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The Right Dog for You, Part Three - Choosing a Breeder

Guest Author - Sandy Moyer

If you've decided that you definitely want a purebred dog, breed rescue organizations are a good place to start looking for the breed you want. Breed rescue is often done by individuals who know and understand a specific breed. Members of rescue organizations foster adoptable dogs until they are placed in responsible permanent homes. The dogs may have come from commercial breeding operations, from owners who passed away, or from local animal shelters. Some may have been surrendered by owners who were no longer able to care for them due to illness, allergies, moving, etc. Adoption fees vary, depending on the rescue group, health care expenses, and other costs involved in preparing a dog for adoption.

Purebred dogs often end up in animal shelters, so if you're looking for a popular breed, a local shelter might also be good place to start.

Some people firmly believe that a purebred puppy is the best choice for them. It might be a breed they already have experience with. They love the personality, size, and look of their favorite breed and that's the only kind of dog they'll ever want. Many prospective new dog owners know the breed they want. It might be a breed they loved as a child, or a dog like the friend's dog they fell in love with. Others have done their research and decided that a certain breed is the best choice for their lifestyle.

A purebred puppy should always be bought from the actual breeder of the litter. Good breeders will NEVER sell to pet shops or dog brokers. If you want a purebred puppy and you're looking for a responsible, reputable breeder, check your local kennel club. Search the internet for breed clubs and breeders. If you can't find the breed you want in your area, contact a regional or national breed club representative and ask for help. Going to a dog show is a great way to find and meet breeders. If breeders there don't have a litter planned for the near future, and they don't have puppies available, there's a good chance they can recommend someone who does.


Dedicated, responsible breeders will not sell their puppies to just anyone. They want to be sure they'll have safe, loving homes with people who are committed to do being good dog owners. A responsible breeder will want to know as much about you, the buyer, as you want to know about them. Expect to be asked lots of questions. They'll want to know that, in addition to being able to afford the price of the puppy, you have the financial resources to provide good Veterinary care. They'll ask questions about your home and your lifestyle. They'll want to know if you have the time and resources to train a dog... what other pets you have... how old are your children?

Have your own list of questions ready for the breeder. As an informed puppy buyer, you've already read a lot about the breed you're looking for, but, someone who has lived with that breed might be able to tell you some things you may not find in a book. Ask what they can tell you about the best and worst qualities of the breed. If their answers are not what you expected them to be, ask them to explain those points.

Whether a breeder specializes in dogs that can win show titles or dogs that can win field trials, good health and temperament should always be the top priority in a breeding. Most AKC puppy buyers just want good pets. They have no interest in owning future show dogs but they want healthy dogs with good temperaments.

Buyers should learn about possible congenital diseases associated with the breed they want. Nearly all large breeds, many medium-size breeds and even some small breeds are at risk for hip dysplasia. Parents of a litter should have been x-rayed for signs of this painful, crippling disease and related joint diseases. The x-rays must then be evaluated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals - the OFA, or by the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program - PennHIP. For breeds at risk for congenital eye problems, both the sire and dam should have eye exams with the results submitted to the Canine Eye Registration Foundation - CERF, a registry of purebred dogs that have been certified free of heritable eye disease. Make sure they have a current CERF certificate, since this certification is good for only one year. A dog must be re-examined and re-certified annually to maintain it's registration. For some breeds, prospective parents should also be tested for immune system abnormalities, congenital heart defects, seizure disorders or hearing problems. Breeders should have official written certifications to show prospective buyers. Copies of these certifications should go with every puppy sold. NEVER buy from a breeder who does not do genetic testing but tells you his dogs are healthy and there's never been any problems in their bloodlines. NEVER take a breeders word that testing has been done unless you actually see the official proof.

Whether you're buying a purebred dog just as a pet, or you want a pet that can also compete in the show ring or the field, the standards for an ethical, responsible breeder are about the same. When you find a breeder, there are some details you should know and things you should look for....

  • How old are the parents of the litter? Both should be at least 2 years old to be fully mature when they mate. Females shouldn't be bred after age 8. Males can be bred until they are about 10 to 12 years old.

  • How many adult dogs do they have? How many dogs do they breed? How often do they have puppies?

  • Can the breeder show you references from buyers of previous litters?

  • Look for a breeder with puppies that are the offspring a dog that lives in their home and is part of their family. Puppies that are born and raised in a home where they are frequently held and cuddled are well-socialized puppies. They're exposed to household noises, children, and other pets right from the start. Breeders can observe the litter closely and get to know the individual personalities of the puppies. They can evaluate each pup and recommend the best one for a buyer.

