Selecting a Breeder for a Pet or Service Work Home
Finding an ethical breeder requires a lot of research and time. It’s not something that should be done hastily or on a whim. This is true if you are looking for a pet or a service dog.
When I started planning to get a dog for service work I spent about 6 months researching different breeds and deciding what type of dog would be the best fit for my needs. I spent another 6 months looking into breeding programs and then contacting breeders. I contacted between 15 and 20 breeders in multiple different states. It took almost a year and a half from when I first started looking to when we brought Theo home. We ended up going with a breeder who lived several states away but for the right dog traveling is 100% worth it!
The first thing to do is make sure you know what health testing should be done on the breed. The second is looking at the national breed club website and seeing what breeders are members. These should be some of the best and most experienced breeders. Even if you can’t find one of them that’s a good fit they can often point you towards other reputable breeders. Local breed clubs are another good thing to look into.
After reviewing websites and social media I start contacting individual breeders with any of the questions listed below that I haven’t been able to find answer to. If you are looking for a pet you can disregard the service dog specific questions.
- How long have you been breeding dogs?
- Why did you decide to become a breeder?
- Do you breed anything other than (insert breed you’re interested in here)?
- If they breed lots of different breeds this can be a red flag.
- How do you decide what dogs you’ll breed?
- What health testing do you perform on dogs before they are bred? Can I see copies of the results?
- At what age do you breed your dogs?
- Dogs should not be bred before sexual maturity. This varies somewhat between small and large breeds but as a rule of thumb the earliest a dog should be bred is two years old. Ideally I’d want to see a dame and sire that were at least 3 or 4 years old because that allows time for all genetic and joint testing to have been completed, their mature temperament will be apparent, and they will have had time to title in conformation or sports.
- What do you love about this breed?
- What is the most challenging part of owning this breed?
- Have you successfully placed service dogs from past litters? Do you think your puppies have the potential for service work?
- Are you comfortable placing a puppy into a working home?
- What temperament testing do you perform on puppies? At what age do you perform a temperament test? Who administers the temperament test?
- Temperament testing should be performed between 6-7 weeks of age.
- Do you select puppies for families or do families choose which puppy they want? If you select them, how do you make that decision?
- Good breeders almost always select dogs for families rather than letting families choose.
- Where do you keep your dogs?
- Large breeding programs may use kennels, smaller programs may use their home. You want to make sure that the area is clean, the dogs have access to clean water and food, and they have protection from the elements. Personally, I prefer dogs who have been raised in a home environment.
- Can I see where you house your dogs?
- You should always be able to see where the dogs are kept. If the breeder says you cannot see where the dogs are housed, that’s a big red flag.
- Can I meet the dame and sire?
- The answer to this question should always be yes.
- Do you have a buyer’s contract? If you do, can I see a copy of it?
- Reputable breeders always have a contract.
- Do you have a health and/or temperament guarantee as part of your buyers’ contract?
- Do you have a return clause in the buyer’s contract?
- No ethical breeder wants their puppies to end up in a shelter. A good breeder has a clause that states the dog must be returned to them if the buyer cannot keep the dog for any reason at any time during the dog’s life.
- Have you ever had a puppy returned to you? If so, why? What happened to the dog after it was returned to you?
- Do you have a spay/neuter clause in the buyer’s contract? If you have a spay/neuter clause at what age must the puppy be altered?
- Do you microchip your puppies? Who is the main contact on the microchip?
- Breeders who microchip puppies and list themself as the main contact do so to insure the puppy never ends up in a shelter. If the breeder does this it’s an excellent sign!
- How are your puppies raised? What types of things do you do to help with their development and socialization?
- Puppy culture is a well known socialization protocol but there are a few others that breeders may use.
- Where do your puppies spend most of their time?
- Do you have references?
- This could be veterinarians, dog trainers, or clients who have dogs from previous litters.
- Are the dam and sire registered with the AKC?
- They should be able to provide proof.
- Can you provide me with a 4 generation pedigree?
- What kind of registration will the puppy have?
- Registration will either be full or limited.
- Will you be available for support for the lifetime of the dog?
- Do you breed show or working line dogs?
- Do you breed show or working lines?
- This isn’t applicable to every breed but for the breeds it does apply to it’s an important thing to know.
- What types of homes do your puppies typically thrive in?
- What titles do your dogs have?
- Have the puppies received all their vaccinations?
- Have the puppies been dewormed?
- Do you have a waitlist for your puppies?
- What traits are you breeding for?
- What age do you send puppies home at?
- Puppies should not be separated from their mom and litter before 8 weeks of age. Many good breeders are now keeping puppies until 10-12 weeks of age so they don’t go into a totally new environment during a fear period.
- What food do you feed your dogs?
- What food do you recommend clients use with their dogs?
- Do your dogs typically have good food drive and/or toy drive?
- What type of training methods do you use with your dogs?
- Do you feel your dogs are more independent or more handler focused?
- Have any of your dogs or puppies struggled with separation anxiety, reactivity, aggression, or other behavioral challenges?
- How do your dogs typically do with other dogs, people, and children?
- Do your dogs tend to be vocal?
- Do your dogs typically have a pretty good off switch?
- What are your dogs typically like in the house?
- How much mental and physical stimulation do your dogs typically need to be happy?
A good breeder will want to interview you as much as you want to interview them. Their main goal should always be bettering the breed and finding permanent homes for their puppies. If you sense they are upset by your questions or they start to dodge answering questions that’s a big red flag.
Resources & References
Featured image by Sophia Kunkel on Unsplash