ebtThe last week has brought a larger than usual set of calls and messages from people who bought or were given a dog from a private seller/owner.  They happen frequently, but suddenly there’s more.  I don’t know whether the change to compulsory microchipping is behind it as many turn out to not be chipped.

Whatever the reason, both sellers and buyers do some really crazy and dangerous things. How can you avoid the pitfalls of private sellers who lie?  Or buyers who lie about their circumstances? Or disreputable rescues?

If you have kids or pets, then you have to make sure any new dog you take is properly tested first.  That is YOUR responsibility, not the responsibility of rescue, dog pounds or other over stretched services to pick up the pieces when it goes wrong.

Don’t imagine that someone would never let you take a dog home to your kids they know is likely to bite or attack your other dogs.  It happens every week. Why would anyone be stupid enough to allow someone to bring a dog to their home, not know their address or name, have no clue as to what its behaviour is like or go see a dog and be too embarrassed to ask any questions?  Aren’t you and your family worth protecting?

ALWAYS see the dog at home, make a note of the address and the owner’s name and number.  DO NOT accept any excuse for bringing a dog to you.  The dog could be stolen, ill or dangerous.  The general advice ALSO applies to the many disreputable “rescues” rehoming unassessed, unneutered dogs with no back up.


  1. What does the dog eat?
  2. Where does it sleep
  3. How long have they had it and where from?
  4. Is it vaccinated and chipped? (Chipping is now compulsory in law and there should be certificates for both) Saying they lost the vax card is rubbish.  Ask for their vet’s name and call to see, whilst you are there, if they can give you a new card.
  5. Why are they rehoming it?
  6. Has the dog had any recent injury or illness?
  7. Is the dog housetrained?
    They may lie, but asking means you can judge their replies. Write down what they say.  They also need to sign something with their name and address written on saying they are allowing you to take over ownership of the dog so you can get the chip changed into your name.
  8. If you are adopting from a rescue who claims that the dog has been assessed, get this in writing and make sure it explains the assessment and the outcomes.

Make sure you see the dog in its home.  See for yourself:

  • what the dog does when you arrive, has it been shut out, is it barking, is it on a lead
  • whether the dog greets you or if the owner is holding it back
  • are the kids and pets in the room, is the dog interacting with them
  • see the kids grooming the dog and giving it treats, playing in the garden with it
  • see the dog being fed and see what the adults, kids and dogs do and if the dog reacts.
  • are the kids discouraged from touching the dog
  • go for a walk, see how the dog reacts to collar and lead
  • watch the dog for reactions to people, other dogs, cats
  • if they claim the dog is fine off lead, watch them do this and how they get the dog back
  • if you have another dog already, take it with you and walk them together on neutral territory

Any avoidance or excuses to avoid showing you any of this is to be viewed suspiciously.  Too many times I get people contacting me with a dog locked in their garden or kitchen that they can’t get near.  Or an injured child or even a dead pet.  The old owner vanishes and won’t return calls, blocks them on social media.

If you are selling your dog, invite the person to come to your home.  DO NOT give them your dog, arrange to go homecheck them.   Too many dogs end up dead, dumped, sold on and abused because the seller didn’t bother. Make sure every family member is present. If you are not happy, ask for a vet reference, ask for photos of their previous pets if they have them.  If they already have a dog, use the above description to test that for yourself. 

YOU should test all of this, ask the questions.  Be prepared for a settling in period, to need some obedience classes or a behaviourist visit. If you can’t afford these, don’t get a dog. It is an offence to not microchip a dog, don’t buy a dog or puppy (breeders must do it before selling) that is not chipped.

A new dog is stressed and can behave differently at first.  DO NOT leave a new dog alone with kids or pets.  

  • Put up baby gates so neither the dog nor the kids or other pets are forced together too soon.
  • No matter how lovely the dog seems the first day or so, take no chances, let the dog have its own space away from others some of the time.
  • If you can’t supervise or keep yourself between the dog and kids/dogs, put the dog behind a gate.
  • Take it slowly, short sessions together, on a lead initially, calm and lots of reward for being well behaved.  Don’t assume, and cut corners, because the dog seems fine the first few days that this is the normal behaviour or the dog isn’t stressed.
  • New dogs can want to mess indoors or mark their territory, this is normal, do not punish them, take them out as if a puppy and praise them for getting it right.
  • Your children should respect animals, not climb all over them, pull them, sit on them or use them as cushions.
  • It can be useful to get a dog crate to allow the new dog to be safe and give it some security whilst still settling in.
  • Regardless of your initial feelings or your experience, attending a few good dog training classes doesn’t go amiss.

It can take some time for a new dog to show all of its behaviours and you have to be sympathetic, fair and take responsibility. You owe it to the dog to go to classes or get expert help if there is a problem, not beg the police to come and catch it, or a rescue or volunteers to have to jump and pay out of their own pockets to solve a problem that needn’t have happened.

Better still, get a dog from a reputable rescue that has fully assessed, tested, vaccinated, neutered and chipped a dog and will give lifetime back up and support.

If you need specific help to prepare a dog to live with children, or have a problem, see our dedicated site



About Safepets UK

Expert Witness behaviourist assessing dogs for court, treating cats and dogs. Covering Midlands to London and other areas.

2 responses »

  1. Alison Egleton says:

    Excellent advice. Thank you. Shared.

  2. […] There is more advice on my blog post here : Lies, Cons and private dog sales    […]

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