Getting a dog
There are dog people and there are cat people, I’ve always been more of a dog person myself. I grew up with dogs and I prefer the engagement you get from a dog to the airy ambivalence I get from cats most of the time. Wen, my other half is a cat person, she has always had cats and if it wasn’t for my intervention she would be a crazy cat lady by now.
We currently have two cats, Itchy & Scratchy we prefer to get them in pairs. Before Itchy & Scratchy was Riker & Troi (STNG was at its peeks back then), so it’s fair to say it’s been a very much feline environment. Which worked out well, we were both working and their independent nature, which is to say sleeping 90% of the day fitted perfectly into our lifestyle. But in the back of my mind I had always told myself as soon as I retire, I’m will finally get a dog.
Having worked for two decades in the City I decided that I’d had enough and it was time for something different, starting with getting fitter, I started by walking a few miles and after a couple of months I was easily doing 50 miles a week and switched up to running (see C25k) to get the old ticker going. In those many hours of walking however, I would pass countless dogs and their owners and my longing to have my own furry walking companion grew.
I had seen this one guy a few times walking his cat, it wasn’t going very well, I remember on one occasion thinking he was up to no good in the bushes, only to realise he was trying to dissuade his walking companion from mousing. On another occasion, he was trying to get the cat off a roundabout but it has spotted a dog 200 yards away and had stubbornly gone to ground. Cat walking is not for me, or I suspect our cats!
The situation came to head, both my parents and sister had got Labrador puppies in the last year. My last visit down to them in May I spent some quality time with both puppies (and oh I guess the family) and I made my mind up. I’d done the groundwork over the years to prepare Wen for this inevitability, so we talked it though, benefits and pitfalls and the key decision was made, we were going to get a dog!
So much choice
But what kind of dog? When I was a kid breeds didn’t really come into play, every dog we had was a mongrel, getting a dog was more about who you knew who’d had an unplanned litter. These days there are more breeds than you can wave a stick at, and new hybrids seem to be turning up every year with increasingly bizarre names.
Luckily myself and Wen are broadly on the same page with our dog preferences. Neither of us found we were drawn to any of the breeds in the toy, utility, terrier or hound groups to use the kennel club taxonomy. So we rapidly narrowed the choice down to:
- Pastrol – Border Collie
- Working – Husky / Malamute
- Gundog – Retrievers – Labrador / Golden
So the next step was to research the breeds on our short list and really try t0 get a good understanding (good & bad) of living with each of these breeds.
Starting with the border collie, which to be quite honest was our first choice, in a big part probably driven by watching them play Flyball at Crufts. Unfortunately, it became fairly obvious in our research that a Border Collie might be a bit too full on. My favourite quote was an owner who said collies had OCD and if you don’t give them a job, they will create one and it’s typically herding kids and animals in the family. The thought of our cats being herded around based on the dog’s fantasy schedule was really tempting. But in the spirit of harmony, we came to the conclusion a Corder Collie was probably not the best fit.
We both love Huskies and Malamutes mainly because you can still see some of their wolf origins, they are spectacular looking creatures. But again it was obvious in our research, that they have been bred to run and run, are strongly independent and take a huge amount of exercise if you don’t want a problem on your hand. So reluctantly we had to admit they weren’t going to be the breed for us, A real shame because they look like real characters.
That left us with the good old retrievers, well known for their easy-going temperaments, they are good with other animals (i.e. they won’t try to herd or kill the cats). So which to choose? There are subtle differences between the two breeds but ultimately they are not so great I believe to elevate one above the other, in the end, we selected the golden retriever simply because of their natural smiling happy expression, and simply to buck the trend of getting Labradors in the family.
But it doesn’t end there, Golden Retrievers have a huge spectrum of colours from light cream all the way through to practically red. It wasn’t a deal breaker but we tended to find ourselves leaning towards the lighter cream end of the spectrum if there was a choice.
Gender wise (a dog or bitch) we didn’t have a strong preference. I read a number of forums where people had asked similar questions and the general response was it doesn’t make a huge difference, IF you get them spayed/neutered. Which was going to be our plan anyway – we are not looking to breed.
Lastly to get a puppy or to get a full grown (likely to be rescue dog). We really wanted a puppy, we had taken in rescue cats before (Riker & Troi) and we had naively underestimated the challenge of taking in animals that have not had the best start in life. Especially when it’s a lifetime commitment. In addition, Wen had never had a dog and I think it was only fair that she got the full experience (snigger).
My biggest suggestion to anyone thinking of getting a dog would be too do your homework, dogs span a huge spectrum and in most instances, your circumstances, lifestyle or environment can preclude many breeds if you are honest to yourself and your prospective pet.
Finding the Right SELLER?
This is the hardest part, finding a respectable breeder or seller that isn’t in it to make a quick buck. There’s a lot of good information about how to vet sellers and spot the puppy farmers, and of course, in these days of people leaking their private information all over the internet, it’s generally quite easy to background check how committed breeders are. Casual sellers can be a bit trickier.