  • The mother of the litter of puppies should be on the premises and the breeder should want you to see her. If they don't show her to you, ask to see her. You should also be able to see all the puppies in the litter. Don't buy a puppy from someone who shows you one or two puppies at a time, bringing them from outside, from the basement, or from another room - behind closed doors. Those puppies might be living in unhealthy, dirty conditions.

  • Don't buy a puppy from someone who tells you the mother of the litter doesn't like strangers or gives you an excuse why you can't see her. She might not look her best, and of course she might be protective of her puppies, but she should not be afraid of people. She should not growl viciously or go into a rage because someone is looking at, but not touching her puppies. Temperament is inherited.

  • What about the puppies' father? Not being able to see the sire when you go to see the litter is generally a good sign. That should mean that the puppies are not the result of someone just buying two dogs of the same breed and mating them for profit. The breeding was well-planned and the sire was carefully chosen because of his bloodlines. Ideally, he is a champion dog. The breeder should still be able to satisfactorily answer your questions about him, show you his picture, his pedigree, and his health certifications.

  • Observe any other adult dogs in a breeder's home. If there are other dogs of the same breed, are they good examples of the breed with the right characteristics? Are they friendly? Do all the dogs look happy, healthy and well cared for?

  • The mother usually keeps her unweaned puppies clean, but check the area where she cares for her litter. Is it clean or is the bedding stained and urine soaked? If owners don't at least take the time to provide fresh clean bedding before showing puppies to a potential buyer, do you think they bother to change it routinely, as needed?

  • Puppies should be playful and alert. They should have no discharge from eyes or noses. Their ears should be clean and free of brown waxy build up and odor. The skin on their bellies should be free of tiny brown specks or bites - signs of flea infestation. Their bellies should be plump but not overly round, which could indicate worms. Puppies should have had all immunizations required for their age and they should have been wormed.

  • Good breeders offer a written contract with a health guarantee that specifies their refund or replacement policy. Does it last at least two years? Does the guarantee allow for a refund and give you the option of keeping the dog instead of taking another dog? By the time a defect or health problem shows up, most people would never dream of giving back the dog they love. A full, or at least a partial refund, would pay for some of the Veterinary costs involved in a treatable or surgically correctable illness. A good breeder will allow you to carefully review the contract before you make the final decision to buy a puppy.

  • Is the breeder concerned enough about the long term future of every dog to include a "return to breeder" clause in the contract? Are they prepared to take it back, if, for any reason, at any point in the dogs life, the buyer cannot keep the dog? Except for illness covered by a health guarantee, this does not mean refunding any part of what was paid for the dog. It is meant to prevent the dog from ever going to an unfit home or to an animal shelter.

  • A good breeder will insist that puppies stay with their mother and their litter until they are at least 8 weeks old. That's a law in some states. Some breeders will not let puppies go until they at least 10 or 12 weeks old.

  • When it's time to take the puppies home -
    A good breeder will give written instructions for care and feeding + a record of innoculations and wormings with the dates they were given and a schedule for getting additional innoculations.

  • A buyer should be able to ask questions and get expert advice from the breeder, not only before the sale, but in the months and years ahead if they you need it.

    You want a breed with the traits you like best in a dog, but if you buy your puppy from an irresponsible breeder it might not grow up to look like you thought it would, the way it's supposed to look. The breeder can also make a huge difference in a puppy's health and temperament. Getting the breed you want from a good breeder can mean you'll enjoy many years with a healthy dog that's everything it should be. Buying the same breed from the wrong breeder could mean a few unhappy years, plagued with training and behavior problems, monumental Vet bills, and heartache.

    Your greatest chance of getting a healthy, well-socialized puppy is to buy from a breeder who's primary motivation is to produce the finest dogs possible. Ethical, responsible breeders prove their dog's quality by taking part in conformation shows and obedience competition. This gives the owner an objective opinion of a dog's strengths and weaknesses.

    The best breeders usually have a waiting list of potential buyers before they breed. Some show breeders sell their show prospects only to competition minded owners. If you are serious about wanting a dog for the conformation show ring, you must put a great deal of effort into finding a qualified breeder. Depending on the breed you want and where you live, this might involve traveling a great distance. There are websites with information about show dates, field trial dates and locations. Search for the best breeders. Look for someone who has dogs that are winners and champions. Talk to competitors who show the breed you want. Learn what the breed's top bloodlines are and who shows and breeds those dogs.

