So You Want To Buy A Dog

Often people will ask me for advice on buying a dog, generally after they have purchased a puppy from a pet store and have discovered the horrors that can befall a pet store pup.  And before you fill up my e-mail and comments with stories about your healthy pet store pup – yes, I know that miracles can happen.  But I’m still disappointed in you for supporting a puppy mill.

The only answer that I ever give is go to the closest animal shelter, or Google up a breed specific rescue organization such as Save Our Setters.  But that isn’t really a full, or even good enough answer.

Gibson the tallest Great Dane in the world, with his Chihuahua friend Zoie

Gibson the tallest Great Dane in the world, with his Chihuahua friend Zoie

Recently a dog-lover friend pointed me to the good folks at North West Florida Great Dane Rescue. Clicking on their name will take you to a wonderful article on their site that provides a much more complete answer. Some tiny bits of the article are Great Dane specific, but in general the information applies to your situation.

Below, I have summarized some of the more salient points of the article.

Questions to Ask Breeders Before buying.
1. First and foremost DO YOUR RESEARCH!

Contact the Great Dane Club of America [or the specific club for your breed] or your local rescue and ask for breed information. O.K., so that really wasn’t a question, but it will help you learn about the breed, what kinds of answers to expect when asking the questions. If at anytime you get that “gut feeling” something isn’t right, LISTEN to it and leave. Contact your local rescue, they can offer LOADS of information as to who is responsibly breeding their animals and who just wants some extra cash to buy that cool new car.

The Harbor Humane Society, our local shelter.

The Harbor Humane Society, our local shelter.

2. How long have you been in the breed? If they are new, do they have experience with a similar breed? What others have you bred?

You probably want to avoid anyone who has “switched” breeds every couple of years, from popular breed to popular breed. Otherwise, look for someone with some experience with the breed you are interested in.

Also, be very wary of people who have multiple dog breeds. It is not uncommon to find people breeding more than one kind of dog, but a breeder producing litters of many different breeds of dog is not going to be your best source, and probably should be suspected as a puppy-mill or disreputable breeder.

3. What kind of congenital defects are present in this breed? What steps are you taking to decrease these defects?

Avoid anyone who says “none”, or “not in my dogs!” There are genetic problems that are present in almost every breed. Do some research here, and make sure you know what kind of answer you should be getting from the breeder.

A reputable breeder should be able to tell you what kinds of problems might be present in the particular breed (for example, hip dysplasia,

X-ray of a dog with hip dysplasia.

X-ray of a dog with hip dysplasia.

bloat, thyroid problems, etc) and what kind of testing is available to find it. It goes without saying that the breeder should be doing those tests on all their breeding stock. Any dogs that are showing signs of any of these problems should not be bred — avoid anyone who is breeding dogs with genetic problems, or who is not testing their dogs and bitches. A breeder that can’t tell you what kinds of things affect their dogs isn’t going to be breeding to avoid them.

4. Do you have the parents on site? Can I see them?

This is kind of a trick question – most breeders will not own both dogs. They will own the mother (and you should be able to see her), but the best match for that bitch probably belongs to someone else. So, if you can see both parents on site, you should be a little suspicious. It may mean that the breeder has a large pool of dogs and is carefully matching them – or it can mean that they had two attractive dogs in their backyard and had either a planned or unplanned breeding just because they had a male and female at the same time.

Kelly the Irish Setter with her world record litter of 16 puppies.

Kelly the Irish Setter with her world record litter of 16 puppies.

You should be able to see the mother and any other dogs on site when you visit. If the breeder hesitates, you should wonder why – are the dogs kept in clean, healthy conditions? Are they too aggressive to let loose? You should be very comfortable with any reason not to see the dogs.

However, remember that you should not be interacting with very young puppies, and might be prevented from seeing puppies that are less than 4 weeks old. This is ok, and is simply the breeder trying to eliminate any chance of illness in the puppies – they don’t know what kind of dog diseases you may be carrying, and don’t want the litter to get sick.

