Things to keep in mind BEFORE buying a new puppy

                                                                                                               © Chris Jones

 Everyone loves a new puppy. Most reputable breeders want the puppy and purchaser both to be happy. The truly dedicated breeder will be there for the puppy and buyer both, even after the sale.

 There a few things to take in consideration that are not often addressed when discussing the purchase of a new puppy. I would like to cover some of these issues here. In addition to finding the right breed for you* which I believe to be of utmost importance, you will also need to be familiar with the fact that there are familial traits within the various breeds as well.  For instance, not all Shih Tzu are equally intelligent or clean in the house. Some Shih Tzu are eager to please and others may be stubborn, some like to snuggle while others do not..

Some dogs are not as responsive to people and some have what some folks might consider offensive habits. (Stool eating for example) It is up to you as the buyer to know in advance of the purchase what to look for and what questions to ask.

Your first goal should be becoming an educated buyer. It is essential to make the best possible decision and not to live the axiom: act in haste repent in leisure. Many make the mistake of buying on impulse or for the wrong reasons. Buyer beware is certainly good advice when looking at the plethora of puppies available and possible sources for them. A little homework at the onset will serve you well and hopefully you will have no need of regret or recourse after the sale.

One thing I would like to address is price. Many people are most concerned with price. This is a very subjective area. Due to geographical location, availability and other factors, prices may vary widely. In my mind price should not be the make it or break it part of any buying decision. Quality is always an important consideration. Unfortunately, quality is not always easy to determine or differentiate. 

Something else to consider is this: There are some things a person would do well not to quibble over. These are a person's priorities: These would be various aspects of your life you consider to be of vital importance, like your eye care and your food and perhaps your Shih Tzu. At least those would qualify as my own priorities. As with anything else there are always less expensive, generic versions of a given breed. Anyone can make anything cheaper, but quality usually speaks for itself, especially given the element of time. What are your personal priorities? If a Shih Tzu is too time consuming or owning a pet is too restrictive in terms of your lifestyle, then perhaps a cat would be a better choice, for example. If you have little or no patience, white carpet and designer furnishings, maybe a puppy is not such a good idea. Only you know all the details and your own priorities. 

The fact is, the purchase price of the average dog, when pro-rated on the lifetime of a healthy, long lived dog will be the smallest part of the investment you will make in him. Conversely a less expensive but very “cute” dog may cost you more than you can now imagine. These are some of the reasons:

Marketing, this is usually done by pet stores and some breeders who are in the commercial arena. Prices may be high to give the appearance to the uninformed of quality. Indeed, “overhead” may be high; storefronts, vet bills, show expenses, handling fees, advertising, and such may be very costly. These expenses may affect the pricing strategy of the pet store or show breeder.  So called “back yard breeders” generally get their dogs from pet stores or from others and breed them for profit. These breeders know little if anything about the breed or specific breed traits or health concerns. Many times these dogs are offered at a less expensive price. However, the breeding is conducted solely for a profit motif.  Many times these  "breeders" learn they are not equipped to deal with the public. They also find  they cannot command the prices they hoped for their puppies. Many people mistakenly believe that if they pay a high price at a pet shop or if the dog has “papers” then the dog must be very good quality. These folks may decide to breed their little doggies, truly believing they have breeding quality dogs. The average person doesn’t realize that there is a “pet” quality and a “show” or breeding quality. Even then the range of quality within those parameters may vary widely. Getting back to people who breed, many enter into it with the mistaken belief that their dog must have a litter to somehow complete it’s mission in life. Others see the “quick and easy buck” or believe they do. When things don’t materialize, many of these “breeders” move on to other breeds or pursue other venues.

A “bargain” dog is not always the bargain it may appear to be. The so-called breeder may not know or care about known breed specific health problems. They just be breeding because they like the breed or they feel they can get more money for this type of puppy.  An example  of a serious breed specific health issue would be renal dysplasia or autoimmune problems in the Shih Tzu. The breeder may not be aware of the reason so many of their puppies die very young. The breeder might mistakenly believe the puppies "got sick". They may even consider it “normal”. This person would not be aware of the health problems in their own dogs and would not recognize it. They are just sellers of puppies. These are not knowledgeable breeders.  A dog that costs $200-300 may sound like a bargain but thousands (yes, thousands) of dollars and a lot of heartache later, this may appear to have been a very sad and expensive lesson. How would you best determine quality or health issues? Let’s look at that next.

