How to Find a Good Breeder

This is not as easy as you think – no one proudly announces that they breed inferior dogs. And frankly sometimes dogs produced from these kennels live long happy lives but many more think they are buying a healthy dog and instead they end up with a ticking time bomb.

What kind of puppy is right for you?

I know you always wanted this certain breed but do you match the breed. Read the breed standard and make sure that your lifestyle matches the dog. Do not buy a standoffish guard dog breed if your house is usually in chaos with lots of activity and strangers coming in all the time. You probably would do better with a breed of dog who loves activities. Just the same as you would not put three poodles out as guard dogs.

This goes for mutts too. I had a friend who whined about her Jack Russel/Cattle Dog cross. How it was neurotic. Shocker. She had no clue that Terriers have a high prey drive and Cattle Dogs have a work ethic that requires a lot of time to manage. The poor dog had no chance – his brain was giving him two distinct behaviors which were polar opposite. Oh but he was “so cute,” that worked for a while but the destructive tendencies and attacks on the person’s children ended up causing her to get rid of the dog. She realized she had the wrong dog and went to a rescue and ended up with a lovely lab and her dog began training as a therapy dog. A win win in the end but not all owners can recognize they made the wrong choice and made it right for all parties.

Where not to buy a puppy

Please, please, please do not buy a puppy from a pet store. These puppies may look cute but they are usually diseased and come from inferior stock who live their short pathetic lives in a small wire cage and whose crowning glory is that there uterus and testicles work. You over pay for an underwhelming dog and you condemn their parents to a pain filled existence. The worst puppy your money can buy.

Classifieds are usually one step up from a pet store. I perused the local classified and only ONE set of puppies even mentioned health testing – they usually have words like sweet, cute, adorable, smart, healthy, happy. All of that is subjective healthy could mean still breathing. Sure there are a few in the bunch that may be good but wading through the list will take more time than it is worth.

Same with the puppy sale websites. Many reputable breeders will not allow their puppies to be listed on these sites. Why? Because a puppy is not a car or a piece of furniture and a good breeder wants to find the right fit for their dog. Many years of blood, sweat and tears go into breeding. There is no money to be made in a hobby kennel – it is a work of love so a quick buck is not what is important.

Where to buy

This is where it is hard, if reputable breeders do not advertise how do you find them. A great way is to go to the parent club website and see a list of breeders listed as referrals.  The American Kennel Club website has a list of breeders, another place is the directory on the parent club of the breed (AKC is the registry but within AKC is a parent club that represents the breed itself).  It is easy to just search for the breed name and then parent registry.  Another is the AKC Breeder of Merit program, In this program a breeder has to meet minimum testing and registration requirements. Not every good breeder is listed as you need to have at least four litters to qualify and some people may only breed a litter every few years so they may not qualify.

What I have found is that word of mouth works well. Usually a breeder will refer someone who contacted them to a fellow breeder with an upcoming litter. When talking to a breeder it is important you feel comfortable. Most breeder expect to keep a relationship with their puppy buyers so it is important that you like them and they like you.

Most reputable breeders will sell a pet puppy with limited registration. This means you are not allowed to breed the dog and no puppies will be eligible for breeding. While at first glance it seems a bit punitive the reason for this is that most breeders only want the smallest number of puppies to reproduce. A pet puppy is equal to a show puppy in most area, it may just have a flaw that would not allow it to be shown (mismarked color, too much white, a missing tooth etc). This puppy will be your next agility champion but will not be shown in conformation.

Sometimes a breeder will sell a puppy to someone on limited registration with specific requirements to move the puppy up to full registration. Perhaps requiring all health testing and conformation or performance goals. Again, meet a breeder and feel comfortable and write it all down. All expectations from both sides should be in a contract, signed by both parties.  A reputable breeder will also guarantee to take the puppy back at ANY time in their life.  If they will not then contact another breeder.

Mandatory Requirements for a healthy puppy

Every breed has differing types of tests required. For my breed, Australian Shepherds, a reputable Australian Shepherd breeder will have at minimum hips and eye testing completed for all breeding animals. For Australian Shepherds hip dysplasia, epilepsy, cataracts and cancer are in the bloodlines. A good breeder will cull it’s lines of dogs with these diseases.  Check my page on Health and Genetics for more details.

When a breeder says hips are OFA’d this means that xrays were sent in the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and a panels of veterinarians reviewed and graded that portion of the dog’s body. Excellent, Good and Fair are all passing grades for hips, in some tests like elbows, the grades are either normal or some form of dysplasia.

Eye tests are done by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists at the Canine Eye Registry Foundation or CERF. Eyes are tested for cataracts or other eye diseases and should be tested every year. CERF testing can be found on their website on on the OFA website. If you go to a breeder and they say their dogs are tested go to these websites and verify. People lie all the time, you cannot lie in these tests, especially if the dog has been micro chipped. If they are micro chipped the number will be displayed with results.

The best news is any of these results can be found online and a reputable breeder will be happy to show you testing on all mandatory breed specific tests and usually will do many of the optional genetic test too. Testing does not always mean the dog will not have issues but it will significantly lessen the chance.

If the breeder does not test it’s dogs for all testing that the breed recommends then find another breeder.

There are plenty of breeders who do test. And remember to verify the testing – do not just take their word.

Use your head not your heart

I know that you have a specific color or sex in your mind when you go puppy searching. But if you want a blue merle with blue eyes and a big white collar you have wiped 90% of puppies off your list. A better idea would be to tell a breeder what you want to do with the puppy.

When I bred Bummy to Lance, one puppy went to my niece and nephew as a pet. One question that has not discussed was color. What did they get? A blue merle girl who rules her home with an Iron Paw and is a great pet for children.  She is not shy, has an active personality and is very social.  All in all she was perfect for them and was honestly the puppy I could have sold 20 times!!!

When I bought Bummy, in my mind I wanted a black tri male, I ended up with a blue merle female – go figure. But she was the best dog for me. In the end color and sex are not as important as a good fit personally. Don’t discount the perfect dog on the inside because his coat or eyes do not match what you thought you wanted.