Choose a Quality Dog Breeder
Selecting a puppy from a breeder instead of adopting from a shelter, dog pound, or rescue organization is a choice frequently made. Purchasing a puppy from a good quality, reputable breeder is an excellent way to increase the odds of bringing home a happy, healthy, socialized puppy.
Good breeders enable a potential dog owner to buy healthy happy dogs that have been bred to have the best qualities. People are breeders for the love of dogs and to advance the breed. It's as important to choose the right breeder as it is to choose the right dog. Ask your veterinarian, groomers, boarding kennels, the local kennel club, and other pet owners who the reputable breeders are in your area.
When you're considering a breeder, do the interview in person on the premises, rather than on the phone, because you will meet the breeder and observe all the dogs and puppies. The premises should be clean and smell good, and the breeder should be willing to show you around the premises.
Be very suspicious of breeders who have more dogs than they seem able to take care of properly, and have large numbers of dogs and puppies kept in kennels or runs. If you see multiple litters of multiple breeds you should move on immediately and find a better breeder. This could be a back yard breeder (BYB) or puppy mill masquerading as a breeder. Reputable breeders breed a single litter in a year, because they need time to evaluate the puppies produced in a litter before breeding another.
If at all possible, find breeders who have the parents (at least the mother) on the premises. If the parents are well fed, well sheltered, in a clean environment, and they are happy friendly dogs that don't back away, growl, or jump in your face, you're on the right track. If you can, get to know the dogs who are the parents of your future puppy, as they will provide you with a pretty good idea of what you can expect.
The puppies should look healthy, be sociable and outgoing, with no runny eyes or noses. The environment should also be clean with plenty of room for exercise.
When you inquire about a puppy, the breeder will also interview you. A good breeder is trying to find the best homes for the puppies, and may ask some occasionally strange questions regarding your home life and previous dog experience before letting you adopt a puppy. They want to be assured that you know what you're doing, that you can train and take care of the puppy, and will be a responsible, intelligent owner. They are the experts here -- and they will evaluate you as carefully as you evaluate them. Expect this!
Quality breeders want to know that you can house and raise their puppy appropriately, and that their puppy will have a permanent home for his entire lifetime. Ideally, you will talk to and buy the puppy from the breeder who raised the litter and owns or co-owns the mother (dam). Conscientious breeders don't trust other people to screen puppy buyers for them.
The breeder should be willing to provide you with all of the time that you require in order to make your decision. It is important that you feel very comfortable speaking with the breeder, and ask questions whenever they should arise. You will require the support of your breeder once you get your new puppy, so you need to make certain that your breeder is happy to accommodate you.
Ask when the last time the mother was bred, and how many litters has she had total. A female dog should not be allowed to produce an excessive number of litters. Sufficient time should be allowed between litters for the female dog to recuperate.
Ask the breeder about specific characteristics of the breed, and if they have encountered any genetic problems in the bloodlines. A reputable breeder will reveal inherited problems and discuss what they have done to try and eliminate them. The breeder will tell you what genetic screening is necessary for that breed, and will be willing to discuss problems. They will also show proof of genetic screening.
Inquire how the breeder evaluates the temperaments of the puppies. While different breeds have standard personality traits, the fact remains that there is a great deal of variability within the breed and even within a single litter. A lot of a puppy's temperament develops through early socialization, within the litter, and with humans. A breeder should be able to tell you about those differences and help you choose. Of course, there's not too much personality at 3 weeks of age, but by 5 - 6 weeks you should be able to ask this question. Also, there are standardized temperament tests that are gaining popularity, so ask about them.
Reputable breeders will know the ancestry of the puppies -- not just parents, but grandparents and beyond. A dedicated breeder will breed only with the intention of improving the breed standard. Quality breeders plan each litter with this goal in mind, by using parents of appropriate qualities in relation to the official standard and description of the breed, physical soundness, and temperament.
Ask the breeder if you can see pictures of puppies from previous litters grown up. This will give you an idea on how well the breeder keeps in touch with people who bought puppies and it is always good to see the results of prior breedings.
An above board breeder will also explain the quality and cost differences between show and pet-quality puppies. (Breeders should insist that you spay or neuter non-show puppies.)
The puppies will not have been separated from their mother and littermates at less than 7 weeks of age. Many breeders consider 7 - 8 weeks ideal, some later. But if you look at puppies over 12 weeks of age, be certain they have had enough individual attention and separation from each other, and they are more bonded to people than to other dogs.
Different dog breeds develop at different rates, so take the time to research and decide what age you feel is acceptable. Every dog breed has a national breed club website, and usually have a recommendation listed -- sometimes it is on their code of ethics page. A responsible breeder will want to make sure the pups are fully weaned and eating well, have had time for vaccinations to become effective, and have been appropriately socialized before leaving for a new, strange home.
All puppies will have had the canine distemper vaccine -- DHPP -- the most common combination vaccine given to dogs. The initials refer to the diseases included in the vaccine: distemper, hepatitis, parvo and parainfluenza. Plus they will have had a worm test, or a worming if needed.
The breeder will insist that you prepare an appropriate place at home for your puppy before you take your puppy home. They will give you thorough personal instructions on puppy feeding and care, a record of vaccinations and worming, and encourage you to phone if you have concerns or questions after taking your puppy home.
A quality breeder will be there to help and advise you throughout the life of the puppy, and will ask you to bring the puppy (or dog) back to them at any age, if for any reason you can't keep him -- even if the dog is very old.
A good breeder makes sure all puppies go to carefully screened homes. If there is no good home out there, the puppy is kept. No puppy ever goes to a pet store or animal shelter. Responsible breeders do not add to the huge quantity of unwanted pets that are in shelters. When I was looking for a second poodle puppy to add to my family, I was put in touch with a poodle dog breeder. The breeder did not have a litter of puppies available, but did have a dog left over from the previous litter. He was 7 months old and the breeder was interested in finding a "good home" for him. He had not been adopted because he didn't get along with his littermates and didn't like anyone. I was carefully screened, even to the point of having the puppy brought over to my house, so the breeder could see how her dog interacted with my dog and me, and see if we all got along well. Everything turned out better than expected, and Jack lived a nice long happy life with my family.
Be wary of breeders who behave more like puppy-making machines. Puppy Mills and Back Yard Breeders (BYB) simply want to sell the puppies as quickly as they can. Breeders whose primary concern is money and not the care of the puppies, will almost definitely not care enough to provide you with the support and advice that you may need some time down the road.
Everything you have discussed will be written in a contract. Have the breeder provide you with complete medical records, an exact copy of your contract, a guarantee of good health, an application to register your puppy, and your puppy's pedigree.
The breeder will furnish you with their address and phone number, registered names and numbers of sire and dam, and birth date of litter the AKC requires for registration. Be aware that AKC registration does not mean quality. It only means that your dog is a purebred. Pet quality puppies should be considered as just that. Even litters from very well bred parents usually contain only a few show or breeding quality pups.
Most breeders will send you off with a small supply of the same food he has been eating, as well as provide information about raising, training, feeding, proper veterinary care, and most will insist you have the puppy examined by your veterinarian within a specified short period of time. If the breeder is in your general vicinity, they should also be able to recommend a dedicated, knowledgeable, and skilled veterinarian as well.