FINDING THE RIGHT BREEDER FOR YOU
This is an informative article designed to assist the person looking for an dog in finding an
ethical breeder with quality breeding stock. Included here are questions that are
constructed to help you make the most informed choice. When in search of a new home to
buy, most of us would probably spend weeks or even months touring open houses, browsing
through the paper and reviewing listings with real estate agents who have practically
become a part of the family. When in the market for a car, you sort through copies of
Consumer Reports, stroll through car lots under the predatory gaze of a salesman, and
venture a test drive or two. You give it a lot of thought. A lot. But will you spend that
much time and effort before buying a puppy or dog that you may very well spend ten to
fifteen years with? Even if you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a certain breed
is the right breed for you, where do you begin to look? And once you have found the names
of breeders to contact, how do you know that a breeder is responsible, ethical, and
concerned with quality?
Breeders run the gamut, from innocently naive people who gush over their dear sweet
'Rover' tending to the dandelions in the backyard, to the operator of a puppy mill who fills
up the pet shop cages, to the professional, conscientious breeder who devotes an
enormous part of their lives to improving the breed. By asking some earnest questions,
you can sort out the good from the bad. An ethical breeder should be very willing to
answer your queries about their breeding stock and their breeding practices, because
they take pride in what they are doing. And in all likelihood, they will also be asking you
your fair share of questions, because it matters to them where their charges end up.
Yet even if all you want is a pet, does it really matter? It does if you want a healthy,
mentally sound family companion. Because not all dogs are created equal. They are a
product of both genetics and environment. The breeder controls the genetics end by
studying pedigrees, educating themselves about potential health and temperament
problems, formulating goals and having appropriate health tests done. Ethical breeders
also handle young pups and continue socializing and training older pups and adults. They are
involved with their breed, whether through conformation shows, performance events such
as obedience and agility, or working their dogs in actual useful situations such as herding
livestock. They know about their dogs' ancestors. They know their dogs' strengths and
are also aware of their weaknesses. They are there for you as a source of information
long after you have taken your pup home, kind of like a built-in trouble-shooting line.
Conscientious breeders are mentors, friends, and guardians of their breed. They care.
Knowing Where to Look
Finding the right breeder may be a matter of luck or the product of a long and laborious
search. In order to begin, you have to know where to look. In this age of computers and
cell phones, there are a myriad of avenues to explore.
Of course the classified ads of the local newspaper are always at hand, but the crux is
that you are only getting an overview of local breeders - and "breeders" is a very loosely
applied term. Another source is magazines.
Don't forget about attending shows. You can see a number of breeders all in one place,
but don't be put off if they don't seem to have a lot of time to talk to you right then and
there. They are trying to get their dog ready and sometimes they are even a little
nervous. So by all means approach them, but ask for a name and phone number and if you
aren't able to talk when the show is over you can call them at home.
It may be enormously tempting to contact only breeders within a couple hours drive of
your home. After all, it is natural to want to be able to see the dogs you are inquiring
about in person. By no means, however, should you limit yourself to such a small locale. It
may be a hard fact of life that there just aren't any desirable breeders or dogs right for
you in your immediate area. If you do contact a breeder long distance, they should be able
to give you ample information on the breed and their dogs, as well as pictures, pedigrees,
and health info. And, wonder of wonders, there are video tapes - which are the next best
thing to being there. Ask what the procedures are for payment and shipping. Many a
whimpering pup or curious adult dog has been loaded onto a plane to fly through the
friendly skies to find a warm, happy home at the other end.
Know what you want in a dog
It is of utmost importance to know what kind of dog you are looking for. Do you want a dog
that will be solely a companion for you and your kids, an obedience/agility/herding dog, a
show prospect? Don't dribble stale promises of showing your future pup if you have little
or no intention of doing so in hopes that you will get the better end of the deal. The most
important things about a companion are health and character. There are countless
numbers of puppies who have slight imperfections such as mismarkings or front toes that
don't go precisely straight forward who are packed to the brim with love and devotion in
their tiny hearts, plus some young adults who didn't quite develop into the stunning
showstoppers that their breeders had hoped for.
What kind of energy level are you looking for?
Do you need a dog with great athletic potential or is a professional couch potato more
your speed? If you're in search of a performance dog that can sprint through an agility
course in thirty seconds flat without dropping a bar or a frisbee dog that can sky, then
you probably want a dog of, say, a slightly more energetic vein than the young family with
limited time on their hands and an already demanding schedule.
