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Buying a Puppy
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Buying a Puppy

There are so many issues to consider, and questions to ask when considering buying a labrador puppy:  Here, Diana Stevens of Wylanbriar Labradors answers some of the more commonly asked questions in respect of health testing when buying a labrador puppy

Q: 'I've heard and seen puppy adverts mentioning health certificates and wondered what this meant and why it is necessary?'

This is a very misunderstood area. Alongside temperament, the health of your Labrador throughout its life is of primary importance to you as pet owners. Three of the most frequent problems that affect the Labrador are Hip Displacia, Elbow Dysplasia and GPRA (a problem with the eyes that causes blindness, often by three or four years of age).

The eye problem is ENTIRELY genetic (so passed through the genes from the puppies parents to it and its littermates).
The Hip and Elbow problems have a very strong genetic influence, but can be aggravated by over exercising a young puppy, falls, injuries and general roughhousing whilst the dogs joints are still growing.

Therefore, it is very very important that only dogs free from these problems themselves are bred from to give the puppies produced the very best chance of being free themselves of these painful and traumatic problems.

The common misconception is that only competition kennels use the health schemes or that they are not for breeders who 'only produce pets'. The schemes are not expensive to put breeding dogs through, and, remember, every dog bred from is a 'breeding dog', NOT just those belonging to people who show or work their dogs. To NOT health test the parents before breeding for these conditions is selling both puppy buyers and the puppies they produce short as they are playing Russian Roulette by breeding 'blind'.

To briefly explain the schemes:
Hip Scoring.
At around a year of age, when the dogs skeleton has fully grown, an x-ray is taken of the dogs pelvis area. This x-ray is then sent from the vet to the BVA (British Vet Association). They will score this x-ray with each hip of the two hips scoring between 0 (lowest) and 53 (highest). So if both hips are scored the total that dog achieves will be between a TOTAL of 0 and 106 (2 x 53).   Currently the breed average for a total of both hips sits at around 16. So dogs around or under this score have average or better than average hips to give a guide.  the score can also be shown sometimes as two numbers, left hip/right hip - so, something like 5/4 (total of 9 - good) or maybe 33/21 (total of 54 - poor).

Elbow Scoring
A newer scheme and currently less dogs are elbow scored than hip scored. It is gaining in use and many breeders are realising the importance of checking elbows too on their breeding dogs as many 'front end' lameness problems are showing around 6 - 9 months of age and have been for many years.

Usually at the same time as the hip x-rays, a set of x-rays of each of the dogs elbows are taken under general anaesthetic. These x-rays are sent, again, to the BVA and scored, by the nature of the joint being different to a hip joint, in a slightly different way.

Elbows are EACH scored only from 0 - 3 (0 being excellent, 3 being very badly affected with problems). The small range of scores available mean that really, only dogs with a 0 score on each elbow should be bred from.

Scores are usually spoken of only as a single number - so 0, 1, 2 or 3 basically. If the score is uneven, so say, 0 (left) 1 (right) the HIGHER result is used as the dogs single score - so 1 (to indicate that he does have *some* element of problem there.)

To recap, it is the PARENTS of the litter who are scored and not the puppies. This cannot be undertaken until a year of age as a minimum but can be done at any age after this. Only dogs to be bred from are usually hip and elbow scored, there is no need to score pet puppies who are not to be bred from. The information is FOR breeder and puppy buyers to decide if the dog is suitable to be bred from. Hip and elbow scoring are done once in a dogs life only and his scores remain with him for the rest of his life. When buying a puppy, you should insist on seeing the official BVA/KC certificates with the dogs scores on. NEVER just rely on verbal assurances that the parents are scored without seeing the proof. Hip scoring has been undertaken now for around 35 years and Elbow scoring for 12 - 15 years and so the schemes are well known and well used. A breeder shows everything you need to know about them, if they do not use the health schemes, even if they seem a nice person with basically healthy looking dogs.

