Important Questions to Ask a Breeder
Locating a healthy puppy to purchase means you'll first need to find a conscientious breeder. He or she should be aware of the common health problems afflicting the breed, and be proactive in getting the sire (father) and dam (mother) screened for genetic disorders, which will reduce the likelihood of those diseases from being passed-on to their offspring. Other qualities to look for in reputable breeders include:
- They strive to meet the breed standard, a written description of how the perfect dog of that breed should look, move and act.
- They don't breed solely to make money. For many breeders it's a hobby and passion with the goal of improving the breed.
- They actively compete in conformation events, field trials and other sports. Winning ribbons and trophies proves their dogs possess physical traits and talents worthy of breeding.
- They only produce a few litters each year.
- They don't mind spending time educating buyers about not only the advantages but disadvantages of the breed too.
- They guarantee their puppies' health for reasonable periods, and agree to take them back, for whatever reason, if an owner can no longer keep them.
So where do you find such a good breeder? Start your search by contacting the American Kennel Club (AKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC), two of the oldest and most respected purebred registries.
Going online is the quickest and easiest way to search both organizations' websites for names and phone numbers of breeders. The AKC offers a web-based service called Breeder Classifieds, found on the home page at akc.org allow users to search for local breeders with puppies currently for sale. The AKC says only breeders in good standing are allowed to advertise.
The UKC is a purebred registry headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Established more than a century ago, it registers hundreds of purebred dogs worldwide. A listing of breeders, broken down by type of dog and location, is published on the club's website, ukcdogs.com, under the tab called Breeder's Corner.
During your search steer clear of your local paper's classified ad section. Ethical breeders rarely advertise in local newspapers because they don't have a problem finding good homes for their quality puppies. In fact, many have waiting lists for their upcoming litters.
Puppies offered for sale in local newspapers are almost always bred by people (a.k.a backyard breeders simply trying to make some fast cash. Producing a healthy pup that'll live a long life, happily snoozing on your sofa, isn't their top priority.
Patience is important when searching for the purebred of your dreams. The best breeders don't always have puppies available for sale so you'll likely need to wait several months or more for the next litter. It's worth the wait, though, in the long run.
Reserving a pup from a future litter is possible by giving the breeder a deposit of usually $200. If you're the first one on the list you'll get the pick of the litter. If none of the puppies from the litter meet your requirements, such as a specific coat color or sex, your money is then refunded.
Prices for purebred puppies depend largely on where the breeder lives, whether the parents are champions and if the pups are show or pet quality.
Pet-quality simply means the breeder believes the pup won't be able to successfully compete in conformation events (dog shows) because of some cosmetic flaw such as his tail is too short or chest is too wide. Even though these puppies will never become champions in the show ring, they can enter other competitions where physical beauty isn't judged such as obedience, field work, and agility.
For most people, a 'pet puppy' is a good choice because they're every bit as healthy and handsome as their show quality siblings but don't cost as much to buy.
Once you've done you're your homework by gathering names of breeders in your area, the next step is to ask a few questions. Inquire about how long they've been breeding, references and health guarantees.
Here are a Few of the Questions You Should Ask:
What's your return policy if I can no longer keep my pup? Answer: The best breeders consider their pups family and always take them back whether it's in two months or two years.
What's your health guarantee? Answer: Puppies should be tested to certify that their hips, eyes and ears are free of disease. Which test is performed depends on the breed. You can easily find out which inherited diseases afflict a particular breed by visiting the parent club's website. Records of all veterinary testing and treatment should be made available to you in writing. Avoid breeders who won't refund money or replace a puppy if health problems arise.
How long have you bred dogs? Answer: The longer the better because it shows the person is truly dedicated to the breed and doing this to make a quick buck or two. Ideally, you'll want to hear 10 years or longer.
Can you provide me with references? Answer: Yes. When you call other buyers ask them about their experience with the breeder and if the puppy they purchased has had any health problems.
