13 Terms to Know When Interpreting the Language in “For Sale” Ads


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You have heard the term “Let the buyer beware,” and nowhere is this more appropriate when you see ads for dogs or puppies for sale. I’m not kidding you; it can be a minefield out there, and if you are planning on buying an animal from someone who advertised on Craigslist, a local buy-sell-trade site, or on a notice board down at the farm supply store, you’d be well advised to know how to interpret the language.

Some of the terminology we’ll talk about in what follows can indicate a lack of knowledge on the part of the breeder, which is never a good thing. Other terms might be things that sellers represent as advantages when in reality, they are liabilities. Others may simply be terms that need a bit of clarification so that you can make the right decision before you decide to make a purchase. And, of course, there will also be things that really grind my gears when I see them. So, let’s get started talking about terms that advertisers will use, and what you need to consider when you encounter those terms.

1. Cute Stocking Stuffers

What??? A puppy is not a stocking stuffer; something that you can play for a while on Christmas Day and for a while thereafter, and then just toss aside. When you see this in an ad, you have to ask yourself a few questions – is there a possibility that the puppies were just bred as a way of making money during the Christmas season? Or is the seller just completely clueless and actually thinks this is a good marketing technique that will help him or her to find homes for the puppies?

If you decide to respond to this type of ad, you’d better be armed with a lot of questions. You might end up concluding that you’re just dealing with a well-meaning idiot, or you could end up getting very strong signals to the effect that you would be better off to take your money and run in the opposite direction.

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2. Full-Blooded, No Papers

As I pointed out in How to “Get the Right Dog from the Right Breeder”, you do not have to go with an AKC registered breeder to get a good puppy – although AKC breeders pretty much invariably disagree with me on that.

There most definitely are so-called “backyard” breeders out there who are every bit as knowledgeable about their breed, and about breeding in general, as AKC members, but the thing is, their language should reflect that knowledge. So, when you see things like “full-blooded,” you know right off that this is a very, very inexperienced breeder – they’re not getting the terminology right. They don’t know what is meant by “purebred,” or “pedigreed,” or “registered.”

What this seller probably means by “full-blooded” is that the parents are of the same breed, or “purebred.” Or they might mean that the parents were both, say “chorkies,” which is what those misguided idiots who are breeding designer dogs like to call a cross between a Chihuahua and a Yorkie. The fact is that’s not a breed, and it takes many generations of breeding for the AKC to recognize a specific mix as a breed in and of itself. So although the “breeder” in such an instance may be trying to tell you that by “full-blood,” they mean that both parents were the same type of dog, or the same mix of dog, you should still be very wary here. The lack of knowledge when it comes to terminology is problematic.

Now, as to “no papers,” the seller should be more specific. “Papers” could be referring to a family tree that offers information about the puppy’s lineage, and this could be helpful if you want to find out if there is anything genetically that could cause problems for the puppy, or if the puppy could be a carrier of a genetic disorder. “Papers” could also refer to a certificate of registration. You might very well buy an AKC registered puppy, for instance, but a mere certificate of registration is going to tell you nothing about the dog’s health. All a registration certificate means is that the puppy’s parents were registered.

So if you are considering a “no papers” puppy, but the parents are represented in the ad as purebred, be sure to as the seller what circumstances led to them producing a litter that was not registered. Make sure to ask about price. Even though you will generally pay considerably less for a non-registered puppy than you will a registered one, this may not always be the case. And if the breeder wants to provide you with a pedigree, that’s great, but consider it a matter of courtesy and don’t pay extra for it; if the puppy’s parents are registered you can get the information online from the AKC without having to pay for it.

3. AKC Registered

Well, this is usually a good thing, but not necessarily, because as I have pointed out before, all that “AKC registered” means is just that – the puppy is registered. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the puppy is healthy, or that it is of good temperament. The AKC registry is a record-keeping office pure and simple. Unscrupulous breeders can still breed animals that have health defects or poor temperament – there are no regulations in place to stop them.

Now, here’s another wrinkle. I don’t imagine this happens all that often, but let’s face it, a lot of puppies look pretty much the same, especially when it comes from some of the smaller breeds. So, if a breeder has more than one type of breed on the premises, and gets a bit careless, it’s quite possible that the registered Shih Tzu you bought and paid a small fortune for could actually be a cross between a Shih Tzu and another small breed. I don’t think most AKC breeders would deliberately sell you an unknown quantity, but accidents can happen. And there probably are a handful of bad apples who know that what they’re selling isn’t pure, but they’re going to do it anyway. I’d suspect that once they’re found out, they likely won’t be breeding for much longer as word gets around, but if you’ve been had, that’s not going to help you much.

