Today is National Purebred Dog Day! This year I decided to celebrate by writing a guide to choosing a breeder. I’ve seen lots of articles on what to look for in a breeder over the years, but personally I find most of them too generalized. First of all, and most important: Take your time and don’t rush into getting a puppy. When a new dog doesn’t work out I often hear about what breeders do wrong, but it seems like blame is never laid on the buyer’s side of things.
1. Find a breeder whose dogs perform in the areas you are interested.
So, you probably have your list of breeds you are interested in, or maybe you even have that list narrowed down to one choice. What, specifically, do you want in your dog? Are you wanting a dog to compete in sports, to work on your farm, to go running with you? If you want to compete in obedience competitions, look for obedience titles. Do not go out and buy a puppy from a breeder that checks the basic boxes then be upset because you didn’t delve further into their breeding goals and got the wrong dog for you. A Labrador Retriever bred for sport retrieving is going to be different from a Labrador Retriever bred for hunting, and the hunting dog is going to be different from a Labrador Retriever bred for obedience competitions/being a nice pet. Dogs that compete in conformation will vary, with some being more like the hunting dogs and some more like the pets depending on the individual breeder’s goals.
2. Get yourself acquainted, at least briefly, with good canine structure and the standards for your breed(s), and look for a breeder whose dogs are put together nicely.
This is especially important if your interests are in active pursuits. A dog with very straight legs will have to take twice as many steps as a dog with good joint angles and will tire faster. A dog that has a straight front and is over-angulated in the rear will have its back legs overtake its front, making sustaining a trot difficult for the dog. In the case of dogs with lots of drive that will push themselves, this can lead to the dog’s body breaking down early. All the spirit and determination in the world will not save a poorly-structured dog from wearing out, so do both you and your future dog a favour and make sure that it is built for the activities you want to participate in.
3. Narrow it down further by asking yourself what traits you like.
While all dogs within a breed share many similarities, there are still differences between lines and types within each breed. If you prefer dogs with more moderate bone, don’t buy from a breeder who selects for stockier dogs. If you prefer smaller ears that are set more closely together on the head, don’t buy from a breeder whose dogs all have big wide-set ears. If you want a dog that is near the small side of the standard, don’t buy from a breeder who selects for large dogs and just cross your fingers your puppy somehow turns out small. Sure, it definitely happens, but why take the chance? A breed is more than just a temperament, so select breeders whose dogs fit the aesthetics you like.
4. Find out the health testing for your breed, then cross off any breeders that don’t do it.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You want a healthy dog, so only buy from someone that does the genetic testing to ensure it. You can take this a step further and ask your potential breeders about the incidence of cancer and even allergies in their lines. While cancer is hard to pin-point in a breeding program and can have many causes, if almost all the dogs in the line die early from it there is a good chance there is a genetic link.
5. Check the temperaments.
Alright! Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of breeders, start analyzing temperament further. If you can, meet some of their dogs. How do they act? If you can’t meet them in person due to distance, stalk them online (but not in a creepy way, that’s not cool). Copy the sire and dam’s names into Google and see what comes up. Do the same with the other dogs in the pedigree. There was a potential litter I was interested in, and I found out the stud dog is on Instagram. From browsing that I was able to find out that he loves to swim and gets excited/bothered when blimps fly over his yard (shows he is intelligent, highly aware of his surroundings, and possibly very excitable). I love that quirkiness so this was a huge bonus for me, but it might be a bit much for someone else. Add your potential breeders to Facebook so you can browse their dogs’ photos. Do they have pictures of their dog’s together? The dam of the potential litter was pictured happily chewing on a bone with another dog. That shows she has low resource guarding, at least towards dogs that live with her. In addition to picking a breed that fits what you want temperamentally, dogs within a breed have a certain range where the temperaments will fall so make sure you are buying from a breeder whose dogs align with the temperament you want.
So, to summarize: Take your time, make a list of your expectations, get acquainted with canine structure and your breed’s standard, search out breeders that fit your criteria, talk to them and research their dogs further to ensure that one of their dogs will be a good fit for you. Many people put less thought into getting a dog than they do into a new car or couch, and I think that’s tragic. While a good breeder will interview potential buyers to ensure their puppies get the best home, you are buying the dog so it’s at least half your responsibility to make sure it will be a good fit for you because it’s not all in how you raise them. It’s all in choosing the dog that fits your lifestyle, expectations, and abilities.