If you are in search of a show dog then your first step should be to study the breed
standard and find source books on structure and movement to help you train your own eye
for faults. Since conformation showing is a highly subjective area, be aware that numbers
of wins do not necessarily equate with quality. Sometimes obtaining a championship means
hauling a dog to many, many shows to finish it. Ask the breeder what both the faults and
qualities are of the parents. Sometimes they may not volunteer information as to the
shortcomings of their breeding stock. This doesn't mean they're being deceptive, just
that they love their dogs as any parent does their children and have selected their dogs
for the qualities they admire in them. One more thing, trying to pick a potential champion
from a litter of eight week old pups is a little like trying to determine a future Kentucky
Derby winner at a thoroughbred auction of yearlings. It's a crapshoot. If it were possible
for breeders to tell which pups would end up being champions, then their prices would be a
lot higher than what they already are.
What questions should you ask?
How dedicated and knowledgeable is the breeder that you are talking to? Are their dogs
basically what you are looking for? Keep in mind as you ask questions that everything is
relative. What might be slightly reserved to one person may seem freakishly shy to
another. What might be fine-boned to one breeder is just right to another. Be aware
that a bitch in whelp may be more lethargic or moody than normal and it is not uncommon
for a dam with young pups to be more protective than usual. In short, due to hormones and
lack of sleep, mom may not quite be herself. If you feel pressured at all - make a polite
exit. Be prepared to wait for the right puppy or dog from the right breeder. Many long-
time breeders with good reputations have a waiting list or require a deposit to gauge just
how serious you, as a prospective buyer, are. They don't sell their dogs to just anyone.
They would probably rather hang on to them indefinitely than risk placing them in an
inappropriate situation which may lead to future disappointments or problems.
So what kinds of questions should you ask? You may find that during the natural course of
a conversation many of these questions are answered or will be addressed in the written
information you receive :
* What is the temperament, energy level, trainability, level of protectiveness of your
These are perhaps the most important questions to ask. Individuals and lines do vary, so
you may get slightly different answers from different breeders. But it is the overall
character of a dog will be the major factor in determining how it fits into your family and
lifestyle. Physical traits are often the first things that attract people to a certain
breed, but as the saying goes -"Beauty is only skin deep". Many buyers make the mistake
of selecting their dog solely because of sex, color and markings. There is much, much
more to a dog than that. This is one of the areas in which an experienced breeder can be
helpful. They can guide you towards a pup better suited to your needs and often times
even suggest or select it for you. Procedures for picking a pup vary, so understand this
fully ahead of time.
If both you and your spouse work full time or you want a companion or a compliment to
your own breeding program with no surprises - then consider an older pup or an adult.
Older pups and adults are more likely to have their character well developed and should
not be overlooked provided the breeder has socialized, trained and housebroken them.
Given a little time, they bond well and the horrors of housebreaking and couch stuffings
strewn over the living room can be altogether avoided. It is a common myth that puppies
over ten to twelve weeks of age will be unable to "bond". Dogs devote themselves wholly
to whoever feeds them, cares for them and loves them back. If considering an older
prospect, drill the owner or breeder about the personality, quirks and virtues both, of
the dog. Ask how much training, house time and socialization the pup or dog has had.
* How many dogs do you have?
A breeder may have one dog or thirty. Dogs are addictive! The important things is that
they have time for each and every one and are able to provide them with proper care,
exercise and individual attention. A breeder who is actively showing, training or working a
portion of a kennel of fifteen dogs is more involved than the breeder who owns only two
dogs and doesn't have the time for any of that.
How many litters do you have per year? How often do you breed your females?
A breeder who has no more than four litters a year (and that is quite a bit even for
someone at home full-time with the dogs) will be able to better pair you to the right dog
or puppy. Generally, females should never be bred more often than once a year, if even
that much. You, as a buyer, should be more concerned with quality than quantity and
immediate availability. If you find a breeder who has a limited number of litters, but you
feel most comfortable and trusting of that breeder, you are far better off to wait for
the right puppy than to hope you get a decent one out of a litter that you are settling for
from a questionable breeder.
What are the personalities of the parents?
Pups have good days and bad ones. Knowing the personality of the parents and immediate
relatives is a much better gauge of how a pup is likely to turn out. Keep in mind, though,
that there may be a range of personalities even within a single litter, from submissive to
dominant, from laid-back to wired. The breeder who observes the litter regularly will
have some idea of the differences, however, eight week old pups have far from developed
their complete personalities. Furthermore, the environment that you provide, complete
with confidence building experiences such as training and socialization and the discipline
that you do or don't enforce, will mold your dog into either a wild heathen or a proper
citizen. Avoid parents that are overly protective, very shy, hyperkinetic or extreme in
What physical/genetic defects is this breed prone to? Do you screen the parents or pups?
Some defects are genetic, which means they can be passed from parent to offspring.
