Choosing the right puppy will prove to be a critical part of your future. Puppies bred by responsible and caring breeders are worth the time and effort it takes to find them. MOST breeders, even the most well intentioned, don’t do the best possible for their puppies, but this guide will help you separate the good from the bad. True, good puppies can come from bad breeders, but do you really need to take that chance?
The most important thing for you to know is that your puppy’s life experiences before you take him home will contribute to his ease of training and ability to adjust to new experiences. Some of what he will be like is predetermined by genetics, but many undesirable qualities can be recognized and helped by an alert and dedicated breeder. A good breeder will recognize a fearful or shy puppy and employ techniques to increase his confidence and give him tools to feel safe in his world. More importantly, a good breeder will recognize that a particular puppy is not the right one for an inexperienced dog owner (like you) and will keep you from accidentally making a tragic mistake.
The wrong puppy can be bad on so many levels. For example, seeing your new puppy being afraid of everything the world has to offer, hearing that the barking and growling and biting he does actually IS aggression and that your daughter’s friend’s face will never look the same since that bite your puppy gave her, being told by your Veterinarian that your dog will need Prozac and training to be able to live with just a tolerable degree of anxiety and watching the littermates you adopted turn into aggressive, fearful brats by the time they are a year old. Yes, there are lots of horror stories about bad matches and bad dogs and, yes, they are true and, more importantly, they are preventable. This guide will help you make the best choices when you are faced with picking the right puppy.
The following are suggestions for choosing a great breeder; the suggestions are meant for the average person who wants a super, smart and friendly companion dog.
Regardless of the breed or mix of breeds a good breeder will:
He/she will also:
And a good breeder will expect you to ask questions too:
Some important things to know about the answers:
You are looking for a breeder who is aware of everything about their breed or mix. They know the good qualities and the potential for bad. They should warn you if Hip Dysplasia is common in their breed or if the dogs are prone to hearing or vision problems. Toy breeds, for example, are VERY prone to having Luxating Patellas (kneecaps that slip out of place). This can be a painful and expensive condition. The breeder should let you know the pup’s knees have been checked and that they will give you the Veterinarian’s report in writing.
A breeder who doesn’t show or compete or perform with their dog in some way probably shouldn’t be breeding. Lots of people have pet dogs that they breed with no knowledge of the problems they might produce. The reason they bred the litter is often that they wanted a puppy from this dog or that she’s really pretty. They have seldom done any research; including making sure their own dog is free of hip or eye problems before breeding. They also seem unaware that finding homes for puppies is easy; it’s finding homes that won’t give a dog up when the going gets tough that’s the problem. Unless other answers prove otherwise, this is a “backyard breeder.” Please don’t support their decision to add more dogs to the world by buying one of theirs.
The following discussion addresses the handling, socializing and preparatory training of the pups. Make no mistake! Early handling and training is critical.
In a perfect world, you are looking for a breeder who knows that they are shaping babies minds. The breeder should proudly explain that the puppies have been exposed to many different footing surfaces, that they have been held and petted by many different people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and have played in lots of different kinds of boxes, tunnels, ramps and even water in a little mock pool. The breeder would let you know that the puppies have been together and with their mom even though she weaned them weeks ago. Puppies learn so many important things from their dog families, things that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Many breeders, even very well thought of ones, still separate the puppies from their moms when they start eating real food. This results in pups who are bossy and pushy and lack self control. They are not used to rules. Mom would normally let them know that she is the boss and they’d better obey the rules. Mom should be allowed to growl at them and even snap at them as needed to keep them in line. These lessons carry over to remind the pup that he is not the end-all-be-all.
The world isn’t perfect, though, and a breeder who even comes close to being perfect is quite a find!
At the minimum, the puppies should have:
A breeder who doesn’t allow visitors until the puppies are 8 weeks old is setting them up for fear and failure. A breeder who keeps the pups until they are 12 weeks old had better be taking them for rides in the car, walks on the street and having over 50 people in to visit them (not all at once of course). They should be used to hearing the TV with loud shows and even war movies. They should be used to the dishwasher and fans and water hoses. The puppies should be sleeping in a crate, alone, and learning about being housebroken. Otherwise I would avoid buying a pup from this breeder. There is work that goes along with keeping puppies ‘til they’re older and if the breeder doesn’t do it the puppy suffers.