Eye Test Certificate.
This is possibly even more essential for buyers of puppies to ensure they buy only from litters where both parents have been eye tested. GPRA is 100% genetic and so the status of the parents eyes entirely affects the puppies eyes for the future. This test is not undertaken at a regular vet but by a specialist. There are many many clinics and testing sessions around the country OR you can book a private visit to one of the dozens of test specialists. An eye test will be undertaken and a simple certificate given afterwards showing if the dog was affected or unaffected by the problems being examined for. This eye certificate should be renewed every 12 months and so, when puppies are produced, the certificate should be valid. they last only 12 months, like a Car M.O.T. so even if the breeder can show a certificate, firstly make sure the 'unaffected' box is ticked (not the 'affected') and secondly make sure it is dated within the last 12 months. If it is not, chances are the dog was retested and failed OR the owner didn't bother testing again. The trauma of a young pet dog going blind is so great that the 35 or so an eye test certificate costs a breeder is a SMALL price to pay to check their eyes are not affected before a mating is undertaken.

Q: I have seen all sorts of types of Labradors out there - some big heavy ones with large heads, some smaller, finer ones. Are they ALL pedigree Labradors and is there any difference between their temperaments?
The Labrador is the most numerous dog in the UK. Its not surprising therefore that they do come in all shapes and sizes. However as a general guide: 
Show line and Field/Working line Labradors
These are not necessarily dogs who are shown or worked themselves, BUT have a pedigree full of dogs who come from either show or working lines. The show line labrador tends to be a little shorter in leg, but broader in body and head than the field/working type dogs. Commonly on a show-line pedigree you will see dogs with SH CH (Show Champion) before their pedigree name. On a working or field trial pedigree you will see several with FTW (Field Trial Winner) or FT CH (Field Trial Champion).

80 years ago or more 'the Labrador' was all one dog. One type. A moderate middleweight hunter dog brought over from the fishing waters of Newfoundland to be shooting companions for the UK gentry. The popularity of the amiable, biddable breed rose quickly and with the advent of more dogs being kept as domestic pets, started to slowly split into several types, with the working dogs actually being bred with a lighter and lighter frame to enable maximum speed, style and endurance, and the show and pet dog often being bred heavier, with more thought given to looks and 'show ring presence' than the origins of the breed as a medium sized dog with no exaggerations.

No one line or type is more prone to health problems than another. The logic that a lighter frame of Labrador must be healthier does not stand up in practice, especially as many of the working line breeders have been slow to start to use the health schemes (above) and so have not been making informed decisions health wise when mating dogs for as long as many of the show lines have been. Matings between pet dogs are numerous, and of course usually are undertaken for no other reason that the Sire and Dam of the litter lived nearby, or possibly both with the breeder, so therefore may be a mix of any lines, show, working or anything in-between!

Temperament is both inherited from its parents and developed by the way the dog is socialised and raised. It is important to see at least the mother of the litter to check her temperament is friendly, confident and you would be pleased to end up with a dog similar to her in looks and personality. If you would not, walk away. Puppies from show lines, pet lines and working lines can all be bold and outgoing, can all be timid and nervous and can all be smart and quick to learn or a little less clever! Generally the nature of field trial and working lines means that they have been bred for many generations to work hard all day and have the capacity to learn. These may, therefore, be a more active dog on the whole than your average show line bred dog, but many show bred lines are very intelligent and active without being overly demanding in their desire to be on the go quite so much.

In the end its the type that pleases your eye that you must 'go for'.   This picture shows a both show line and working line dogs next to one another and gives a clear indication of the differences in structure and size.

Q: I 'only' want a pet puppy. Surely the sort of breeder who uses health schemes and competes with their dogs won't be interested in selling to me?
Breeders who show or work their dogs still always expect the vast majority of their puppies to go into pet homes. Just because they are experienced, regular competitors, doesn't mean they won't sell to pet homes. There is no NEED to buy from novice breeders, mating pet dogs for no good reason because you 'only want a pet'. Prices will be almost exactly the same too for pet puppies from whatever source. So make sure your source is a quality one!

Diana Stevens, Wylanbriar Labradors

 

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