While reading through a recent Facebook post it became clear to me that most people, especially those who are not dog professionals, do not have a clear expectation for what to ask and what to know from a breeder before purchasing a puppy. This post is designed to help you, the consumer- weed through all of the available puppies out there to ensure that the one you purchase is of the highest health and temperament standards available. This article is specifically designed for those shopping for a Labrador Retriever for Hunting purposes, but the information listed here should be relevant to generally any buyer for any breed and purpose.
1. When you find an advertisement that you like, check the spelling and other professional features of the post. Is the grammar correct, did the seller take the time to post pictures, health clearances, and temperament information about the parents? If you find multiple misspellings or an ad that simply doesn't look "professional" that's likely because the person posting it doesn't have a lot of experience breeding/ whelping or selling puppies. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but should be considered in your decision. If the breeder is not experienced in breeding and whelping, I wonder if they are experienced enough at puppy care and, temperament matching as well.
2. PHOTOS- If a breeder can’t produce multiple photos of the parent or preferable parents off lead, or outside of a fence, I'm not interested. If all photos provided show a dog tethered to a person, or within a fence, this is your first indicator that the dog has no training. Teaching a dog to come when called or sit-stay is a basic- very first step, if this person hasn't even taken the time to teach these two basic commands, this tells me that they have not invested the appropriate amount of time and attention into the dogs and therefore is unable to make proper and well educated decisions when matching temperaments.
3.When you call the breeder to ask questions about the upcoming litter, many people make the mistake of saying, "Here's what I'm looking for", and the breeder can then say, "Well, that's EXACTLY what I have here." When you reach out to the Breeder, you should start the conversation with, "tell me about your dogs." Leave it open ended so that the breeder can fill you in on their knowledge and goals for this pairing.
4. Temperament- What the Breeder says when he/she answers you is very important. If you have a dog who stays outside in a pen and minimally interacts with people, the Breeder will likely answer you with things like, "She’s a beautiful girl, she has a real pretty coat. Shes a nice shade of___" The answers will be general, non-specific and generally won’t tell you much about the dog. A Breeder who has an advanced relationship with their dog will tell you things like, "She has excellent drive to retrieve, she is very gentle with my children," etc. A breeder with advanced temperament knowledge of their dog is going to have endearing stories to tell you, and be interested in telling you about their pride and joy dog.
5. How did you choose the stud? It’s a red flag to me if you find a breeder who continuously breeds to stud dogs that they own, and minimally to outside stud dogs. A good breeding is all about producing balance, if you breed a really slow, soft bitch to a fire breathing dragon stud, you might produce a few balanced puppies, but most puppies will be either high and hot like the stud, or soft and slow like the bitch. You breed balance to balance to achieve balance- therefore a good breeder is looking at the strengths and weaknesses of his or her bitch line and attempting to pair it with a dog who will balance her weaknesses. If a breeder tells you that his bitch line has no weakness, either he's being dishonest... or he is really onto something!! Again, the detail of your conversations will help you determine what kind of handle the breeder really has on the temperament of his dog.
6. Health Testing- Did the Breeder complete breed standard Genetic and orthopedic tests before breeding the dogs? Not sure what genetic tests are important, or standard for your breed? Click here to see a basic list that the OFFA has put together by breed:
Again, generally speaking, the more health testing that a breeder has completed on their dogs, the more invested they are, therefore the more serious they are taking the endeavor of producing high quality puppies.
7. Health Guarantee? In the field Labrador world, a 26-month hip guarantee is pretty common and standard. This guarantee covers the structure of the hips until just after a dog’s second birthday. Hips cannot be certified because they are not done growing and developing until the age of two, this gives you a two month window to have your pups hips certified before you are out of range on your guarantee. Because the way that you feed your puppy as well as the exercise and rigorous activities that you can allow your dog to perform at home can damage hip and elbow joints, most breeders do not guarantee hips after 26 months of age, and some do not guarantee elbows at all. Important questions to ask regarding a Breeders Health guarantee are, 1. What is covered? Hips/ Elbows/ eyes? Etc. 2. What process do I need to complete and at what age to certify that my dog’s joints are healthy? 3. If my dog is found to have dysplastic joints and qualifies for a replacement, what are your terms for me to receive a replacement puppy?
This last question is of utmost importance, some Breeders in a fool hearted attempt to never have to replace an animal, will write into your contract that you must return the dysplastic dog in order to receive a replacement. Now, who wants to give back a dog who you’ve raised and become attached to for two years?? Nobody! Make sure that there is no funny business written into the breeders contract regarding replacing the animal.
8. Full or limited registration? Some breeders sell straight full registration, others offer only limited, others offer a variation where your dog might start out with limited and achieve full later on if certain criteria are met. Limited registration means that you may enter your dog in any AKC sanctioned event, compete with the dog, you are full owner, Limited simply means that if your dog has a litter of puppies, those puppies would not be registrable
with the AKC. If you know that you are interested in achieving full registration, be sure to ask this question up front. If your Breeder sells on Limited but offers full, be sure that you understand the guidelines of what would be expected of you in order to achieve full registration.
9. Some breeders, myself included are particular about cleanliness. Most first-time puppy buyers feel like they need to see the facility, meet the parents, check up on the puppies when they are a few weeks old, or visit the young puppies in order to ensure that their looking good and being kept in a clean and safe location. If you are questioning the Breeder based on any of the previous bullet points, this would be pretty understandable. Although, professional and experienced Breeders will generally not let you visit a litter of under 6-week-old puppies. Because as professionals, we understand that viruses and bacteria are invisible, are spread on the bottom of your feet from places like Petsmart, the gas station, the baseball field. A well-meaning visitor could accidentally transport a dangerous virus or bacteria and potentially wipe out an entire litter of otherwise healthy puppies. Therefore, if you find a Breeder that you like and they do not allow visitors before puppies are fully vaccinated- instead of taking this as a negative, this in my book would be a positive indicator of professionalism and experience.
I hope that this has been helpful and wish you the best of luck in your puppy search. Check out our upcoming litters page to check out some of those professional advertisements we talked about and to see some examples of temperament pairings.