Evaluating a Breeder
There is no sure fire way for an uninformed buyer to determine who are reputable breeders. The checklist was assembled to help buyers identify the breeders trying to do it right by producing healthy puppies who will grow up to be good representatives of the breed. One of the best ways to evaluate a breeder is by visiting that breeder at his breeding location.
These specific questions will lead the buyer to answers that will formulate a “go/no go” decision. Prepare by reading the questions and the possible responses beforehand, and by researching the history and standards of the applicable breed (see Dog Breeds). Listen very carefully to the responses and evaluate the breeder’s answer. The Expected Answer, suggests an average level of responsible practice in breeding dogs and a possible source for buying a puppy. A Red Light answer should raise a caution flag in your mind, and cause you to proceed at your own risk or investigate deeper. A Green Light response is evidence the breeder goes above and beyond the minimum to achieve success in raising this breed. If this person offers you a puppy, consider yourself lucky.
These questions do not have to be asked in any particular order. Take the questionnaire with you and don’t be reluctant to refer to it during your visit. A reputable breeder will have no problem responding, and can take your thoroughness as a sign of someone who will give their puppy a good home. Some of these questions can be asked prior to a kennel visit via phone or e-mail, but don’t skip a personal visit.
Question: Is this purebred puppy registered with the American Kennel Club?
Expected Answer – The dam and sire, and the litter, should be registered with the AKC (American Kennel Club), the UKC (United Kennel Club) or the NKC (National Kennel Club), and the breeder should provide the necessary paperwork to register the puppy. While the AKC is the largest and oldest breed registry in the U.S., the UKC and the NKC also register dogs. These three registries make some effort to see that the worst “breeders” can’t register dogs. Remember, however, that registration is simply a record that the dog is purebred – it is not a sign of quality breeding. Registration is given based upon the word of the breeder, and in some cases, DNA proof of parentage. No one from AKC, UKC or NKC will visit the kennel or litter. A “puppy mill” puppy can “have papers” and be “registered”. While registration is an important for a purebred dog IT MUST NOT BE, the only factor considered when buying a dog. Read Kennel Clubs, Dog Registration and Pedigrees
If the kennel is using the AKC for litter registration ask if they have been inspected by the AKC and ask for a report of that inspection (go to Investigations and Inspections Department to read about the AKC Inspection Program.
Red Light – If the breeder says the puppy is registered to some lesser-known registry, run away. Several so-called registries exist so commercial breeders, or others who have lost their privileges with AKC (or UKC/NKC), can continue to breed and call their puppies registered. Don’t be fooled by the word “registered.”
Green Light – The breeder gives you the AKC (UKC/NKC) registered name and number of the sire and dam of the puppy, gives you information about the parents, and offers to send you a pedigree.
Question: How will I pay for the puppy?
The Expected Answer – The breeder should be willing to work with you on payment, but don’t expect to take the puppy home until full payment has been made. If a puppy isn’t old enough at the time of purchase, expect the breeder to ask for a down payment, or deposit. Be sure you understand such arrangements. If for some reason you decide against purchasing the dog, the breeder may have passed up a sale to another good home, and may keep your deposit.
The breeder may accept a personal check, or ask for a money order, bank draft, or cashier’s check. Good breeders want their puppies in the very best homes, and will work with those homes to make it happen.
Red Light – Credit cards as a method of payment may be a sign of a commercial operation. Commercial operations look to the bottom line – not necessarily the well being of their pups. This may not be as big a red light as it seems, but be sure to check it out.
A breeder unwilling to work out payment arrangements may or may not be a red flag, particularly in areas where demand is high and supply is low. In this case the breeder may have a waiting list of outstanding homes for pups and may not need to be flexible. A breeder who demands cash may not be reporting his income from puppy sales, and will deny selling you a puppy if there is a problem after purchase. Always try to pay with a check that can be cancelled if the deal goes bad. Always get a receipt and/or signed sales contract and guarantee.
Green Light – A breeder who demands a spay/neuter agreement, but will, upon providing proof, rebate the cost of spay/neuter, if the puppy hasn’t been altered at the time of purchase. Or, a breeder who gives incentives to their buyers for earning AKC (UKC/NKC) titles in confirmation, obedience, or performance events, or completion of Basic Obedience lessons.
Question: How do you advertise your puppies?
