Saturday, July 2, 2011

Identifying a Reputable Breeder, v.2

So, as an addendum to my previous post about how to find a reputable breeder, I am here again to provide you with a quick, easy reference guide on what questions you should ask to determine if the breeder is, in fact, a breeder, or if they are a “breeder” that must be avoided at all costs.  This has been modified significantly since its first posting to be more in-depth and understandable.  Remember, these questions should be brought up in natural conversation with the breeder, not presented as a list or ultimatum. In no particular order, here is the list.

1.   Why do you breed your dogs?  For show or sport prospects is one of the most legitimate answers you can receive.  What's best is an answer showing attentiveness towards the overall health and quality of the breed.  Answers along the lines of, “she needed to be a mother”, “to experience the miracle of life”, “they have the sweetest personalities”, “I wanted another [insert parent dog’s name here],” or any candy-coated or poorly thought answer is not what you want to hear and certainly not a reason you want to buy a dog. 
2.   Do you show or do sports with your dogs?  Though dog showing is thought to be frivolous by many, it's an invaluable place to evaluate breeding stock when the dog is judged correctly.  If the breeder in question shows his or her dogs, ask them what they value in the ring.  You are seeking a show breeder who breeds for excellence in construction and physical soundness.  Someone who breeds for coat, a pretty face, or appearance in general may be breeding beautiful dogs, but the overall health of the dog and the quality of the breed suffers. Physically demanding sports such as agility, sledding, or weight-pulling also demand a physically sound dog.  You will want to discuss what traits the breeder breeds for in finding a prospect for any sports, and ask how successful the dogs are in the field.  A poorly constructed dog is not going to do well and will suffer from injuries early in life as a result of the sport.  Many sports failures may indicate the breeder is not quite sure what he or she is doing.  Discuss the temperament bred for in the ring or on the field and determine if it's right for you and if it fits the breed.

3.   How many times are your dogs bred?  More than two is questionable, and any more than three is absolutely intolerable without proper reasoning behind the breedings. Unless the bitch is producing excellent puppies, there is usually little reason to breed beyond two or three times.  For further discussion on this topic, please see "Overbreeding".  You may want to ask “What age do you stop breeding?” as a follow up just for information’s sake.  Age seven is generally the latest a bitch should be bred.  Similarly, ask when the breeder begins breeding!  Two years is the absolute earliest a bitch or dog should be bred because that is the earliest a dog can have all of its health clearances.

4.   How many breeding pairs do you have?  Breeding pairs are usually a large red flag because they mean the bitches are being bred more than two or three times—to the same dog, no less. Unless the pair produces astounding puppies every pregnancy, there is no excuse for this. An outside stud should be sought to bring in new genes and improve a breeder's lines, and the stud is not found without many hours of research.  There are few cases where breeding pairs are acceptable and used by ethical breeders. Beware any number greater than zero.

5.   Do you do health testing on your animals?  If no, walk away!  Part of being a reputable breeder is attending to the genetic health of the breed.  Breeding without first testing for genetic disease and basic physical soundness is the Number One way to breed irresponsibly. Hip testing through OFA or PennHip, eye testing through CERF, and any genetic tests common to the breed are a must.  The breeder must be able to provide copies of the certificates and test results.  Verify the results on  Search the kennel name or a breeding dog's AKC registration number or registered name to find the results of genetic tests performed on the dog.  If there are no results, be weary.

6.   What are common ailments in the breed?  Any breeder will be able to tell you this information and should be offered in conjunction with the answer to the above question.  In addition to this, you will want to ask the breeder about incidences of such ailments in her breeding stock and previous litters.  Ask about ailments that cannot be genetically tested for, also, such as arthritis, cancers, or skeletal problems.  Again, the breeder should willingly and easily provide this information.

7.   Do your dogs have health guarantees?  The presence of a health guarantee could be very important in a few circumstances.  This is more of a way to protect you, the buyer, than it is to determine the responsibility level of the breeder in question.  The presence of a guarantee is usually a good sign, but some “breeders” have these also.  A health guarantee on the order of two years is required.  Health guarantees of one month, or even several months, are laughable and may as well not exist.

