Once you've chosen the breed of dog that appeals to your esthetic sense and meets your family's needs and circumstances, you have a plethora of potential sources for your new companion. Not all sources are equal. Breeding philosophies, breed knowledge, prices, financial arrangements, contracts, and customer or client assistance differ among the various puppy sellers. Most puppies purchased from any of these sources are acceptable pets, but chances of buying a lemon are greater with some than with others.
For a look at the pitfalls of choosing the wrong source, see The Puppy Report by Larry Shook. Although the book probably overstates the potential for purchasing an unhealthy puppy, the point is clear: don't buy a dog without careful consideration of the source.
Brokers, pet stores, neighbors, professional breeders, commercial kennels, puppy mills, and animal shelters all sell dogs. Kennel clubs, breed clubs, and breed associations do not sell dogs directly but usually recommend breeders that the prospective buyer can contact.
The least reliable source of a puppy is a broker who sells directly to the public. Not only is the buyer unable to talk to the breeder and see the mother dog, she can't even see the puppy until it's delivered to the door or the airport. All the fancy talk in the world about temperament testing and champion bloodlines and genetic health is worthless if the buyer cannot face the breeder, see the conditions of his kennel, check the pedigrees, see the puppy's dam, and see the health certifications on the parents.
Brokers get their puppies from several sources, including commercial kennels that may or may not be licensed by the US Department of Agriculture, private breeders who are not required to be licensed, and unsuspecting breeders of occasional litters who advertise their puppies in local newspapers. A local broker purchased a puppy from an ad in the newspaper and resold it for nearly triple the price to a buyer in California and regularly buys litters from local breeders.
Brokers (and pet stores) rely on the owner's instant attachment to an adorable puppy to avoid dealing with congenital, genetic, or behavior problems that may arise. The only advantage of buying from a broker is that you can do it all on the telephone, without leaving the comfort of your own home. A puppy to share your life should be worth more effort.
Pet stores get their puppies from commercial kennels, some of which are clean, well-run facilities, and some of which are not. Most commercial kennels are located in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Arkansas, hardly a convenient trip to see the puppy's parents or the conditions in which he was bred and born.
Although pet stores do offer contracts, they protect the store owners far more than the puppy buyers. A buyer can return the puppy for credit, not refund, and the puppy may be resold even if it has a serious problem. Often the only way to get satisfaction for a sick puppy is to stand in the store and loudly suggest that your lawyer will be your next stop. Some disgruntled buyers have found themselves banned from pet store premises because they complained about sick puppies.
If a pet store is your choice of a source, make sure you choose a clean shop with healthy-looking puppies that have been examined by a local veterinarian. Ask for the USDA license number of the breeder. Make sure the purebred puppy is registered with either the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club; although neither is a guarantee of quality, they are at least an indication that the kennel's registration privileges have not been withdrawn for shady breeding practices or registration fraud.
The only advantage of buying in a pet store is that you can likely find a puppy right now, this minute. Chances are high that it will be a mistake. Although many people get good pets from pet stores, chances are that the puppy will have one or more problems caused by poor breeding practices and the pet store will have no answers for customers seeking to solve those problems.
Pet stores are not equipped to handle training problems, behavior problems, or decisions about whether to breed a particular animal or to spay or neuter it. And the pet store staff generally knows little or nothing about the temperament, care, health problems, or behavior of the breeds they sell.
(More on pet stores)
People begin breeding dogs for all sorts of reasons. Some raise puppies as if they were an agricultural commodity -- they do it solely to make money and they give profit and farming both a bad name. These "breeders" sell puppies to brokers, who generally sell them to pet stores, and breed their bitches every time they come into heat, sometimes twice each year. They care little about the health or condition of the parent dogs or about the housing and care they provide adults or puppies.
Horror stories abound about puppy factories where dogs are crammed into dirty cages or runs, wallowing in their own filth, with little or no privacy for whelping a litter. Dogs of different breeds often run together, so the "purebred" puppy may not be purebred at all.
Puppies are most saleable between seven and 10 weeks of age, when they are at their cutest. Puppy farmers ship pups to brokers at four weeks or younger so that they will get to their retail outlet at optimum sale age. The puppies are shipped by air or hauled by truck, crammed two or three or more to a crate.
