Buying a dog and responsible dog ownership

You can get a dog from a breeder, animal shelter or private sale. Some councils sell stray or unwanted dogs. If you're a dog owner, you need to give time, money and commitment to care for your dog.

Buying a dog

Buy a dog from a known breeder or source. Be careful when buying a dog that has been advertised in the media, such as on the internet, in a local paper or on a notice board. Always check the dog's history by talking to its previous owner and asking to see relevant documents, including the dogs vaccination certificate, before purchasing.

There are hundreds of stray and unwanted dogs available for rehoming, kept in District Council dog pounds and rehoming charities/ organisations.

If the dog was born outside Northern Ireland or Great Britain it must have a pet passport or veterinary certificate. You can find out more information on buying a dog or puppy from outside of Northern Ireland or Great Britain below.

If you have any doubts about a dog you should speak to a vet before agreeing to buy it.

There are many different breeds of dogs. Each breed tends to behave in a particular way and knowing about this will help you choose the dog that's right for you:

Finding a healthy, happy dog

 To make sure that you choose a dog that is healthy and happy, follow these guidelines:

  • eyes should be clear and bright, with no sign of dirt or redness
  • ears should be clean, with no smell
  • nose should be cold and slightly wet
  • mouth should be clean, with white teeth and pink gums
  • breathing should be quiet, not laboured
  • ribs should not be visible
  • fur should be shiny and soft, with no fleas
  • skin should be clean and dry, with no signs of soreness
  • bottom should be clean and dry
  • legs should be strong and sturdy, with no limping or difficulty walking

Buying a puppy

Find out what you need to know before you buy a puppy.

How puppies are bred and raised can have a lifelong effect. Good breeding and care from a responsible breeder can help to make sure puppies have happy and healthy lives. When buying a puppy you should:

  • only buy a puppy aged at least eight weeks old
  • see the puppy with its mother
  • make sure the breeder/ seller can give you an official pedigree detailing the ancestry of the puppy’s father and mother
  • make sure the breeder/ seller can give you important details about the specific health needs of your puppy, such as which vaccinations it has been given and which ones it is yet to have
  • make sure the breeder/ seller can give you as much information as possible about the puppy
  • if the puppy does not come from where it's bought, ask where it came from
    and try to get its previous history as buying from an illegal breeder may mean that your new puppy was illegally imported into Northern Ireland
  • make sure the breeder has prepared the puppy for the world around it - this is called ‘socialisation’ and include activities like gently handling the puppy, introducing it to noise and varieties of human contact and mixing it with other puppies

Irresponsible breeders, or sellers, also offer puppies for sale. These people may not have looked after the puppies properly, and may only be interested in making as much money as possible. This could mean that you end up buying a puppy that is very sick, or a puppy that has been traumatised.

You can consider using a puppy contract from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). You can find out more about puppy contracts and about buying a puppy by visiting the website of the RSPCA:

Buying a puppy from abroad

If you are thinking about buying a puppy that was born outside of Northern Ireland or Great Britain it must:

  • be at least 15 weeks old
  • have been microchipped
  • have been vaccinated against rabies
  • have been treated for tapeworm (unless the dog came directly from Finland, Republic of Ireland, Malta or Norway)
  • have a pet passport or a veterinary certificate confirming that the dog was vaccinated against rabies at the right age and according to the manufacturers data sheet and that it has been treated for tapeworm

You can find more information about pet passports below:

Illegally importing a puppy

If a new pet is found to be illegally imported and not to have complied with the disease control rules, then the owner may have to pay costly quarantine and veterinary bills. If the owner is unable to pay these costs, the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) Veterinary Service may have to put down the animal. DAERA and local councils may also choose to investigate potential criminal offences.

Anyone with concerns about illegally imported pets should first contact DAERA Veterinary Service. Alternatively, anyone thinking about bringing a pet into the country should contact the DAERA helpline:

The cost of caring for a dog

You should work out how much it will cost to keep a dog, so you can make sure you can afford to care for it. Things you are likely to spend the most money on during your dog's lifetime (10 to 15 years) include:

  • vet's bills such as vaccinations and neutering
  • insurance - in case it's involved in an accident or becomes ill
  • food
  • paying for your dog to stay in a kennel when you're away

Responsible dog ownership

If you own a dog, you are responsible for how it behaves at home and in public. By law, you must look after it properly. If you don't, you could be fined and banned from owning animals.

You are responsible for:

  • making sure your dog wears a collar with your name and address on it when out in a public place, so your dog can be returned to you if lost
  • making sure the licence disc is attached to the collar when the dog is in a public place, so your dog can be returned to you if lost
  • cleaning up after your dog in public places, find out more about dog fouling
  • controlling your dog in public

Tips on how to care for your dog:

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