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Starting off on the Right Paw – Part 2: Choosing a good breeder

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Last month, I talked about choosing the right breed in part 1 of my series on “Starting off on the Right Paw”.  This month I will talk about finding a good breeder.  If you choose to get a purebred puppy, finding a responsible and knowledgeable breeder is key to bringing home a puppy that will be behaviorally and physically healthy.  (Not interested in getting a dog from a breeder?  Not to worry.  Last month’s post still has some useful information on picking the right breed and future posts will discuss adopting a dog from a shelter.)

Finding Breeders

The first step is gathering a list of names of dog breeders.  There are a number of possible sources for finding these names, including:

  • Breed clubs
  • Rescue groups
  • Animal shelters
  • Dog owners
  • Veterinarians
  • Web searches
  • Dog trainers
  • Attending dog shows

Once you have a list of names, it’s time to start screening those names to find the best breeder you can possible find.

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Choosing a Breeder

There are many different things to consider when looking for a dog.  First, I will discuss warning signs.  These signs should tell you to either proceed with extreme caution or to find a different breeder entirely.  After the warning signs, I also include a list of qualities that I believe make breeders stand out as excellent.

**Please note that the original blog post was written pre-COVID. Some of the guidelines regarding visiting the breeder’s home may have changed since then. For example, I would no longer avoid a breeder *just* because they didn’t want me in their home. If just means you’ll need to be particularly comfortable with everything else they are doing. I would place particular emphasis on finding a breeder that meets the criteria at the bottom on this blog for breeders that are the “cream of the crop”.

If any of the following are true, I would look elsewhere for a dog:

  • The breeder will not allow you to visit the property
  • The breeder doesn’t want you to interact with (or even see) the mother or the father of the puppies (Often, fathers will be off property. Therefore, meeting them is not always possible.  Absent fathers alone are not a cause for concern, but often responsible breeders will give you the contact information for whomever owns dad so you can meet him too.  However, if dad lives with the breeder and you still are not allowed to meet him, that’s a bad sign.)
  • The dogs are kept in unsanitary or otherwise unacceptable conditions (for example, small cages)
  • The breeder doesn’t screen you in any way to determine if you will be a good home for their puppy
  • Mom and/or dad are aggressive or extremely shy or fearful
  • The breeder always has puppies available
  • The breeder is unable or unwilling to provide veterinary records for the puppies or evidence of any screening tests recommended for a particular breed (this won’t be applicable for every breed. Do your research ahead of time so you know which screening tests are recommended for each breed.)
  • Females are being bred before one year of age
  • The breeder is willing to send a puppy home prior to 6 weeks of age (8 weeks is standard, some breeders are now delaying until 9 weeks, I would only do this if you’re convinced they are doing an excellent job of socialization)

Proceed with extreme caution if any of the following are true (if several are true, I would look elsewhere):

  • The breeder breeds more than two different kinds of dogs
  • The breeder has more than two litters available per year
  • The breeder doesn’t require you to sign a contract
  • Mom and/or dad are shy or nervous around strangers
  • The breeder only focuses on the merits of their particular breed and doesn’t discuss any potential concerns with you. (All dogs have potential downfalls, especially for certain families. For example, border collies are excellent for highly active people that are interested in spending a lot of time exercising and training their dogs.  They can be completely disastrous for a typical family that leaves a dog home all day and only plans on giving it one short walk around the neighborhood a few times a week.)
  • The breeder doesn’t insist that the dog is returned to them if you can’t keep it for any reason

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Any responsible breeder will have a limited number of dogs and will not breed any one dog more than once a year.  In fact, many breeders only breed a female two or three times in a lifetime.  In addition, responsible breeders will be knowledgeable about breed-related health problems and how to minimize the risk of hereditary disorders.  If there are tests that can be done to identify risk for certain genetic health problems, responsible breeders will conduct those tests and provide you with proof.  Their dogs will be friendly and well cared for.  These breeders will also put you through the ringer to determine if you can provide a good home for their puppies.  You will often have to wait many months or a year or more before they have a dog available.

If you follow these guidelines, you will probably be able to find a good breeder with good puppies.  However, I am extremely picky, so I have additional standards that I would look for if I was getting a dog from a breeder.  Please note that things get a little trickier here.  These are very high standards and, depending on what breed you are looking for, you may not always be able to find breeders in your area that meet these standards.  A breeder the fits the guidelines listed in the paragraph above, and doesn’t have any of the warning signs, is probably still a great breeder and you should be in good shape getting a dog from any of those breeders.  But if you can find a breeder that also does any of the things listed below, even better!

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If you want the cream of the crop, look for a breeder that:

  • is extremely knowledgeable about dog behavior, especially early development. (This means, among other things, that they do not promote dominance/correction based training methods. Look for breeders that use primarily positive reinforcement.)
  • does early environmental stimulation and/or Puppy Culture.
  • raises their puppies in the home in an area where they see family members on a regular basis. Litters raised in a quieter area of the house so they get some down time are fine, but beware of dogs raised in a room of the house so isolated that don’t get to experience every day household noises and activity (people coming in and out, vacuum running, phone ringing, etc.)
  • has already put time into socializing the puppies with a variety of people (children, teenagers, strangers, etc. They may not have taken the pups off property to minimize disease exposure, but they can still invite people over to visit).
  • has already begun to housetrain and/or crate train the puppies prior to sending them to their new home.
  • encourages (or even requires) you to attend a puppy class based on positive training techniques.
  • is very active with their dog and does more than just confirmation training with their dog. I like to see dogs that have therapy dog or CGC titles as well as obedience and agility titles. (Keep in mind that dogs with agility and possibly obedience titles may be more like working dogs, so they won’t be suitable for every pet home.  However, therapy dog and CGC titles are excellent because they indicate that the dog has a good temperament).

If you’re thinking about getting a new puppy in the next year or two, now is the time to get out there and start looking for breeders!

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Kristina Spaulding

Kristina Spaulding

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