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How to Find a Responsible Breeder in America


Freya a one year old Bouvier Des Flandres

You have found what you believe to be the perfect breed for you, now what? You have to find the perfect breeder. There are several parts to finding the perfect breeder. Your biggest considerations should be health and temperament of the animals and the relationship with the breeder. You should expect to interview your breeder and be interviewed by them. You are basically starting a new relationship and need to get to know each other. That relationship should last at minimum the length of the puppy/dog’s life. Be aware that responsible breeders often have wait lists and may not have a puppy available for you right away in fact it isn’t unusual to wait up to a year for the right litter of puppies so be prepared and start your search early. You may be pleasantly surprised and find one sooner but be prepared to wait. Good things come to those that wait! Since some of the terms I will use below are specific to the dog world, I will define them as they are introduced.

How to find a breeder to interview:


Attend local dog shows or dog sport competitions and go up to a person with a dog you admire. As long as they aren’t about to go into the ring or are busy grooming or prepping, most people are happy to talk with someone about their breed and either point you in the direction of their breeder or they might be a breeder themselves. In America you can follow the links below to look up events in your area.

Go to the breed club (a collection of dog fanciers that participate in the same breed and aim to protect and promote that breed, can be both regional, national and on occasion international) website and look for a breeder list. It is important to note that more often than not these are just breeders that have paid a fee to be listed on the Breed Club List it does not mean the breed club endorses them in any way unless clearly stated. This list should merely be a place to start your search from.

  • Find Facebook pages devoted to the breed and ask for Breeder recommendations or seek out a mentor to help you find a Breeder that will suit your needs.

  • Be wary of fancy websites many Responsible Breeders are too busy with raising puppies, titling their dogs in conformation and competing in dog sports to build or maintain fancy websites. A great website doesn’t mean the breeder is a bad a breeder but it doesn’t mean their dogs are quality either. It is essential to do your due diligence and follow the advice in this article before you pass judgement.

  • Also be wary of third-party puppy sales websites, responsible breeders rarely sell on these sites again do your due diligence.

What to do and what questions to ask about

Health Testing and Guarantees

  • Go to the breed club website and look at the what the breed club recommends for Health testing for your breed.

  • If your breed club participates in the CHIC program (Canine Health Information Center) then they will have a list of specific tests a dog of that breed must complete to earn a CHIC number. Follow this link to look up your breed https://www.ofa.org/about/chic-program .***It is important to note that even if a dog fails all the tests listed as required it will still be given a CHIC number, therefore it is essential that you verify each result. ***

  • For example, with a Bouvier des Flandres the required health tests a dog must complete in order to earn a CHIC number is hips, elbows, cardiac certification by OFA (Orthopedic Foundation of Animals) and eye certification (Eye examination by an ACVO Ophthalmologist with the tests registered with either the OFA or CERF.)

  • A breeder should provide you with the registered names of each parent and the potential or actual litter pedigree. For Bouvier's you can also go to http://www.bouvierpedigrees.com/ to look up pedigree information and health information.

  • Ask the breeder for the registered names of both the Dam (mother) and Sire (father) of the litter. With the registered names of the parents you can search the OFA website by following this link https://www.ofa.org/advanced-search?search=advanced . You can put in a CHIC number, OFA number or Registry number (AKC, UKC etc.)

Why is independent health testing so important? Well when you submit X-rays or other tests to OFA or PennHip (https://antechimagingservices.com/antechweb/pennhip) you are required to have a permanent identification of the dog that is verified prior to doing tests (microchip or tattoo). Meaning the dog that is tested is verified to be the dog on the report. I have heard of breeders showing the exact same x-rays to every potential puppy buyer even though they are not x-rays of the dog that was bred for this litter.


Another major issue in the accuracy of x-rays is the technique used to get the views needed to evaluate the joints appropriately both OFA and Pennhip have very specific protocols that must be followed by the Veterinarian performing the tests and then those x-rays are sent to OFA or Pennhip and are reviewed by independent Veterinarians.


An additional concern with x-ray evaluations of joints done at a local level is even if your local Veterinarian follows the same protocols there is an element of bias due to your relationship with the Veterinary. Independent reviewers remove this element of bias.


It is important to note that these tests are evaluating the phenotype of the dog meaning the dogs literally physical condition at the time of the test vs. the genotype which is the genes the dog has which it will pass on to its offspring.


Now that you have the results on both the parents of the litter it is time to look further back! This is where you can get a better idea of genotype. If the parents of the litter have passed their health tests did their parents? If one of their parents failed a hip evaluation then your puppy could still be at risk for developing hip dysplasia that is why it is so important to look into the whole pedigree not just the parents of a litter. What about their grand-grandparents? Health testing isn’t new and you should be able to find breeders with several generations of health testing behind their dogs.


