could produce your “order” is probably unreasonable, especially in our breed where no two animals are marked alike. Finding that specially coloured Aussie can happen and may happen, but generally not in the period of time when you want your puppy. Resist the temptation to take the first puppy that shows up and matches your colour scheme! Nothing can be more heartbreaking to a family than to bring a new puppy home that is unhealthy and may perhaps die or have to be euthanased. A careful and slow search for the perfect breeder for you can alleviate this.

If you or your family work excessive hours during the week, resist the temptation of getting an eight-week old puppy. Perhaps a young adult or retired show dog may be the perfect choice for you. Perhaps another breed may be even better. Be willing to look at this. Raising a puppy into adulthood takes time, energy and effort on your behalf. An Australian Shepherd puppy left in a backyard while its people are working 80 hours a week will keep itself busy. They are very creative and bright beasts. They may try their paws at gardening or landscape design. Trust me; an Aussie's idea of landscaping is not what most of us have in mind for our backyards!

After all is said and done remember this: Australian Shepherds reflect the family they live with…they mirror their environment. If you provide a quiet, relaxing homelife for your dog, you will have a relaxed and quiet dog. If you are always on the go and active, so will your dog be. If you are never there, your Aussie may not be either!

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