As discussed in my last blog, before buying a puppy, there are many things that the careful and wise buyer wants to educate themselves about to ensure the best experience possible. Once you have figured out which breed(s) suits/interests you and have educated yourself about the positives, negatives and potential issues, including health issues, the final step is to find possible breeders of interest and most importantly at long last - your puppy! Many breeders are doing their due diligence to produce and raise the best puppies possible. 0thers are just giving this lip service, and with all the seemingly "right" answers to questions, it is not always easy to tell the difference.
No one can guarantee a healthy puppy. Just like human couples that do "everything right" during the pregnancy will say "we do not care if we have a boy or a girl, as long as the baby is healthy". Even with the utmost of caution, things can and do go wrong. Some have perpetuated the notion that a responsible breeder can guarantee a perfect and normal outcome in every way and that anything wrong is the breeder's fault. Just like the dedicated parent cannot dictate that their child is problem free, the dedicated breeder also cannot have everything in their complete control. This is an unrealistic expectation with any living being.
If a breeder tells you that their dogs are completely healthy and are not at risk to develop any health issues or genetic disease and therefore they do not do health or genetic testing, then you should have some big questions. If they back this up with a "guarantee" of a healthy puppy, then read the fine print; it may make for some interesting reading. The words "our puppies have no health issues" may be music to a buyer’s ears. Everyone wants an assurance that their puppy will be healthy. When a breeder tells them they have "the best and healthiest dogs these words sound great; but, the educated buyer realizes that these claims ring false. There is no such thing as perfect puppy and this word sets off alarms for me from a breeder or from a potential buyer standpoint. If a buyer tells me that they are only looking for a perfect dog, then I tell them that they will have to keep looking, that I have no perfect dogs. A puppy requires a lot of hard work and training and goes through many imperfect stages before becoming a well-rounded adult assuming the owner does their part with raising and training.
To the other end of the extreme, some breeders will have a lengthy list of health tests, some of which do not relate to their breed. This creates a long list of health clearances that may look impressive but could have relatively little meaning. This is why it is important to educate yourself about the issues that are specific to the breed. Paw Print Genetics™ helps breeders or buyers test for issues that are breed specific and/or breed related. The key is making certain that the test for the known breed issues are included in that long list of health test results.
If you are primarily interested in the ease of obtaining the puppy and how much the puppy costs, then you can get a puppy just about anywhere. Assuming that you realize that your dog will be an investment of time, energy, love and money for many years to come, the goal is to find a breeder whose care and investment coincides with yours. This includes their attention to breeding for the characteristics of the breed, breeding for health, doing appropriate genetic testing, breeding for temperament and correct character for the breed, their attention to raising the puppies and many other details involved in careful breeding. Such breeders will have many questions for you, the buyer, with a concern for where the puppies are going, your preparations for the puppy, the suitability of your home, how the puppy will be raised, your long term commitment, etc.
Armed with your research including information on genetic testing that is available for that breed (like the information found on the Paw Print Genetics website) you can contact breeders with questions about the breed and their breeding program. There are many perspectives on what to ask. Creating these questions and what you are looking for in the answers, depends on your goals with your puppy; family pet, performance dog, show dog, breeding potential dog or a combination of several of the above? Your goals for the puppy are going to color your questions and determine the specifics about the puppy that interests you. I believe that open-ended questions are the most revealing, without first giving an indication of your wants and expectations. You can hopefully get a picture of what the breeder truly values and breeds for, hopefully not a spin targeted at selling you a puppy and what you want to hear. For instance, if you are looking for a low key family companion and the breeder focuses on producing working herding dogs or flashy show dogs, these dogs may not have the character you are looking for as an easy going dog. If the breeder is extreme toward any one goal, what is a lesser priority? If the breeder expects the dog to be "naturally protective" and you are looking for a dog that is more accepting of strangers, this breeder's dogs may not be the best match. Is getting along well with children a trait that the breeder values and what specifically do they do toward this goal? Home raised puppies that are socialized at early ages to children and other animals can be much easier to acclimate to your home or environment.
