Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and author of the column "Conversations with Champions" for the BCSA magazine, "Borderlines."
How to Find a Good Breeder
While there are many advantages to rescuing an adult dog, purebred dogs offer puppy seekers the opportunity to match their family’s needs with the traits and temperament characteristics of the dog that may best suit their home environment.
Each dog breed was bred to perform a specific set of tasks. For that reason, each breed’s body structure, instincts, and temperament have been molded over many generations and centuries of selective breeding to develop the breed’s type. While there are no guarantees on temperaments, purebred dogs offer prospective owners a good idea of what their puppy will grow up to look like, what their energy level is likely to be, as well as its inherent instincts, tendencies, and general personality characteristics.
In this article, we'll look at:
- Where to Start Looking for a Breeder
- AKC Parent Club's Breeder Referral
- What to Look for in a Breeder and Breeder Websites
- Red Flags and Breeders to Avoid
- Starting the Conversation With a Potential Breeder
- What to Expect in a Reputable Breeder's Contract
- The Most Important Characteristic of Your Dog Breeder
- Selecting a New Puppy With Your Breeder's Advice
- Where to Go for Puppy Name Ideas
1. Where to Start Looking for a Breeder
Whether you are still choosing between several dog breeds or have already set your sights on a particular breed, a dog show is a good starting place. Most AKC breeds will be represented there, and in many instances, breeders will be ringside as well. This is an opportunity for you to meet a number of specimens of each breed under high-stress circumstances. You’ll get a good sense of which breeds are laid-back or high-strung, and you’ll learn pretty much the same thing about the breeders as well.
If you are interested in training in performance events, such as agility, herding, flyball, or disc dog, you may prefer to visit a trial to see which breeds are the most successful. There you can meet the dog handlers, who can then point you to breeders who are respected in that particular performance venue.
InfoDog.com has a listing of most of the AKC events occurring around the country, including conformation shows, and rally, herding, obedience, and agility trials. The AKC website has a similar list, but I find this one is the easiest to navigate. Find your state's information by doing the following:
- Go to show information.
- Click events by state.
- Scan your state's list of all upcoming AKC events.
2. AKC Parent Club's Breeder Referral
As you narrow your focus, you can gain more in-depth information about the breed from the AKC Breed Parent Club. AKC.org offers links to each of the parent clubs, which act as the stewards of their respective breeds. The parent clubs work in conjunction with the AKC to support breed-specific health research, rescue programs, and maintenance of the breed standard. They also offer breeder referral listings with links to member breeders' websites.
3. What to Look for in a Breeder and Breeder Websites
As you peruse the breeders’ websites, you will want to see that the breeder is actively working with their dogs in the canine community. You should see evidence, through titles, of successful competition in either conformation, therapy or performance venues. These titles help to assure you that the breeder is producing dogs that are judged to be fit to do the work the breed was designed to do. Titles also tell you that the breeder is actively working with his or her dogs to train and socialize them.
You will want to see health clearances listed for the breeding stock on their website. OFA scores for hip and elbow clearances are universally expected. Your chosen breed is likely to have some breed-specific issues that require DNA testing or routine examination. The parent club’s website will have alerted you to the health screenings that should properly be performed for their breed prior to breeding.
The AKC recently added a new designation for breeders called the Breeder of Merit Program. Breeders of Merit must have attained at least four AKC titles on their dog’s progeny, have been participating in AKC events for a minimum of 5 years, must perform all applicable health testing required for their breed and must agree to achieve 100% AKC registrations for their litters. As an AKC Breeder of Merit, I fulfill the final requirement by including AKC registration in my puppy’s purchase agreement. Breeders of Merit will display the AKC breed-specific Breeder of Merit Banner on their websites. The AKC also maintains a list of its current Breeders of Merit.
4. Red Flags and Breeders to Avoid
Red flags include websites that display one or two dogs of each breed with 4 or more different breeds being produced. You want to see depth in the breeding program regarding the progeny the breeder has produced. One or two dogs per breed and multiple breeds suggests a breeding farm or puppy mill. You can also Google your prospective breeders. Disappointed puppy buyers can be very vocal regarding poor treatment they have received as well as health issues that have developed in their puppies.
Puppies need to be with their littermates for important socialization lessons until they are eight weeks of age. A breeder that is willing to let the puppies go any earlier than eight weeks should be avoided. Furthermore, there is a growing trend to spay and neuter puppies between two and six weeks of age. This is an abhorrent idea; puppies need the hormones from their reproductive organs in order to properly develop. Puppies should not be altered prior to six months of age, so walk away from any breeder suggesting or advertising otherwise.
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5. Starting the Conversation With a Potential Breeder
Once you have selected the breeder or breeders that interest you, you will want to contact them via email. In your introductory email, you should tell the breeder a little bit about yourself. They will want to know what experience you have had, if any, with their breed, details on your home environment including children, fenced yard, etc. . . . and whether you are seeking a pet companion, performance dog, or show dog. As your communications progress, you can request a copy of their sales contract. Breeders typically have two or more contracts depending on whether the puppy is being purchased as a pet or show/breeding prospect.