8.   If for any reason I can no longer take care of the dog, would you take it back?  All responsible breeders sell their dogs with a contract mandating a small number of things.  This absolutely must be included in contract that you, the consumer, are required to sign upon purchasing the dog. If not, this person is not a responsible breeder and contributes to the shelter dog situation.  You should not buy from them.

9.   Would you require me to spay/neuter my pet?  This is typically required in the aforementioned contract. If it is not, that is probably a bad sign, as the breeder is not attentive to the overpopulation problem.  If it is, great!  The breeder in no way contributes to dog overpopulation by selling dogs that can be irresponsibly bred. If you take issue with somebody requiring your animal to be altered, discuss the issue with the breeder and make your intentions clear.  They may be willing to let a dog go with you still, if they judge you to be an outstanding home in all other regards.  

10. Can you describe a day in the life of your dogs?  Ask related questions about the location of where the dogs eat/sleep/live or anything else as they arise if the information is not volunteered.  You are looking for dogs that are living happy, healthy lives! 

11. How long have your dogs lived and what have they died of?  A good breeder will be able to tell you not only information about their own dogs, but about other dogs in their lines. You should be able to have a good idea of the longevity of your animal and what diseases to look for later in life.  A newer breeder may not be able to answer this for her own dogs, but should be able to obtain this information for you.

12. Are your dogs registered with the AKC?  The AKC is the only reputable all-breed dog registry in America.   Other dog registries, like the ACA, are used to register just any dog and are widely regarded as puppy mill registries.  All dogs in the puppies' lines must be AKC registered.  Pet dogs are almost always sold on limited registration by reputable breeders--puppies bred by a dog on limited registration are not registrable by the AKC.  That is to say, if you or another purchaser of a puppy had a litter prior to your dog being altered, none of those puppies would be able to be registered by the AKC.  Someone selling a pet dog on a full registration is almost guaranteed to be an irreputable breeder.  Someone selling puppies without the ability to be AKC registered at all is certainly an irreputable breeder.  Just because the puppies can be registered, however, does not mean that they are reputably bred.  Similarly, a dog touted as having "champion lines" is probably not reputably bred.  Always remember: AKC registration alone is not a mark of quality, but it can be a useful indicator.

13. What age do you let your puppies go?  As discussed in previous articles, 8 weeks is the bare minimum age a puppy should be released from its littermates.  More and more literature suggests that puppies should be released even later than that, as puppies learn vital skills about how to be a dog during their time with their mothers and siblings.  Some breed clubs have even set a 10 or 12 week minimum age of release.  If the breeder is willing to let a puppy go before 8 weeks, stay away!  

The bare minimum a breeder can do to be responsible is health test, provide a high quality of life, and demand the dog be returned to the breeder if you are no longer able to care for it and it would otherwise need to be rehomed.  If you can find a breeder who does these three things, you have found someone worth talking to.  The other points addressed define a truly remarkable, reputable breeder, rather than a simply responsible one. Ideally, the breeder you want to support is someone who favorably answers all 13 of the above questions.  Generally, a breeder who fits the three main criteria also fit a majority of the other 10 points. 

The dialog between you and the breeder in question should not stop once you determine their status as reputable or not.  The following short list has been provided to facilitate further conversation.

1.       Tell them your situation (first dog ever, first dog living alone, want an adult, looking for a puppy) and ask if they have any dogs now or will have any in the future to suit you. 
2.       Can you recommend any other breeders I can be put in contact with? This question should be asked if the breeders do not have what you are looking for at this time.
3.       What vaccination schedule do you follow and why?
4.       What food do you feed and why?
5.       Have any of your dogs gone on to earn titles in sports? 
6.       Do you recommend any training techniques?
7.       Any other questions that you, the new owner, may have about the breed, the breeder, dogs in general, or the breeder’s dogs.