What age does the breeder want the puppies in their new homes and why? It is important that the puppies receive individual attention and socialization from 8 weeks on but smaller and toy breeds must be fed carefully at early ages due to risks to develop hypoglycemia. (It is still important that they receive individual attention and socialization.) Such practices can be breed specific and this is another reason it is wise to try to speak to multiple breeders to get a picture of what is expected for the breed. The fact that the puppies are health checked, have received vaccinations commiserate for their age and are appropriately wormed, are things to be discussed. Sometimes you puppy can still end up having a minor parasite, or developing a major infection. You should always have your puppy checked by a trusted veterinarian that you have already established a relationship with as quickly as possible after taking possession of your puppy. A responsible breeder will assist you with any setbacks and want to know the status of the puppy. As discussed in a prior blog, a vet check prior to sale is no guarantee against problems but is a reasonable expectation.
If you send a breeder a list of questions, then some breeders may not respond. With breeders of uncommon breeds and known quality dogs with waiting lists for puppies, you may have to sell yourself as a puppy owner first. The best way to approach a breeder in my opinion is with an introduction about you. A brief description of who you are and why you have selected this breed, what traits of the breed are a good match for you and your lifestyle and what will make you an excellent home for one of their puppies. Once you have established a rapport with the breeder and they feel that you may be a suitable potential home for one of their puppies, they should be happy to answer your questions. The questions below are a guide to give you an idea of the things you may want to consider asking. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list. You can add to this or fine-tune it for your personal style, needs and interests.
1. How are your puppies raised and where? Puppies raised in the home with human interaction and contact are typically better adjusted and socialized. Does the breeder specifically expose the puppies to children and socialize them outside of the home or kennel?
2. What are your philosophies about raising puppies? Many breeders will do early puppy stimulation and will carefully interact with the puppies throughout their development.
3. What health and genetic testing do you do and why? Ask why they test for some things and not others. Ask for confirmation or copies of health clearance and genetic testing results like the Canine Genetic Health Certificate© from Paw Print Genetics™ and ask the breeder to explain the meaning of the results to you. Double-check the meaning. I knew a breeder who touted a poor result as a health clearance.
4. What health issues are you most concerned about in the breed? What health issues are you most concerned about in your dogs? If the breeders do not have any answers for this then you have to wonder how much they have been paying attention to health or how forthcoming they are being.
5. What are you doing to minimize the chance for these issues in your puppies/breedings?
6. Who are the parents of this litter and what did you like about them and this pair together?
7. Can I meet the dam and sire, or at least the dam? If not, why not? (Not being able to meet the dam is a red flag. The sire could legitimately be far away but they should be able to explain the circumstances.)
8. What shots do the puppies have and what will they need?
9. What are you feeding the puppies and what do you recommend? Why do you like this product/or feeding protocol?
10. Have they been wormed? Vet checked? Any health concerns?
11. Do you have a contract? What is required of me, you and what happens should there be something wrong with the puppy?
12. How will the puppy for me/my family be picked? Will I get to choose my puppy or will you? Many interactive breeder feel that they know the personality and qualities of the puppy and will feel strongly about telling you which puppy is most suited to your needs. Others, if you are buying a pet puppy, will give you the least show quality puppy of the litter.
13. What happens should I not be able to keep the puppy? There are certain breeders who will require you to return the puppy to them and will be there to take back the puppy or help to place it for the lifetime of the dog.
It is a good idea to try to communicate with people who have experience with the breed. Many breeds will have breed discussion groups. The breeders within a breed are often in competition with one another, so do not necessarily expect them all to get along. Sometimes it is good to speak to individuals who are involved in the breed who do not breed to get a different perspective. If you repeatedly get negative feedback on the same breeder from multiple different sources, it may be safest to mark them off your list but that can be a tough call, not popular does not necessarily equal bad breeder. Sometimes the breeder is doing things differently or making noises about health issues that others would rather not acknowledge and this can make them unpopular.
The key in finding the right breeder of your puppy is to find a breeder who is trying to produce a puppy that coincides with your hopes and dreams for the future. For me, a healthy puppy/dog is the first priority for a full and happy life whatever the goals. Health issues are what dash hopes, dreams, plans, purpose for the dog and break people’s hearts. If you can find one of the many wonderful and dedicated breeders whose primary goal is to, with care, provide you with a quality puppy for a full healthy and happy life, you will have done well!
Image from Andrea Arden: Moka the very sweet Doberman