6. What to Expect in a Reputable Breeder's Contract
The reputable breeder’s contract should offer a health guarantee that the puppy is free from genetic defects up to the age of one year old. Typically, if a health issue should arise, the breeder will offer to replace the puppy with one from a new breeding. Prior to replacing the puppy, the breeder will need to see documentation from a veterinarian that the health condition exists. I have yet to see a contract that offered a money-back guarantee, so you should not expect to see that in a puppy contract. Some breeders will demand that the genetically impaired dog be returned prior to the buyer receiving the replacement puppy. I believe this requirement is designed to discourage puppy buyers from invoking the guarantee. The reputable breeder has no use for the puppy with a genetic issue, and the family typically has grown very attached to the puppy, in spite of its health issue. In my opinion, demanding the puppy back as a requirement of the health guarantee is not in keeping with the spirit of good breeding and puppy placement practices.
Expect that most contracts will place restrictions on the puppy’s exercise up to the age of one year old. Puppies should not be road worked or jumped over 6-inch high obstacles prior to that age. Too much imposed, high-impact exercise can damage the growth plates, and evidence of malnutrition or overwork will void the health guarantee for joint-related issues.
The reputable breeder’s contract should also require that the puppy be returned to them should the buyer no longer be able to keep the puppy. Some contracts will allow for re-homing, but only after breeder approval of the new home.
Pet contracts will require spaying or neutering after the age of six months. Show/breeding contracts should also place restrictions on when the animal may be bred, what titles must be achieved before breeding and where the puppy’s progeny may be placed. Typical puppy progeny placement restrictions include: no testing facilities, no pet shops sales, no sales to countries that do not have animal rights laws.
The buyer’s obligations begin with their first trip to the vet. Most contracts will allow a 72-hour period for the new owner to take their puppy to the vet for its initial exam. Should a serious issue with the puppy’s health be discovered, it can be returned to the breeder for a full refund or replacement puppy. The following issues are generally not considered health problems: Worms, ear mites, coccidia or giardia, fleas, diarrhea caused by feeding non-recommended foods, and/or cow's milk (unless in current diet), injuries occurring after the sale.
Vet bills are the responsibility of the buyer, however, the buyer should not expect to receive a puppy riddled with parasites inside and out. The breeder should provide the buyer with a list of the de-worming medications and the dates administered, and the puppy should have received at least one vaccination prior to leaving the breeder’s kennel. Proper worming protocols call for the puppies to be wormed at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12 weeks of age. The first vaccination may be administered approximately 2 weeks after weaning, which varies from litter to litter, but seven weeks would be typical.
Most reputable breeders will require that the puppy receive adequate nutrition, they may specify that a premium food should be fed, and that the puppy has access to fresh water and adequate shelter at all times. Additionally, my contract specifies that the puppy must attend a puppy manners or obedience series of classes prior to six months of age in order to help promote the socialization process.
7. The Most Important Characteristic of Your Dog Breeder
When you purchase a puppy from a breeder, you are entering into a partnership that will last the lifetime of your dog. You will have myriad questions regarding your puppy and his breed as he develops and as he ages. Reputable breeders will want to be kept abreast of any health concerns that may develop over the dog’s lifetime. Make sure that you like and feel comfortable communicating with the breeder. Arrogant, aloof and judgmental breeders will be a deterrent to getting your questions answered. A good breeder can offer sound advice on healthcare, training, and training facilities as well as breed-specific issues and research developments in the breed.
8. Selecting Your New Puppy With Your Breeder's Advice
Properly done, breeding is a labor of love. Breeders dedicate themselves to maintaining the characteristics of their breed and improving the quality of their lines. Costs in a successful breeding can be very high, and not all breedings take. In my breed, border collies, stud fees range from $1000.00 to $2500.00, with $1500.00 being typical.
Getting to the stud dog involves time off from work and travel expenses or reproductive services to collect and ship semen to the female. Artificial insemination or surgical implant procedures require multiple progesterone tests to time the female’s cycle. Small litters and certain breeds may routinely require c-sections. Adding up stud fees, health clearance testing, DNA testing, reproductive services, vaccinations, and worming medications, a litter can cost an average of $3000 to produce.
A scheduled c-section typically adds $900 and emergency c-sections in the wee hours of the morning can add as much as an additional $2,500 depending on your area of the country. And then there is the considerable time spent raising the litter: changing linens in the whelping box, handling the puppies and exposing them to new experiences in order to help them develop into well-adjusted adults.
With all of the time spent rearing the puppies, the good breeder should be able to tell you a little bit about the temperaments of each of the puppies and help match the right puppy to your family's needs and lifestyle.
luci on June 30, 2020:
how much is one of the pupies
Francico on April 23, 2020:
How cost a dog
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on February 28, 2020:
Good luck Hannah on your new puppy. A purposefully bred purebred dog from a reputable breeder makes a partnership for life!
Hannah on February 27, 2020:
I am getting a puppy in September and this helps just in case I am getting a puppy from a breeder
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on February 19, 2013:
Really - I can't imagine what would be worse than that! Poor puppies...
Adrienne Farricelli on February 18, 2013:
Voted up and useful. I used to live in Missouri where puppy mills and BYB were the order of the day. I once had a neighbor tell me that there was a good breeder in town and I looked at her website and she bred 8 different breeds and raised them in these maternity cages away from the house! And that was a good breeder, so don't want to know about the worst!