Most of the notorious puppy mills and brokerages are located in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Wisconsin, but Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana also harbor some of these horrors. Most puppies from puppy mills end up in pet stores.
(More on puppy mills)
According to the latest survey of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, friends and neighbors are the most popular source of puppies.
Although neighbors and relatives who are not professional breeders are unlikely to study breed characteristics and genetics, they are a better source of puppies than either a broker or a pet store. You can see the mother of the litter if she lives down the street or at Aunt Susan's and you know the conditions in which the animals were bred and the puppies were raised. You may even be able to see the puppies' father, which is not always possible when dealing with a professional breeder.
The pitfalls here are that many of the breeds in "backyard" production are the nation's most popular, and they tend to have the most genetic problems perpetuated by ignorant or thoughtless breeding practices. The top 10 breeds are Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Poodle, Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Dachshund, Dalmatian, and Pomeranian. Labs, Rotts, German Shepherds, and Goldens are susceptible to hip dysplasia, a malformation that causes degenerative joint disease. Hip dysplasia cannot be diagnosed by looking at the dog unless it is severe enough to cause crippling. However, even marginal or mild dysplasia can be passed on to puppies. Thus all dogs of those breeds should be x-rayed and evaluated before breeding. (Yes, this means bitches should not be bred before two years of age.) Not many casual or occasional breeders bother with x-rays, and thus the risk of getting a puppy with some degree of dysplasia can be quite high.
Poorly-bred dogs can be high-strung, over-active, or compulsive. Dalmatians and Cocker Spaniels in particular suffer from these behavior problems if not thoughtfully bred. And haphazardly bredPoms and Poodles can be painfully fearful.
Advantages of buying from a friend or neighbor also include low price— after all, Mrs. Jones is not paying high stud fees or advertising her breeding program or campaigning her dogs on the show circuit, she is breeding an occasional litter for pocket money or because her Taffy is the sweetest, most loving, most beautiful dog in the world.
Some backyard breeders got started because they wanted to recoup some of the money they spent on a bitch. Others wanted the children to see a birth or allow the bitch to experience motherhood. Some just want another dog of the same temperament or style or color as their beloved Taffy. Some backyard breeders plan litters for holiday gift-giving. Others earn money for Christmas shopping or vacations by selling puppies.
These breeders may not understand the need to find a compatible mate for their bitch, one of good temperament that is free of genetic diseases common to its breed. The bitch herself may be of poor temperament or may have a genetic abnormality that is not yet apparent but can cause pain to her in later years or to her offspring.
They may not even realize that there is a standard for their breed; They usually do not spend the effort or money to have the bitch x-rayed for hip dysplasia, or tested for eye disease, thyroid disease, brucellosis, or autoimmune deficiencies. And they are generally not prepared to keep any puppies they cannot sell.
It's easy to say that everyone should buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, one of the elite of the purebred dog world. However, there are many different types of breeders; some of whom maintain poor conditions, breed without care, and fail to back up their puppies with support, while others study the bloodlines of the stud and bitch before they breed, certify their breeding stock for genetic abnormalities, and prove their dogs in the show ring. And there are some in between these extremes as well.
When looking for a responsible breeder, discount those who do not have clean kennels or keep their dogs in a clean house. Walk away from anyone who will not allow you to visit the dogs in their space and from anyone whose breeding stock is not healthy, even-tempered, or well-socialized. A bitch that shivers and shakes in fear of strangers will produce puppies that are fearful, and a bitch that is aggressive will pass that trait along as well.
Next on the list should be the number of breeds raised by a breeder. Many breeders keep two breeds and produce two or three litters per year from each. Anyone producing litters from more than two breeds and anyone producing more than a half dozen litters per year should be questioned closely to determine how well-matched the parent dogs are and how well-socialized the puppies are. Puppies take a lot of time and effort; more than six litters per year, especially of large breeds or of breeds with large litters, are difficult to socialize and teach basic manners unless a breeder is home full-time or has a full-time kennel manager.
