Buying a new puppy from a trustworthy, honest breeder can be a fantastic experience for you and your family! Reputable breeders typically possess a wealth of knowledge and expertise which you can tap into to make the transition into puppy ownership a smooth one. A responsible breeder will be able to tell you nearly everything you need to know about your new puppy, as well as what you can expect from them as they grow older.
Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to the dog world.
Because of the high demand for dogs, many breeders have emerged who are more interested in “profits” than healthy, happy dogs. Anyone who puts making money ahead of the health and well-being of their animals should be avoided. In the worst cases, these people raise hundreds of dogs in deplorable conditions. It’s heartbreaking and is often described by the term “puppy mill”. In less obvious cases, it involves the neglect and mistreatment of just a few dogs, by people who may not even think they are doing anything wrong, but who are causing their dogs to suffer unnecessarily.
Some of these breeders are easy to spot and avoid, while some are more difficult to detect.
However, using the information in this chapter we hope to equip you with the knowledge you will need to weed out anyone who puts profits above puppies.
Identifying a Poor Breeder
In chapter three, you started to make a list of potential breeders who you had identified in your area. Using this list, you’ll start by doing some online research to see if any red flags pop up about the breeders.
1. Use a Google search to check for any online complaints or poor reviews:
- Search: “(Breeder name)” review (if the name is common, Countryside Retrievers for example, then also include the city they are located in)
- Search: “(Breeder name)” complaint
If they have bad reviews or complaints you will usually see it in the top ten search results, but it’s a good idea to check page two of the results as well.
Here’s an example of a breeder with some bad reviews:
You’ll notice that the second and third results are both from “Ripoff Report,” a website where customers can discuss companies they feel have ripped them off. If you were considering Priceless Pups, it would be a good idea to check those links and read the reports to see what other people have said about their experience with the breeder.
Use this method for any breeders who you are considering. Most won’t have any bad reviews, because most breeders are great. But some will, and you’ll want to avoid any who look untrustworthy.
2. Narrow down your finalists:
Ideally you will want to have between two and four finalists that you can thoroughly inspect before making a final decision. If your list is longer than that, try to narrow it down based on the information you have gathered about each one until you get the final list to fewer than five breeders.
However, we understand that due to location, or lack of breeders, you sometimes may only have one breeder close to you. If that’s the case, check out the nearby breeder first, and if they don’t fit your strict requirements, then be prepared to expand your search radius or look for another similar breed. DO NOT settle on a breeder just because they are the only convenient option. You will always have other options, some may just take a little more effort.
3. Your responsibility as a dog owner:
Since you have already done a thorough Internet search of the breeder to look for any negative feedback or customer reviews, your finalists should be ones with no (or very few) disgruntled customers. You can now move onto the vetting stage of the breeder selection process. And no, in this case, vetting doesn’t have anything to do with a veterinarian; it simply means “to make a careful and critical examination of something.”
4. Why do you need to vet your breeders?
This is a valid question; it would be nice if you didn’t have to closely examine the breeders who could be raising your future puppy. However, due to the large commercial dog breeding industry, it’s important to you and your future puppy that you make sure you are buying your puppy from a responsible, ethical breeder.
Some large-scale breeding facilities have deplorable conditions bordering on or qualifying as animal abuse. Supporting these operations would be irresponsible, only continuing the cycle of abuse and neglect that these thousands of dogs deal with every day. Consider that as you go through the process of selecting a breeder.
What to Do Before Visiting a Breeder
Step 1: Double-check their online presence
Some breeders will not have websites. However, you can usually gain some insight into a breeder’s practices through a simple Google search. If they have a website, check their pictures, customer testimonials, the number of litters they have a year, and anything else that might let you know how big or small the operation is. In this case, bigger is usually not better. In fact, many of the best breeders only have a few dogs.
Also, having a sleek, well-run website doesn’t necessarily mean they are a quality breeder either. There are many great breeders with no website at all.
Step 2: Call the breeder
It’s very important to call and talk to the breeder before deciding to go and visit. One phone call can give you a great deal of information about breeding practices, if you know what questions to ask. Here is a list of questions you can ask and what responses to look for.
Ten questions to ask a potential breeder:
- How often do you breed, and how many litters has this female had?
- If they breed every cycle, it’s not good for the female and may mean they are overbreeding.