    A show breeder will proudly tell you about any titles and championships their dogs have won. Reading a pedigree can tell you about these things too. A pedigree tells you which ancestors in each generation are champions. When a dog wins conformation or performance titles, abbreviations for those titles are included as either a prefix or a suffix to the dog's official registered name and recorded on the pedigree. "Ch" in front of a dog's name means it is a conformation champion. "FC" means it is a field trial champion. When a dog has earned a "Ch" title and also an "FC" title or an "HC" - a Herding Champion title, it may be designated as a Dual Champion with a "DC" prefix. Abbreviations such as "CD" following a dog's name, are obedience and performance titles. For example..."CD" - Companion Dog and "CDX" - Companion Dog Excellent are obedience titles. "AX" is an agility title, "TD" is a tracking title. For more about titles and abbreviations, see What Do All Those Abbreviations Mean?

    Check the names on a pedigree, looking not only for titles, but for a name, or names, that appear more than once. Line breeding is the mating of dogs that are related by a common ancestor - perhaps cousins or even farther removed relatives. To consistently produce dogs with uniform desirable traits, breeders practice line-breeding frequently. Inbreeding, more controversial than line-breeding, is the breeding of close relatives, separated by no more than a single generation. To read more about these breeding practices, see....
    In-breeding, Line-breeding, and Out-breeding† - †What is Line Breeding? † - † Line breeding, Inbreeding, and Outcrossing

    Even in the best breeding programs, every puppy in every litter will not be a show prospect.
    As you read in The Right Dog For You, Part Two - Choosing a Dog, there is nothing "wrong" with a dog sold by a breeder as pet quality. A puppy might be considered pet quality, for very minor things like markings, eye color, hair thats wavy where it shouldn't be, etc, etc. It does not mean that it is a poor example of the breed, nor does it mean that a puppy is genetically unsound in any way. Responsible breeders give the same health guarantee to puppies sold as pet quality as they give to puppies sold as show quality.

    The written contract will have other differences, however. To discourage breeding of dogs sold as "pet quality", responsible breeders sell their puppies with spay/neuter agreements. To help prevent overpopulation and to assure that the dogs they are offering as pet quality are not used for breeding, spay/neuter contracts are now very common. With a spay/neuter contract, the puppy buyer will get no AKC paperwork until the dog has been spayed or neutered and the breeder receives written proof that the surgery was performed. With some breeders, a pet quality dog will have a "limited registration" by the AKC. This means that the dog is AKC registered but no litters produced by that dog would be eligible for registration. Dogs with limited registration are not eligible to compete in breed conformation shows. They may, however, compete in Obedience, Tracking, Field Trials, Herding, Agility and other licensed performance events.

    Most people are perfectly willing to wait until they reach the top of a reputable breeder's waiting list to get the best pet quality puppy possible, but not everyone who wants a purebred puppy is prepared to wait for an indefinite period of time. Depending on the breed, the chances of finding what they want in rescue or at a shelter are small. Breeders who do not show their dogs might be a source to consider for someone who wants a purebred puppy and hasn't been able to find the right one after a reasonable amount of time. It's a better alternative than a pet shop, or surfing find-a-puppy websites and buying from someone with puppies for sale - year round - 6 weeks old and up - in the breed they want plus a variety of other breeds.

    Many show breeders consider anyone who breeds, but does not show their dogs, to be backyard breeders, and puts them in about the same class as a puppy mill operator. "Backyard breeders" are people who breed for dollars and really donít care what happens to a puppy after it's sold. They buy a female, or they might even find one in a "free to a good home" ad. They mate it with their own "stud dog" or the first "stud dog for hire" they can find. Backyard breeders do no genetic testing because their dogs "look healthy". They're either unaware of, or don't care about genetic defects associated with the breed. Although it is quite true that there are many typical, uneducated, backyard breeders to avoid, I personally don't believe that everyone who chooses not to exhibit their dogs is automatically a bad breeder.

    Some pet breeders have many years of experience with a breed. They know it's history, it's good points, bad points and health issues. They're willing and able to offer expert advice on house breaking, socializing, training and health care. Their "kennel" is their home and the dog they've bred is their pet. Their puppies are usually well cared for and well socialized. Some will breed their dog only once or twice before they have it spayed. Others might have a few dogs that they breed about once a year. Judge a pet breeder by the same standards as you would judge a show breeder.

    Even without the expense involved in showing, if they're breeding responsibly, there will be expenses for genetic testing and certifications, prenatal care, health care for the puppies, quality pet food, and other related expenses, so don't expect a bargain. Expect nice pets with good temperaments at a fair price. Like all pet quality pups, they should still be good examples of their breed. Like all pet quality pups, they should always be sold with spay/neuter contracts.

