Anyone looking for a pet has to make a number of decisions first. The most important may be whether or not your household even needs a pet! A living creature, from gold fish to Golden Retriever, needs attention and care from its owner and that owner must have time to devote to those needs. This article is intended to help you understand the needs and requirements for the potential Bichon Frise owner. It will also suggest questions the breeder/seller should be asking you and the questions you need to ask of the seller to insure a good fit between puppy and human.
Before you buy a pet, and especially a puppy, ask yourself:
Why do I want this puppy? A puppy is not a status symbol, it is not an educational tool to teach children the facts of life, it is not a stuffed animal that can be tossed aside on those days the family is too busy.
How much time do I have for this puppy? Puppies need lots of training to make them responsible household members. Compare them to the two year old child who does not know good manners, needs potty training, cannot prepare his own food and water and may not always sleep through the night. Puppies should not be left alone for long hours and then be expected to learn all these things in a timely fashion. If you work all day, look for that gold fish – and then be sure you remember to feed him.
How old are my children? If you have a child younger than four, you already have your hands full! It is difficult to potty train a puppy and a child at the same time. (See www.bichon.org/CareCrateTraining.htm) Besides, little kids adore stuffed animals and the puppy looks the same to them. So if they poke his eyes and pull his tail, they cannot perceive his pain. However he WILL feel pain and may retaliate by biting. This is not aggressive behavior, it is his defense mechanism to say “I did not like what you did”.
Is my yard fenced? A Bichon can be incredibly fast when he sees a ball in the street, another animal to play with or when he is being chased by a child. It is heartbreaking for a family to lose a pet to a speeding car. An electric fence is not the answer for small breeds. The electric fence cannot keep larger animals out because it only works for the dog wearing the collar. Larger dogs that roam free often attack smaller dogs. There are also “dognappers” that capture cute dogs for resale and other purposes. A yard does not have to be completely fenced. A small area nearest the exit that will serve to take the puppy outside to do his business works well. If you have a secure deck (meaning with a gate and no large escape holes), this may work well for you. This is essential to successful housetraining. It must be close and the puppy must be promptly carried to the area as soon as he awakens and/or as soon as you return home from running errands. Having an area nearby is definitely a human need on those rainy days when you prefer to put the pup outside while you remain inside and dry! Tying a dog out with a stake is inhumane, unsafe and may create an aggressive dog!
Am I committed to lifelong care? Having a pet is a commitment to his care for his entire life. For a Bichon, this can mean as long as 16-18 years! This means through sickness, old age and any infirmities that may come with age. A living creature cannot just be tossed aside when it is inconvenient to provide the care. Veterinary treatment can be quite expensive and the annual exam, shots and teeth cleaning has cost to it. If you are looking for a pet for your child, who will provide pet care when your child grows up and leaves for college? Who will maintain the coat and feed him? Who will soothe aches and take him to the vet on a regular schedule? These have to be considered.
Questions the breeder/seller should ask you before you buy a puppy:
A responsible breeder wants information from you before selling you a puppy. Those questions will reflect the questions you should have already asked yourself about your reasons for wanting a puppy. Other questions will concern the members of your household, ages of children, who will be responsible for training and care, who is home during the day. This breeder has put time, effort and money into this breeding and will be unlikely to place a puppy in a home that is not prepared to provide adequate time and attention to raising it. A breeder who asks NO questions and only is interested in selling has probably not spent a lot of time in planning for a genetically healthy litter, has no concern as to how the puppy will be cared for and may not even know much about the breed except that a Bichon is cute and desirable and can bring in a large sale price. By the way, price is never the best indicator of quality. A good breeder is concerned with the home that will be provided and prices pups only according to the investment in raising the litter. This means keeping the pups until they are old enough to be separated from the litter and never immediately after weaning at six weeks. For a definition of a responsible breeder see RESPONSIBLE BREEDING.
In addition to the topics mentioned, the breeder will ask:
- Why do you want a puppy? Why a Bichon?
- Have you owned pets before? What happened to those pets? Were they healthy; did they live long lives?
- Is your yard fenced? Are you in a house or an apartment?
- How many other pets do you have? Are other dogs neutered/spayed? Their ages, sex, health and temperaments?
- If a local sale, the breeder may ask which veterinarian you plan to use.
- Have you obedience trained a dog before?
- Are you willing to sign a contract to spay/neuter this puppy since it is not a show puppy and not a prospect for breeding? Do not expect to buy a pet quality puppy and then have the right to breed this puppy. Every show litter has pups in it that are not good enough to be show pups. This may be for cosmetic reasons, such as lighter pigment or teeth that are not properly aligned. The puppy may not be outgoing enough to perform well in the show ring. His measurements may be less than perfect (height, weight, length) but he will still be a wonderful pet. Understand that a spayed or neutered animal is likely to live a longer and healthier life. Trust the breeder to know which puppy should not be bred and sign those papers willingly when asked to do so. This is the breeder’s way to insure good health for future generations of Bichons!
Questions the buyer should ask the seller:
How old is the puppy you are selling? Never buy a puppy younger than 8 weeks and it is better for the puppy to remain with the litter until about 10-12 weeks. Some show breeders will keep a puppy several months before selling it because this is considered a good show prospect. This may be a particularly desirable puppy so do not reject it because of age! However do ask why it is being sold later than others in the litter.
Who are the parents and can they both be seen (especially the mother of the puppies)?
