9 Questions to Ask a Dog Breeder Before You Buy - Simply For Dogs
Dog Breeder

9 Questions to Ask a Dog Breeder Before You Buy


Quite a while ago on the blog, I talked about a friend named Joanne, who was trying to find a new dog to replace her beloved purse pooch, Pierre. In that article, we discussed the pros and cons of rescuing dogs vs. buying from a breeder, and I want to make it clear that I still fall firmly in the camp of “do what works best for you”. There is definitely a wrong way to buy from a breeder, but that doesn’t mean that all breeders are bad. It’s just that you have to do your research to ensure that you are buying from a responsible breeder.

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There are also a lot of reasons to choose a breeder beyond just “I want this specific dog”. For example, what if you want a specific breed to train as a guide dog? Joanne did end up going to a rescue for Yorkies, and picking out a dog that is part Yorkie, part miniature Poodle. His name is Jacque and he’s quickly become her new Pierre. I’m happy that she’s found what she needs in a dog, even if the idea of a purse dog baffles me. And I tell this story to point out once again that the real argument between rescues and breeders is all about choosing responsibly on your end. So with that in mind, I wanted to talk about how to go about researching a breeder so that you know what it is that makes a good breeder. These are some of the questions I asked when I got Janice and Leroy from a breeder.

1. What health tests do you perform on the puppies?

If you’ve read any of my Breed of the Week posts, you’ll know that there are certain health tests that are very important to perform on pups, especially certain breeds. A hearing test, for example, (called the BAER Test) is important for dogs that have a tendency to deafness. Another thing to do is a puppy temperament test for dogs that have been known to develop aggressive behaviors. If you are getting your puppy specifically to train for some kind of service, a Volhard Aptitude Test (from the book The Canine Good Citizen by Jack and Wendy Volhard) may be a good idea. The point is that the breeder has put effort into ensuring that the puppies are not suffering from common ailments that come with breeding programs.

2. What is the family history?

Going along with the first question, you’ll want to know what the family history is. Do the parents, grandparents, or any of the siblings from previous litters have any health concerns? A reputable breeder will tell you up front if this has been the case. Reputable breeders keep track of what each dog in the breed line died from, for example. They may not know on the older siblings that were adopted out, but the direct breed line should be in their records. If they don’t have this information, it could be a sign that they don’t have any idea what health issues your pup could be facing.

3. Do you have a return policy if this puppy doesn’t work out for me?

First of all, I don’t recommend ever buying a pup and not making a commitment to stick it out through the good and bad. However, this is a good question to ask because it reveals how the breeder thinks about the puppies. Ideally, you want a breeder that thinks of each litter as family, and will of course offer a return policy should anything not work out. This shows that the breeder is committed to what is best for the dogs, not just making a buck. That being said, if you are struggling with puppy behavior, I would recommend trying to redirect their energy instead of throwing in the towel. Grab some training toys, like a puppy KONG, and schedule some puppy kindergarten training.

4. How long have you been breeding dogs?

Ideally you want to purchase from a breeder who has been at it for a while. Now, here’s an important caveat: Don’t necessarily choose a breeder who’s been breeding the same dogs for a long time. That could have negative implications on the mother’s health. But do choose a breeder who has experience with this breed through multiple breeding pairs. That will ensure that they are knowledgeable, which eliminates the chance that you’ll get a puppy with health issues due to ignorance on the part of the breeder.

5. Do you have references I can check?

If you choose no other question on this list, make sure you ask this one. It’s vital that the breeder have some former clients you can contact to ask about their dog. Older siblings from former litters (from the same parents) will give you the best understanding of what your puppy’s health and temperament may be like. You’ll also find out how the breeder operates first hand from those who have been there and done that, which can help you understand if they are reputable or not. If a breeder tells you that they don’t have references because they respect their clients’ privacy, run away. A good, quality breeder will have some clients that are so happy, they are willing to be contacted. You can also ask if they have a membership to a breed club or organization, and if so, if they can provide references from this organization.

