Lisa Kerley BSc KPA-CTP
It is a commonly held belief that getting a puppy from a breeder is a much safer option than choosing a rescue. If you believe paying big bucks for a purebred will reduce the risk of problems, think again.
As with dog training and care, the breeding industry is unregulated. This allows a lot of people to be in the business that do not have the knowledge, experience or regard to be involved in raising great pups. Getting a registered pup is no indication of quality. A producer simply needs to submit the paperwork along with a small fee and voila!, the puppy is registered. Many puppy mills and backyard breeders are producing “papered” puppies registered through very official-sounding registries, even the long-established American Kennel Club. If you want a good quality puppy, you still need to check out potential breeders in detail.
Breeders that are in it for the right reasons care about the dogs that they produce. They view them as a life-long responsibility. They’re not in the game of simply producing the pups and selling them to anyone who wants one. They will be selective of where their puppies will go and will have a screening process in place to ensure their puppies are going to the right homes. They will also remain a resource for health and care information.
Much attention is placed on the ‘success’ of the lines that puppies come from as well. Although impressive to some, ribbons and titles often have little bearing on the quality and suitability of a pup for the average family. Show breeders often have an agenda for producing dogs that exemplify the ‘breed standard’. Their focus is on recreating an ideal look that originated from some purpose or function that the breed was designed to perform. They often use line-breeding and other practices in the hopes of creating as many ‘champions’ as possible. Although the dogs may appear to be healthy, we have to ask ourselves what effect these breeding practices have on the viability of these dogs and why so many dogs produced in this system are not living past 8 – 10 years of age. Limiting the gene pool and selecting for very specific traits has had devastating effects, rendering some breeds unable to perform the tasks they were designed for, let alone eat, breathe or function normally.
For more information about pure breed dogs, check out:
The Deal Breakers
Apart from health considerations, when looking for a puppy your focus should be on the requirements for producing a stable, confident companion dog. There are 3 easy questions that will quickly determine whether you should investigate that breeder further or not. Each should be immediate deal breakers if the response is not the desired one. You need not inquire any further. This saves a bunch of time as it allows you to skip right past those you don’t want to be getting your puppy from. You will then have more time to focus on the breeders worth looking into further.
At what age do you allow the puppies to go to their homes?
Anything earlier than 8 weeks is unacceptable. Period.
You may hear excuses like the mother doesn’t want anything to do with the puppies any more. After they are weaned most mothers will stop allowing the pups to come in to feed. That’s a normal part of the puppies learning boundaries and social skills. By remaining together, they will also be benefiting from the social interactions with their litter mates.
There has been countless information available over the last 2 decades regarding the importance of puppies remaining with the litter mates as long as possible. We now know that curtailing this period can have devastating effects on a dog’s ability to develop tolerance, impulse control, bite inhibition, social skills and confidence. In a best-case scenario, puppies should stay with the litter until 12 weeks. The reason they typically come home earlier is because most breeders are not able to offer the socializing that the puppies need to adjust well into their permanent life. Eight weeks is a compromise to maximize the benefits of staying with the litter as long as possible and still having some imprinting time left for socializing with their new family and life. Anyone trying to get rid of the puppies before then does not understand or care about raising an emotionally healthy puppy.
Where are the puppies raised?
There are many big-business breeders that have large operations, often with state-of-the-art facilities. With special flooring, ventilation and other amenities, these new-age breeding factories can be impressive. The problem is your dog ISN’T going to be living in a factory. Before they make it into their long-term home, puppies need to be exposed to life’s realities – kids, the vacuum cleaner, the hustle and bustle of REAL life. Puppies that have been raised in special rearing areas instead of in a real home environment will be missing out. This includes barns, sheds, basements or any area removed from the living area of the home. Puppies reared on farms or other isolated areas will also have a tougher time adjusting unless – you guessed it, you live on a farm or in a rural area.
Can you meet the parents?
