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:
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
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).
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!