The Expected Answer – Expect breeders to advertise their puppies in local sources, or by word of mouth recommendations from people who have purchased a puppy. Ads in the local newspaper allow visits to the breeder where the buyer can ask questions and see the puppy and its sire and dam. Purchasing a puppy without visiting the breeder first means taking a big chance. A visit is the best means to evaluate what you are buying before you put your money down. Your local kennel club(s) have a breeder referral, or visit PGAA’s specific breed profile at Dog Breeds, click on the appropriate breed name, and go to the breed club’s link.
Red Light – Breeders who sell through an intermediary like a pet store or puppy broker. Or breeders that sell puppies that they didn’t breed. These breeders usually don’t care who buys their puppies as they are breeding for dollars, not quality. Their lack of concern over the puppies new home is equal to their lack of concern on how the puppy was whelped and raised. A USDA license allows a breeder to sell dogs to pet shops or brokers, and can be an indicator of a commercial breeder.
If you see “out of area” ads in a magazine, Internet classified’s, or puppy brokers (people who find a pup for you) ads, USE CAUTION. If breeders are advertising outside their own area, it may mean they are over-producing puppies and require lots of advertising. Generally speaking – lots of puppies available can mean poor puppy care and socialization.
Ads that say “kennel reduction” or “price reduction” means a breeder has so many unsold pups they are having trouble finding homes. These breeders didn’t know the market before breeding but took a chance that a growing popularity meant lots of buyers. This lack of planning can be expected to be found in other areas of the kennel, and is not a good indicator. The best breeders usually have much of a litter sold before it’s even bred.
Green Light – Breeders who don’t need to advertise. They sell puppies by word of mouth, or repeat business from satisfied customers. They may have their names listed at the Breed’s National web site’s Breeder Referral, or with a local kennel club.
How do you find these breeders? Through word of mouth. Go to dog shows. You can go to the AKC site to find a list of local kennel club who have dog shows. Locate the Breed’s National Club(s) by visiting PGAA’s “Dog Breed” profiles. The exhibitor/breeder is the professional when it comes to breeding and evaluating a breed. If your lucky enough to find one of these breeders – expect to sit on their waiting list for a while until they have the right pup for you.
Question: What would you like to know about my family and me in considering us a home for one of your puppies?
The Expected Answer – Expect to be interviewed with questions about other dogs and animals in your home; your experience with puppies; number and age of your children; your lifestyle: own your home or rent, hours you work, the amount of time you can devote to a dog, your ability to maintain your dog (includes vet expenses, grooming, quality food, dog training, equipment for a dog); your experience in house training; do you have a fenced yard, and if not, plans for a safe exercise area outside. Expect to be asked for your vet’s name and number as many breeders will call for a reference. Expect to be asked for references of people who know you and your other animals. The breeder will have a better understanding about you from the way you respond, and will usually decide based on their overall evaluation. For example, if you say that you have never owned a dog don’t expect the breeder to disqualify you as a candidate for one of their puppies. The breeder would know that extra information needs to be given to you about raising the dog. The breeder selects you in the same manner as you select them.
Red Light – No questions are asked about you or your family or your plans for the puppy’s entry into a new home. If the only question centers on paying for the dog the breeder probably doesn’t really care about the future of the pup.
Green Light – The breeder, who as a condition of the sale, insists you visit their home to pick up your puppy so they can meet you, give you information, and see your interaction with the dog. Home visits give the best information on what you are buying and how the puppy has been raised. And, by looking at the older dogs on the premises, you can see how your puppy will look in later years.
Question: What is your background in breeding dogs?
The Expected Answer – Expect the breeder to tell you when/how they became interested in breeding dogs, and the successes they’ve had in producing puppies sound in body and mind. Good breeders like to brag about their dogs.
Red Light – Avoid breeders who refuse to give you background information, or who don’t understand why you would even ask. When you call and all they have to say is, “Go to our web site?” you know there will be little support if something happens to your puppy.
Green Light – Breeders who have a prepared sheet or biography to give prospective buyers, and/or a written “mission statement”, or set of breeding goals.
Question: Do you sell puppies of other breeds?
Expected Answer: Some breeders may breed more than one breed of dog but, usually, will stick to the same “class” of breeds. They breeding no more than 2 additional breeds in their program..
Red Light – The breeder breeds more than two additional breeds.