Do your research: find Facebook pages devoted to the breed and search the breeders name, put the name of your breeder into a search engine and see what comes up and again go to breed club and ask members their opinion on the breeder you are looking at. Check with the breed club rescue or breed rescue organizations if they recognize the breeder. Because if they deal with a lot of dogs from a breeder that is a red flag. If you find anything concerning, do more research! Seek out the person who made positive or negative comments and ask for more information. Check how old the dog is of the person giving you a positive review of a breeder. Many individuals are happy with their breeder the first six months before any potential issues have risen. All breeders will have health issues, of some type, at some point. But it is the frequency of those issues, types of issues and how they handle those issues, that is the most important thing to look at.


If the breeder you are talking with says they have never had a health issue with any of their dogs, RED FLAG. Every breeder has had some health issue at some point not all issues are genetic, not all issues are avoidable, again the issue here is how the breeder responds to those issues and their honest in regards to it.


Health Guarantees: A puppy should come home to you healthy, free of any diseases and up to date on current vaccinations and deworming. Some breeders include a health guarantee in their puppy contract but please read the fine print. If they require you to return the sick puppy to them to get a refund, they are likely betting that you will be unable to do so because you have already fallen in love with the puppy regardless of its health issues. Another tactic is to offer you a replacement puppy from their next litter, well if your current puppy is so sick that needs to be an option it is very likely you will not want a puppy from the same gene pool as the puppy you currently have that is suffering. There are occasions when issues are not genetic that a puppy from a future litter might be a viable replacement option but those situations are fairly rare. A responsible breeder should offer you at minimum a partial if not total refund of the purchase price of the puppy depending on the health condition of the puppy. Many congenital (genetic) health defects will end up costing the puppy buyer much more than the purchase price of the puppy over the course of their lives.


What to look for and what to ask to

assess potential temperament

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The first question you need to ask is to yourself. What do you plan to do with your dog? Will this be a pet, a working dog, sport dog, therapy dog, service dog, competition dog, show/conformation dog, etc. Even if you find a breeder that meets all health requirements, they might not be the best fit for what you are looking for. Ask yourself these hard questions:


o Be realistic with what you can offer the dog as far as enrichment and exercise. How much time can you devote?


o How often will the dog be home alone?


o If you have children, do you understand that you need to train both the dog and children to be safe around each other. Is the breed you are looking at a good choice for a house with children? Herding breeds are often rehomed from houses with children because they herd the children which can often involving nipping ankles and feet. Is this the fault of the dog or the owner? The dog is just following its natural instincts.


What is the answer to that first question, what do you plan to do with the dog? Then figure out how you want to achieve that goal. Do you have a trainer, a mentor, can the breeder be those for you or refer you to someone who can?


o Do you have time for training classes all dogs should receive basic training do you have a trainer or local class picked out to attend with your puppy?

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You want to look for a breeder who has dogs in their lines that do what you are looking for. If you are looking for a show dog you want Champion parents and Champions on both sides of the lineage. If you are looking for a farm dog to work cattle you want a breeder that has dogs that either title in herding or work on farms.

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If at all possible, you should visit the breeder’s home. Even if you are not able to visit the breeder’s home you should ask and the breeder should be open to you visiting. Be prepared for the breeder to ask you for proof of who you are before visiting or even releasing their location details to you. This is to ensure the safety of themselves and their dogs. If they do not want you to visit that is a huge red flag and you should walk away. Once at the home you should meet the mother of the potential litter and any other dogs on the premises. Ideally you would meet the father as well but as studs (Male dog fathering the litter) are often not on the premises this may not be possible. Do the dogs appear healthy and in good shape? Do they live in a kennel or in the home? Is the home or kennel clean and well taken care of? Are the dogs in the home over or underweight? Do the dogs respond appropriately for their breed to the presence of strangers in their home? The dogs should be comfortable and not at all fearful of the breeder.

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If you are able to visit the breeder do so prior to the arrival of puppies, it is very difficult to be objective when deciding on the quality of a breeder when you see cute puppies on the ground in front of you. I have often heard sob stories of people who just couldn’t leave a poor puppy in the terrible situation they found it at the breeders, unfortunately buying that puppy from the breeder just makes them more money and continues the cycle. The only thing that will stop a bad breeder from continuing to breed is if they don’t have people willing to buy their puppies.


How are the puppies raised?

  • Puppies should never leave their mother before 8 weeks of age; this is a critical development stage and a great deal of research has been done that supports puppies staying with their mother even up to 12 weeks of age. Just because a puppy is weaned does not mean that puppy is done learning valuable life lessons from its siblings and mother. Puppies should never go home before 8 weeks of age they learn valuable skills from their mother and siblings during this time and have better social skills and are more confident well-adjusted adults. Just because they are done nursing does not mean they are ready to go home.


