5 Things to Keep in Mind When Buying a Purebred Puppy from a Breeder

Updated on September 14, 2016
Maggie Bonham profile image

Maggie Bonham, or Margaret H. Bonham, is a multiple award-winning pet author and expert. She has written more than 20 books on pets.

So, You're Looking for a Purebred Dog from a Breeder

So, you're looking for a purebred dog from a dog breeder who specializes in the type of breed you're interested in. I'm not going to go over the breed types and what breed is right for you, but rather where you should buy your dog. I'm not going to go over why you should adopt from a shelter or breed rescue because if you're reading this article, I already know you've made up your mind that 1. you want a puppy and 2. you're going to spend a lot of money in the hopes of getting a decent dog. So, I'm going to talk to you about how and why you need to find a reputable breeder. But in order to do that, we have to lay some ground rules as to what expectations you need to have when looking at a breeder and their puppies.

What is NOT a Guarantee of Quality

You're looking for a quality pet or working dog. I get that. That's why you're going to a breeder for a nice dog. Before we get any further, let me lay five very important pieces of information down:

  • Having American Kennel Club (AKC) registration papers (or any other club's registration papers) is no guarantee of quality
  • Price is not indicative of quality
  • Breeding dogs is not indicative of quality
  • There are few, if any, laws that protect puppy buyers
  • Promises and contracts can only get you so far

It's the wild west when it comes to buying puppies, so it's important to understand the world you're getting into when you purchase a dog.

Checklist for Purchasing a Puppy from a Breeder

  • Does the breeder provide a contract stipulating that he will take back the dog under any circumstance?
  • Does the breeder offer to replace or refund a puppy that has hip dysplasia or other health problems?
  • Does the breeder provide legitimate CERF and OFA certificates and can you look up those names and numbers on OFA's website?
  • Does the breeder breed no more than 3 litters a year?
  • Does the breeder provide health records when selling the puppy?
  • Does the breeder provide AKC/UKC puppy papers so you may register your pet?
  • What does the breeder hope to accomplish breeding his dogs?
  • Does the breeder ask questions about you and your family to ensure a proper match to your household?
  • Will the puppy be dewormed and have his appropriate vaccinations for his age at the time you get him?
  • Will the puppy be eight weeks or older when the breeder allows you to take him home?
  • If the puppy is being sold as a pet, will the breeder insist that you spay or neuter him at the appropriate age?

Why AKC Papers Do NOT Guarantee Quality

Most people think that their dogs are somehow more valuable than other dogs if they've been registered with the American Kennel Club or AKC. The AKC is a registration service which traces through the pedigrees to ensure that the dog is out of purebred lines, BUT this is highly dependent on the breeder's integrity. As a rule, AKC doesn't go out and do checks on breeders and ensure that the breeder is complying to their rules. Unless there have been complaints, you can pretty much assume the AKC has done little other than take the litter's registration and registration fee. A litter registration fee at the time of this writing is $25 + $2 per puppy.

Now that means that anyone with two registered purebred dogs of the same breed can breed these dogs and produce puppies regardless of quality, as long as the breeder is considered in good standing with the AKC. A breeder is in good standing if they haven't been caught breaking any rules. Technically everyone on the planet who has yet to breed a dog is in good standing as well as those who haven't had trouble with the AKC.

The AKC doesn't prevent dogs with hip dysplasia from being bred. They don't prevent inbreeding. They don't prevent a dog who has bitten a child from being bred. In other words, they are a registry. They do allow titles before and after names with competitions, but again it's up to the buyer to determine if the puppy they buy is from good lines or not.

Definition of a Puppy Mill

A "puppy mill" or commercial breeder is a type of breeder who has puppies always available and breeds large numbers of dogs with no thought as to quality or genetic soundness. Most do not obtain health certificates. Although many puppy mills are squalid and often make the news when raids occur, there are "nice" puppy mills where dogs are constantly bred and the only thought is to make money and not improve the breed or offer quality pets.