    Pet breeders should be realistic about the quality of their puppies and never make misleading claims. A breeder that does not show dogs shouldn't try to sell puppies as show prospects at a premium price. Show prospects should come from show breeders.

    There are other disreputable breeders, who, while they are not full scale puppy mills, there's a very fine line between the two. Avoid a breeder who always has litters of puppies for sale. Avoid anyone who has multiple litters of puppies for sale from a variety of breeds. Even if they are running a home-based business, no one with so many puppies to care for at one time can give them the home-raised attention that a responsible breeder gives a single litter of puppies. There's often no handling or human contact beyond feeding, watering, and cleaning cages. Breeders that mass produce like this, do no screening for genetic diseases or anything else that cuts into their profit. These breeders are clearly in it for the money. They run regular ads on "Find a Puppy" type websites and also in newspapers, merchandisers, and on their own websites.

    Their ads frequently have selling points like these that are meant to attract an uninformed buyer....

    • " vet-checked"
      This is not the same as genetic testing of the parents. A Veterinarian can't determine a puppy's chances of inheriting a genetic defect by looking at him or by doing a physical exam before giving puppy shots.

    • "good hips" or "pups OFA reg."
      Hip dysplasia does not show up in young puppies. Pups cannot be registered with the Orthopedic Foundation of America. The OFA certification is an evaluation of the x-rays of their parents.

    • "farm raised puppies"
      This probably means that they were raised in a barn or someplace other than a house.

    • "papers available"
      What papers? It should go without saying that AKC registration papers come with an AKC registered dog. The breeder registers the litter of two AKC registered parents and gets an application for permanent registration for every puppy in the litter. These blue slips should be signed by the breeder/breeders and be given to the buyer of each puppy, along with a copy of the pedigree, at no extra charge.

    • "purebred, no papers" † - † "pedigreed, no papers" † - † "full blooded, no papers"
      While, AKC registration, as mentioned in previous articles, is no guarantee of quality, someone who is buying a purebred puppy expects it to be just that. Be very suspicious that a dog is not even purebred if a breeder makes excuses for not having AKC registration papers.

    • "champion background"
      Champions listed on a pedigree, more than a generation away, prove nothing about the quality of a litter. A breeder who uses this in an ad as a selling point is trying to capitalize on something he knows nothing about. A pedigree that only has champions a few generations back really emphasizes a loss of quality.

    • "priced to sell"
      This probably means they have too many puppies so they're having a puppy clearance sale. Responsible breeders will sometimes have an older dog that they will let go for less than the price they charge for a puppy - to a screened and approved home only. Pet quality puppies are sold for less than show prospects, but good breeders don't advertise this way.

    • "puppies available year round" † or † "puppies available, 8 weeks old and up"
      Again... beware. Breeders that always have multiple litters of puppies for sale are clearly breeding for dollars.

    • "will ship anywhere"
      Good breeders are very particular about where their puppies go. Some might consider arranging to send a puppy to a buyer that satisfactorily answers their questions and has good references, but they would never use this phrase as a selling point in ad.

    • "extra large" † - † "teacup size" † - † "one-of-a-kind" † - † "rare"
      These are terms that usually mean traits that vary from the breed standard. If you want a purebred dog, shouldn't it look like the breed is supposed to look? Someone who wants a variation might as well get a mixed breed.

    • "USDA licensed"
      The United States Department of Agriculture regulates the care and breeding of stock such as cattle, chickens, and puppy mill dogs. If a breeder requires a USDA license, it's because that breeder mass produces dogs and also sells through brokers and pet stores. The USDA licensing requirement for dog breeders comes from the Animal Welfare Act, first passed in 1966. Breeders who raise and sell dogs on their own premises and sell them directly to the new owner are exempt from having to obtain this license.

    Finally... if you go to see a litter of puppies and you're still not sure that you've found the one you want, a good breeder will not be insulted or try to change your mind. A good breeder won't try to make a sale by telling a prospective buyer to act fast because someone else is coming to see the puppies. A good breeder doesn't try to encourage reluctant buyers. A good breeder won't sell a puppy to someone who's not sure what they want.


    A Smart Buyer's Guide to a Healthy Puppy
    This book contains the status of fifty popular breeds and what breeders and clubs are doing to improve their health. It includes a summary of health concerns by breed, health clearances a puppy should have, a step-by-step roadmap to find your healthy pup, questions to ask breeders, and more.



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    Content copyright © 2014 by Sandy Moyer. All rights reserved.
    This content was written by Sandy Moyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Bettina Thomas-Smith for details.

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