Is the puppy up-to-date on vaccinations and wormed? Answer: Yes. A breeder should make available all records of veterinary testing and treatments at the time of purchase. She should also be willing to supply her veterinarian's contact information so you can call and verify the information.
After you've had a chance to ask your questions, expect the breeder to ask a few of his or her own too. Consciousness breeders want their pups to go to good homes so they'll inquire about your pet-owning experience and lifestyle. Questions to expect include: Is this your first dog? Will the dog live inside the house? What's your work schedule like? Does your entire family want the dog? How many children do you have, and what are their ages?
Some breeders won't sell puppies to families with very young children. Long time New Mexico breeder, Juxi Burr, for example, makes it her policy not to sell her Labrador retriever puppies to families with children younger three years of age. She feels it's too much work for families to housetrain an 8-week-old puppy and toilet train a child at the same time. Instead she recommends families wait until their youngest child is at least five years old before acquiring a puppy.
If a family insists on getting a Labrador, Burr suggests buying an adult dog that's already housetrained and socialized, relieving much of the burden when faced with trying to care for both a toddler and rambunctious puppy. Many breeders she says have five or six year old females, retired from their breeding programs, that make wonderful pets.
Once you've found a breeder you feel comfortable with schedule a visit to the kennel. Ask to meet the puppy's mother and if on the premises, the father too. Take note of their appearance and personality because, in some ways, it's like looking into a crystal ball. You'll be able to get a good idea of how your pup will eventually look and act.
Check out the environment in which the puppy is raised. It should be clean and well maintained. The litter should be in good health. A puppy's ears should be clean, and odor free, for example. His or her eyes should be clear and bright and the coat has no signs of fleas or ticks. Nasal discharge, if any, should be clear in color -- never yellow, green, bubbly or thick.
Puppies should be of a proper weight. For example, a bloated belly might mean he or she has worms. While a pup that's too thin means he or she is malnourished.
If you decide to purchase a puppy from the litter, it's common practice for a breeder to help you select which one is right for your lifestyle. Dogs with a laid back attitude usually go to families with children, or older couples who haven't owned a pet for many years. Bossy pups are usually homed with more experienced owners who plan on competing in canine sporting events.
Once you've picked out a pup, you probably won't be able to take him home for a few more weeks. Breeders don't let their puppies go to new homes until they're about eight weeks of age. This gives them time to wean the pups, start vaccinations (which you'll later finish) and bring them to a veterinarian for a health check.
They also start the socialization process of getting puppies used to new sights, sounds and smells. A week or so before you pick up your pup, litter mates are separated from each other and their mother in preparation of going to new homes. Breeders say separating the litter for several days reduces the amount of crying, whining and fussing owners must deal with once they take their pets home.
About the Author: Maryann Mott is an Arizona-based pet journalist.
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
Why You Should Never Buy a Puppy Online
A lot of backyard breeders and puppy mills advertise online. They're often easy to spot because they have "We accept Paypal!" ads scrolling across the top of every page, and assurances that they will indeed ship anywhere any time. And many times, breeders online will appear to be responsible and reliable, but in fact are far from it.
Here's my list of red flags and some absolute deal breakers:
1. Breeder states that they are willing to ship in large letters on their homepage
2. Prices are listed next to each puppy's picture
3. They mention that they accept credit cards or Paypal on their site
4. They have no records of showing their dogs in conformation or any breed-related events
5. They boasts a "state of the art" kennel facility
6. The site has a 1-800 phone number
7. Breeder sells dog with a contract that does not cover genetic defects, or otherwise does not guarantee the puppy's health in any way. Or even worse, there is no puppy contract at all
8. Breeder doesn't require a spay/neuter contract for a non-show quality pup
9. Breeder doesn't have detailed information about the parents (health records, show records, pedigrees, etc.) or even their pictures and names on the site
10. The puppies are extremely expensive. We're not talking about $2,000 for a breed that often requires C-sections, but say $3,000 "Tea Cup" Chihuahuas or pups that are priced based on color, size and gender
11. They have multiple breeds and/or have several litters at a time- more than 2 litters per year is usually too many
And also, if you don't feel like you've been through a police interrogation, they're not asking enough questions and they probably don't care as much about the pup as they do about making money.