6. How many vet visits have the puppies had?

Puppies need more vet visits than adult dogs, just like babies go to the pediatrician more often than adults get check ups. If a breeder hasn’t initiated any vet visits at all, then you’ll be looking at a lot of catch up on vaccinations and health checks. It’s a good idea to ask for the puppy’s shot record, and if the breeder doesn’t have it, don’t buy from them. A good breeder keeps records on every puppy. These records should show how much weight the puppy has gained, if he has had any illnesses, if he’s taken any medication, what shots he’s had, and any health tests that have been performed. This should be a standard record that you are offered when you buy a puppy from a breeder.

7. Can I meet the parents?

Beware the breeder that does not let you meet the puppy’s parents. This is a sure sign that there’s something wrong – maybe with the dogs, or maybe with the way the dogs are being treated. Seeing the parents gives you a much better idea of what to expect with the puppy. You’ll be able to gauge how big your puppy will get, what kind of energy level she might have, and even how friendly or smart she might be by spending some time with both mom and dad. Pay attention to how the parents interact with the puppies and each other to get an idea of how your puppy may behave with other dogs. Look for obvious signs of mistreatment – well-behaved, friendly dogs are getting all their needs met.

8. What do you require of a potential buyer?

This is a very important question for two reasons: first, it’ll obviously tell you what you need to do to bring your puppy home. Second, it lets you know if your breeder is more concerned about finding a good home for the puppies, or if they are just in it for the money. For example, does the breeder require that you already have a vet picked out, that you sign a contract to spay or neuter your dog by a certain age, and that you bring along proof of income? This is a breeder that means business about finding a great owner. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to share all that information, but keep in mind that a responsible breeder is looking to ensure that every puppy goes to their forever home the first time around – so don’t get too offended if they ask you a lot of questions about your lifestyle, plans for the future, and so on.

On the other hand, a breeder that expects you to do nothing more than show up, put a collar on your new puppy, and hand over the money, may not be the most responsible breeder to buy from. And you can bet that if they don’t get your basic contact information in the process, they won’t have any references or information about older siblings to offer up either.

9. How have the puppies been socialized?

This last question is very important, especially if you intend to introduce your puppy to kids or other pets. Good breeders take steps to ensure that puppies have been handled a lot by many types of people, including kids. Ideally, look for a breeder who has children that are allowed to play with the puppies. Another great thing to watch for is a breeder that either has family pets of another breed, or who regularly takes puppies to a dog park at a certain age, so they can be around other dogs. Some dogs will get aggressive towards other breeds if they haven’t been socialized properly. This early socialization is so important for ensuring that a dog responds well to further training in the future. Ask your breeder to explain exactly what steps they’ve taken towards any type of training, whether it’s to introduce puppies to a clicker, or simply getting them used to a specific feeding time. Any type of behavioral grooming is important because it gets dogs started with learning that they should be responding to training in the first place.

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The Final Word

Joanne and Jacque have settled nicely into a new routine, and Joanne never has used the stairs again since the plight of poor Pierre. It’s been nice to have a new face at the dog park, even if Jacque isn’t exactly interested in wrestling with Leroy and Janice. I asked Joanne if she minded the fact that went through a rescue rather than a breeder, just because I was curious. Of course she said no; Jacque was exactly the dog she needed, and telling people she has a “Yorkiepoo” tickles her every time. These designer dogs aren’t my cup of tea for many reasons, and I wouldn’t choose a breeder who cross bred for these types of dogs – but going through a rescue meant that Jacque, who didn’t ask to be bred, was able to find a happy home for the rest of his life, without increasing the demand for designer dogs.

Choosing a dog from a rescue or a breeder is always a personal decision. I’ve done both, loved dogs from both, and don’t have any strong opinion on which is better or worse. But I do think that you need to do more due diligence if you choose a breeder, just because bad breeding can be a very negative thing to the canine population. There is one big benefit to choosing a great breeder in my opinion: you get a valuable resource for your dog for the rest of their life. A good breeder should be willing to stay in touch with you if you want, helping you understand your dog’s needs and asking after the dog’s health from time to time. This is the mark of a truly great breeder who really cares about prolonging a healthy blood line, removing many of the negative traits that may have been exacerbated in a breed due to improper breeding.

If you can’t find a good breeder who has the right answers to these nine questions, then keep looking. Don’t let your desire for a specific puppy cause you to overlook bad breeding. This simply creates more bad breeding, and won’t help the canine community get any healthier. But once you have found that great breeder, be prepared to fall in love with your new fur friend – and maybe make a human friend in the bargain as well!





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