Dog Breeders: What to Look For
When it comes to adding a new dog to your family, you have several different options. You can find a rescue organization, drive down to your local shelter, get a dog from a family friend, or find a breeder to purchase a puppy from. The latter option is one that has a bit of a bad reputation. We've all seen the "Adopt, Don't Shop" bumper stickers, and that mentality is pervasive in some areas of the dog community. But not all breeders are the bad guys. There are many people out there who are breeding dogs due to their passion for the breed, who care very much about every dog that they produce, and who actually contribute a great deal to rescues that work with their breed of choice.
There are several reasons why you might choose a breeder over getting a dog from a rescue situation. When you get a purebred puppy, you have a relatively good idea about what they are going to turn out like. You know what they will look like, how big they will get, what their grooming needs will be, what temperament traits to expect, and how much exercise they will need. This is much harder to ascertain with a Heinz 57 from the local humane society. Health is another concern, and a common strike against purebred dogs is that they have a higher incidence of genetic health concerns. Health is certainly a valid concern, but reputable breeder will health test their breedings dogs and will know a thorough history of all the dogs in a litter's pedigree so that they can work to eliminate such issues from the breed. Your shelter dog may be extremely healthy, or he may have a condition lurking under the surface that will come as a total surprise to you. Another huge perk to buying a dog from a breeder is that you will receive abundant support for the lifetime of your dog, whether for a training concern or for nutrition information, all the way down to what brushes to use for grooming. Shelters have limited resources as it is, and may not be able to provide you with the same support.
If you find yourself in the category of people that like the pros of going with a breeder, here are some things to look for when you begin doing your research.
Why Are They Breeding?
One of the main things to find out is why someone is breeding dogs in the first place. Are they looking to make a quick buck or are then genuinely invested in breeding a better generation of a breed they are passionate about? Ask your breeder how long they have been involved with their breed, and what got them interested in the breed in the first place. Find out how many breeds they are involved in and how many litters they breed a year. Involvement in multiple breeds or breeding a few litters a year are not necessarily red flags, but if you see that someone is breeding 5 different types of dogs and is having frequent litters, you may be looking at a puppy mill situation.
When you talk to your breeder about their dogs, they should be very familiar with their lines and readily be able to tell you the ins and outs of the breed and their individual dogs. They should also be involved in activities that demonstrate the temperament of their dogs. For a Shih Tzu, that might be as simple as the breeder taking the dog to nursing homes to visit and do therapy work. If you are looking for more of a working type dog, you will want to work with a breeder who is active in the same activities that you would like to do with your new puppy. Your breeder should also demonstrate commitment to every dog they breed, whether it stays with them or goes into a new home. A reputable breeder will always take back a dog that they bred rather than see it enter the shelter system, and many breeders also give back by helping with breed rescue and trying to put even more dogs into excellent homes.
You also want to verify how the breeding dogs and puppies are cared for. Some breeders house their dogs in their home and others house them in a kennel environment, but all should be in good physical and mental condition. The breeder should be feeding a high quality food, providing quality vet care, supplying a clean and comfortable environment, and the dogs should all receive plenty of physical and mental stimulation. If your research uncovers that a breeder's dogs are not well kept, that person may be breeding dogs for the wrong reasons.
There are two areas of veterinary care that a reputable breeder should take care of: quality health care for both dogs and puppies and health testing for diseases common to their breed. The first item is pretty straightforward, and is one that you should follow up with once your puppy comes home. Breeders should be providing veterinary care to all of their dogs, and their litters should be getting examined by a veterinarian. Each litter should be vaccinated and dewormed as is deemed appropriate, and the puppies should be fed a quality diet and be in good body condition.
The next area varies quite a bit by breed. Some breeds are more prone to genetic diseases than others, so the testing that breeding stock should receive will vary quite a bit. Von Willebrand's testing is very important in a Doberman, but not at all for a Border Collie. You can check the OFA website for the tests that are recommended for your breed, and you should research the conditions on the list so that you can be educated when searching for a healthy litter.
Bringing Up Baby
Another key aspect when choosing a breeder is looking at how the breeder raises their litters. Your breeder should be able to tell you the steps that they take while the puppies are still young to build their confidence and social skills. If the puppies are raised in the home, they should be getting exposed to all kinds of sights and sounds that they will likely encounter with you, such as a television or vacuum cleaner. Dogs raised in a kennel environment also need exposure to different environmental stimuli. Your puppy should also have started socialization with people and dogs, though within reason, as they still need to be protected from diseases at this stage in their life. Your breeder should be interacting with the puppies quite a bit, and they should be able to tell you about your puppy's personality and why that puppy is a good fit for you.
Making You Work For It
Just as you are interviewing and researching your breeder, they should be doing the same for you. A good breeder will be very careful about the homes that they sell puppies to, and they should ask you lots of questions about your lifestyle and your goals for the puppy. They should find out if their are children in the home, how many other pets you have, whether you life in an apartment or own a house, and what you would do if you had to give up your puppy for any reason. If the breeder seems very nonchalant about your information and how it pertains to their puppy, you should probably look elsewhere.
We All Have to Get Along
Another thing to look for is how well you mesh with the breeder whenever you talk to them. You are about to get a dog from this person that will hopefully be part of your life for the next 12-15 years. Over the course of those years, this is the person that you should be able to send cute pictures of your puppy, seek advice from on how to trim nails, and they should be available as a shoulder to cry on when those years of companionship come to an end. If you do not feel that you will be capable of having a harmonious relationship with a given breeder, they are probably not the best person for you to work with. Be patient, and find someone who you love to talk to about their dogs, and who is thrilled to have you as an owner of one of their puppies.
The Right One is Out There
You will come across many different breeders in your quest to find your new puppy. Some will not be the perfect fit, but you will know when you find the one that is. Be sure to ask lots of questions, get familiar with a breeder's program, and make sure that they know enough about you and your goals to provide you with a wonderful dog that will mesh well with your lifestyle. Finding a good breeder can take some work and some patience, but the rewards are well worth it.
Sam is the owner and head trainer at Kentucky Dog Training LLC. She set up this blog to share success stories, training tips, the progression of dogs in our training programs, and other thoughts on dogs and training.