Over at Marko’s place where I was a’browsing while bored, Lissa asked how one goes about finding a good breeder for a purebred pup.
Sounds like time for Way More Answer Than You Wanted! Getting any dog from any source has its own risks and pitfalls, and getting a purebred dog certainly has plenty.
Bad starting points:
- Newspaper classifieds. Sometimes good breeders advertise here, but usually it’s the domain of mills and people who bred their own purebred because they were cute/nice or to get some money back out of them. It’s perfectly possible to get a puppy this way that is healthy and delightful, but it’s a riskier option.
- The back of dog magazines. For the same reason as above. Your signal to noise ratio can be better here, as sometimes bigger kennels looking to boost their name will buy an ad space without advertising a particular litter; this is an especially good strategy if your kennel breeds a rare breed that almost certainly cannot be found locally for most people.
- Pet stores. Not only is the pup virtually guaranteed to be a mill dog, pet stores are breeding grounds for epidemic- AND you will probably pay twice as much as you would have from a breeder, at least in most breeds. (Some breeds make breeding them extremely inherently expensive and you should expect to take a hit either way- like, say, French and English bulldogs.)
Bottom line: most ethical breeders don’t breed litters primarily to sell, they breed in order to get a particular hoped-for result from the cross and sell according to what they got. They don’t need to go retail or advertise in the classifieds first because they want to have as much control as possible over where the pups go and into what circumstance, and second because they usually have waiting homes already- or at least contacts who’d know who is looking for a pup of that breed or why.
Good starting points:
- Your veterinarian is always worth asking. Vets have good breeder clients and horrifying breeder clients, and they can sometimes either recommend or warn you off breeders in your area, and may know about upcoming litters, particularly if the breed is a relatively common one.
- A friend or acquaintance who is already in the breed, so to speak. Or someone who breeds/shows/trials a different breed, but is active in the dog world. Breeders and show people usually know everyone local who also trials or shows, or if in their actual breed, everyone in the region.
- Google and your wits. Don’t search for “(breed) puppies for sale”, search the full name of the breed and by state. Established kennels often have websites, as it’s a good way to network and to attract people making a slow, non-impulsive search for a good bet in that breed. Unfortunately, so do millers, which brings us to:
- The puppies are from “champion lines”, or “papered”. Having one champion in the lines only means that, at some point, a dog who titled was genetically involved, no matter how far back; people who actually show or trial take “registered” for given, the same way you would take “is definitely a dog”. Someone who has to make a selling point out of “is definitely a dog” probably doesn’t have something you want.
- They seem to breed lots and lots of litters, and in several different breeds. Sometimes there’s a “he’s in Malamutes, she’s in Rottweilers” situation, or an established kennel also has one other breed, but usually there’s a primary and a secondary and the total number of litters is still relatively low. Places that advertise they always have puppies available are places to run away from, fast.
- They’ll sell you a pup online, sight unseen. They are more interested in your ability to pay than in why you want a pup of that breed and what you expect your dog to be like.
- There’s plenty about how cute and maybe healthy the puppies are, but almost nothing about the breed, about actual health testing and existing health issues in the breed, and about what their rationale and goals for breeding are.
- Pedigrees rather than “papers” or “champion lines”. Pedigrees can be very informative for people within the breed that know how to read them; probably not to the average prospective pet home, but this is an attempt to provide real meaningful information about the pups’ lines.
- The site, or breeder, is up front about giving you reasons why you DON’T want this breed. No breed is without its issues, and none is a good fit for every person or family; good breeders care about the eventual fate of their pups and the last thing they want is for them to end up homeless because the owners couldn’t cope with normal issues in the breed.
- They are also up front about discussing health issues known to the breed, at length. Again, while some breeds are healthier than others, NONE is problem free, and this should not be hidden information. Along with this should be the records for health testing, where tests are available; at the very least you want to see OFA (orthopedic) and CERF (retina) certifications on breeding stock. For most large breeds you also want thyroid testing. When testing is not available, the breeder should be willing to chat about that issue.
- Links to national and/or local breed rescue on the main site. Good breeders tend to be a community, and they care about the breed as a whole, not just their own dogs. Active involvement is even better. Speaking of, there should also be some mention of what happens if, for whatever reason, you can no longer keep the dog; if the breeder cannot take the dog in themselves, they should have a backup plan that is not “shelter”. “It’s your dog now, it’s your problem” is something to run away from.
- Discussion of temperament, both in the breed in general and their dogs in particular. If it’s not up, ask. “Wonderful” is not a temperament in and of itself. Even great dogs have more specifics than that.
- A purpose for breeding beyond money and cute. Titles are a good sign; many different kinds of titles are as well, or at least they can be. Years ago I would have said that titles were mandatory, but I’ve since changed my mind; in some breeds especially that have been heavily modified by the ring, it’s no longer possible to win with a dog I would consider healthy or reasonable and some breeders have forgone the ring in favor of trying to bring back a sounder dog. The key here is that the breeder should be able to talk all day about their goals and guidelines for breeding and what results they’re getting.
- If the dog is of some physically extreme type, there should be extra discussion of what that dog’s particular needs are. Flat-faced breeds should come with warnings on how easy it is for them to overheat. Deep-chested breeds should come with warnings about bloat. Long-backed breeds such as Dachshunds should come with warnings about how easy it is for them to injure their backs. Hairless breeds should come with a “needs sunscreen”. Very thin-coated, lean breeds need warnings about how easy it is for them to get chilled. Heavy-eared spaniels need warnings about ear infections.
- Mention of “temperament” or “aptitude” testing. Usually this refers to the Volhard test. You’ll not see it much outside of trialing working and sporting breeds, however. A good breeder should be at least somewhat concerned about matching puppies to families and this is one way to get an outline of their drives and personality.
One last caveat: figure out if the breed you want is divided into working/sporting and show or “bench” lines, or is all show, or virtually all field/work. The odds are that unless you’re looking for a dog to actually do that job, in which case you probably already know how to track down what you want, you want show/pet lines, NOT working. Working/field/stock lines have energy and focus to match their job demands, they want and need work, and they will *not* be terribly reasonable housepets. A Border Collie whose parents both herded stock is not going to be just-a-pet, and unless you have stock that needs herding you almost certainly don’t want one. Most show breeds and lines have been significantly mellowed from their original incarnation.
There are also some breeds that are almost guaranteed to be field/work dogs; Patterdale terriers, Large Munsterlanders, and Boerboels are likely to turn up with their bags packed and ready for the job. Avoid unless that’s what you’re getting the dog for and you really know what you’re doing, especially guardian breeds. Unless roving bands of wolves and barbarians are a bigger problem for you than neighborhood kids, that can be a short path to the ER.