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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.