Interviewing a Dog Breeder
You’ve found a breeder who appears to be reputable. Now it’s time to begin the interviewing process – for both of you. If you want to be a responsible owner who purchases from a responsible breeder, then expect this process to be slow and comprehensive. If you don’t have the time or patience for a drawn-out process, then you shouldn’t own a dog.
Your first meeting with the breeder should be conducted away from the cute little puppies that will undoubtedly pull at your heart-strings. You are seeking a companion that will be a part of your family for ten, twelve, or fourteen years – maybe longer. It is better to consider all factors before allowing that furry little face to affect your judgment.
Below is a detailed list of questions you should ask the breeder prior to committing to a purchase. Remember that a reputable breeder will gladly answer all of your questions. If he balks at any point, be suspicious of his intentions. A responsible breeder wants to fit you with the best match for your family and will appreciate your concern and inquiries.
- Ask to see the litter’s sire and dam. Although this is a trick question, it is a good one to ask. A responsible breeder will most likely not have both parents on site. It’s possible that he was lucky enough to have a perfect stud and bitch, but it’s highly unlikely. However, he should have the dam on site and should be happy to show her to you. If the breeder hesitates at all, be wary. Maybe the kennels are unsanitary or overcrowded. The dogs could be aggressive, fearful, or otherwise temperamental. If you are not allowed to see the dam, go elsewhere.
- When visiting with the mother, try to determine her temperament.Spend some time with her – petting her, playing with her, perhaps feeding her a treat to see how she reacts. Her temperament will be a good indicator of the puppies’ personalities.
- Note the conditions of the kennel. Is the site clean? Do the dogs look happy and comfortable? Do outdoor kennels lead to a climate-controlled area? Find out how much time the dogs spend in the kennel. Does the breeder interact with his dogs both in and out of the kennel? Are the dogs permitted into the breeder’s house? This is the best possible circumstance for the socialization of the puppies. The puppies should be exposed to as wide of a range of stimuli as recommended for their age, including contact with kids, appliances, and other pets. They should be given ample outdoor time and interaction with other animals and people, particularly after four weeks of age. Many reputable breeders will not allow you to visit with the puppies, especially on the first visit. Breeders want to protect their pups from any chance of illness, and do not want potential buyers to get emotionally attached prematurely.
- As you visit with the dam, ask the breeder to tell you about the dog’s temperament. He will most likely go on and on about his wonderful pet and friend; but if he’s responsible, he’ll also tell you any flaws his dog may have. A breeder who cares about his puppies will want to inform you of any imperfections, either in his pet or in the breed itself.
- Find out if the parents are shown competitively. What titles do they have? Reputable breeders show their dogs. In their continuing efforts to improve the breed, they wish to compare their line to other lines. Find out what areas the dogs excelled in for a glimpse into their qualities and temperaments. The breeder should also be actively involved in a breed club and not just be a member of the AKC.
- Request to see the pedigrees of both parents. Check for champions and titled dogs in the line – the more recent the better. A good breeder should be able to explain the puppies’ pedigree, noting why he chose each sire, and how it improved his line.
- The breeder should also be able to explain any inbreeding along with the advantages and risks. Inbreeding, often called line-breeding, is the act of breeding within the immediate family in order to strengthen positive traits or to eliminate unfavorable ones. It is common for knowledgeable breeders to use line-breeding to improve their line and the breed. Outcrossing is the term that applies to breeding with unrelated specimens or animals that are separated by at least five generations. Since canines have a large gene pool, inbreeding does not affect them adversely as it does humans.
- Ask about any genetic diseases or congenital defects that may affect the breed. A reputable breeder will be able to tell you about the diseases that are common in the breed. He will also be able to explain what, if any, steps he’s taking to decrease the chances of illness in his line of dogs. Any breeder claiming to have perfectly healthy dogs should be checked out further. Almost every breed is susceptible to some type of genetic disorder.
- Breeders should be testing their dogs for any genetic disorders that run in the breed. Any dogs that test positive should not be bred. Ask if the parents are registered with the OFA’s Hip Dysplasia Registry. Better yet, ask to see the OFA numbers and ratings for both the dam and the sire. The OFA number indicates that a dog has been tested and passed, while a rating (fair, good, or excellent) will give you a better idea of the condition of the hips. While dogs with a fair rating may produce puppies with good hips, a rating of excellent is your best bet for healthy hips in your next best friend. If possible, find out the OFA ratings for both sets of grandparents as well. The breeder should be able to supply paperwork proving that the parents have had at least the following health tests: 1. Hips (OFA or PennHip), 2. Eyes (CERF), 3. Thyroid, preferably.
