You have decided that you definitely want a puppy of a certain breed. You want a sound, healthy representative of that breed and are determined to give the search your most intelligent, diligent efforts. Here's where to start:
First, choose a breeder in whom you have confidence. Look for a "hobby breeder" (a person who is dedicated to the improvement of the breed, will only breed when she feels she can make an improvement in her already show-quality breeding stock; and does not produce pups for profit.) The Club or local club will provide names of breeder-members near you. Membership in a breed club does not guarantee her scruples, however. Ask the breed club whether they have a signable Code of Ethics and whether that breeder has subscribed to it.
Another way to locate a breeder is to meet breeder-exhibitors at dog shows. Choose one whose dogs appeal to you. Or, answer a newspaper, dog magazine ad or internet offering, but beware of breeders whose consistent or prominent ads must be paid for by voluminous puppy sales. Remember too that much convenience is offered via the internet but much truth, visual and auditory clues can be concealed as well, The usual cautions apply!
Next, interview each breeder on the list you've compiled. The most responsible breeders want to assure their pups of the best, most permanent homes so they'll be interviewing you at the same time. Ask each breeder:
1. Do you have pups available now? If so, good - or maybe not so good. A steady supply of pups - say, a litter a month - suggests a quantity operation, not a quality one. Ask when pups are expected. If you're otherwise impressed with this breeder, put yourself on her waiting list. Meanwhile, prepare your family and home for the new arrival; buy a sleeping crate, fix the fence, add the dog run, get a wholesale catalog and invest in the necessary supplies.
2. Describe your family to the breeder. Tell her whether you've owned her breed before, and what your experience has been. If you don't volunteer this, she should ask. Explain why you want this breed, and ask what its negative aspects are. Should she tell you frankly that the breed will "chew, shed, dig, yap and run away," then consider whether you honestly want to live with these characteristics.
3. Tell the breeder whether you want a pet quality or show quality pup. Puppies of each breed are graded against the breed's official Standard of perfection, and pups that come the closest to the Standard should be used to perpetuate the breed and be shown at dog shows, the showcase of breeding stock. Pups that don't come as close to the Standard, whose imperfections may be unnoticeable and that make no difference to you nor the health of the animal, are pet quality puppies. All are raised with the same care. All will be wormed and inoculated appropriately for their age, tails and ears docked timely if required by the Standard, etc.
If the pups are AKC-registered, they will probably come with AKC Limited Registration papers. This means that while your dog is fully registered with the AKC, its offspring cannot be. This is no reflection on the quality of your dog, but a reflection of the breeder's perceived responsibility to keep pet owners from accidentally or intentionally producing volumes of unwanted pets. The breeder can lift this limit at a later time under some circumstances.
If the breeder originally tells you she has puppies available, but changes her tune to "nothing is available right now," when you say you want "just a pet," be suspicious! Reputable breeders judge puppies only against the official Standard for the breed; they're not graded on the prospective purchasers' ability to pay, nor promise of a "show career" for puppy. If you ask for "show quality," be prepared to undertake the showing of that pup - an awesome task! Conversely, if you buy "pet quality," expect to have it sterilized and don't expect it to come close enough to the Standard to compete at dog shows.
The terms "purebred" and "AKC registerable" are not guarantees of quality, nor do they mean that your purebred puppy should be used to produce more; those terms just mean that both parents were of the same breed or "race," if you will. If you anticipate a show/breeding career, buy the best quality from a breeder you like and trust - even if you have to wait. Quality isn't expensive - it's priceless!
4. Most important of all, ask the breeder whether she provides written guarantees against hereditary diseases. It's unnecessary to have a pet or show prospect become lame, blind and suffering because of preventable hereditary disease. RUN from a breeder who offers no written guarantee because "my line has no hereditary problems." Reputable breeders will creen all their breeding stock for hereditary hip disease, eye and heart disease, and such congenital anomalies as Von Willebrand's disease and dwarfism, where applicable, and will give the puppy buyer a guarantee in writing against hereditary diseases.
Should your guaranteed puppy develop a hereditary, progressive and/or debilitating condition to the extent that it cannot function in health and comfort as a companion and family member, your recourse is spelled out in writing. Reputable breeders will offer a refund, replacement or financial assistance with corrective surgery, sterilization or euthanasia. Pet shops and backyard breeders generally do not.
5. Ask to see the breeder's adult dogs. Housing and treatment of dogs has as much impact as heredity on the temperament of the pups. Good breeders use crates, runs and fences to control their dogs' activities. However, they don't "warehouse" their dogs in crates in basements, nor keep adults and puppies in kennels without human contact. Dogs and pups who are left alone in a kennel, away from people, can't bond with people become neurotic and often exhibit destructive behavior, the worst of which may be "fear-biting."
Look for clean, happy adults in the breeder's reasonably clean, tidy and odor-free house. Pups, too, should be clean and free of odor, with shiny coats and a healthy energy level. They'll probably be in a pen in the center of the family's activity area. Most breeders will socialize puppies via the "put hands allover" method from the time of birth, so that the pups are secure and believe nothing bad can happen to them.
6.Don't buy a puppy or an adult out of sympathy! Sometimes the defect won't make a difference to you - for example, the pet puppy may have an undescended testicle - but if a puppy with a problem personality is pushed on you as a "bargain," beware! Do you want to commit yourself to such a puppy for 10 or 15 years? Or expose your friends, family and small children to an unstable and undependable dog who is a joy to no one?
7. Once you've decided on a breeder, is the individual puppy right for you? Pups' personalities are as different as can be. Along with grading a litter for show and pet quality, many breeders do "puppy aptitude testing" at seven weeks, to be sure each pup's personality is compatible with its prospective owners. Give the breeder enough information about your family and yourself and trust her to choose a puppy that fits in.
8. Trust your instincts! If you don't like a breeder personally, go with those instincts! Search for a breeder you trust and like, someone you won't feel guilty calling at an odd hour with what seems like the world's dumbest question. Pick someone whose happy, stable adult dogs seem to like her too! You'll be happy with her pups, and she'll be pleased to help you with all phases of puppy's development. Likewise, don't feel coerced into signing any agreement that seems onerous to you. You're buying a quality animal for a respectable sum and should not have to deal with unwanted co-ownerships, puppy-back arrangements or any other strings that make you feel like a trapped babysitter rather than the proud owner of a healthy, loving purebred dog..
Elizabeth Crosby Simpson
First published in the AKC GAZETTE in February, 1987.
Revised by the author for publication on the Internet
In February, 2000.
Copyright remains with the author..