Breeders who have lots of litters of lots of different breeds may have sloppy management practices that cause breeding mistakes that can be further compounded by paperwork mistakes. A breeder who produces Yorkshire Terriers and Toy Poodles and Shih-Tzus and mixes and matches to get so-called Yorki-poos and Shih-poos may not know who sired what litter and so may misidentify a -poo mix as a purebred.(the AKC susprnds breeders who cannot verify their breeding records.
Responsible breeders test males and females for hip dysplasia, eye diseases, brucellosis (a venereal disease), and if indicated, autoimmune and thyroid diseases. They carefully select compatible males and females as parents for the litter, weed out animals of poor structure or temperament, and follow the breed standard in selecting the best show prospects in their kennels. Most bring the bitch into the house to have her puppies and accustom the puppies to the sounds and smells of an active family. They spend time with the puppies every day, handling them, checking them for problems, watching them as they grow. They know which puppy is dominant, which submissive. They have the puppies innoculated and wormed when appropriate.
Responsible breeders answer buyers' questions, keep puppies they cannot place, allow bitches to recover sufficiently from one breeding before doing another, and take back any puppy that does not work out. They breed dogs because they admire their breed and want to contribute to its betterment. They guarantee their pups free of genetic diseases common in their breed and replace the pup if the disease should crop up. They consider the puppies they produce to be their responsibility for the life of that puppy, so they follow-up frequently to see what's going on.
A breeder who has presentable premises with little or no odor, whose dogs are friendly or relatively so, who is proud of her dogs and enjoys showing them off is a breeder who deserves a closer look. If she also has a contract that protects the buyer and the dog as well as herself, requires sterilization of puppies sold as pets, and has tested breeding stock for the genetic abnormalities affecting the breed, stay and talk. Get the names of some previous puppy buyers, see the health certificates, find out if the dogs have earned breed championships or obedience or other titles.
Advantages of buying from such a breeder are clear. Although there are no hard and fast guarantees, a puppy from a truly responsible breeder is more likely to be physically and emotionally healthy than a puppy from any other source, and a truly responsible breeder will remain interested in that puppy and its family for the animals entire life. If the buyer experiences a crisis and cannot keep the puppy, the truly responsible breeder will take it back or help place it in a new home. If, in spite of all the precautions, the puppy is physically or temperamentally unsound, the truly responsible breeder will offer a replacement or a financial settlement.
Responsible breeders evaluate their puppies as show and breeding quality or pet quality and sell pet puppies with a spay-neuter contract. Pet quality puppies are not deficient - they just may not meet the breed standard or the breeder's preference for size, color, coat type, bone structure, head type, etc. Many responsible breeders sell pet puppies at a lower price than show puppies.
[Finding a responsible breeder]
Rescue organizations are dedicated to helping dogs of their particular breeds. They find homes for dogs that can no longer remain with their families because of illness, devorce, relocation or other disruptions; adopt purebred dogs from animal shelters and find them new homes and rescue dogs from puppy mills and other cruel and neglectful situations. They are excellent sources of sterilized purebred pets at reasonable cost.
Some rescue groups are connected with breed clubs. Some are individuals or committees who work with a breed or two. Some provide foster homes; others provide referral services to other resources. All provide education about their breeds.
[More on rescue groups]
A patient and discriminating person can find a purebred or mixed breed dog that appeals to his own personality and needs at one of the public or private shelters in their area for a very reasonable price. Most dogs that leave shelters have received a veterinary check-up including vaccinations and any necessary short-term care. Many shelters issue discount certificates for spay or neuter surgery; some sterilize all purebreds prior to adoption. Some shelters also include microchip identification with every animal.
[More on Shelter sources]
While there is no question that some people find exactly the dog they are looking for from classified ads, many more encounter problems. Using newspaper classified ads to locate a breeder is a gamble. Few responsible breeders advertise in local classified ads because they have no trouble placing their dogs, sometimes years in advance. Therefore most breeders who advertise in these sections are amateurs who know little about their breeds. Sometimes rescue groups advertise dogs but their ads are a small percentage of the total number. If you must enter the classified sweepstakes at least learn the terminology of classified ads.
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