I have seen too many puppies purchased by well meaning owners because the puppy “lived on a farm” and the breeder was so nice. The problem with puppies being raised on a farm is that not many people drop by. Often the parents aren’t really well socialized and the puppies are worse than the parents. Dogs raised in this manner are often fearful and shy. Their lives are miserable and so are their owner’s lives. They often never learn to enjoy new things and may become aggressive.
If you are not allowed to meet the pup’s mother, find another litter. If the mother is aggressive or very shy, her puppies will have a good chance of being aggressive and/or shy. The mother dog should act appropriately for a dog of her breed. In other words, if she’s anything other than a guard dog (which you shouldn’t even be looking at!), she should be happy to see you and happy to be petted and fussed over. Being “protective of her puppies” is not good and you will need to find another litter.
Aggression is a serious condition. It cannot be cured and often requires intensive management to keep people safe. People who end up with an aggressive dog have their work cut out for them and often end up having to euthanize their beloved family member. They also, often, end up living with the reminder that their beloved family member disfigured another beloved family member.
If a breeder is willing (or eager) to sell you two puppies from the same litter, find another breeder. A good breeder will know that it’s not good for littermates to be raised together. It actually increases the work for the new owner and cuts down on the attention each puppy receives. If puppies are not separated, they become two halves of one dog. They rely on each other for everything and often develop separation anxiety and aggression problems. They find it easier to communicate with each other than with humans so they turn to each other when humans confuse them. To successfully raise littermates they should be kept separately, walked and trained separately, crated separately and they should receive all of their attention separately until they are about a year old. As you can see, rather than two puppies taking pressure off of the family, they are actually a lot more work. If you want two puppies, raise one first. Make sure he is socialized, housetrained and trustworthy, then add a puppy to your household.
It’s common for the pup’s father to not be on the premises. But you should ask what he’s like and meet him if possible. Ask to see pictures of him and a pedigree if a purebred. If a breeder is selling purebred pups and can’t show you pedigrees for both parents, find another litter. Breeders who are making wise decisions are using pedigrees to make them. Ask the breeder of the mixed breed pups why he chose that dog to father the litter and if you can meet him. The answer should make it clear that thought went into the selection and that the puppy’s health and temperament were the priority.
Some breeders “line breed.” They breed within the same lines to produce the best quality. You will see the same kennel name over and over. You may even see the same dogs listed multiple times. When done by experienced breeders this can eliminate problems in the “line” or family of dogs or it can bring certain qualities to the surface. Sometimes these are good qualities like coat texture or quality and sometimes they are bad qualities, like Hip Dysplasia or Epilepsy. Line breeding cannot create bad qualities; it can only expose qualities already there. Most breeders who line breed are extremely experienced and responsible and know what the pups will be like even before the breeding. On the other hand, some sellers have a brother and sister or a mother and son and breed them with no thought to what they could be producing. Those “breeders” are after the almighty dollar and you should run away!
A pedigree is a family tree. The pup’s parents will be the first two dogs listed. If you are buying a purebred, it’s important that at least one of these have Ch. before its name. Ch. is short for the title Champion. If the breeder is breeding for performance, the titles will follow the dog’s name. Different sports have different titles and the breeder should be happy to point them out and explain their meaning. Farther back in the pedigree, at least 80% of the dogs should be titled in something.
Some puppies are bred in puppy mills, a common term for a puppy farming operation where dogs are treated as livestock. The mother dogs often live their entire lives in rabbit style hutches and small pens. Puppy mills were an accepted part of the dog world after the dust bowl and depression. Brokers went to bankrupt pig farmers and left them dogs of breeding age. The farmer just had to feed the dogs and raise the puppies to weaning age, and then the broker would come and get them, pay the farmer and take them to a central warehouse where they were distributed to various pet stores and Sears. Yes, the puppies that used to be sold through the Sears catalogs were from puppy mills.
