Most puppies are cute. Darned near irresistible in fact! Please don't be seduced. The little puppy that you bring home with you is going to grow into a dog, and hopefully that dog will be part of your life for a long time. You'll both be happier if he has a good start in life. Buying from a responsible breeder increases your chances of getting a healthy canine companion that has the physique and personality you expect in the breed.
Let's begin your search for a responsible breeder. Start with your local kennel club or breed club. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has a list of clubs on its website at www.akc.org. A visit to a nearby dog show, sporting event, or herding trial will lead you to breeders and give you a chance to see lots of dogs. Just remember that you're the one who's there to gawk and talk—the breeders are there to compete with their dogs. For spectators, a dog show is a show, but to the participants it's competition. Some will be happy to talk while they prepare their dogs, but others may be preoccupied with what they're doing. Don't expect people to stop their preparations to chat with you. Buy a show catalog, cruise the vendor booths, watch the dogs, and enjoy yourself. Don't forget to visit the obedience and agility rings. The names and addresses of the owners and breeders of the dogs are in the show catalog. You can contact them after the show for more information and leads on puppies. For now, watch, enjoy, and learn.
More than 15,000 competitive events with approximately 2,000,000 entries take place each year under AKC rules. Dogs can earn more than 40 AKC titles in three general categories: conformation; obedience, tracking, and agility; and a variety of performance events. Additional competitive programs are offered through other registries.
But wait! You don't want to buy a show dog or a working dog, right? Just a nice pet. Why should you look at show dogs or dogs at sporting trials, or talk to their breeders? Because, as we saw earlier, serious breeders are involved in activities that prove their dogs' abilities. Not every well-bred puppy is a future competition star. In a litter from two champions, most of the pups will probably not be show material. So every litter is likely to have a few pups destined to be pets, not competitors—and that's a fine calling for a dog! The faults that keep them out of competition are usually minor—in fact, most people won't see them even if the breeder points them out. For instance, a puppy might have a splotch of white where he shouldn't, or a kink in his tail. The fact is that the least puppy from a well-bred litter will grow into a much better dog than the best pup from a badly bred litter.
You may be lucky enough to find a well-bred puppy through a newspaper advertisement, but most responsible breeders don't advertise in the newspaper. Magazines like Dog Fancy and Dog World feature breeder ads, but be careful. Some very appealing ads are placed by puppy mills and other sleazy characters.
Another good way to get a lead on a breeder is by referral. If you see a dog you like, find out where he came from. Ask about health problems and temperament. Ask how helpful and supportive the breeder was after as well as before the sale. If the dog came from a responsible breeder, contact her. Even if she doesn't have a puppy for you, she may be able to refer you to someone.
As you investigate breeders, it may be helpful to have a checklist handy. Here are some things to remember.
A responsible breeder …
- Keeps her puppies until they're seven weeks old or older.
- Answers your questions—and is happy that you're asking them!
- Welcomes you to visit her home or kennel, and meet her dogs.
- Asks about your lifestyle, your family, your experience with dogs, why you want this breed of dog, and lots more.
- Belongs to one or more dog clubs.
- Breeds only dogs that have been tested for hereditary diseases known to occur in the breed, and shows you the certificates.
- Knows about relatives of the sire and dam.
- Acknowledges that inherited problems occur and does not claim that her dogs' bloodlines are free of health problems (there's no such thing as a “clean line”).
- Is cautious about selling you a breedable dog until you prove yourself responsible.
- Tells you about the downside of owning her breed.
- Handles and socializes her puppies.
- Keeps her dogs in a clean environment.
- Knows every dog by name.
- Knows every puppy as an individual.
- Happily refers you to her previous buyers.
- Asks for and checks your references.
- Does not sell “purebred but unregistered” puppies and does not charge extra for “papers.”
- Does not pressure you to buy a puppy—in fact, she makes you prove you're worthy of owning one!