Green Light – Breeders who specialize in one breed only, or whose additional breeds are in the same class.
Question: Can you give me references – your vet – previous buyers?
Expected Answer – Expect the breeder to give the name and phone number of their veterinary service, and then call the vet. Ask the vet if they recommend buying a puppy from this breeder. Another good reference is someone who has purchased a puppy and found it a delight. Ask for a name(s) of other buyer(s) and call. Ask about the type of support they got after the purchase.
Red Light – Avoid breeders who bristle at the thought of giving you references, or who say they don’t want you to bother their vet or previous customers. If a breeder gives a USDA number as a reference, be warned that this is a commercial dog breeder who is licensed by the government to sell to pet shops and brokers who serve as an intermediary between breeders and pet sellers. This is a person who makes their living selling animals and often finds the bottom line the most important aspect of breeding.
Green Light – A breeder who has a written statement that includes the name and phone number of their vet, and the names and contact info of clients. A breeder who gets a glowing reference when you call the vet.
Question: How long have you been involved in breeding this Breed?
Expected Answer: Many dog breeders stay in a particular breed for less than 5 years. Breeders with less than 5 years are considered “new” to a breed and should let you know they are beginners. There is nothing wrong with this, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to you. They may mention a mentor who is guiding their breeding program.
Red Light – Breeders who say they are just “getting into the breed” are novice breeders, and may not know any more about the breed than you do. Prepare yourself by learning as much as you can about the breed before you visit the breeder (see Dog Breeds).
Green Light – Breeders with long involvement in a certain breed, at least 6 years — the longer the better. Breeders who let you know they are exhibitors as well as breeders interested in producing puppies bred to the standard for the breed. These are the professionals in dogs, and are able to evaluate their puppies. Breeders who belong to Breed organizations devoted to the breed, and subscribe to its code of ethics.
Question: Why was this litter bred? Always, Always, Always, ask this question. It will give you more insight into who this breeder is, and what you can expect from your pup, than any other question.
The Expected Answer – This litter was bred because the sire and dam have outstanding breed qualities worthy of being passed on to another generation. The breeder should be able to list the outstanding breed qualities when asked.
Red Light – “To get back the money we spent in purchasing the dog.” or “We paid extra to have breeding rights and want to use what we paid for.”. “So our kids could see the miracle of birth.”, or “To supplement our income, or make money.”. “Because we thought it would be fun.” and “We liked our pet so much we wanted to keep one of the pups, or we wanted other people to have one of her pups,” All of these answers show a lack of forethought and planning. The actual breeding was probably done with any dog or bitch available with no regard to the breed standard or health screening.
Green Light – Someone who says, “This breeding furthers my breeding goals or this breeding produced puppies with the specific qualities desired in my breeding program,” lets you know this litter resulted from more than putting any two dogs together. Look for breeders whose answers reflect forethought, planning, and specific goals in the breeding. A person who has a breeding program plans for long term results – generations of the breed bred to exemplify the breed’s standard.
Question: How often do you have litters?
Expected Answer: A frequency that does not seems too taxing for the breeder and his facilities. Each litter requires tremendous amounts of time to raise pups to 8-12 weeks in good health, in a home environment, to socialize to people, to start house training and training conditioning, etc. A good pet isn’t produced by accident.
Red Light – Answers that show too many pups for the breeder to raise properly. Also, beware of breeders who are producing pups so quickly that the breeder could become “burned out”, and be out of the breeding business when you need future help. Beware of breeders who produce litters more than three times a year, or breeders who sell all of the puppies from every litter. These breeders have no idea of the positive or negative features of their puppies as they grow to old age. Consider carefully breeders who have multiple litters on the ground at one time. Some breeders do plan two litters at a time as insurance if one bitch can’t mother, so this may be less of a red light in certain situations. Be sure to ask why there are multiple litters.
Green Light – Breeders who breed for themselves and keep at lease one puppy from a litter. Their kennel name appears in the puppy’s pedigree. No breeder can keep everything they breed, but each puppy is raised as if they were the pick of the litter. Breeders who breed for show quality puppies, and take their breeding into the show ring to evaluate the success of their matings. Puppies with champions in the first three generations of the pedigree.
Question: Are the sire and Dam of the puppies on the premise so I can see them and other dogs you own?