Of course you should get a health guarantee and get a good overall exam at the veterinarian’s office. However, this can give one a false sense of security in that many problems do not show up until later in life and are not readily seen by the vet or buyer until symptoms become apparent. For that reason it is very essential that a person finds a breeder with a strong sense of values and a good track record. First find someone who can and will answer any and all of your questions. You should find out what to ask and how to compare “apples to apples and oranges to oranges”. If you only want a “generic dog” i.e., one that resembles a Shih Tzu or “has papers” that state it is a Shih Tzu, you can certainly find a vast and cheap supply. Just be prepared with the eventuality that your puppy may only live 10 months to 2 years. The cost a lot in terms of emotional stress and vet bills may be a lot more than your initial investment and quite a bit more than you bargained for.  Of course this is not always the case, I always say, good accidents happen, too. You could get lucky and find a healthy well-adjusted pet. But if your standards for selection aren’t very high or you feel you just aren’t that concerned with breed specifics, then you may as well go to the shelter and save a life. Why spend your money on a dog that is “supposed” to be a Shih Tzu? If you want something that resembles a Shih Tzu or you are unable to tell one from another, then you may be satisfied with a “look alike”. There are certainly many of those available. Again, consider your own priorities.

It is also not necessarily true that mixed or half-breeds are better than purebreds. They are not necessarily healthier as many people would have you believe either. Sadly many veterinarians are guilty of perpetuating this myth. Let me tell you something, even two wonderful looking dogs can be carrying the genetic material for PRA (progressive retinal atrophy, a known genetic* cause of blindness) and/or other recessive genetic diseases. Whether or not these dogs are the same breed or not, they can produce it. Another thing is, if the poodle has cataracts and the Shih Tzu has hip dysplasia, the puppies are just as likely to get both as neither. The litter may have some puppies affected with both problems and some none, and one puppy could conceivable be affected with a mixture of others.

A breeder that understands genetics and one who is diligent and conscientious can save you a lot of heartache. They have done their homework and paid their dues so you don’t have to.

Problems known to all breeds such as hip dysplasia and eye disorders are also in the Shih Tzu of course. Do not be fooled by the breeders who says we do not have this or that problem in our breed. Don’t be fooled by the one that has never tested a thing in their kennel and yet says they have never had that problem in their “line”. Do you see any x-ray equipment in their home or a vet certificate on their wall? How do these people really know? How do they know, especially if they sell their puppies at a young age and never test or see them again? This type of breeder wants an uneducated buyer and wishes to keep them in the dark to make their sales easier. How a breeder deals with these problems is very telling in my opinion. Do they tend to sweep these problems under the proverbial rug? Can they answer your questions intelligently? 

A truly knowledgeable breeder is worth their weight in gold, as they have been known to actually save their clients hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars on dog care over the lifetime of a pet. It can be very reassuring to know you can depend on someone else who really cares about your puppy. A breeder who cares will be there for both of you in an emergency or when something bewildering comes up.

In my opinion, the dog and his papers are only as good as the integrity of the breeder.

 Papers are no reflection of quality. Get that idea out of your mind. Somewhere along the line the public got fooled in to believing the AKC registration papers were a type of “Good Housekeeping” seal. They are far from it. The AKC’s own brochure states explicitly that “papers are not a guarantee of quality”. Is a rusted out Cadillac in the junk yard that’s a registered Cadillac with no tires, no engine and no seats, of any interest to you? Does it look like a Cadillac or command the price of a Cadillac? Well it is registered as a Cadillac just the same. The quality you buy depends entirely upon the breeder and all the decisions, dedication, scruples and years of learning, that have gone in to making your puppy today. That trail, not the paper trail, determines the ultimate quality of your puppy today and your dog tomorrow.

 Your input and the environment you provide will contribute greatly to this equation as well. (Another reason to do your homework, so you can be a wonderful owner/companion to your Shih Tzu!)

 Whenever possible go for the voice of experience. Someone with a history and long time devotion to their breed should be a more credible and certainly more knowledgeable source of information than a novice.  Look for someone who commits all their time and resources to bringing their one particular breed to it’s best face, rather than “playing” with two or three breeds. It takes a lot of time to learn the standards* and achieve success with one breed. Splitting one’s time, resources and skills between several breeds will do none of them justice. This breeder is like a jack of all trades; breeder of all breeds and yet never really accomplished in any. This can also the sign of a potential puppy mill as well.

 You will get what you pay for and then some from a devoted fancier of the breed who truly cares about their dogs and what they are producing.

 Don’t be overly impressed with claims of champions either. Those “titles” do not convey to offspring. They may be easily obtained in some cases and can be misleading as to the actual “quality” of the parents and/or offspring. Being a “show dog” isn’t necessarily good or bad in and of itself. It depends what is important to you. If you want the “status” then maybe that’s the dog for you. You may buy a retired or “failed” show dog is some cases that may make a perfectly acceptable pet. Don’t be fooled by “buzzwords” in advertising or sales pitches. (Champion bloodlines, “imperials”, "tinies”, etc) It is not unheard of for puppy mills to buy or breed with champions. Someone who breeds 40-100 puppies a year is certainly likely to have a champion come out of it, just by sheer volume. In some areas of the country such a person might only show against themselves and their own breeding, so the title is virtually meaningless. In some other places it only takes a small number of dogs (like 3) to get “majors” so championships are pretty meaningless there, too. It is also commonplace in some areas for a professional handler to show his own clients dogs against each other and themselves, even putting in "finished" dogs to "hold majors" and thus insure another one will be a champion. This certainly isn't promoting quality, sportsmanship or anything else.