What's OFA and CERF?

You'll hear a lot about OFA and CERF when reading books about buying puppies. OFA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and has a database for hereditary problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and even eye and cardiac problems. CERF is the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that certifies that certain eye diseases aren't present.

In all cases, your breeder should have had the puppy's parents certified free from hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia isn't a big dog disease -- small dogs get it, too. Having the eyes certified is a good idea, plus any other certifications that look for problems that commonly occur in your puppy's breed. It's not a guarantee that your puppy won't have these hereditary conditions, but it does help reduce the possibility.

Why Price Does Not Indicate Quality

Sadly, there are people still out there who equate high price with quality. While in some cases you do get what you pay for, the reality is that puppy mill and backyard breeders see the prices reputable breeders charge and price their puppies to make a lot of money. That's why you can pay $1000 to $2000 per dog and still get a puppy mill puppy.

At this point you're thinking that the purebreds in the pound or animal shelters are inferior because they cost between $100 and $300. I have news for you: these dogs came from breeders like the ones you may be considering and the owners paid those hefty prices. The difference is that the owners didn't have time or patience to deal with a puppy or behavior problems that might have cropped up, and dumped their very expensive pet in the shelter. Shelters and rescue look to place these dogs and offer them at lower prices. Same dogs but just no longer cute fluffy puppies.

You might argue that you'd do a better job with training, but be realistic. Everyone thinks that. If you're committed to taking your puppy to a trainer and working with him to prevent bad habits, then maybe. Or you may be kidding yourself and end up having a puppy with bad habits that you have to break.

Definition of a Backyard Breeder

A "backyard breeder" is a type of breeder who has one or two purebred dogs who breeds them together without concern over health certificates or whether the dogs are the right dogs to breed. They may breed their dogs for extra income, for friends, or because they'd like a pup out of their current dog. Often their dogs come from puppy mill stock.

Why Buying from a Breeder Doesn't Indicate Quality

This should be a no-brainer, but there are people out there who think that because they buy from a breeder they're getting a decent dog. I have bad news for you. Anyone can be a breeder. Anyone. There's no test to determine if you're fit to breed your dog. And in many circumstances there aren't even kennel licenses. Some states have enacted laws for the bare minimum code of conduct commercial breeders or puppy mills must adhere to, but these laws are general and deal with basic care of the animals.

So just because someone hangs out their shingle to sell puppies and offers them at a high price doesn't make a good or reputable breeder.

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There are Few, if any, Laws that Protect Puppy Buyers

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there are 21 states with puppy lemon laws. While this sounds like a good remedy, the truth is that the time restrictions and conditions make it nearly impossible for the person who owns a dog to prove there was some kind of problem due to the breeding or negligence on the part of the breeder. You have as little as seven days in some states to have a disease appear, and in at least one state, you have only 10 days to determine if there is something wrong with the dog genetically. Some states require a veterinary examination within a short time of purchase, and no states cover the appearance of a hereditary disease after two years.

Some states only allow exchanges of pets. Some only cover the purchase of pets from a pet store, and not a breeder. If you do live in a state that has a puppy lemon law, it is imperative that you know the rules and follow them to the letter. Otherwise, you may not have any recourse, assuming the breeder adheres to those laws.

Promises and Contracts can only Get You so far

No matter what the breeder promises verbally, get it in writing. Less reputable breeders will say all sorts of things to get the sale. If they say they guarantee their dogs, they should have the guarantee in writing in the contract. If the breeder doesn't offer a contract, or doesn't offer a guarantee, you may need to look elsewhere.

Contracts, however, are no guarantee of quality. It is a bill of sale, and nothing else. Any guarantees need to be in the contract. If you do purchase a puppy with a guarantee, you must be aware that the contract is only as good as the breeder's honesty and reputation. If he or she decides to not uphold the contract or not follow the law, your only recourse may be to sue. In this case, it may prove difficult if the breeder is out of state.

What is a Backyard Breeder

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