Expected Answer – Breeders are busy people often working an eight hour job in addition to taking care of their dogs. Don’t expect to just drop in unannounced for a look-see, but you should be able to schedule a visit a the breeder’s location. Expect to see the puppy, the dam, the sire (if owned by the breeder). You should not expect “just groomed” dogs, but the dogs should be clean, as should the puppy’s environment. Expect that the breeder will not let you physically handle the puppy until it has had all its vaccinations, probably not until its at least 6 weeks of age. Puppies are very susceptible to disease, and need to be protected from exposure to outside influences.
Red Light – “No visitors allowed” isn’t a good sign, even if the breeder says it’s to guard the health of their dogs. A breeder who offers to meet you in a parking lot, or brings the puppy to another location other than the breeder’s home should also be a warning the breeder doesn’t want you to see their dog operation. No dam, no sire on the premises probably means the puppy wasn’t whelped with the breeder. A breeder who has a pen with pups set up in a room of the house, but it’s clear the dogs live in a building detached from the house which you can’t enter, should tell you these pups probably aren’t socialized to home living. If the breeder isn’t there when you visit, but you are met by kennel help, or a relative of the breeder, suspect the breeder may have problems with AKC, UKC or NKC and doesn’t want to deal with buyers directly.
Green Light – On the agreed on day, the breeder shows you the pup(s), the dam, the sire (or photo of the sire if not owned by the breeder), and relatives of the sire or dam who live with the breeder. Breeders whose puppies are raised in the house, and exercised in a fenced area adjacent to the home, are ready to be a family pet – unafraid of house noises, steps, grass, etc. The breeder’s dogs appear friendly, even if they don’t want to go to you immediately or sit in your lap. The house, the dogs, and dog areas look and smell clean.
Question: How many times has the dam of this litter been bred? What is her age? What is the age of the sire?
Expected Answer: Expect the breeder to tell you the bitch has been bred no more than once a year, or every other season, for a total of three or four litters. Occasionally, you will run across a breeder who is breeding a bitch “back to back” that is, two seasons in a row. If this is the case be sure to find out why. Expect a bitch to finish her breeding life at age 6 – 7, or at the latest, 8 years. Only a small percentage of truly great bitches will be used more than 4 times. The pups from a truly great producer will most likely stay with the breeder and be represented in the breeder’s pedigrees. These outstanding bitches are the foundation of a breeding program. Keep in mind that AKC Rules do not allow, except with special documentation, the registration of a litter out of a dam under 8 months or over 12 years of age at the time of mating, or by a sire under 7 months or over 12 years of age at the time of mating AKC
Red Light – A breeder who breeds a bitch at every season (usually every 6 months) shows a lack of concern for the health of the bitch, and consequently the litter. A breeder who has used a bitch to produce more than 5 litters. A breeder who breeds a bitch beyond the age of 8 years, especially if the bitch has been bred frequently.
Green Light – A breeder who uses most bitches for three to four litters, and no more than once a year. A breeder who spays bitches after her puppy producing years, and places her in a loving home or retires her in the breeder’s home as a pampered family pet.
Question: What health screening was done on the dam and sire of the litter before being used to produce this puppy?
Expected Answer – Expect both the sire and dam to be free of genetic diseases. Neither parent should have disqualifying faults as described in the breed standard. Expect the dam and sire to be screened by a vet for sound general health, sound heart, good patellas, and good hips. Expect one of the parents to have a CERF certification (eyes) of “normal.”
Red Light – A breeder who indicates they don’t need to screen for health issues. This indicates a breeder who either doesn’t know about the health problems associated with the breed, or doesn’t care about what is produced. They breed a male and female together for no other reason than it’s convenient – probably the breeder owns both dogs. Often back yard breeders buy a “breeding pair” from anyone who will sell a dog with full registration with no information on the health status of dogs in the pedigrees.
Green Light – A breeder who has CERF certification for both parents and OFA or PennHip certification for hips, and OFA for heart. This information may be available online by accessing the CHIC database. A breeder who can give you a health history on one or both sides of the pup’s pedigree shows a commitment to sound breeding practices.
Question: Do you have a Contract?
Expected Answer: Expect breeders to offer some type of contract confirming basic information on the puppy, terms of the sale, and some type of health guarantee. If these terms are discussed orally be sure to have them written down and signed. No breeder should refuse to do that.