5. What are the good and bad points of the parents? What titles to they have?

Usually, breeders will start to gush at this point and enumerate all the wonderful qualities of their dogs – and the best I’ve talked to also will point out their flaws. What you’re looking for here is temperament, possible aggression, how they deal with people, how they’re not “perfect”.

Hugo, the Australian Champion Irish Setter.

Hugo, the Australian Champion Irish Setter.

As for titles, reputable breeders show their dogs, and they should be carrying points towards a championship, if not champions already. This is important – while there are many wonderful dogs out there that haven’t seen the inside of a show ring, if the breeder is truly trying to improve the breed, they will be comparing their dogs to other breeders and trying to breed dogs that match the standard. The only way to do that is to show their dogs.

Many breeders compete in obedience as well, and will have Companion Dog (CD) or other obedience titles for the parents. Often, this is a good benchmark for temperament and behavior.

6. Can you explain the puppy’s pedigree?

A good breeder should be able to tell you something about dogs on your puppy’s pedigree. Have them explain the often-cryptic letters and titles awarded, and get a good feel that they know the lines they are breeding from. At the very least, they should be able to provide you with a 4-generation pedigree and be able to tell you about the dogs.

You might see the same dogs listed a few times on the pedigree – the breeder should be able to point out any line breeding and inbreeding and explain the benefits and dangers of both.

7. Where were the puppies raised? How have you socialized them?

What you’re looking for here is an indication of what kind of socialization the puppies have had. Ideally, you want the breeder to have raised the puppies in the house, around the normal daily activities of a household so they are used to the noises and activity of humans.

Someone who says “in the garage” or “in the kennels” can also have well socialized puppies, but you need to be more careful. Have they spent enough time with the puppies?

Whelping 5 week old puppies.

Whelping 5 week old puppies.

Socialization is so important to getting a well-adjusted, well-mannered dog. Puppies should have been exposed to people, other dogs, new situations, normal household sounds and activities in order to learn. A puppy raised without this important social interaction can be shy, fearful, aggressive, or have other problems, as they get older. Dogs need to know how to play, how to handle new situations, how to relate to people.

8. How many litters do you have a year?

Breeders producing more than 1 or 2 litters a year are probably not paying enough attention to the genetics and health of the puppies. If it is a small breeder, even two a year may be too much to be able to make sure that the breeding is going to be successful and produce healthy puppies.

Definitely avoid anyone who “always has puppies”, or who is breeding their bitch every year let alone every time she goes into heat. I have talked to several people with more than one litter at a time – I avoid them as well. If someone has three litters (especially if they note that it was “unexpected”) on the ground at the same time, they are certainly not planning these puppies! All puppies should be “expected” and well planned. If they’re not, it’s a crapshoot as to whether you’re going to get a good puppy or a nightmare.

9. What guarantees do you have for this puppy?

At the very least, the breeder should guarantee the puppy against any debilitating genetic problems, and insure that the puppy is in good health.

A breeder should be prepared to take any dog back for any reason – part of being an ethical breeder is making sure that the puppies have a good home and that it stays that way.

10. When can I take the puppy home?

Puppies usually go home between 8 and 12 weeks. Avoid anyone sending tiny puppies home. Puppies sent home too early don’t have the chance to develop healthy interactions with other dogs, and can be sickly or have problems eating.

Whew, that seem like a lot of questions, but if you don’t ask them you are asking for problems.

Many people are tempted by classified ads in their local newspaper, supermarket bulletin board, or on-line ads.  The good folks at North West Florida Great Dane Rescue have an answer for that as well with this informative piece about how to translate the “adspeak” into useful information.

“Champion lines” — look instead for Champion sired or Champion parents. All the term “Champion Lines” means is that there is a dog somewhere in the puppy’s family that was a champion – it says nothing about the quality of the parents at all. Anyone can buy a puppy from a champion, but it does not mean that they have any other interest in the breed but to bank on the name and make money. The puppy may have been sold as a pet (since it had some problems that prevented it from being shown) and an unethical person did not have the dog altered and is still breeding puppies.