4. AKC Champion Background

That sounds great, but if it’s four or five generations back, it probably doesn’t mean all that much. It means that at some point in its lineage, your puppy had a pretty terrific ancestor, but it won’t tell you anything about the conformation to the breed standards, the genetic fitness, value or health of your particular dog.

5. Parents on Premises

I think that whenever possible, if you’re buying a puppy, you should ask to see the parents. However, keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily evidence of a good breeding. It’s possible that the bitch has been bred too frequently, or her prenatal care has been neglected. Of course if you do see the parents, and you have doubts about their temperament, you might wish to consider looking elsewhere.

In addition, there may be perfectly good reasons why both parents are not on the premises. Perhaps the sire lives across town, or even in another town or state, in which case you are not going to be able to view him. This need not necessarily stop you from buying a puppy, though. Ask to see pictures of the sire, if possible. Always, always insist on seeing the bitch, though. And again, make sure that the breeder can answer all your questions to your satisfaction.

6. OFA Registered

Nope. The Orthopedic Foundation of America does not register puppies, only dogs that are at least two years old, and only after examining their x-rays. If the parents are certified, then the chances are the puppies will also have good hips, but this is not a guarantee. The parents, if they are under two (and I really don’t think anyone should be breeding a bitch before the age of two in any case), can be x-rayed, and may be assumed to be unlikely to develop hip dysplasia, but they are not certified before age two.

7. Low Prices!

Why? If a breeder is selling puppies for less than the market average, is it because there is something wrong with them? Is the seller desperate for money? Of course this may be a way for the seller to point out to you that he is actually going to charge you a reasonable price for a mixed-breed animal as opposed to the arm, leg and left ’and that unscrupulous pet stores are going to charge you for a puppy mill dog. If you think that’s the case, then this might be worth a try. But if the seller won’t give you a price, saying “Come and see them and we’ll talk,” don’t bother. Real breeders don’t dicker.

8. Rare Colors

Okay, you have puppies with rare color. But are they actually desirable colors? With some breeds, rare patterns and colors are considered undesirable, and may even be connected with health issues and disadvantages. As an example, a white Doberman is going to be rare. There have been white Dobermans, certainly, but that rarity does not make them more desirable than typically-colored Dobermans, and could also be a health concern if the dog is also deaf – deafness is more prevalent in white dogs.

There are breeders specializing in white German Shepherds, but it is considered to be a disqualifying color in the Shepherd, as well as in the Miniature Schnauzer, Boxer and Weimaraners. Black and blue are also disqualifying colors in Weimaraners. With Great Danes, you will often see merle puppies offered. Merle is a pattern consisting of gray or red, mottled with dark splotches, and it is connected with health problems.

If you are considering buying a dog that displays a rare pattern or color, you should probably choose a rare color that is acceptable within the breed, or if you’re determined to own something unique and are willing to go outside the breed standards, at least make sure that you have the dog spayed or neutered – you do a breed no favors when you breed for defects.

Of course there are acceptable rare colors – white is considered legitimate for collie; blue is fine in Dobermans; cream (but not white) is acceptable for a Chow; a Newfoundland can be gray or brown; and a Bouvier can be fawn.

9. Interested Parties Only

This is actually something that is very good to see in an ad. This tells you that the breeder doesn’t want to waste his or her time with people who don’t have a genuine interest in the breed, or who are just shopping around. You can probably expect this seller to ask you questions as well as answering them, and will want you to be able to demonstrate a certain knowledge about the breed.

10. Home-Raised

Again, good. This means that the puppies were born in the house and lived indoors with people, not in a kennel or a barn. They should be well socialized and will not likely have trouble relating to people.

11. Health Guaranteed

This does not mean that your breeder is guaranteeing that nothing will ever go wrong with your puppy’s health, but it’s still a good thing. This breeder will replace your puppy if you discover that the one you bought has a genetic disorder.

12. Good Watchdog

You might see this if you’re thinking of buying an older dog. It could mean exactly what it says, but you have to wonder why the dog is for sale. Is it unduly aggressive, perhaps? Tread carefully with this one and make sure you’re completely comfortable with the purchase.

13. Free to Good Home

Well, technically this isn’t “for sale” terminology, but I’m including it because it usually means “I don’t much care who takes this dog,” and it could also mean “He’s driving me nuts and I just want him out of here.” Dogs for free usually come with problems, so be cautious.

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Go online, or grab a newspaper and see how many of these terms you see in the “Puppies for Sale” or “Dogs for Sale” section. These will get you started, but you might also notice other terms that leave you wondering a bit as to what the advertiser is trying to say, or if they’re being totally above-board.

The more effort you put into choosing a puppy for yourself or your family, the more likely you are to end up with the right dog. So be careful with the ads, and you might also consider calling your local kennel club or your vet – these are people who can guide you toward a reputable breeder. You’re going to be making a commitment that will last a long time, so you want to do all you can to get it right.