With the increasing popularity of selecting shelter dogs, this article may not be pertinent for you. But if you are choosing a puppy from the person who bred it, first you are choosing a breeder and then you are choosing one of the breeder’s puppies. I’ll talk about both steps here, and most of it applies if you are getting a puppy in another way.
Choosing a dog breeder
There are breeders who are devoted to their dog breed and know a lot about it, give a lot of thought to why they are breeding a bitch to a particular stud, take excellent care of the mother and puppies, take lots of time socializing the pups, and are selective about who can buy one of the puppies. They will show you the parents if available, and if the parents are not there for some reason, they will have photos. (Often they have driven hundreds of miles when their bitch came into heat, to breed her to just the right stud, despite awful weather and lots of things to do on their calendar.) They will take time with your questions. No wonder the puppies may cost a good bit… and chances are the breeder is actually making very little on the puppies. A breeder like this is wonderful to work with.
Then there are breeders who keep their dogs in so-so or poor conditions, breed the parents because they happen to own them both, feed low-cost, low-quality dog food, may be breeding many different breeds, may have dozens of dogs on their place, don’t socialize the puppies, and will sell to anyone, including pet stores.
These folks usually won’t know much about the breed or the health problems it can have. (You will know something from having done your homework online or from books.) They probably won’t let you see the mother, because she lives in unsanitary, crowded conditions they don’t want you to see or because she is so worn out from having litter after litter of puppies that she looks terrible. Their puppies may also cost a good bit too… this is how they make a living. Or if there is an overstock, you may be offered special sale prices. These places are called puppy mills.
These two extremes are easy to spot. But many breeders fall somewhere between the extremes, and then you will have to use your own judgment. I ask a lot of questions on the phone with a breeder before I will even go to their place, and I have weeded out some breeders that way.
Any breeder may be able to provide AKC papers. The good breeders will do this, often after you have had the puppy spayed or neutered at the right age if it is pet quality. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the AKC papers have anything to do with quality.
Also beware of the phrase “Champion lines.” All that means is that one ancestor somewhere in the past was a dog show Champion. If your breeder shows dogs (and many of the best breeders do, or have in the past), they will likely love to talk about exactly which dogs in the puppy’s ancestry were Champions and why.
How to find dog breeders
You can find breeders of a breed you are interested in by surfing the internet, going to dog shows (an excellent way to scope out a number of breeders at once while educating yourself about the breed), reading ads in magazines, word of mouth, etc.
The best breeder we’ve ever encountered was the one we got our all-time favorite dog from. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Recently I got curious about a particular breed of dog and was poking around the internet late at night. I came across a website of some breeders that was very informative about the breed — and about their own dogs and how they bred and cared for them. If I ever do get a puppy of that breed, I would happily drive many hours to meet those people and their puppies!
I would not get a puppy via a website sight unseen, though. I think the internet is great for gathering breed information and finding breeders. But it can be risky to buy a puppy you haven’t seen. You can’t assess the situation or see how you feel about the puppy beforehand.
I should note that not ALL puppies sold in pet stores are from “puppy mill” breeders or badly cared for. I got an email from a reader telling me that she works in a pet store that goes the extra mile. She wrote,
I work for a pet store that does puppy and kitten adoptions through the local shelter and in our first year we found over 400 dogs and cats loving and caring homes. We also carry pure bred puppies, we get these through local breeders, they are vet checked vaccinated, microchipped and their health is assesed every day by our resident vet-tech. we take the health and happiness of all of our dogs and other animals very seriously. We do not open until 10 am but the workers get there at 6 am to begin the process of cleaning and taking care of them.
So it’s a matter of checking out what a situation really is.
Choosing a puppy from a litter
In choosing a puppy from a litter, there are three aspects of what to do: questions to ask the breeder, things you can do with the puppies, and your own heart.
1. Questions to ask a breeder
As well as general questions about the breed and its health problems, ask why this particular mother and father were bred to each other. Ask which of the puppies in the litter are show quality and which are pet quality, and why. Ask for the breeder’s opinions about the personalities of the ones that interest you.
How were the puppies socialized? This word includes
- whether the puppies lived in the house, or if not, were taken there at times to get used to the normal sights and sounds of household living
- how much they were handled by people — this is essential for a dog that will bond with people, and must happen during the early weeks
- their exposure to other dogs, cats, children
Other questions include what guarantee the breeder offers, and at what age the puppy can go home with you. (It shouldn’t leave its mother and the litter before 8 weeks, as a rule of thumb.)
After you have talked with the breeder a while about you and your home, you could ask their about which puppy they think would be the best match for you.
2. Things you can do with a puppy
There are “puppy temperament tests” that have been developed, but there is some controversy about how accurate they are. Still, you can do a variety of things and come to some opinions.
One thing to do is to clap your hands behind the puppy’s head, without letting it see you. If it doesn’t respond, it may be deaf.
Cuddle the puppy, play with it for a while, walk away from it, and observe its actions. It should be friendly, neither overly aggressive nor timid. If there is more than one puppy in the litter that you are considering, do these things with each one. If you are only considering one puppy in a litter, it’s still useful to do the same things with another puppy, just for the comparison.
3. What does your heart say?
You are considering living for many years with this little creature. I have encouraged you to use your mind in choosing a puppy, but now is the time to check in with the wisdom of your heart. If your head says yes and your heart says no, trust your heart. If both head and heart say yes… go for it!
More Information on Choosing Your Puppy
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