It’s highly recommended that you visit the site and meet the mother before committing to purchasing a dog from that person.  If that is impossible, prepare yourself to have the willpower to say no if something doesn’t feel right when you go to pick your puppy up.  You may be able to find information about their kennel on the internet, too, and see what other owners have to say about that breeder.  Finally, you should avoid your puppy being shipped unless necessary.  Meeting the breeder and seeing the dam and the condition of the home is something first-time buyers should do if at all possible.

If the breeder you are interviewing does not pan out, don't panic.  Return to your breed's national or regional club website, search the breeder directory, and choose the next one on the list.  Remember, not every breeder in the club will be reputable, but almost every available reputable breeder will be listed in the club--if not nationally, then locally.  Never rush into getting a dog.  The decision to get a dog from a reputable source is a great one worthy of great patience.  Not only will you be purchasing a top-quality dog, you'll be gaining a resource for life: your breeder, who will be there to support you through every bump in the road if you so require it.  Good luck in your search, be patient, and you will be able to enjoy a quality dog for many years to come. 

I hope you enjoyed my “Adopting a Dog” series!  My next post is Corgi specific.  Thanks for reading.  If you have any more questions about identifying reputable breeders or why some practices are more responsible than others, do not hesitate to ask. 


  1. No offense, but I don't believe breeders need to be coddled when talked to about issues that for all intents and purposes are ultimatums. If someone tells you that, no, they don't test for hip dysplasia, that is a deal breaker -- and as well it should be! Buyers should not feel bullied for making a list, or rude, or like they're telling someone "their business." Be direct! You have every right. You are making a 12-15 year financial and emotional commitment here, so you have just as much at stake. If a breeder really cares about their dog they will appreciate the fact that you are doing your best to be informed and ready, and not interrogating them for the fun of it.

    1. I believe that you are going to be much more successful in searching for a dog if you are pleasant and don't overwhelm the breeder with questions all at once. I don't see this as coddling them or feeling bullied, I just see it as proper etiquette. I have heard of people laying down a list in an email and they don't get a response at all from very good breeders, or the breeder gets annoyed or overwhelmed on the phone. My own breeder has said that while she loves it when people ask these questions (because that means they know what they are doing), she does get tired of answering all of them at once and she would much prefer they be asked gradually within conversation so she gets a better feel for the type of person she is talking to. Presenting these questions as one big list gives the breeder less opportunity to interview you as well. The answers to these questions are all vital and they could all be deal-breakers for a particular buyer, and their importance is not diminished by asking for them in a conversation vs all at once. Ask the most important questions first (health testing, contracts, etc) and if the buyer receives an unfavorable answer, then they should stop the conversation. You can be direct and choosy without presenting a list. Of course, a buyer can do whatever he or she pleases! I just feel they'll be most successful by not presenting a list.

  2. I like your article here, but I think you've got a couple points that could be refined better.

    1. A bitch's age at retirment REALLY varies a lot. Seven is fairly normal for a large breeds, but 8 (rarely older than that) isn't unheard of for smaller breeds.

    2. Spay/neuter- there are some very good arguments AGAINST spay/neuter (or at least delaying it until full maturity, especially in large and giant breeds. Many reputable breeders (particularly those involved with sports as their primary venue) will not have a spay/neuter requirement but will require a non-breeding contract (limited registration or similar) instead.

    3. Age that puppies should leave is a VERY hotly debated subject. As a trainer with almost 15 years of experience, I want my working or herding breed puppy home before their first fear period (around 11 weeks) and well-settled in. A toy breed puppy who tends to be less environmentally suspicious and more prone to liking all strangers, I am less concerned. With large breeds who tend to have large litters, there are simply not enough hours in the day to socialize each puppy individually to the variety of settings and stimuli that a dedicated owner with ONE puppy will be able to do. With toy breeds, later is much more common, especially due to the risk of hypoglycemia. Anything less than 8 weeks should be a red flag- but there's a great deal of variety past that, and it should be a point of discussion, not a dealbreaker.

    1. Hey, thanks a lot. I really appreciate your input. This article needs some work and I will consider refining those particular points of discussion when I go to edit it!