Top Ten Questions to Ask a Breeder

There are literally thousands of dog breeders in the United States, and it can be hard to know who is reputable and who is not.  It’s not rude to ask a few pointed questions.  In fact, a responsible breeder will expect you to be curious.  If you don’t ask any questions, a breeder might even refuse to sell to you, thinking that you don’t care what kind of dog you’re getting.  Here’s the guide to the kinds of questions you should ask to make sure you’re getting the right dog for your family.

questions for breeders
Ask lots of questions to discern if the breeder is reputable.

1.  How long has the breeder been in business?

Although both puppy mills and great breeders may have been around for equally long careers, this is a good starter question because it is neutral and can help you establish a baseline rapport.  Watch how the breeder reacts to the question.  If he or she seems comfortable answering, you can begin to develop some trust.  If, on the other hand, the breeder rolls his or her eyes, or gives a “here we go again” type of response, you might begin to wonder why there is sensitivity to answering questions.

2.  Are the parents of the puppies on-site?

It’s always a good idea to see the parents so you can judge several things.  First of all, do they look like the kind of dog you want to have in your own home?  Are they clean and well-fed?  Do they have any physical problems – either genetic defects or problems that might arise from being mistreated or kept in poor conditions?  Do they appear generally healthy?

How do they react to you?  You can’t truly evaluate temperament in a mama dog while you are near her puppies, but you should get a sense of whether the parents are scared of people or whether they welcome the chance to meet new friends.

Don’t worry if the father is not on-site.  Many breeders select a stud from another reputable kennel to avoid in-breeding problems, so the sire may have gone back home soon after conception.  However, the mother should be readily available for you to see.

3.  Can I see the kennel area?

questions for breeders
Check the general cleanliness of the kennel.

Viewing the kennel will allow you to get a good sense of how the dogs are being treated, as well as how many dogs the breeder has on-site.  Look for a well-ventilated space that is kept at an appropriate temperature.  Check the general cleanliness of the area.  Are feces cleaned up on a regular basis?  Is fresh water available?  Does each dog have room to get at least a minimal amount of exercise?  How many dogs are kept in each cage if cages are used?

How many different breeds do you see?  A responsible breeder will usually be an expert in just a handful of breeds, while a puppy mill may be more interested in the “flavors of the month” breeding many different types of dogs to see where he or she can make the most money.

4.  Can I see your pedigree records?

The goal of a responsible breeder is to produce dogs that are the best examples of the breed, or closest to the breed standard.  To do this, the breeder starts with champion dogs, then keeps careful records of what each pairing produces.  For example, if he breeds GCH Bart of Arabia (a chocolate lab) with GCH Belle of the Ball (a yellow lab), how many puppies of each color are produced?  Do any of them have any health problems?  Do any of them have the potential to show as champions?  Have any of them, in fact, become champions?

Are there any particular traits that the breeder is trying to select for or against?  What results have they had?  For example, over the course of years, Beagles have been bred to have white tails so they can be easily identified by the hunter in the field.  This came about by careful selection of dogs with white tails being bred to other dogs with white tails until the trait became a hallmark of the breed.

A reputable breeder will be proud of the results he or she has been able to produce and will be happy to discuss his or her dogs with you.  A breeder who is only in the business to make money won’t have kept careful records or won’t be able to discuss what he or she is trying to achieve by breeding a particular pair of dogs.

5.  Do you show your dogs?

Some breeders are also professional dog owners and handlers, while others are simply breeders who then sell their dogs to other folks to show.  There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but you do want to get a sense of whether or not they know how their puppies turn out.  Breeders of champions will be proud of their progeny and will be able to discuss their success in the show ring.

Puppy mills typically drop their dogs off at a pet store and have no idea what becomes of them.  Casual backyard breeders usually don’t take the time to carefully select champion breeding stock, so if they produce any successful show dogs, it is often by accident.  They won’t be able to talk about successive generations of champions originating from their kennel.

6.  Do you do any of your own medical care on-site?

Many breeders do their own dew claw removal and tail docking.  If they do so, you should ask to see the area where the surgeries are performed.  It should be clean, and there should be evidence that the surgeries are carried out humanely.  You should see antiseptics and cleaning supplies.  There should be no evidence of bloodstains on the equipment or on the floor.

Any dogs who have recently been surgical patients should be monitored to check for infections.  Recent wounds should be freshly bandaged.  Records should be kept to indicate the date of surgery and any adverse reactions noted.  Worming records should also be kept.

7.  How do you screen potential puppy buyers?

Respectable breeders feel a sense of responsibility to place their puppies in suitable homes.  They will take an interest in placing show-quality dogs with people who intend to show the dog and take advantage of his or her pedigree.  Most litters will also include puppies who are not destined to be successful in the show ring.  These puppies are sometimes sold at a discount to families who simply want a companion.  Even if a pricing discount is not available, the breeder should have an interest in the well-being of the dog after he or she leaves the kennel.  If the breeder asks you absolutely no questions about what you intend to do with the dog, you’d have to wonder why.

8.  What problems are common in this breed?

A responsible breeder will be very knowledgeable about the breeds with which they work.  They should be able to tell you about any congenital defects or temperament issues that are common in the breed.  Again, this is why you want a breeder who focuses on just a few breeds and is intimately acquainted with each of them.

questions for breeders
A responsible breeder will be very knowledgeable about the breeds with which they work.

The breeder’s knowledge about potential problems also means that the breeder is likely taking steps to select against these traits by keeping careful records of successful breeding pairs.

9.  What screening has been done on the parents of the puppy I will be buying?

In large breeds, you are looking for evidence that the hips have been checked for dysplasia.  Usually, the breeder will have certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFFA) or the PennHIP  program from the veterinary program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dogs who are prone to eye problems should be certified as free from disease by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).

A breeder may or may not do temperament testing, but he or she should have a good idea of each puppy’s personality to help you choose the right dog for your family situation.  Outgoing puppies may do best with families who have children, while shyer puppies may be best reserved for grown-ups.

10.  How have you socialized the puppies so far?

The best answer is that the puppies were raised in the breeder’s home, as part of the family.  With larger breeders, this won’t be possible, but there should be a lot of human interaction with the puppies so they are comfortable with being handled.

While asking these questions won’t guarantee a good match between your puppy and your family, interviewing several breeders will give you the opportunity to compare and contrast several situations and will put you further ahead than just purchasing blindly from the breeder closest to your home or the one who offers the lowest price.

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