- Ask the breeder about the puppies’ inoculations. Eight-week-old puppies should have had their first set of shots already. The breeder will be able to provide documentation of this, so ask for proof. Additionally, you may want to have your own vet examine the pup before you commit. The breeder may ask that you put down a deposit, or he may have a return policy in case there is a problem. Regardless, have your own vet examine the puppy within a few days of purchase. Some breeders even require it.
- Learn more about the contract and guarantee. Reputable breeders always have a guarantee for their puppies and require your signature on a contract. This is to protect the puppy, the buyer, and the breeder. The guarantee should ensure that the pup is in good health and should offer reasonable terms in case a genetic disorder develops. Responsible breeders will often help owners when dogs become ill and may offer a replacement or a refund if the puppy dies or must be euthanized.
- An ethical breeder will include a return policy in his contract. He wants what is best for his dogs, and if you are unable to keep the puppy – for any reason, at any time – he will be prepared to take it back. Request the names of previous puppy buyers and other references. You want to find out as much as possible about how the breeder operates. How many litters a year does the breeder produce? Anyone who breeds more than two litters a year is unable to observe the results of his line and may not be producing healthy puppies. To successfully monitor the genetic diseases and health of the dogs, a breeder really should not produce more than one litter per year.
- If the breeder always has puppies or breeds his bitch every year, think twice before committing. If there is more than one litter on site, you may be dealing with someone selling puppies to make a profit and nothing more. Without well-researched selection of the parents and monitoring of the resulting puppies, the line may produce unruly, snappy dogs with hip dysplasia. Each litter should be well-planned.
Additionally, you should find out where the puppies were raised. The best scenario is for the puppies to have been raised in the household. If raised among the commotion of daily living, the puppies will have had time to adjust to the sights and sounds of family life. Puppies can also be properly socialized if they were raised elsewhere, such as in a kennel or garage. Just verify that a reasonable amount of time was spent with the litter each and every day. Puppies not properly socialized grow up to be fearful or aggressive, traits caused by uncertainty with unfamiliar situations.
- Ask for the names and phone numbers of other buyers, and contact them before you sign a contract. Find out how many previous buyers the breeder still sees or talks to regularly. A reputable breeder keeps in touch with each buyer for the dog’s lifetime.
- Ask the breeder how long he’s been perfecting his line. Has he worked in the same breed or switched from breed to breed? Be wary of a multi-breed establishment. If you meet a breeder who continually switches from one popular breed to the next, you are most likely looking at someone who is trying to make a buck at the expense of the puppies. Some people, however, are interested in more than one breed, as Fingerson points out that “quite a few Akita breeders are also interested in Shibas.” Take care, however, that you aren’t dealing with a puppy mill or a for-profit breeder.
A new breeder may be reputable, even though he’s still learning. Do extra checking to ensure that you get a healthy puppy with the proper shots and guarantee.
- Will you help me pick the right puppy for my lifestyle? A reputable breeder will help you determine if his breed suits you. If you are a couch potato, then an active breed is not a good match. Your choice of pet might depend on whether you have a house in the country or an apartment in the city. Some breeds are not suitable for families with small children, while some don’t do well with other pets. A good breeder knows all aspects of his breed’s temperament and probably also knows each puppy’s personality. Matching you with a dog that fits you ensures that his animal has a safe and happy home for life.
- Find out when the puppies will be ready to leave their mom. Breeders usually place pups between eight and twelve weeks old. Before then, they still benefit from their mother’s milk and from the interaction with their siblings.
Most contracts also require that the new owner spay or neuter the dog. This is an effort to protect the line from irresponsible breeding. If you plan on breeding your new pet, let the breeder know. A contract will be drawn up to reflect that choice. This type of contract may also include testing and show requirements. If you choose to begin breeding, you will be required to follow strict guidelines to keep your dog up to breed standards.
If a contract requires you to breed your pet, take heed. No responsible breeder will require a buyer to breed. Breeding takes a lot of time, money, and patience to be done correctly. Any responsible breeder would rather you make a choice to breed than be forced into it.
A breeder should not guarantee that a dog is a champion or of show quality. There is no way to determine this, especially at the young age that pups are sold. A breeder will be able to determine which of his puppies have show potential, but puppies change a lot as they grow. Aging alters both physical characteristics and personality traits. Do not sign a contract that requires you to compete or show your new pet.
It is also good to find out if the breeder supplies any “service after the sale,” so to speak. Can you call with questions or concerns? Will he call to check on the puppy? Responsible breeders are usually there long after the puppies have grown. They offer support, advice, and sometimes even friendship.