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How To Finding the Right Dog Breed and Breeder for Your Family


Pure bred 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 generations, in many instances centuries, through selective breeding, to develop the breed’s type.  

While there are no guarantees on temperaments, pure bred dogs offer prospective owners a good idea of what their puppy will grow up to look like, what is energy level is likely to be, as well as its inherent instincts, tendencies and general personality characteristics.

Where To Find Your Dog Breed and Leads on Breeders

If you are still choosing between several dog breeds or have already set your sights on a particular breed, a good starting place is a dog show.  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.  InfoDog.com has a listing of most of the AKC events occurring around the country, including conformation shows, rally, herding, obedience and agility trials.  Click on this link, and you will find a map of the USA.  Click on your state and a list of all upcoming AKC events will be displayed.  The AKC website has a similar list, but I find this one is the easiest to navigate.

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.

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 breeder’s websites.

What to look for in a Breeder

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.
Sample AKC Breeder of Merit Banner

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 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 their current Breeders of Merit which you can view by clicking here.

Red Flags For Puppy Mills and Questionable Breeders

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 litter mates for important socialization lessons until they are 8 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 2 and 6 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 6 months of age, so walk away from any breeder suggesting or advertising otherwise.

How to Start the Conversation With A 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 2 or more contracts depending on whether the puppy is being purchased as a pet or show/breeding prospect.

The reputable breeder’s contract should offer a health guarantee that the puppy be free from genetic defects up to the age of 1 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 over work 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 be fed, and that the puppy have 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.

Kiri and her new born puppies delivered c-section

The Most Important Characteristic of Your 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 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, training facilities as well as breed specific issues and research developments in the breed.

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.

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