Breeder Selection Next Steps
So you have narrowed down your search to just one or two breeders from whom you will be getting your new big dog puppy. If you aren’t quite to this point, you may want to read my post Selecting A Dog Breeder (Or A Spouse)? 10 Essential Things To Consider Before You Tie The Knot! In that post, I outline WHY the decision is an important one.
The following are a list of 7 questions I have developed over the last 16 years and through the acquisition of 4 mastiffs and a Labrador retriever as an adult and many others throughout my life with big dogs. With so many good choices for breeders out there, my hope is that post and this list of questions will help you make the right choice FOR YOU.
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1. Why THIS breeding? What are your goals?
Most reputable breeders can tell you exactly what they are trying to accomplish with any particular breeding. They are trying to improve any number of physical characteristics, temperament, health, etc. They have knowledge of certain pedigrees and an expectation or hope that the breeding will result in puppies better (closer to the breed standard) than either of the parents. I don’t have a set criteria for what I am looking for in an answer here, but I will say, if a breeder responded with “to make money” or “our neighbors male jumped the fence…”, I would caution you strongly against buying a puppy from them.
2. What health testing has been done on the parents?
If none, or limited, why? Have you had any offspring affected by PRA, hip dysplasia, DM, Etc. (insert common diseases for your breed)? Do your homework ahead of time with respect to what testing should be done for your breed. Ask the breeder to see the testing results for the sire and dam.
I am a member of the Mastiff Club of America (MCOA). Our breed club is has a special health committee dedicated to advocating DNA and other health tests for mastiffs, funding research, and tracking diseases and DNA results through detailed pedigree analysis. I have found other members (both breeders and owners) of my breed club to be a tremendous asset for me over the years. Take the information you receive from the breeder and do your own homework on this one. I strongly encourage you to investigate your national and local breed club if you haven’t done so already. For your convenience, I have included links to most of the large and giant breed national breed clubs on my Resources Page.
3. Do you have a contract in place for the puppies you sell?
Get a copy of the contract. Ideally, you want to review the contract well in advance of the day you pick up your puppy. READ IT. What are the health/temperament guarantees? What are your responsibilities and what are the breeder’s? Do not be afraid to ask questions. You may consider seeking council from another breeder or breed expert and have them review the contract. Sometimes it’s nice to have another set of eyes on what is the norm for contracts for your breed.
If the breeder does not have a puppy purchase contract, I would walk away. Period! In my opinion, the lack of a contract is a huge red flag. Where there is no contract, there is NO obligation by the breeder to stand by their breeding or your new puppy. In the truest sense, this is a situation of Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).
The contract is there to protect both you AND the breeder in the purchase of this puppy. Typically it will hold both the buyer and breeder accountable with specifics on what will happen should one or the other party fail to abide by the terms of the contract.
Legaleeze aside, I believe a purchase contract establishes a solid foundation for the long term relationship you (the buyer) will have with your breeder over the life of your dog.
4. Price? But not so fast…
You should absolutely expect to pay more for a well-bred large breed puppy than you would if you found a litter announcement on Craig’s List (yikes!). The breeding, health testing, care for the puppies, and not to mention the raising, training, showing, and caring for the sire and/or the dam, all come with a hefty price tag. I don’t know of any breeders that breed to make money. Most are lucky to break even on a given breeding.
One other point as it relates to price. I know of some breeders who will take partial payments for a puppy. In my opinion, if you can’t afford the cost of the puppy in full, you should consider whether you are ready for the financial responsibility of raising the puppy and all that entails (training, veterinary care, food, etc.). Large and giant breed dogs are NOT inexpensive dogs to own. I have joked with friends about the fact that we don’t leave the veterinarian unless we have paid him at least $300 for something. And that is when our dogs are healthy! (Read The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Pet Medications for money saving tips)
5. Puppy Socialization?
Describe what socialization and stimulating activities are done with the puppies from 0-8 weeks? Believe it or not, there are a plethora of activities that can and should be done with even very young puppies to sensitize them to the world around them. If the puppies are going to be living in a concrete basement with little exposure to real world sights, sounds, textures, and smells, I would reconsider.
Both Junior and Sulley were raised in the middle of the breeder’s main living area. Both of my breeders used sound conditioning CD’s and provided the puppies with lots of stimulating textures on the ground, toys to play with, other animals to meet, etc. I will spend a great deal more time in future posts discussing behavior and temperament and how to make the most of this critical period in a puppy’s life.
I encourage you to read my interview with Jadem Mastiffs to see what great breeder looks like in terms of puppy socialization. Use this as your standard and DO NOT COMPROMISE.
Read A Bomb Proof Big Dog Starts With Puppy Socialization for more on this.
6. Can you reach out to others who have purchased a puppy from him/her in the past?
You might also ask to speak to their veterinarian as someone who knows the breeder well presumably. Getting a reference can be very helpful. Have questions prepared for these conversations. Keep in mind, if you ask specific questions, you will receive specific answers. If you ask open-ended questions, don’t expect a lot of substance in the responses you get back.
7. Can you visit his/her kennel in order to meet the sire and dam of the litter?
When possible, a kennel/home visit is wonderful opportunity to not only see and touch the dogs, but to start to develop a long term relationship with your potential new breeder. Meeting the sire and dam of the litter is ideal, but not always possible for a myriad of reasons. If it is not possible to meet the stud dog, I recommend speaking to the stud dog’s owner or breeder as well as others who may have handled or met him. I would ask specific questions about his health, temperament and any other litters he has produced. If I wasn’t satisfied yet, I might consider reaching out to owners of any of his offspring. If I can’t meet him myself, I want to know as much information that I feel like I have met him.
Typically, if you are able to do a home visit, you will be able to meet the dam. Just like with the stud, the dam should be everything you are looking for in your puppy. If she isn’t, I might reconsider a puppy out of her.
I have done home visits with all but one of my puppies. It was that one that I may not have come home with had I done a home visit prior to picking him up. I have no regrets over life lessons, however. That boy touched my heart in a way that none of my others have. You can read Linus’s story in Life With An Aggressive Dog: A Letter To My Sweet Baboo.
My last piece of advice that deserves to stand on its own. During this entire process, the breeder SHOULD be asking you as many questions as you are asking him/her. A reputable breeder wants to know that his/her puppies are going to a family that is going to love and care for them for their entire life. Many great breeders I know feel as though finding a great home for their puppies is an impossible task at times. They have earned the right to be picky about who gets one of their puppies.
I have always welcomed questions from breeders and tend to be an open book with them about my big dog experience, family and kids, and schedule. For example, Junior came with a 12 page puppy questionnaire when we visited him at 6 weeks old and a 17 page contract when we picked him up at 10 weeks. And that is not including all of the emails and messages exchanged BEFORE the visit and all that have occurred since. Remember, you aren’t buying a couch here. You are bringing home a new member of your family. Take this as seriously as I can guarantee your new puppy takes it!
Ok, so what have I missed here? Is there anything you would add? Are there any other questions you ask when you are interviewing potential breeders of your new puppy? Let me know. I would love to hear from you!