If you’ve finally decided the time is right to start looking for a puppy then you know the hardest part is ahead of you. Oh-not choosing the puppy, of course, but choosing the breeder! Puppies are easy to pick out. They’re furry, wiggly, kissy and adorable… most of the time. I’m assuming that you’ve already chosen a breed of dog, which is also a large decision and should precede this one.
You shouldn’t ever choose a breeder based on a puppy. (Yes, really.) You shouldn’t ever go “litter hopping” or “puppy shopping” to find your puppy; unless you’re looking to adopt an irresponsible person’s “oops” litter. Then the only thing you can do is visit the litter and the parents and hope for the best (and I’m personally ethically opposed to supporting irresponsible breeders of any kind. So if you go this route you’d better be sure your “oops” puppy is 100% free). But when you’re looking for a specific dog with specific traits and temperament choosing your breeder is of the utmost importance.
No one wants to encourage (and fund) irresponsible breeders. No one wants to contribute to inhumane practices. So how do you select a breeder?
The very best thing you can do is attend dog events (click the link for more info about why and how). If you don’t have a sport or real-life function for your breed of choice that is ok, you can check out breeders the old fashioned way; the interview. To select your candidates for interview you can look through lists of breeders from breed clubs.
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that breed club registration means the breeder has good practices. I personally think the best way to start interviewing breeders it to just do a local Google search and start there (prior to going to the sporting events-so you can have a little background for people you will probably meet).
Is the breeder a professional breeder or a private breeder? Are you willing to purchase a dog from a private breeder? That can be a risky choice but it also might be your only choice for the breed of dog you’ve fallen in love with.
Ask yourself: based on the breeder’s website and the breeder’s physical activity with the dogs (show? Sports? Therapy? Anything at all?) what does this breeder create these dogs for? If the answer to this isn’t apparent you can be fairly certain that you’re dealing with a so-called “private breeder”. This isn’t necessarily a reason to run for the hills but do be aware of who you are dealing with. I much prefer professional breeders but when you’re dealing with most hybrid dogs you’re not going to find any but private for-profit business breeders.
A very important thing to look over before agreeing to place a deposit and/or visit a litter is the puppy contract. If the breeder doesn’t have any health guarantee or breeding contract then look elsewhere for your dog.
Read the contract(s) carefully. The contract needs to protect both the buyer and the seller. The contract should be reasonable and something you’re comfortable with. This is one area that can really be up to personal comfort level for both you and the breeder but there are a few areas that are non-negotiable.
A breeder should always require a spay/neuter contract with their pups to all but heavily interviewed breeders. This is sometimes to protect the breeder’s assets (only when dealing with show-competition dogs) but mostly this should be to prevent the breeding of imperfect specimens. This is also to protect the breeder’s puppies from being ill-used. And finally there are legal ramifications to selling breeding dogs without having a USDA license and the only breeders that have a USDA license are breeders you want to avoid because they are all puppy mills.
Your breeder should require you to return to them any unwanted dog they produced in the event you cannot keep the animal. This is important and is the hallmark of a responsible breeder. A good breeder is ready and willing to be responsible for every single animal they produce. They should be willing to put in the money, time and effort to rehabilitate an improperly trained dog and/or rehabilitate a dog with medical problems. There is no grey area on this one. If the breeder doesn’t beg to be allowed to assist in the terrible event of a re-homing they simply don’t care about their dogs (no matter how much they might claim otherwise).
Look at the Parents
Look through photos of the parent dogs on the breeder’s website. The breeder should have made a real effort to have a lot of information available about each dog as well as several clear photographs of each dog. You should see the breeder’s love for his/her dogs through the computer screen.
I know it is tempting to look at the available puppies and fall in love with the cuteness on the screen but hold yourself back. A puppy is only a puppy for a couple of short months. A puppy loses his fluffy puppy-appeal by six months of age. That is somewhere around 0.42% of your future dog’s life. For the other 99.5% your dog is going to look like an adult dog. You’d better love the way your puppy’s parents look because your dog will look very similar to them.
For each breeder that meets your criteria (for the above categories) and has dogs you find attractive you can begin the most important step: the interview.
Email the breeder your list of questions. You can get the super-short email-able version HERE.
This well-explained list is the best place to start for interview questions. Read through the list and decide which (if any) of these questions and explanations matter to you. Obviously what is important to one person isn’t necessarily important to the next person. My strict standards may not matter to you.
I’ve had friends who much preferred a coat color to proper socialization and others that required health tests so much they chose a pup from parents they didn’t like the looks of. Both friends are mostly happy with their choices (although the friends with the healthy but plain dog are happier overall than the friends with the pretty but mill-bred dog).
If you chose to go with a breeder that doesn’t meet all of your standards just remember that there are always compromises in life. Not every standard is a must. As long as you’re not bending your standards to include breeders that are inhumane and unethical you’re doing just fine. If you choose a puppy from a breeder that doesn’t have practices that you prefer, whatever your reasons, you’ll be going into the sale with your eyes wide open. That is a huge deal. Be aware of the potential issues that could arise and be prepared.
Chances are good that you’ll get a dog that you love very much, even if you compromise.