Apparently, when people buy a puppy, there are those who like to visit their pup pre-pick-up, and those who don’t. Something about the breeder having picked out the pup for us makes us even more intrigued by the pup we are going to get. We couldn’t not go and check him out on his 6-week birthday.
When we get there, we spend a long time with the breeder and his wife observing many fuzzy pups roaming about and/or falling into sleeping piles of paws and noses, under the watchful eyes of their gruff-looking (those eyebrows, those beards) older male cousins, uncles and fathers.
The suspense is nearly killing me. I ask which one is for us. The breeder’s wife picks up one little grey bundle and introduces us to Teddy: “A lovely little boy,” she says, handing him over. “Good coat, good temperament, good bone,” says the breeder, confidently. “I would really like to hang onto him, but we can’t keep them all and his ears don’t fall properly.” With Teddy sturdily ensconced in my arms, I tear myself away from admiring the coat around his plastic button nose that appears to have had the perfect blow dry, and try to work out exactly what is sub-standard about his ears. Unfamiliar with the exacting criteria of the show ring, we happily remain oblivious and instead, fall under the spell of one calm, and terribly thoughtful-looking little dog. Am I imagining the recognition in those slate grey eyes?
We have to wait until Teddy is 10-weeks-old before our breeder will let him go. So after getting in some decent cuddles and watching him fall asleep with his family, we journey back to London, IPhones stuffed with images supposedly for the children.
“Don’t they have Schnauzers in London?” asks my husband, when he finds out that the breeder I want to visit is a two-hour drive away.I’m sure they do, but there are quite a few bonkers dog breeders out there and I think I might have found a sane one that I like. And most importantly, who likes me, which is half the battle: breeders vet you (these are their babies) as much as you vet them. It all requires careful negotiation.
I make a list of our plus points that I think may appeal: back yard (tiny, but a space nevertheless), close proximity to Hampstead Heath, always at least one adult working from home, children old enough to play, not bait. Would the fact that we are driving for a couple of hours to see if his current collection of spoken-for pups bring on an allergic reaction in our son, count in our favour?
On the way there we prepare for Schnauzer mania. A good breeder tends to love the breed they’ve chosen to distraction. This breeder shows his dogs, judges other people’s and is a board member of one of the national Schnauzer societies. We prepare for a house that smells deeply doggy, hemorrhaging hair (I carefully don’t wear black). The Schnauzer ornaments, photographs, oil paintings and memorabilia in the front room proudly declare the family interest, but I can’t see any stray hairs and the house doesn’t smell the tiniest bit doggy. Even when eight friendly, be-whiskered females join us, sniffing feet, licking hands and happily jumping into our laps. The vibe changes – and accidents occur – when several jaunty males enter the room and, eager to impress the girls, lift their legs. But after some benevolent chiding, and the liberal use of a magical carpet spray (must buy), the frisky boys are removed, the mood is serene once more and we can talk puppies.
I tell the breeder that we’d like a calm, biddable female. He has other ideas: “With two young boys in the house, I’d give you a bolder pup, one that could cope with having his tale trodden on,” he says. And that makes perfect sense. As he knocks my other questions into touch, I accept that while I may have read every dog book known to Hampstead Waterstones over the last two months, this man is an expert.
After two hours playing with many Miniature Schnauzers in one small front room, putting his face in their fur and their paws on his shoulders, our asthmatic son has not had a hint of wheeze or any allergic wheels. Our youngest – cured of his cat fixation – proudly cradles a puppy that doesn’t want to leave his lap.
On the journey home we agree that one of these surprisingly hefty little pups, all plastic toy noses and curly grey fur, would be the ideal dog for us. Their model mothers, who were calm and friendly even when crowded together with their pups on our laps, convince us.
I call the breeder when we get home (keen, moi?) to find out the next step. He is going to breed two girls in two months, add to that the sixty’ish day cycle of pregnancy and, if we are lucky, the puppy should be ready in the autumn. He tells us rather tantalizingly, “You’ll just have to put your name down and hope.”
I itch to email him when we are on our summer holidays and spend far too much time with a calendar trying to work out when the breeding will take place, and when won’t be considered too pushy to get in touch – we don’t, afterall, want to get nixed from the wait-list. I bite the bullet when we return from our holiday, and am rewarded with the news that the puppies have been born and are doing well. Absurdly sweet photos follow – small dark furry logs of dogs – and I start to plan for a puppy in October.
If you are considering owning a dog and mulling over the right dog breed for you, take a walk across Hampstead Heath to the café at Kenwood House. Apparently it’s the Sunday morning jaunt of choice for every dog owner in North London. Recently we counted 126 canines in the 20 minutes it took to get there.
Having spoken to (‘accosted’ says my husband) various dog-walkers and asked them about their hounds, the resulting consensus is that we should have a Cockerpoo. The popular Cocker Spaniel/Poodle cross is meant to shed less and therefore nix the potential for allergic reactions. Our eldest son has asthma and is supposed to be allergic to dogs. But when sleeping at his grandparents’ house, their gentle old Greyhound occasionally comes to share his bed with no ill effects.
Being sensibly cautious, a non-shedding breed is probably a good idea, but because my heart leans towards a sleek, clever Lurcher, I’m not naturally wild about a dizzy-looking Cockerpoo. Apparently, if you are concerned about allergies, a pedigree dog that allows you to meet the parents also allows you to assess the allergy potential. So, no trip to Battersea Dogs Home for us.
We browse dog encyclopedias over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Despite our youngest son campaigning for a Chihuahua (it’s the size of the cat that he really has his heart set on) and our eldest for a Pyrenean Mountain Dog (all that drool, all that fur and how many poo bags?), we settle on a Miniature Schnauzer: bright, hardy, non-shedding, odourless (really?), can cope with little or lots of exercise and good with kids. And then there’s the clincher: a pair of the most ridiculously expressive, large, twitchy eyebrows. Even the child with the cat fixation approves.
We come across My Name is Moose, a book by Martin Usborne: the story of a photographer and his Mini Schnauzer in groovy East London, it is sweet, funny and incredibly winning. Having found another tome that is clearly the Schnauzer bible on Amazon, I Google the author and after a 45 minute telephone conversation with him about the merits (so many) and downsides (but a few) of the breed I make an appointment to go and see his breeder partner and have 14 of the little darlings jump all over us. Ventolin at the ready.
From time to time I find myself tuned into Teddy like a television channel; watching him sort his toys, hide his toys, play home removal with his toys. So I totally get this live dog-geek 24hr broadcast of Golden Retriever pups. Click here
When a dog walker with a small troupe of beautifully behaved mutts recommended Dr Ian Dunbar’s free, downloadable book, Before You Get Your Puppy as the best-ever, must-read dog book, of course I went home and read it. An excellent source of straightforward, sensible advice, it covers both the practical – choosing a puppy, crate training, toilet training, etc – and behavioural stuff you’ll want to get your head around before your pup arrives. I particularly like his suggestion that you make your dog a chewtoyaholic so that, a. they don’t get bored and go mad, and b. they end up chewing (and preferring) their own toys rather than your plumptious cushions / finely turned chair legs / prized Manolos.