My first dog, Howie, was a rescue. He was, and probably always will be, my Heart Dog. I believe that anyone involved in purebred dogs should also be involved with rescue, somehow. Since I am unable to foster (at this time), I do my best to advocate, transport, and volunteer in my local area.
However, I am a purebred fancier. I have three dogs, all from breeders – one from Georgia, one from Minnesota, and one from Wyoming.
Howie taught me a lot. He was my first obedience dog, my first agility dog; he was the the dog that taught me how to fight BSL in my area. But, there was a lot I didn’t know about him: I didn’t know about his parents – there’s a lot you can learn from the parents of your dogs: health history, predict future health problems, temperament issues, drive vs. no drive.
And there was one thing I couldn’t do with Howie that I wanted to do: I wanted to be in the conformation ring. Wanting to be in that show ring only helped me to narrow down my search for a purebred dog. Even if you want a purebred dog as a pet, getting a dog from a breeder has many perks.
First things first, though: not all breeders are created equal. Just because someone has a boy dog and a girl dog and they make puppies doesn’t make them qualified as a breeder. These are the people we all despise, and this article isn’t about them. A good breeder will be health testing their dogs before breeding them, and making those tests results public – the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), and PennHIP all have online databases and you should be able to search for your Future Puppy’s parents on one or all of these sites.
Why is health testing important? Because different breeds have different genetic diseases and conditions that are easily passed on. Hip dysplasia being the most widely known, but eye, heart, and thyroid conditions are all genetic. Some breeds have certain conditions that you should be aware of, and breeders should be familiar with these conditions and whether their dogs are carriers or are affected by these conditions – for example: Toy Fox Terriers can be affected by von Willebrands Disease (as well as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Dobermans, and Poodles), and American Staffordshire Terriers – and possibly American Pit Bull Terriers closely related to the AmStaff – can be affected by Cerebellar Ataxia.
It is important to remember that even your rescues can be affected by many of these conditions, but the myth of “hybrid vigor” is a topic for another day.
A good breeder will make the health testing public (see: Taco’s sire, scroll down slightly for his CHIC# and the results from his health testing), and should be willing, and happy, to show you the certificates from each health testing body.
Temperament: It’s genetic, too. Meeting both parents can help you decide if your puppy is going to be a good fit with your family/lifestyle. It is also a good indicator of personality and tolerance. Two high-drive (high energy) dogs are generally going to produce high-drive puppies, which won’t be well-suited to a couch potato lifestyle.
Temperament is also a term that encompasses dog aggression and human aggression, and these traits can be passed on.
In addition, an experienced breeder will be able to pair you with the best puppy to fit your lifestyle. If you tell them what you want, they’ll be the ones who can tell you to pick Puppy A over Puppy B because they have spent the last 8-10 weeks with the puppy. I ended up with Taco because he was calmer and cuddlier than his littermates, and that was what I wanted.
Try to put aside your want for the “cutest” or “most colorful” puppy from the litter, and get the one with the best temperament.
A good breeder will let you visit and will answer all of your questions. Many breeders I know will invite you to shows, they’ll invite you to their home/kennel to meet the puppy’s parents and their other dogs, and they’ll also want you to come meet the entire litter of puppies. If you cannot meet the puppies or the parents, a good breeder will send you photos – lots and lots of photos.
Beware of breeders who will not do any of this.
All three breeders that I got my dogs from were more than open about not only the parents of my dogs, but also the other dogs in their home. I was, and still am, able to to call, email, or text with any question or concern and I know I am going to get an honest answer, and someone who is going to support me with whatever problem I might have.
A good breed will prove their dogs. We talked about this in our post “So You’re Thinking About Breeding Your Dog!” While not all breeders will prove their dogs in the working venue, they should be proving their dogs somewhere. A conformation title from a reputable registration organization means a judge has put their hands on the dog and has judged the dog against others of its breed.
Beware of words like “Champion bloodlines!” with dogs who don’t have titles. Even beautiful show dogs can produce dogs that have no business being bred. A good breeder works to improve their breed, not just breed to make puppies. Doing this means that a breeder is putting much more money into their dogs than they are getting back from the sale of their puppies. In fact, said Good Breeder probably isn’t making a profit at all.
On the other end, not every dog needs a conformation title to be bred, either. Make sure you know what you’re looking for. Get a dog from a breeder experienced with what you want, from dogs experienced with what you want to do.
If something happens to me, I know where my dog will go. Assuming my family does not want to or can not care for my dogs if I happen to perish in a firey car accident, every single breeder I know will happily take my dog back. It is a huge red flag for me if a breeder does not make this statement, even without me asking. Usually it is a stipulation on the breeder’s side that if you can no longer care for the dog for whatever reason, then the dog goes back to them. Unexpected things in life happen, and while it is never planned, I need this extra assurance to know that my dogs always have a place to go.
If a breeder is unwilling to take back a puppy, it is usually a pretty good indicator that they are turning over a large amount of puppies/dogs. Which brings up another point:
A good breeder will focus on the quality of their puppies, not the quantity. As mentioned before, a good breeder focuses on bettering the breed. Beware of breeders who breed several litters a year. This is a pretty good indication that they are not focused on quality. This isn’t a blanket statement, but you should be cautious.
This isn’t a definitive list of what makes a good breeder a good breeder, but it’s a start. Depending on what you are looking for, you might be more picky about the breeder you are looking for. You may require that your breeder works and titles their dogs on their own, or you may not mind if they send their dogs off with a handler to earn their titles, and you may not care if feed their dogs a raw diet or not. Before choosing a breeder, make sure you make a list of qualities you want in both your new dog and your breeder, because your breeder should want to become your friend and ally, not just the broker of your puppy.