Happy Pups. Happy People. Happy Planet.

Choosing a Breeder

By Katie Spruill KPA-CTP

If you are like me, finding a new furry family member is one thing that gets me very excited. When I picked out Havoc, the most recent addition to my family, my head was in the clouds. I was thinking about puppy breath, names, and the ideal qualities of my new pup. When you are in the mist of that excitement, it’s easy to overlook all of the important things that go along with not just choosing your puppy, but choosing your breeder.

Choosing a great breeder is one of the most important things you can do to enjoy your life with your dog. Poor breeding has nasty side effects, from health issues to psychological and behavioral abnormalities. Unfortunately, poor breeding is far more common than good breeding, so if you have decided against rescuing, here are some questions you should be asking that will help you find a reliable breeder.

Can I meet the puppy’s parents?

You can get a lot of insight into how the litter of pups will behave based on how the puppies’ parents behave. Look for a breeder who encourages you to meet the pup’s parents, and who has dogs that seem to have good social skills with both humans and other canines. Puppies learn from their parents and if the parents seem anything less than friendly, you may have better luck with another breeder. If the breeder won’t allow you to meet the parents, this should be taken as a major red flag. It is likely a sign that the dogs have visible health issues, behavioral issues, aren’t good with people, or aren’t well taken care of. Some breeders will only provide a picture of the parents and this isn’t enough. There is more to a dog than the way it looks.

Can I see where the puppies have spent most of their time up until now?

Where the puppy spent the first weeks of its life can play a huge role in how the pup may one day behave. Look for areas with toys, items to crawl in and on, and a safe place for the puppies to go potty away from play areas. Just like babies, dogs need things to touch, explore, and play with to stimulate their minds and create body awareness. Pups that grow up in sterile environments, where they don’t have anything to engage with, often grow up with a lack of confidence and get easily spooked by everyday situations. Puppies that don’t have a clear spot to go potty, or have never been exposed to grass, are more likely to struggle with potty training.

What is the breeder’s policy regarding potential health issues?

A good breeder would want to know if they had a puppy with a health defect so they don’t continue breeding dogs with similar issues. Good breeders typically have policies that require you to communicate any health concerns which may have been caused by breeding. Some will even help you pay any medical costs if necessary. Great breeders do regular health screenings on each litter’s parents, and individual puppies. Before selecting a breeder, research the issues common with the breed you are looking for. Ask what the breeder will do if any of those issues pop up. Another huge red flag to be aware of is if the breeder has little knowledge regarding health problems the litters have had in the past, or don’t have a health policy in place.

What are the requirements before taking home one of your puppies?

If the breeder really cares about the puppies, they will go through great length to make sure that the puppy’s home is the right fit. Many breeders will ask what you know about the breed, encourage you to do your own research, and express exactly how much effort it takes to care for them. Some will have you sign contracts stating that you will get them altered at a healthy age, provide the puppy with the proper vaccines every year, provide proper exercise, and even a fenced in back yard. Some breeders even require you return the dog to them should it need to be rehomed for any reason. If the breeder doesn’t put any thought into where the puppy is going to, they probably didn’t put much thought into proper breeding practices.

How many litters do they sell each year?

The breeder should not be churning out high volumes of pups, but consider their breeding dogs to be family members and treats them with loving care. If they are breeding multiple breeds, and have more than a few litters of a particular breed each year, it’s a pretty clear sign the pups may not be getting the care they deserve.

How old will the puppies be when you want me to take them home?

There is a good reason that certain states have laws requiring that puppies are at least eight weeks old before leaving their litter. When puppies are with their littermates, they are learning crucial social and communication skills. Dogs that are taken away earlier than eight weeks commonly develop behavioral problems as adults. Even if the breeder says its okay, never take a puppy away from the litter earlier than eight weeks old.

There are many things that can help define a good breeder. In fact, the list is endless. But it is important to evaluate why the breeder breeds dogs. A good breeder is interested in selling quality dogs that help develop the health and awareness of that particular breed. They should take the same care for their litters that you would for family members. It should always be about the well-being and future of the breed and not making a quick buck. If you have any doubts about a breeder, go with your gut, because its always better to be safe than sorry.

If you already feel that you have made mistakes in the past, and are having behavioral or health issues with your pup that may be a result of bad breeding, don’t lose hope. Consult with your local veterinarian, behavioral vet, or trainer in order to determine how to work through the issues and set the pup up for success going forward. 

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