Finding a good breeder
By Nicole Mackie
ONCE you have decided which breed and gender of dog you want, the next step is to find a skilled and reputable breeder. This can be a very daunting task as there are so many breed clubs, pet stores, newspaper advertisements, magazines, on-line web sites, puppy outlets, traders and many more places that all sell cute puppies. Once we have seen a puppy for sale it is hard to say no and sometimes end up purchasing a puppy that causes us heartache later on due to health or behaviour problems.
Once you know the breed you are looking for, it is wise to research and read all you can about the breed first, so you know if that breed type will suit your home environment and lifestyle. Some of the information you should seek is:
- Look into what it was originally bred for and it's natural instincts.
- Telephone the Kennel Club and find out what it should look like in conformation (i.e. the "breed standard").
- Find out what colour coat the dog should have.
- What type of bite should it have (overbite, underbite, scissor bite)?
- Should it have a tail, or is the tail normally docked? If so, do you want the tail docked?
- How many teeth it should have?
- Will the dog shed its coat or will it need clipping?
- Will the dog's coat need professional grooming?
- Should it have a black nose or a pink nose (pink nosed dogs are prone to sunburn)?
Gain as much information as possible on the breed and you will be able to ask the breeder the right questions. You will also know if the breeder deviates from the Kennel Club "breed standard" and if so you can ask why.
Speak to a good training centre that can help you prepare for the puppy's arrival. They can explain which equipment to use and when to start the puppy's training. A good training centre for your puppy should be one that uses only positive training principles, and that understands canine communication and calming signals. Puppies should not be playing freely with one another (this is where puppies learn to bully other puppies, or become "victims", as there is no one to protect them in the free-for-all, or when they begin to get tired) and dogs should not be continuously barking. The training centre should be willing to help you prepare for your new puppy, after all, it makes their job that much easier when the puppy comes to their classes later on!
Phone the specialised bred clubs and ask for information on the breed and contact details of breeders. The Kennel Club can also provide you with a list of breeders to contact. Be aware that not all who register their puppies with the Kennel Club, who show dogs, own champions or even those that judge, handle or train dogs, are necessarily reputable breeders. Any breeder or dog owner can join the Kennel Club, sell puppies and give out advice. You will need to ask the breeder questions, visit the breeder's home and view the sire and dam of the puppies.
The breeder should be open, honest, and approachable, welcome your visit to their home to see how the dogs live, and be able to provide you with all the appropriate paperwork. This paperwork should include hip and elbow scores of the parents of breeds that are affected by dysplasia of hips, elbows, and many other diseases that affect the bone growth. This testing is particularly important for larger breeds.
You should also view any eye certificates where the dog has been seen by an ophthalmologist. Many breeds of dog are affected by eye problems such as cataracts and many of them are inherited genetically (eg Collie Eye Anomaly). Viewing a report by an Ophthalmologist should show that the eyes are clear of these diseases.
A little bit of knowledge beforehand about what you really want is vital and a healthy puppy is well worth waiting for. As hard as it may be, do not rush into purchasing a puppy just because you cannot resist its cute face. Speak to a variety of breeders and owners who may have found an excellent breeder to recommend to you.
Make sure you view the parents of the puppies. Do both parents look like the breed? Do they look happy, clean and healthy? Are there any obvious physical, behaviour or temperament problems that could be passed on to the puppies? Are the parents cowering, or running away from you? Are they barking constantly at you? Remember puppies grow up to be like their parents - if you see a problem now in the parents, the puppies are very likely to have the same problem imprinted on them. Is this what you want?
- When you view the puppies are they all running around normally or do they bunny hop or sit in a funny way? A bunny hop or unusual sit can be a hint to underlying hip problems.
- Do the puppies look happy, clean and healthy? Is their housing clean and fresh, with clean water?
- Are the puppies and parents eating a good diet? A good diet should consist of a balance of meats, vegetables and carbohydrates.
- Does the mother intervene when they are play-fighting? The mother should intervene and discipline them.
Ask when the puppies will be weaned from their mother. Breeders should never sell their puppies before the period of discipline with their mother is completed at around 10 weeks of age depending on the litter. The puppy should be allowed to be with its mother and littermates throughout the 10-week period. If the puppy is taken away from its mother sooner than 10 weeks it will miss out on this vital learning period and will not have learned to interact or communicate with other dogs properly. He may grow up with developmental and behaviour problems as he will not have learned how to be a mature adult dog and problems may develop later on.
If the breeder wishes to let the puppy go at just six or seven weeks old, please ask the breeder to keep the puppy with its mother longer as it is vital to the puppies' development. Puppies go through a "fear period" around seven weeks old and it is vital that they are not exposed to too much at this age and that everything is done in a gentle calm way around them, making everything a nice experience.
Does the breeder give the puppies and adult dogs an enriched environment (i.e. do they have toys to play with, do they have little areas in which they can explore)? Puppies need to explore small areas to help their brain and senses to develop normally. Puppies should not be just stuck out in a kennel with no stimulation. It is important they are given little moments of new experiences to help their mental and physical development. For instance, a new experience may be something as simple as scattering a few treats around the floor or outside on the lawn, or you may give them a human toddler's toy that makes noises or does things when buttons are pressed.
Do you like what you see? If you don't like what you see then say thank you and politely leave.
When you do find a good breeder be prepared to be questioned and even have your home checked out by the breeder. A good breeder will want to know where the puppy is going to live and what the conditions are. So don't be offended by the many questions you may be asked. If you are open, honest and prepared to answer everything you will most likely win over the breeder's confidence enough for further investigation and a greater chance to get the puppy you are looking for.
The breeder should provide you with more than just a puppy. You should have its papers, copies of all documents (e.g. x-ray hip score results of the sire and dam, if they are of a breed which can inherit bone growth condition). You should be given eye certificates of the parents and heart droplet results if this is a breed that is prone to heart disease. You should also have a diet sheet to say what is being fed to the puppies and how many times a day. You should be given photos, pedigrees, and information about your puppy, and any special needs of the breed.
You should be given some of the puppy's food to take home, some water from the breeder's home so the puppy can be introduced to new food and water slowly to avoid upset digestive system. An old towel on which the puppies and mother have been sleeping should be taken home for the puppy to have familiar smells around him and help the settling in period.
The breeder should keep in close contact with you and give advice at any time throughout the puppy's life. Should you ever need to discard the dog at any time in its life, the breeder should be prepared to take it back no matter what the age. That is the sign of a responsible breeder - being ultimately responsible for the welfare of all her dogs throughout their lifetime.
After taking your puppy home you should take it to your veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase. Your breeder will most likely recommend this. If your vet suspects any major problem which is detrimental to your puppy's health or future purpose for which you have purchased it, it would be your right to take the puppy right back to the breeder, who should be willing to give you a full refund of your money, or you may wish to discuss with your breeder an alternative arrangement. ie, the breeder pays for any surgery regarding the condition.
However a bond may have already formed between you and your puppy at this stage and you don't wish to give the puppy back. A kind breeder may give you a refund and still allow you to keep the puppy anyway. This would be in her best interest and best for the puppy to do so.
Your breeder may also ask for a second opinion, maybe from her own vet who she will have formed a trust. It is in everyone's best interest to have a second opinion and to even have the puppy seen by a specialist for the condition to determine the extent of the condition. Once the severity of the condition is determined by the veterianarians then you have all the necessary information to present to your breeder and discuss with her the future of your puppy. The breeder should be more than willing to do eveything she can to help out.