- How long have you been breeding dogs?
- Longer is typically better, so you’ll want to hear ten or more years. If they say “not very long” it could be a red flag, but that alone shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
- How many different dogs do you breed?
- If a breeder is switching from breed to breed, or has many different breeds, it could be an indication that they are more concerned with profit than the welfare of the breed(s) or the welfare of the dogs. You will need to be especially thorough with your vetting process.
- Do you belong to any clubs or organizations?
- Most good breeders will belong to state or national breeder clubs, or be involved in breed welfare or general dog welfare on some level.
- How old are the mother and father?
- As a general rule of thumb, dogs need to be at least two years old before they start breeding. Most breeds are considered too immature to breed before that.
- What types of defects and diseases are common within the breed? What are you doing to avoid them?
- Almost every breed has some common health issues, and any breeder who says otherwise either doesn’t know enough about his breed or is lying to you.
- Are you willing to take the dog back for any reason if we can’t keep it?
- A great breeder will insist that you return the dog to them if you are unable to keep it within the first couple years. Many others will give you a certain time frame for returning the puppy. And some will not allow returns, which is a red flag.
- Have you evaluated the puppies’ temperaments, and can you make a recommendation based on our needs?
- A good breeder will know their puppies well and will be able to tell you which pup will fit your lifestyle. A large, active family needs a social and active puppy, while a quiet household will do better with a puppy who has a reserved personality.
- What shots have the puppies had? What shots or vet care will they need? Can you provide me with a checklist?
- Any good breeder will have this information organized and available even before you purchase from them.
- Can you provide me with references to call?
- If a breeder says no, this is a red flag. Any decent breeder will have a list of satisfied families who currently have their puppies. When they do provide you with the references (ask for at least three), be prepared to call and talk with them.
Download this list of questions!
Other things to remember on your call:
- Beware of sales tactics.
- If a breeder tries to pressure you into visiting or buying a puppy quickly because they have so many other customers, that is a red flag. Even if it’s true, a great breeder never wants to try to pressure someone into buying a dog before they’re ready. If you feel pressured at all, it’s almost a sure sign of a salesman rather than a concerned breeder.
- Take note of their friendliness and courtesy.
- Someone who is rude or short on the phone is probably also rude or short in real life. Do you really want to buy your puppy from someone like that?
- Be grateful for their time.
- If you follow these instructions you will certainly be one of the more thorough potential customers this breeder has come across, and they may not be used to spending that much time on the phone. Let them know you appreciate their time; it’s just the nice thing to do.
Step 3: Call the references
Before visiting any breeder, you should call the references they provided you and ask a few basic questions. This will give you an even greater insight into the breeders practices, and just as importantly, into how their puppies develop once they arrive at their new owners’ homes.
Use this list of questions to help you in the process:
- How did you find out about this breeder, and what made you decide to get your puppy from them?
- This question will tell you a lot! If they say they did a thorough job researching and finding the best breeder, then that should be a huge vote of confidence in this breeder. They basically did all the same work you are doing and decided this was the best breeder to choose! However, if they say “he/she is a friend of ours” or they indicate that they just stumbled across the breeder without doing much research, you’ll have to do a little more digging before you can make any conclusions.
- Have you had any behavioral or health issues with your puppy since you took them home?
- Hopefully this dog owner has had their puppy more than a few months and can give you some real insight into the health and temperament of the dog. Obviously if they say anything negative, you will need to take it into consideration.
- Have you had any issues communicating with the breeder since you got your puppy home?
- Most new dog owners end up contacting the breeder at least once or twice in the first weeks after getting their new pup home. If they say that the breeder was helpful and courteous, then you should be able to expect the same.
- Would you go back to this breeder for another dog in the future?
- Their answer can be very telling. Many people (especially Americans) are more concerned with being “polite” rather than “honest” when talking about someone else. However, when you ask about what THEY will do, they tend to tell the truth. If a reference says “No”, or even seems unsure about going back to the breeder, you should consider this a big red flag.
Step 4: Choosing the first breeder visit
After thoroughly checking each of your finalists and placing all the reference calls, it’s time to rank your list of finalists. It will be important to visit the number one breeder first because, much like buying a car, most people end up buying from the first place they stop.
However, the evaluation process isn’t done yet, and in Chapter 6 we walk you through how to evaluate the breeder during your first visit.