 If you don’t know what a Shih Tzu is or have never heard of the “standard”. See some examples of the breed "in person", attend some dog shows, check out some books, call some breeders, go see some dogs and read and learn the “standard”.

 A pretty picture and/or a good sales pitch can easily fool some buyers into believing the quality they are buying is being offered for less. Breeding good quality dogs is not a money making proposition and soon becomes an expensive hobby.

Even though a price seems high to you, first determine if you are comparing apples to apples. You should then be able to determine when you are actually getting a fair price or better bargain over the lifetime of your dog.

If finances are a problem, save up a little money or ask the breeder to work with you. The main thing is that you are financially able and willing to care for the dog properly once you do get him/her.

Try to use your head and common sense. Try not to get too emotionally attached to the first cute puppy or be too impressed with first inviting sales pitch you hear.

 This little dog should live on average 15 years. When you decide on one, it should be in terms of a long-term commitment. It can be reassuring to know you have an experienced breeder who is a phone call away and will be there to help you along the way.

Remember too, Shih Tzu are a high maintenance breed they do require daily and weekly grooming sessions. If you cannot do this or cannot provide for the expense to have it done for you and the dog, do not even think about a Shih Tzu. Shih Tzu are not toys or babysitters. Do not buy a Shih Tzu for this purpose; it is not fair to the dog. They can be easily injured, run off or be mistreated if unsupervised. 

Does the breeder require a spay/neuter of their pets? If they are concerned about the health and safety of their dogs and wish to protect their dogs from exploitation they certainly do. As a responsible pet owner you will want to do this for your pet. It is safer and less expensive in the long run to buy another quality pet than to try and breed one yourself. There is also a very sad pet overpopulation problem with millions of dogs being euthanized in the US daily. This is because too many people try to breed dogs who do not know enough about them. Many others have accidental litters. All of these dogs come in to the world without someone wanting to keep them. Many are sold to the first person who comes along with cash. Absolutely no thought has gone in to the planning of them or towards their future. No one carefully matches up owners, and the new homes with these dogs. No one checks on them to make sure they are wanted or cared for, as they get older. The puppies grow up, many are untrained and left unattended. People who do things this way are in it for the quick sale, the fast buck and/or have no sense of responsibility to the dogs or the breed. Many dump or take puppies they are unable to sell to the shelters where they too are soon euthanized.

Don’t breed your dogs. There are too many waiting to be rescued. You can call the breed rescue if you can’t afford a top breeder’s price. You will get a Shih Tzu without knowing it’s background or without all of the TLC in it’s background but you can at least save one from being euthanized. Sometimes breeders have young adults or older dogs that might be available for a lesser price. Many of them are wonderful pets too.

 Are you prepared for a dog? Be sure you know and understand the ramifications of owning a longhaired active breed. Will you outlive the dog? Will you be able to make arrangements for his or her care when you are unable or unavailable to be there? Do you have safe and secure living arrangements for the new pet? The breeder has responsibilities but then so will you. Can you afford good quality food and vet care? These things are necessities. Please be sure to take all of these things in to consideration before you make your final decisions. Understand too that the breeder will want to know your situation in order to make a good match for his puppy.

 If you are shopping by color, please think again. Would you select a child or partner on such a trivial trait?  Some  people have passed up far superior dogs to select a certain color or size they preferred. The Shih Tzu standard specifically states all colors are permissible and should be considered equally. Of course you may have a preference as to color or sex but that should not be the ultimate determining factor. It can be, but then you should be prepared for the consequences, let’s put it like that. Things like color, markings and “ticking” (freckling of color into the white hair) are things I would consider cosmetic. There is a vast difference between ignoring a cosmetic trait and a serious defect such as legge perthes disease when breeding (or selecting). Yet there are many (if not most) breeders who feel that color and markings to be the all-determinant factors of importance as to who gets bred and shown and who commands the best prices.

Another thing about color; It changes. Many Shih Tzu change from a vibrant deep shade to a much more muted or pastel version of the same shade as they get older. This is called “fading’ and is normal and common. It is a genetic trait. In some lines there is a color intensifying gene. These colors seem to darken with age. I have found many of my dogs turn a deep charcoal gray or black for instance. This is something the breeder should know about his dogs. When Shih Tzu are clipped down they are often a softer shade or lighter color underneath. This is normal. As the hair grows out the color will usually darken again. If you are buying from a photo, please note photos and colors from photos can be very deceiving. In fact, I would advise you not to consider buying your dog from a photo or breeding based on one either.

