So you’ve decided to get a dog. You’re prepared to feed, exercise, train, clean up after, work through problems with, and love a dog every day for the next 10 to 20 years. You’ve evaluated your lifestyle and know exactly what you’re looking for (e.g., a high energy dog to go running with or a more sedate dog who will lounge next to you on the couch). You even know that it’s best to seek these characteristics in individual dogs because breed alone is not a guarantee of temperament or likes and dislikes.
Since one in every four dogs in U.S. animal shelters is purebred, you start there hoping to do a good deed and help a homeless dog. Most of these animals lost their homes not because something is “wrong” with them, but because of “people reasons” such as cost, lack of time, allergies, or lifestyle changes that a new baby, divorce, moving, or marriage can bring. Yet, after looking around at shelters and breed rescue groups, you still haven’t found “the one.” And buying a puppy from a pet store or over the Internet is out of the question— most of those dogs are from mass breeding facilities known as puppy mills.
Too often, people opt for convenience and a quick purchase and buy a puppy from a pet store or over the Internet, thinking that they are dealing with a reputable business. Frequently, however, they purchase sick, poorly bred, and poorly socialized puppies with genetic health conditions or temperament issues that may not be discovered until years later. These new pet families end up heartbroken, sometimes spending thousands of dollars to treat problems that may never be resolved.
So how do you identify a responsible breeder?
First, know that good breeders don’t sell puppies to pet stores or to the first person who shows up with cash in hand.To avoid these pitfalls and choose a good breeder, look for one who at a minimum:
- Keeps their breeding dogs as you feel a responsible person would keep their pets; i.e., not overpopulated, crowded, dirty, or continually confined to cages
- Keeps their dogs in roomy spaces that meet the needs of their particular breed; for example, most small breeds will be housed in the home, sporting breeds will have plenty of space for exercise, etc. (National breed clubs can provide input on the specific needs of each breed of dog)
- Only breeds one or a few types of dogs and is knowledgeable about the breeds and their special requirements
- Doesn’t always have puppies available but may keep a list of interested people for the next available litter or refer people to other reputable breeders or breed clubs
- Has dogs who appear lively, clean, and healthy, and don’t shy away from visitors
- Shows you where both the puppies and the breeding dogs spend their time—in a clean, spacious, well-maintained area
- Demonstrates that they meet both the physical and psychological needs of their dogs, i.e. by providing toys, socialization, exercise, and enrichment as befits the specific breed
- Encourages you to spend time with the puppy’s parents—at a minimum, the pup’s mother—when you visit
- Has a strong relationship with one or more local veterinarians and shows you individual records of veterinary visits for your puppy
- Explains in detail the potential genetic and developmental problems inherent to the breed and provides documentation that the puppy’s parents and grandparents have been professionally evaluated in an effort to breed those problems out of their puppies. (This will include testing for genetic diseases for which there are valid testing protocols available)
- Offers guidance for the care and training of your puppy and is available for assistance after you take your puppy home
- Provides references from other families who have previously purchased one of their puppies
- Is often actively involved with local, state, and national clubs that specialize in the specific breed; good breeders may also compete with the dogs in conformation events, obedience trials, tracking and agility trials, or other performance events
- Encourages multiple visits and wants your entire family to meet the puppy
- Provides you with a written contract and health guarantee and allows plenty of time for you to read it thoroughly; the breeder should not require that you use a specific veterinarian
In addition, you’ll want a breeder who requires you to:
- Explain why you want a dog
- Explain who in your family will be responsible for the pup’s daily care and training; where the dog will spend most of his or her time; and what “rules” have been decided upon for the puppy—for example, whether the dog will be allowed on furniture
- Provide proof from your landlord or condominium board (if you rent or live in a condominium complex) that you are allowed to have a dog
- Provide a veterinary reference if you have had other pets
- Sign a contract that you will spay or neuter the dog unless you will be actively showing him or her
- Sign a contract stating that you will return the dog to the breeder should you be unable to keep the dog at any point in the dog’s life
If the breeder you’re working with doesn’t meet these minimum criteria or explain any exceptions based on the specific needs of their particular breed of dog, walk away. Remember, a dog will likely live for 10 to 20 years, so it’s well worth investing some time to be sure you’re working with a responsible breeder who endeavors to breed healthy, wellsocialized dogs and keeps their parents in humane (not just survivable) conditions.
You can find responsible breeders by asking for referrals from breed rescue groups, contacting local or national breed clubs, or visiting dog shows. Remember, a responsible breeder will never sell dogs through a pet store, over the Internet, or in any other venue that does not allow interaction with buyers to ensure that the puppies are a good match for the families and that the buyers will provide responsible lifelong homes.
Please don’t ever buy a dog without personally visiting where he or she was born and raised. Take the time now to find the right breeder, and you’ll be thanking yourself for the rest of your dog’s life.
Credit: The Humane Society of The United States