  • Where are the puppies raised? Are they in a kennel with minimal contact? Breeders with many dogs often have a kennel area but where are the pups born and raised? Are they raised in a home with the family? Puppies should be handled often by the breeder and trusted family and friends as long as it is done safely and at age-appropriate times. Puppies should be exposed safely to different noises, textures, scents, sounds and types of people. There are several methods of exposure breeders have developed over the years. One example is Puppy Culture which is a program designed to safely and appropriately prepare puppies to be successful well-adjusted adults. Ask the breeder what they do with the puppies to prepare them and socialize them properly while they are in their care. Ask for pictures and videos of prior litters and what they puppy pen set ups look like.


  • How does the breeder prepare the puppies to go home? Are the puppies crate trained? Does the breeder start working on housebreaking the puppies? In an ideal situation the breeder should start working on both of these before the puppies go home.

What to expect the Breeder to ask you

  • Expect to be interviewed by the Breeder as much if not more then you are interviewing them. They should be extremely invested in their puppies going into the right homes, not just a home. Realize that many breeders are hobby breeders who are deeply devoted to the breed but have other day jobs and might not be immediately responsive to you contacting them as a stranger, that doesn’t mean they are not a responsible breeder it just means they have limited time and it might take them slightly longer to respond to you.


  • They should ask you all those questions I asked you to ask yourself. If you want a dog to sit on the couch with you all day and you are talking to a breeder of working line dogs, they should tell you that you are at the wrong place and you wouldn’t be a good home for one of their puppies. Do not be offended, this is the sign of a good breeder. They are doing you and their puppy a huge favor in the long run. Ask them for advice on a breeder that might be better suited for your needs.


  • You can give your preferences on gender and color to a breeder but be prepared to wait for that perfect combination to arrive. Responsible breeders do not breed for color alone and there is no way to predict how many males or females will be in each litter. So, if you want a rare color puppy in a certain gender with a temperament that matches your family’s needs then be prepared to potentially wait years for that perfect combination to occur.


  • Temperament and current pets in the home should always be the first consideration when placing a puppy in a potential home. If you have a male adult dog at home for example a responsible breeder would tell you a female puppy would be the best choice to add to your home.


  • Breeders know their puppies best so a responsible breeder will usually do the puppy picking for you. This is another reason they ask you all those questions about your home and lifestyle so they can place the right puppy in your home. Remember you might meet the puppies once or twice before they go home but the breeder has been with them their entire lives observing their behavior in many different circumstances and times of day. In some cases, they might offer you a choice of 2 to 3 suitable puppies for your home but it is rare that you will have more than that as options unless the litter is very large.


Puppy Contracts and Taking your Puppy Home


PRIOR to deciding on your breeder and especially PRIOR to putting a deposit down, the breeder should provide you with their puppy contract. Breeders often have a contract that lays out both their responsibilities and yours as a buyer. If a contract requires you to not speak about them online or on social media, do not get a puppy from this breeder. Only a breeder with something to hide would have what amounts to a gag order in their puppy contract. Examples of appropriate things to expect in a puppy contract are:


o You taking the puppy to the Vet within a reasonable amount of time after picking up the puppy.

o Taking the puppy to a training course within a certain time frame.

o Spaying or Neutering the dog at a certain age.

o Agreeing to not breed the dog without the express consent of the breeder

o Perhaps the most important to me is the stipulation that if for any reason the buyer can no longer keep the puppy it should be returned to the breeder. Responsible breeders stand by their puppies for their entire life and would want to be involved in finding a new home for the puppy/dog if it should ever require a new one. After all they went through a lot of work to choose the first set of homes for their puppies, they should have a right to help choose any future homes. They would also want to be able to offer their continued support to the new owners.


Puppies should be sent home with:

  • A toy or blanket that smells like the breeder’s home; this will help the puppy successfully transfer to your home.

  • Instructions to continue any training the breeder has started including breed appropriate training recommendations and what ages to do this training

  • Food from the breeder so your puppy doesn’t get an upset stomach if you are switching to a new food

  • You should leave with the understanding that if you ever need help or advice you should contact the breeder and they should be happy to help you.

  • You should also not leave the premises without all the papers you need to register the puppy with the appropriate registration office for your country. Such as the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club in America.


Melissa Cushman and Gunther

If this all seems a bit overwhelming, I offer litter and puppy evaluations. Buying a puppy is a long-term investment regardless of if your future puppy will be a service dog prospect or the perfect pet, let me help you make sure you are making the right investment for you!


Contact me for more information.

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