On an aside we did look at rescue centres first, but there were few with puppies (not surprisingly) and I was put off by the fact in many instances we had to fill in a huge questionnaire and submit to extreme vetting measures simply to get on their waiting lists. I understand they have a duty of care, especially for rescued animals, but there was something that annoyed me about having to justify ourselves using such a blunt bureaucratic process. In my experience, you can tell more about a person by meeting and talking to them than by what they might write on a piece of paper, and yes I understand it’s a filtering mechanism, it’s just that it’s filtering out a lot of potentially good homes IMO.
In the UK pedigree dogs can be KC registered, this is not a guarantee of “quality” but most of the serious respectable breeders will have KC registered parents and will aim to register the puppies. Of course, all of this comes at a price, and as always in life, you tend to get what you pay for. Looking at pedigree golden retrievers prices ranged from £600-£1500, which is a big spread and a lot of money any way you look at it. When you start sifting through the details there are several criteria that allowed us to start rating prospective sellers:
- KC registration, paperwork that you can view and copy
- HIP, Elbow and eye screen results for the parents – particularly important for retrievers
- the breeder wants to vet you, in some instances demanding someone is always in the home
- ability to view mother and pups
- the pups are being brought up in a family environment with exposure to all that entails
- they spend at least 8 weeks with their mother
- backgrounds on the parents, ideally that they have multiple members of the same line
- jabs, chipped and puppy packs (a sample of the food they are on, a blanket with their mother’s scent etc)
- geographical closeness, least important but if you are going to make multiple visits could be a factor
In the UK there are a couple of websites (pets4homes and preloved ) that seem to be the most used mainstream sites for people selling puppies. So we started scanning those on a daily basis, hunting for a good fit.
PICKING A PUP
Acquiring a dog may be the only
time a person gets to choose a relative
— Mordecai Siegal
It took us a few weeks of searching (it wasn’t like we were in a hurry) to find a seller that ticked all the boxes for us, in the end, we found a lady in Folkestone, who’s bitch had a litter of 11 (10 dogs, 1 bitch). We arranged to go down and visit her and the pups on a fantastic sunny afternoon, nice drive down to the coast.
The mother and pups were in her dining room in a wooden pen that occupied most of the room. The room was clean and airy and we were greeted by what we assumed was the father of the pups (turned out to be the uncle). A very good boy and both me and Wen spent some time fussing over him, evidently passing the first test in the process. I was surprised by how much bigger the uncle seemed to be in comparison to most labs I had seen, emphasised by his wide solid head and huge paws. I’d be over the moon if our pup turned out like this prize specimen.
Top tip – the seller told us she had to turn away a prospective puppy buyer who waded into the pen without permission and without interacting with any of the other dogs in the house. I guess dog people can spot dog people fairly easily, that and manners maketh man.
The poor mother had that drained look of any new mother, especially one trying to feed 11 pups 24/7. She took the chance to get out of the pen and came over to vet us as well before taking a well-deserved snooze in the corner.
Then the moment of meeting our prospective pup, you look into the pen and look for that connection which will single one out and I’m afraid it’s not like the movies, at only a couple of weeks old they are blind, wiggling balls of fluff who’s only job in life is to feed. So we watched the mother climb back into the pen and out of the wiggling mass picked one purely based on its size, willingness to screw over his siblings to feed and ultimately his light cream coat.
We picked him up (he had a grey collar) and looked for all the world like a little polar bear. We attempted to bond, which basically came down to having a finger sucked. Took a ton of photos and let him get back to feeding, and tried to ignore the fact he spent 5 minutes sucking his mum’s ear. Maybe not the brightest pup in the pack. And that’s how we narrowed down the selection, hardly the way you think such a moment should unfold.
The owner showed us the father’s paperwork, a Czech stud dog with a pedigree slightly longer than my arm and the mother’s who had come from a long line that her parents had started breeding. So we exchanged details, put down a deposit and arranged to catch up for a socialisation/bonding session in a few weeks when older grey collar was able to see and walk. Oh, and the seller would send us weekly progress photos, fantastic.
What’s in a Name?
I think we managed to get as far as the motorway before we started the inevitable conversation about what we would be calling grey collar, being die-hard GoT fans he almost ended up being called Grey Worm right there and then. By the time we were pulling off the motorway, it was fairly clear that Wen was going to get her way on this and the best I could do was at least veto Fenton!
Given our current pets, Itchy & Scratchy Wen wanted to buck with tradition, so my suggestion of Poochie wasn’t going to fly, plus it didn’t past the “shouting it in the middle of the night” test. Wen finally came up with Archer. Really? A good British name (as Al Murray would say), smacks of strength, cider on the village green, listening to BBC Radio 4. I’m sure that’s what she had in mind.
Unfortunately, in my mind, I’m thinking Sterling Archer, the irreverent bumbling Bond rip off, yeah baby I can live with that. So grey collar got his name … Archer, not Archie Wen was quick to point out, Archer! (secret spy).
The countdown had started – 6 weeks until Archer would be coming home and there was a lot to sort out.