So now it's time to take a look at what determines a breeder to be legitimate. How easy is it to spot a "backyard breeder" from someone who is being responsible and ethical? As you can imagine, there are many strong opinions on this topic - but after a little discussion with fellow trainers and dog professionals - I feel this is a fair summary of what to expect if you are shopping for a puppy.
Every breeder will usually state a few reasons they choose to breed their dogs. The first few are typically:
Those are all legitimate, and totally on point. If you're looking at a breeder's website or printed material - and it says none of those things.... you've already uncovered a major red flag!
So beyond a love and affinity for their breed of dog - there needs to be more concrete evidence that the dogs they've chosen as the mother and father, are "worthy" of breeding. Every time a purposeful breeding takes place - it should always be with healthy, stable and proven animals. So how do we evaluate this without bias?
I've broken it down into 3 main categories:
So let's go through these in detail...
An ordinary vet check won't cut it for breeding. When evaluating for breeding, the potential dam and sire should both have passed whatever breed specific testing is recommended.
For example - in the German Shepherd Dog, some very common genetic conditions are Hip & Elbow Dysplasia. So it is strongly recommended all breeding dogs be pre-screened and scored for Hip and Elbow health. While this doesn't ensure the puppies will have perfect joints - it will prevent an animal with an obvious deformity from being bred and possibly passing that trait on to its offspring.
Be familiar with what genetic testing is recommended for your breed, and ensure the breeder provides proof they screen and certify their dogs free of those conditions.
A breeder that refuses to show you breed specific testing results is a red flag.
Assuming you're not looking to buy and raise the next Cujo - I'm going to bet you are hoping for a friendly and sociable pup! The temperament of the parent dogs contribute significantly to their puppies personalities.
There are a few ways to judge this. The easiest way would be simply to meet both the dam and the sire. Are they friendly? Is the breeder comfortable having their dogs interact with strangers? Do they seem skittish? Aloof? Some aloofness may be considered 'normal' in certain breeds - but if you desire to have a puppy that will be social with visiting friends and family, this is an important factor.
If it's not possible to meet the dam and/or sire - you can also look to temperament testing that is often done by breeders. The American Temperament Test Society offers testing that rates a dog's natural, instinctual responses to a specific set of auditory, visual and tactile stimuli. This is a widely recognized temperament test used by breeders to demonstrate the mental stability and soundness of their dogs.
Don't be afraid to ask questions about the temperament and personality 'quirks' of the parent dogs. This is a major factor that most good breeders will consider when choosing which dogs to breed. Making a complementary match is very important, and they should want to explain their logic.
A breeder that refuses to let you meet the parents (or the dam - if the sire is off-site) is a red flag.
A dog's performance titles are often overlooked when a family is shopping for their next 'pet' dog. You might be wondering, "Why is this important? I just want a nice, friendly dog to go on walks around the neighborhood!"
It's important because dogs that compete are subject to a wide range of experiences and pressure - both mental and physical. A dog who can withstand vigorous training and competition - is a dog that can handle a busy, often hectic - and unpredictable - family environment. It also demonstrates a dog that enjoys working with people - they're a team!
There is a wide range of titles - in an ever growing assortment of activities dogs can compete in. Each one harnesses the natural tendencies of the breed and pairs it with the skill of the handler - to prove that they either physically meet the 'standard' for the breed or can perform tasks or actions that measure up to a widely accepted performance standard.
Here's a list of a few examples of popular competitions or venues that demonstrate the performance and abilities of a dog...
This is certainly not an exhaustive collection of titled events or venues for dogs. But hopefully it gives you an idea of the wide range of disciplines a breeder may choose to specialize in with their breeding animals.
Any good, decent breeder will likely have an area of expertise or interest that they choose to participate in. Some participate in multiple venues.
A breeder who does nothing more than breeding dogs as "pets", and never steps foot in a competition, work venue or show ring - is a red flag.
In summary, a good breeder is going to check all the boxes. A great breeder will go above and beyond by not only meeting the minimum standards I outlined above, but inviting you into their facility or home - asking their own list of questions, providing you with oodles of information about their dogs and their breeding program.
Of course, this is not the end of the screening process. When those puppies are developing, her care and preparations should be the utmost priority! The first 8-12 weeks of life they spend in the breeder's home is critical to their lifelong development as healthy, stable, well-adjusted dogs.
Stay tuned... our next post will focus on how GREAT breeders raise super puppies!