Today, puppy mills are pretty much the same except that they are older and the breeder dogs they use are the result of generations of breeding for only one quality: salability. The puppy mill brokers often send buyers on trips to unsuspecting and eager breeders where they replenish their stock with the occasional “champion bloodline” dog. They also go looking for highly desirable and rare breeds like Havanese and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Much of the reason breeders of excellent quality dogs can be hard to buy from is that they are very wary of their dogs ending up in a puppy mill. The puppy mill buyers are very smooth and smart. There are still brokers and warehouses and even auctions where breeding stock is sold.
But now we know more than we did then. We know that dogs raised in that manner are not healthy physically or mentally. We know that dogs should not live as livestock and we know that breeding a dog every time it comes into season is bad for it. We know that breaking a mother dog’s jaw to keep her from biting the person who is reaching into her cage to take her puppies is not acceptable. We know that raising puppies on wire with little food and no toys is wrong. It makes puppy mill puppies nearly impossible to housebreak and often they learn to eat their own stool because it’s the only thing to play with in their cage. While I hate to say this, be extra careful if you’re dealing with a breeder in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Pennsylvania (the Amish are well known for having puppy farms) and Missouri. These states are home to MANY puppy mills and brokerages.
Websites are another way for puppy mills to sell their wares. Their websites don’t say they are a puppy mill. In fact their websites are often very commercial and catchy. They will have pictures of a dog or two in their home; they will have lots of pictures from satisfied buyers. But they WON’T have pedigrees or win photos or pictures of their home-bred Champions. They WON’T have links to the breed clubs they are members of and they won’t GRILL you before you buy a pup. They will be VERY familiar with shipping protocols and they will dazzle you with their love of their dogs. Keep in mind that you are about to pay them MANY TIMES what the broker will for their puppy and they want you to BUY.
Puppy mills are insidious. I boycotted the American Kennel Club for years because I felt they needed to do something to stop puppy mills. They did; they instituted DNA testing for frequently used sires and dams. The testing would ruin puppy mills because their record keeping is abysmal and they wouldn’t want to spend more money on their dogs. Puppy mill puppies are frequently not who their registration papers and pedigrees say they are. I have first hand experience watching “papers” change from a non-registered puppy to a registered one. If a puppy or dog died, the mill would keep the papers and use them for another dog down the line.
I was very happy to know the change would make things better for dogs but the puppy mills, knowing they needed a kennel club affiliation, created their own kennel clubs. Pet stores and brokers all over the country will tell you that the new kennel clubs are better than the AKC. They are abusing dogs in mind numbing numbers.
If a purebred puppy’s registration is with the CKC, ask to see the registration. If it says anything other than Canadian Kennel Club, the puppy’s parents or grandparents are from a puppy mill. Period. The people who bought the parents probably didn’t realize that they were from a puppy mill and might not appreciate you telling them that they are. Just be glad you know and go find another litter. Some people think of buying puppy mill dogs as rescue and in a very real sense, it is. But every time they sell a puppy it’s on the back of a broken, beaten and lonely dog just trying to stay alive. Buying their puppies enables them to stay in business.
Acceptable all breed registries are:
Other registries were created to get around the strict rules of the above. Many of the puppy mill registries make their initials sound like the acceptable ones to cash in on inexperienced puppy seekers.
“Papers” usually refers to the registration status of the puppy. Registration may be limited or full, depending on the breeder and the quality of the puppy you are purchasing. Never accept “I’m waiting for the papers” when it’s the parent’s papers you are discussing. It’s possible that the puppies’ papers may be delayed (very rarely) but the owner MUST have the parents registration certificates for you to look at and, as mentioned above, the pedigree.
If you follow the advice given here, chances are still high that emotion will kick in and color your puppy search. It’s often a good idea to enlist the help of a friend or relative you can share this information with but who is not emotionally invested in the puppy. Take him or her with you and make sure you take this guide as well. If the breeder’s story changes between you talking with him on the phone and when you get there, run away! Have your assistant keep track of stories and remind you if you start losing focus. Emotion is a beautiful thing and you will be able to use it all on your new puppy when you find the right one. Don’t buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it.