Do you have a pedigree showing the ancestors? How many champions behind the pup? Any in the previous three generations or are there only one or two that are six or seven generations back? A champion years ago has no real meaning if there has not been a champion within the last two or three generations.
Health of the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents? A responsible breeder knows several generations and is aware of the health of the ancestors. To test this information, ask about genetic screening of ancestors. This screening is indicated by registration numbers that begin CERF or OFA. The CERF registry indicates healthy eyes (renew annually) and the OFA registry (lifetime) is for orthopedic soundness. A person who does not know what you mean is probably breeding pets bought from a pet shop or puppy mill environment and may have no information at all about earlier generations. These registration numbers cannot be used unless the animals have been checked by the properly trained veterinary specialists. IF THE ANSWER YOU RECEIVE IS “I DON’T TEST BECA– USE MY DOGS DON’T HAVE THESE PROBLEMS”, you must realize that if testing isn’t done, you do not know if your dogs have problems.
Another critical health area for Bichons is allergy, our most common inherited health issue outside of early tooth loss (good dental care matters!). If you see other dogs scratching, you may be buying a puppy that will later develop atopy (skin allergy). Ask questions but understand that allergy may not show up until later in life or when the seasonal reactions to inhalants begin.
What shots has the puppy had and who gave them? Will I be given a record of these shots? How many times has the puppy been checked by a veterinarian? Name of the veterinarian who examined him?
A good breeder has a lifelong commitment to the welfare of pups being sold. This means the breeder will always be available to answer questions, to give advice on diet and training and to help place a dog that you can no longer keep (because of a move, change in the health of the owner or whatever). The breeder’s responsibility does not lessen your obligations to lifelong care!
Shop and Learn online – but Buy in person.Many well-known, quality breeders have web sites on the internet to provide information on their history in the breed, the accomplishments of dogs that are being shown as well as testing routinely done on breeding parents, As responsible breeders are not selling puppies for profit but to place quality puppies in the proper, forever, home, you will find no price is indicated on the website. Upon contacting a breeder, who will conduct an interview with you on the phone, you will most often be asked to complete an application; then you will be asked to visit the breeder at least once if not more often. In addition the breeder may want to see the home where the puppy will be living and ask to visit your home. Most breeders will not ship a puppy. The exception may be, after a thorough interview, a trusted friend of the breeder visits you and verifies the home is suitable for this puppy.
It is worth noting that you should NEVER buy a pup from someone who “will meet you at the mall” or some location other than his home/kennel! And be alert to “brokers” who buy pups from other breeders to sell. Puppies for profit or puppy-mill websites may have the same pictures and names of puppies on different web sites acting as if they are in different states such as Bichons of Texas or Bichon of Oklahoma. Always ask about health and health testing as well as how the puppies were raised. Finding a breeder on the internet does not negate your due diligence in finding a well-bred, intellectually-raised, health puppy.
ALERT – There is no such thing as a “toy” Bichon. They should range in adult size from about 9 inches to 12 inches at the shoulder and the outside range is not considered “show size”. Any breeder who advertises “toys” should be suspect and you should never pay extra for this non-existent type of Bichon breed, which may well be a mixed breed puppy, regardless of any papers that are offered with it.
Once you have asked your questions about health, you should know that you can confirm some of the information on line. To determine if a breeder listed on our directory (or other breeders, for that matter) is actually certifying their breeding stock, go to www.offa.org, which is the web site for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and click on “search OFA records”. If you enter the breeder’s kennel name (it precedes the registration name of their dogs) and/or the AKC registered names of the parents of the litter, you will find listed all the Bichons they have certified in the past, as well as whether parents of this litter are truly certified.
Another – and very important designation – will be CHIC numbers. CHIC stands for Canine Health Information Center and is a registry for dogs that have been screened for specific health conditions. The screenings required are set by the parent club, in this case the Bichon Frise Club of America, based on diseases that are prevalent in that particular breed. In order for a parent dog or ancestors to have a CHIC number, those screenings will all have to be done and kept up to date. Eye and patella exams will have to be done annually but hip screening for hip dysplasia and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is a one time requirement at age two years or later. That is because eye disease can be progressive and can appear later in life, as can patellar luxation (weakness in the knee joint), while signs of diseases of the hips are present by age two years. All can be genetic, meaning the genes are present at birth though signs of development may occur later. For more information on CHIC and the conditions being screened, see specific articles found on line atbichonhealth.org/Health.htm. For access to CHIC numbers on line, go towww.caninehealthinfo.org/chicnumbers.html. While you can ask questions about these screenings, you will need exact pedigree information to confirm them on line.
Now that you have the answers to questions asked and have given answers that the seller has asked, do you still want to purchase a puppy at this time?
You may have concluded that this is not the right time for your family to have a puppy. If you feel comfortable with the breeder who has discussed selling you a puppy, indicate that you may want to come back later when the children are older and you have more time. Let the breeder know you have made this decision. Do not be offended if the breeder indicates that your household is not ready for a puppy. Breeders interview many prospective buyers and have an instinct for which households need a puppy and which do not. Unfortunately the “for profit” sellers only look for financial return and will not give such advice. That is why there are so many dogs in pounds and roaming the countryside. If you are attracted to the Bichon Frise, remember that you may be making a contribution to the future of the breed when you opt not to take a puppy home with you! You can always make a purchase when circumstances have changed and your lifestyle is more suited to pet ownership. And if you do buy a puppy, regardless of the breed, please be a responsible owner!