“AKC Registration” or “AKC Papers” — So what? AKC registration does not guarantee quality. AKC papers are much like the title of a car – papers are issued on the junked chevy on blocks in your yard just as easily as they are on a brand new, shiny Jaguar. AKC does not control breeding, approve litters, or guarantee soundness. Unfortunately, in the hands of some unethical breeders, it doesn’t even guarantee that the dog is purebred. AKC Registration is automatic if you buy from a reputable breeder – they will provide all necessary paperwork when you buy a puppy. It is not a selling point, and shouldn’t be treated as one. Be wary of other “registrations”, as well. There are several groups that are registering dogs, occasionally even mixed breeds, for a fee. This registration means nothing, and is of no value to you. Not that AKC papers really mean much, either.

“extra-big” — Breeders trying for extremes are rarely raising healthy dogs, and any ad that has to stress the size and weight of the dog to sell the puppies is suspect. Usually, these dogs are outside of the breed standard and are subject to their own medical problems due to excessive size.

“rare” — Why? Is the dog showable? Are there too many defects for the animal to be bred? What kind of problems does this “rare” color or size or pattern entail? There are many people buying “rare” white Boxers and Shepherds, not realizing that they are not show-prospects, and that they are buying a dog with medical problems from lack of pigmentation, and possible behavioral problems as well.

“see both parents”
This is not usually a good thing. Rarely will a good breeder have the luck to own both dogs for the perfect litter. If you can see both parents, it often means that the person had two dogs in the back yard and didn’t supervise them carefully enough, resulting in puppies. This is the most common. There are, however, ligitimate RESPONSIBLE Breeders who do own both parents… they are few and far between though. You need to ask the right questions. If the breeder doesn’t have an answer as to why both parents are on site, or the answer is something like “well, they were just such cute dogs…” or “we bought another dog so we could have puppies” you need to evaluate whether this breeder is doing the right thing. They might be, they might not. It’s up to you to ask.

“Must go now!” Why? Are they too big to be cute anymore? Need more money? Is there a problem? Be EXTREMELY wary of this one.

And finally, the good folks at North West Florida Great Dane Rescue offer up these simple tips for spotting an unethical breeder.

When you talk to people about their puppies, there are a few warning signs you may be dealing with a disreputable, unethical, or irresponsible breeder:

1. The “breeder” lacks knowledge about the breed
2. The “breeder” shows ignorance or denial of genetic defects in the breed
3. The “breeder” has no involvement in dog sports
4. The “breeder” doesn’t let you observe the puppies or adults, or let you see the kennels
5. The “breeder” has no documentation and cannot provide a pedigree
6. The puppies are not socialized

For the good of your dog-to-be, and all dogs – PLEASE do the RESEARCH and follow these guidelines.  They should protect you from making an error and save you from having to listen to a lecture from me.


8 comments on “So You Want To Buy A Dog

  1. Zen Master Dod says:

    A very valuable article, my friend. When we’re ready to house a new member of the (canine) family, we’re checking shelters and rescues. I continue to be impressed with Save Our Setters and how thorough and caring they are.

    I look forward to the day we can bring in a new puppy or two, but it will be done the right way and when we are able to provide without question the perfect home for new “kids.”

  2. Vince D. says:

    I read your blog for a long time and must tell that your articles always prove to be of a high value and quality for readers.

  3. laura says:

    the irish setter with 16 puppies is crazyness! i mean forreal how and the hell does she have enough nipples to feed all them hungery f***ers? but anyways my dog has had 5 litters of puppies and each litter she had 12 lil st. bernard puppies!! they were so cute!:) but my 2 cats just had a litter of kittens and both of them had 4 kittens each! and my chihuahua is pregnant and should be havin babies anytime now!! im so excited!!!;););)

  4. Shana says:

    TERRIFIC. You really have your research and experience down pat. May more people pay close attention to what you have to say 🙂 Here’s to shutting down BYBs and making rescue obsolete! (crossing fingers, toes, and eyes!)

  5. kailani says:

    i would but we cant we already have enough but they r cute

  6. Derek Dewitt says:

    My wife and I are thinking about buying a puppy soon, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about asking to see if you can see the parents of the puppies. This would prove to me that they are living in good conditions and are healthy, so I’ll be sure to do this.

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