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How to Interpret Classified Ads for Dogs


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Finding a responsible breeder can be difficult, especially with all of the puppies available. Web sites post pictures of cute puppies, signs by the roadside dripping with fresh paint read “FREE puppies,” and what about all of those classified ads? Certainly, there are some good dogs for sale through the daily newspaper.

You may get lucky and locate a knowledgeable breeder through the Sunday classifieds; however, you may benefit from a lesson in interpreting the wording of those ads.

Below are some keywords often seen in newspaper ads – and what they really mean.

What does it mean when a dog has "papers"?

“Papers” can be a deceiving term, as it could refer to either a pedigree or a registration. According to Norma Bennett Woolf in “A Guide to Classified Ads,” a pedigree is the dog’s family tree, and it tracks back several generations. A pedigree is especially helpful in determining whether the puppy is susceptible to genetic disorders. A registration shows that the puppy’s parents were both registered members of the breed. It is not a reflection of the puppy’s health. In fact, “registered” is often listed as proof of quality. Although it is meant to appear that way, it has no bearing on quality, soundness of temperament, or resemblance to breed standards. 

Breeders that advertise they are state-licensed and USDA-approved are most likely another cog in the pet mill machine. Stay far away from breeders that tout such licensing. You may be curious why a breeder would even be associated with the United States Department of Agriculture anyway. Interestingly enough, after World War II, the USDA encouraged farmers to raise puppies as an alternate form of income when traditional crops failed, according to Woolf in “Just What Is a Puppy Mill?” With the supply of puppies on the upswing, ambitious entrepreneurs set out to make money opening retail pet shops that spread across the country.

Ads that read “purebred puppies, no papers” should be avoided completely. Why was a purebred litter produced if it could not be registered? The owners apparently had no forethought regarding the future of the breed. Most likely the litter was an accident, and there is no way to ensure the quality or the health of the puppies that were produced.

An ad that reads “full-blooded” may be from a breeder who doesn’t know enough about the practice of dog breeding to know the correct term is “purebred.” If a breeder does not even know the right terminology, you should be suspicious of what else he may not know. However, “full-blooded” may also be an attempt to fool the buyer into thinking the puppies are purebred, when in reality it is a mixed-breed litter. Breeders trying to create new breeds may use this term to get around the fact that they are not selling purebreds. Woolf stresses that if you breed a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle, although both parents are purebred, the resulting puppies, dubbed Cockapoos, are not. And if you breed two Cockapoos, you still have a mixed breed.

It's important to watch for genetic concerns

Ads may also declare “OFA registered” or make some claim on the condition of the puppies’ hips. The problem with this type of ad is that the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) does not register puppies; a dog cannot be cleared of hip dysplasia until at least the age of two. It is possible that the ad is referring to the certification of the parents. Be certain to ask the breeder of the parents’ ages and to see the certifications.

“See both parents” or “both parents on premises” is often thought of as a bonus to potential dog owners. You want to judge the puppy by the attributes of their parents. However, both parents on site might be a signal that you are dealing with a backyard breeder. Be sure to question the breeder to learn more. It’s possible that a responsible breeder had the luck of adopting two perfect specimens of the breed; but more than likely, a backyard breeder is looking to make a few bucks.

Ads for puppies also may claim “champion lines,” which only means that somewhere in your puppy’s past, there was a champion. It says nothing about the quality of the puppy’s parents or the puppy itself. Fingerson recommends looking for phrases like “champion sired” or “champion parents.”

When an ad portrays a particular abnormality as unique, be careful. Some breeders try to develop “extra big” or “extra small” dogs – such as miniature Chihuahuas or giant Mastiffs. These extremes usually create health issues that are above and beyond the typical breed-specific problems.

Some breeders proclaim that their puppies are “rare.” These puppies are usually not standard variations of the breed. They may be crossbred or bred to accentuate a defect, such as white Boxers and Dobermans that lack pigmentation. The temperament and health of these “rare” specimens are often suspect. Color can be a disqualification in a breed, but is usually so for a reason. As mentioned, health problems are often a result of particular colors or patterns. In working breeds such as herding or guard dogs, white is considered a disadvantage to the job. Woolf states that these “rare” versions of the breed should not be bred. If color is so important to you, then choose a breed where white is an acceptable color. If you like the idea of having a rare-colored dog, do as Woolf recommends and choose a rare-colored breed. For instance:

  1. A blue Doberman
  2. A white Collie
  3. A Kerry Blue Terrier
  4. Or a cream-colored Chow

Carefully consider the decision to get a dog

Ads that are holiday-based, such as “Chocolate Labs for Easter” or “Stocking Stuffer Puppies,” are often placed by breeders who are only out to make money. These dogs were probably bred specifically with the holiday ploy in mind. Too many people fall into the trap of purchasing a new puppy as a gift without thinking through the consequences. Puppies require a lot of care, often grow up to be large dogs, and require time and money to raise. Responsible breeders use phrases such as “health guaranteed,” “home-raised,” “AKC champion parents,” “parents OFA, eye-tested,” or “only interested parties need call.” This is helpful information, although responsible breeders rarely have a need to advertise in the newspaper classifieds. They rely more on word of mouth and often have a waiting list long before the puppies are born.

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