Some people are looking for a specific weight. Weight may be hard to determine by just asking for or expecting a 10# dog for example. Some dogs are just built lower to the ground or have more substance or bone density. This can make the weight issue confusing. A Shih Tzu should be small for it’s weight. A Shih Tzu should feel surprisingly heavy for it’s size when picked up. A Shih Tzu definitely should not be lightweight or bony. Many people actually underestimate or actually lie about the weights of the dogs for some reason. I hate to say that but it seems universally true. Shih Tzu are not weighed or measured at the dog shows. Weights and heights given in our Shih Tzu standard are not rigid, just given as part of the “ideal” size. The weights and heights are not enforced just more or less given as a guideline. I have noticed over the years is most breeders do not know the heights of their dogs.  Height to weight ratios can change the “balance” or proportion of the dog. The best thing is to see the dog yourself in person and then compare. Be sure you know the breed standard* and traits that are important to you.

How long would you like your pet to live? I personally want mine to live a long time. When I discussed this with one potential buyer she actually told me she would prefer a cheaper dog to one who lived as long as the ones I offered. I told her that was part of what I bred for. She did not feel that was important to her, especially if that were part of the price consideration. Obviously her priorities and mine didn’t mesh on this issue.

 Be sure you and the breeder are on the same page. If you have doubts go elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for references.

A reputable breeder will be asking some questions and will do some checking. A sincere breeder wants a good loving and permanent home for his or her dogs. Most will take their dogs back without question. You want to deal with someone who will treat you and the dogs with respect. They will be there for the life of that dog as they care about what they have bred. My personal policy, for example is, I do not breed any dog or for a litter if I would not want to keep it for myself. Find out your breeder’s agenda. What is his or her commitment to the breed? What do they feel about own dogs and clients? Does this sound good to you? Is this someone you will be comfortable calling if a question comes up later on?

Do not buy dogs from people who tell you they are trying to get “rid of” a particular puppy or dog. (That should be a BIG red flag!.) Do not meet someone somewhere to see a puppy. (This is a glaring red flag!)  You always want to view the premises and the parents. You want to interact with the puppies and parents. Handle them, speak to them, see what their temperaments are like. Early socialization is important. See how the dogs are raised and treated. Is it crowded? Do you see too many breeding dogs? Are the pets referred to as “breeding stock”? Are there several breeds?  Do the dogs have inside living quarters? Are the puppies housebroken? Wormed? It’s definitely not advisable to purchase a dog from a “puppy mill”. You can find many articles on puppy mills. I will be glad to send you one if you can’t. These are essentially commercial puppy farms but they can easily masquerade as “reputable” breeders. This is more true today, especially with the advent of the “internet” which gives many of them the appearance of a “store front”. This can fool a novice buyer who might believe the puppy mill is something other than it is. A professional website can make a puppy mill seem credible, even reputable. Remember anyone can say anything. Go there, see the place, and see the dogs, all of them. A lot of the health and adaptation of the puppy or lack of it is determined by how the dogs and their parents are raised. Listen to what is said. Look around. Think it over.

 A dog is not an impulse buy. A dog is not disposable. Puppies grow up: a dog is for life.

My last and final words on the subject: The best advice I can give anyone shopping for a new puppy is: 

Don’t get in a hurry. Good things are worth waiting for!

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* Known genetic disorders can be screened for. Dogs can be bred away from them and eventually these things can be bred out. It does take diligence and commitment on the part of the breeders within the breed.

 * The breed standard is the “blueprint” or description, or pattern that dogs of the breed need to conform to, to fit the “standard” or  “ideal” dog of that given breed. All AKC recognized breeds have a "standard". For more information or a copy of the Shih Tzu standard, please email me or see the comparative article also on my page. You may also check:  www.akc.org or  http://www.astc.org/  These pages provide more information on standards and buying dogs.

 Other possible sources to help guide your decision:

 The Right Dog for You by John Tora Tora is good for researching the right breed for you.

 For breed history see: The Shih Tzu Heritage by Jon Ferrante

 Jo Ann White, Jo Ann Regelman, (deceased) Audrey Dadds and Lisel Miller (With Anne Seranne) all have good books on the Shih Tzu that can be found in most stores and/or catalog supply houses.

 A good source of breed information may also be found at the American Shih Tzu Club site: http://www.shihtzu.org/

 If you have any thoughts you might like to add or questions, please feel free to email me at: chris@chinaishihtzu.com

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Read the other articles by Chris Jones,
as seen in the New Puppy Owners Manual.

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