Red Light – The breeder has no contract and doesn’t understand why one is necessary. A breeder who orally promises things but who will not put it in writing. The breeder has a contract but doesn’t allow you time to have your pup examined by your vet to confirm good health. A contract where the purchase price will not be returned if a puppy is found by your vet to have problems undisclosed by the breeder. Even if the contract says the puppy will be replaced instead of the money, chances are it will be a puppy not unlike the one you are returning.
Green Light – A breeder who has a Guarantee of Use clause in the contract, meaning the breeder will guarantee the pup is suitable for the use for which you purchased it. If you purchased a show potential pup the dog will grow to have no disqualifying faults. If you purchase a “pet only” it means the dog is of good health and will grow up to be representative of the breed, but it isn’t for breeding or show. When there is a guarantee of use, don’t expect anything beyond physical characteristics as it doesn’t extend to temperament and ability that are out of the breeders control once the dog leaves his home.
Question: Does your contract guarantee the health of the puppy?
Expected Answer: Expect the breeder to have their vet do a health examination prior to sale so any pre-existing problems can be detected. Expect a two-year health guarantee against hip, petella, and heart problems. Do not expect the breeder to cover health problems that do not have a genetic component. If a genetically related health problem is detected during the time of the guarantee, expect the breeder to work with you and cover vet bills up to the purchase price of the puppy.
Red Light – No health guarantee — “ya pays year dime and ya takes year chances”, or that does not allow for your vet to examine the puppy at the time of purchase. A contract with a genetic health guarantee of less than two year. This is a favorite ploy of pet stores as some genetic problems can’t be diagnosed or don’t show up in a young puppy.
Green Light – A breeder who will go over the vet examination done by their vet and discloses all the health issues from the most minor to anything in the pedigree. A breeder who will assist in genetic problems for at least 2 years (the breeder wants to know about any genetic issues in order to adjust their breeding programs accordingly). Expect the breeder to give you instructions on the protocol to follow for immunizations for the breed, and who will check with your vet to see it’s been followed if problems do arise. This shows the breeder is aware of protocols that prevent problems.
Question – If anything happens in the future and I can’t keep this dog, can I return it to you?
Expected Answer – Not all breeders will offer a lifetime return policy, however, you should expect the breeder will want to be notified and be more than willing to assist you in placing your dog in a new, suitable home. Expect the breeder to contact you periodically, or ask you to contact them. You should expect the breeder to understand that life changes, and to help you without reservation.
Red Light – Avoid breeders who find this a crazy question. Avoid breeders who will not give you a phone number contact, or breeders who do not see any reason to maintain contact with you. These are breeders you can’t count on for help should something go wrong.
Green Light – A breeder whose contract states something like “If at any time, for any reason, you can no longer care for the dog, it must be returned to the breeder.” Or, if you think you have found another home for the dog, the contract states the breeder must approve of the home before the dog is placed there. These breeders are the best of all. They take their responsibility to their pups seriously. They are doing their best to ensure no pup is ever placed in a shelter or improper home.
Question: Does your contract say the puppy must be spay/neutered, or can I breed?
Expected Answer: Expect a “sold as a pet” contract to have a spayed/neutered clause to make sure it does not produce offspring. And, expect to have to prove that by sending the vet bill for the procedure. Some breeders might use an AKC Limited Registration that requires you to re-contact the breeder to get a release to breed.
Red Light – A breeder who gives a full registration on every puppy they sell, or who offer full registration if you pay a higher price, sometimes called “breeding rights,” for the puppy. These breeders can’t possibly know at 8-12 weeks which pups should or should not enter the breeding gene pool, and are not interested in bettering the breed or maintaining the breed standard.
Green Light – Breeders who require that all non-competing or non-breeder dogs (usually pets intended to ONLY be a family pet) be spayed/neutered as a condition of sale, and do not use limited registration.
The above checklist is a compilation of several checklists already available on the web, usually found on a “Breed Club’s” site. Use it as an evaluation guide to give you an “overall” sense of the breeder, and if you develop an uneasy feeling follow your instincts.
To get a better understanding of a particular breed’s temperment visit the American Temperament Test Society, Inc. Click on “Breed Statistics” and then on the alphabetical grouping for the breed of interest.
Please visit the appropriate breed club’s web sites listed in the PGAA breed profiles at Dog Breeds.
Written by Ron Lueth of Pet Guardian Angels of America