Genetic defects include eye problems, hip dysplasia, epilepsy, reproductive problems, bad
bites, missing teeth and poor temperament. Parents should at least have an OFA rating on
their hips and have had their eyes examined (CERF) by a veterinary opthalmologist who is
board certified. Some breeders even have eye exams done on entire litters. If you are
interested in breeding at some point in time, ask if there is any incidence of hereditary
defects in the lines of the dog or pup you are interested in. A breeder who is ignorant of
any problems within the breed or severely downplays their significance is definitely one
What activities are you involved in with your dogs?
Titles do not necessarily make the dog, but they do give you some indication of what they
are capable of and how dedicated the breeder is to spending time with their dogs. If you
want a show dog, then find a breeder who actively shows and knows the structural faults
of their dogs as well as their good points and will explain these to you. Remember that if
you are searching for something more than just a companion, that it is not unreasonable
for you to display your seriousness by attending many shows beforehand, becoming
involved in a club and talking/visiting with the breeder numerous times before being
taken seriously. Don't be turned off by a breeder who is not immediately willing to sell
you the potentially best pup in the litter just because you think you want to show.
Breeders realize the time and dedication it takes to achieve goals and titles. They have
been disappointed by well-intentioned persons more than you realize. Gathering knowledge
so you can talk with them intelligently and having the patience to wait for the right litter
are just some of the ways that you can prove your worth to them.
Do you offer pets on a spay/neuter basis? How do you differentiate between show and
Most major registries now provide the breeder with the opportunity to check a "Not for
breeding" box. This gives them a means to urge you to have your pet spayed or neutered
and prevent accidental litters. Some breeders will even hold papers until you have
provided proof from your veterinarian of alteration. If this is the case, just be sure that
in the written contract it states when you will receive your papers. Avoid the breeder
who sells all their pups as breedable. This shows a lack of responsibility. Breeding should
be left to those who are adamantly dedicated to the breed, are continuously learning
about it, and have the time to devote to properly raising a litter and screening homes.
What kind of written guarantee do you provide?
These usually cover health defects, such as hip and eye problems, bites, dentition and
reproductive problems on breeding quality animals. Temperament and working ability may
or may not be included, as these may be affected by environment, training, and
socialization. Some breeders may specify just what your responsibilities are. These
usually include proper care, nutrition, socialization, training, etc. and for certain puppies
that you will make a concerted effort to show them. Routinely, breeding quality dogs are
sold with the stipulation that you will have the dog's hips and eyes checked before
breeding. A portion of breeders only sell dogs on co-ownership terms. This just gives
breeders a means of ensuring that you have taken all the proper steps before breeding,
so don't let this scare you away. Just make sure that you understand all the terms of the
contract. Besides, if you are a newcomer to the world of purebred dogs, it will give you
some of the guidance and wisdom of experience that you need. Needless to say, don't
even bother continuing with the conversation if the breeder doesn't have a written
guarantee. Yes, every puppy is a gamble. Breeders, too, have had their share of
disappointments. But if you're putting up a small nest egg, then you should have some kind
of means of recouping your money if something goes awry. If your dog does end up with a
genetic health problem (and these things sometimes happen despite great efforts to
avoid them), then the guarantee should offer part or all of your money back or a
How many years have you had this breed?
It should be pointed out that years of experience don't guarantee anything. There are
plenty of unscrupulous breeders who have racked up a number of years in the game. Some
people are quick learners and are very involved from the start. But the more years in the
dog world, the more experiences they are likely to have had with the breed. They know
what to expect and in which homes their dogs do best. Being highly opinionated doesn't
mean knowledgeable, either. Use your own intuition to judge whether the breeder you are
talking to is educated, accomplished and helpful.
What are the goals of your breeding program?
This is a question for which many aimless breeders may not have an answer. Breeders in it
for the long run have a goal. Those without one will be inconsistent in the dogs they
produce. Responses that address such things as structure, movement, working ability,
intelligence, etc. will tell you how much thought the breeder has given to what they are
doing. Progress requires a plan.
All of these questions can be applied to any breed. They are meant to guide you towards a
responsible breeder who has done their homework. It will also help steer you away from
irresponsible breeders who do not deserve to be monetarily rewarded for sloppy
breeding practices. Irresponsible breeders feed off ignorance, reluctance to ask
questions, and impulsivity. Having a purebred dog, breeding for a number of years, running
advertisements and even finishing championships or other titles do not in and of
themselves signify quality. Take time to find a breeder who maintains high ethics.
The price of a puppy can vary greatly. It is inadvisable to make cost your sole criteria of
selection. A high price in and of itself is not necessarily a reliable indicator of quality,
though. Yet many people who have gone for the bargain deal, have paid in vet bills and
headaches. . Rule out those you feel uncomfortable about or who don't have the right kind
of dog for you. Weigh all things. Be aware of what you need in a dog. The right dog, from
the right breeder, will come along in good time and give you many, many happy years of
unconditional love and unending loyalty.
Revised from an article written by
BUCKEYE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD CLUB EDUCATION COMMITTEE