~Ann R., owner of Chinese Crested
How to Tell if a Breeder You Found Online is Good
Good breeders don't generally sell puppies online. Puppy mills and some backyard breeders do. Some good breeders may have websites, but they won't have pictures of puppies with prices next to them - generally, they won't discuss price at all.
Here are some things to keep in mind while browsing breeders on the Web:
Good breeders will not always have puppies available, because they breed on or two litters a year, at most.
Good breeders will not breed dogs who have not competed successfully in something - conformation, field trials, herding trials, earth dog trials - whatever is appropriate to the breed.
"Champion lines" is a meaningless come-on, bait for the unwary. Puppies from good breeders will have champions in the first two generations - parents and grandparents.
A good breeder will want to know everything about you, your dog experience, your living arrangements, how you'll provide for you new family member's needs. They will probably want to meet you or have someone they know in your area visit your home and see if it's a good place for a puppy.
Genetic health guarantee: If it's for one or two years, it's a fraud; quite a few serious genetic problems just won't show up that early. If it requires you to return the dog in order to collect on the guarantee, rather than just giving you the option of doing so, it's a fraud, because they know that almost no one will do that with a dog they've had even a few weeks, much less months or years.
Good breeders care where their puppies are going, and that they'll be safe and cared for and loved in their new homes. If you can buy a puppy online and have it shipped to you, with no check on your suitability except whether or not your payment clears, you are not dealing with someone you want to buy a puppy from.
~Lis C., owner of Chinese Crested
What Happens to Those Unsold Pet Store Puppies
I often see people who purchase a pet store puppy because they want to "rescue" it. By doing so, they support a system that allows dogs to live in misery. I realize their hearts are in the right places and they want to save the dog. I also realize that they do not know what happens to the unsold pet shop dogs, so I wanted to tell you about three pet store puppies and what happened to them.
They are a Pug and two Westies, all nine weeks old. The miller breeds for the pet trade and sent them off to the pet store to be sold. When they got there, the store owner discovered all three had physical defects. The Pug had a bum knee and the Westies had hernias.
The pet store owner, not wanting to lose money, called the miller and arranged to send them back. The miller took them back. This is what happens to most unsold puppies in pet stores. Of course, the miller had no use for them. That is where rescue comes in. Many rescues work to develop a relationship with the millers. It is not easy because what they do is a horror to those who rescue dogs, but it helps the animals from death in some situations.
The miller called a friend of mine who works at a rescue and told her what happened. She said that if my friend wanted them, she could have them. No money changed hands and as I type, those puppies are in the vet's office being altered and otherwise fixed up. Once they are better, they will be posted for adoption.
I realize that this is not the fate of every unsold puppy, but it really is typical. So next time a sweet little puppy in the pet store catches your eye, go home and check out breed rescue. Many times, you can find a dog or puppy who was bred under the same conditions that pet store dogs are, but is up to date on shots and vetted. Same quality, better price, vetted and you will not be feeding the cycle of misery.
posted by a guest
Help Stop Puppy Mills
Here are three simple things you can do to help stop puppy mills. You may be a responsible breeder wanting to stop puppy mills in their tracks or just a dog lover. Either way, here's how to take action:
1. Stay informed. You can go to things like the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States for more info on how to stay up to date on puppy mill news.
2. Spread the word. Tell a friend on how wrong puppy mills are. The more people are aware, the better.
3. Lead by example. If you are getting a dog, be responsible and get your puppy from a rescue or responsible breeder.
~Anna M., owner of Labrador Retriever