Depending on what breed you are considering, you may be overwhelmed by options or be very limited. Nowadays, doodles and designer breeds are everywhere because they are making a lot of people money. For some breeds there may only 2 one or two breeders in the entire country. Because of this, people often don’t get to meet the parents. Whether you are able to visit the breeder or not, you should ask if it’s possible to meet the parents. If you are given some excuse that it’s not possible, then most likely you are dealing with a mill-type of operation and you need to run – fast.
It isn’t always possible to meet the sire, (they are not always in the same home), but at least the mother should be available. It is important that you have the opportunity to see what the puppies are coming from. Is she well-adjusted, friendly and healthy? Genetic studies have shown that regardless of what happens afterwards, fearful mothers produce fearful puppies. The mother could be a grand champion, but if she can’t comfortably say hi to you, you probably don’t want one of her babies. She should be mature before being bred. Producing puppies with immature females will often allow traits to be passed along which are not desirable. In addition, she may not be mentally or physically ready to properly raise pups.
The parents should be raised as pets not as livestock. They should live enriched lives, with ample opportunity for human and dog interaction as well as exercise and stimulation. Dog-friendly handling and training should be used. All of these have a huge impact on creating healthy, happy dogs as stressful environments can have a negative impact on puppies even before they are born.
If you ARE getting a puppy from a distant breeder where you don’t actually get to visit the parents, you will be at the mercy of the breeder to provide information regarding the parents. You need to know what the parents’ personalities are like and what the puppies have been up to while in the breeder’s care. Being able to speak with other puppy parents is vital if you aren’t able to meet with the litter and parents firsthand. The breeder should be happy to connect you with other parents of their puppies. If they are raising good pups, other parents will be a good reference for them.
Looking for a really great breeder?
Although there are lots of people producing puppies, there aren’t a lot that are doing everything they can be to preparing the pups for their lives with their families. Pups that are already practicing the things they will need to do when they go to their homes, will have a less stressful transition period. This will make things easier on everyone!
A great breeder will take the time to:
- provide the best opportunity for building self-confidence and the individual identity of each of the puppies
- give each puppy individual attention away from her littermates on a daily basis
- have each puppy practice being alone from the other pups
- introduce the puppies to the car
- acclimatize the pups to being in a crate
- provide an enriched environment to maximize socializing opportunities and promote early learning
Taking these extra steps will maximize your pup’s early learning and have a huge impact on their coping skills and ability to deal with challenges. These are the breeders whose puppies you want!
Most people can’t resist the cuteness factor when they start actually looking at the puppies. By doing some initial checking before committing to a particular breeder, you can save a lot of time and heartache in the long run. You should be confident that the breeder has done everything possible to be producing great puppies before going any further.
Without wide-spread regulations in place it is your responsibility to be able to separate out the good breeders from the bad. If candidates don’t provide you with appropriate answers to the questions above, you need to move on. Any other information is irrelevant because these puppies will be going home with potential hang-ups that will require a lot of extra work and time. Good breeders prepare their puppies for the life they will live. Not only will this prevent potential problems for you and your family – you will be supporting breeders that know what it takes to raise a behaviourally healthy puppy. You should expect nothing less.
For more information on finding and raising a great puppy, please visit:
A word about those temptingly cute pet store pups
Producers that sell to pet shops fail on every point discussed here. These pups also suffer from a very high incidence of chronic health problems. There is an even more disturbing issue, however. Both the producers and retailers that sell puppies only care about making a buck – they certainly don’t have any regard for suffering or inhumane treatment. It’s common knowledge that legit breeders DO NOT sell to pet shops. And for those of you that think you’re doing one puppy a favour because you are ‘rescuing’ it from the pet shop, you’ve just fed the demand that is keeping the puppy mill business going and allowing 1000’s of dogs to suffer unimaginable conditions. For the animals’ sake, PLEASE don’t buy your puppy (or kitten) from a pet store.