You have read up on your breed of dog and decided that’s the dog for you.
You’re sure you can deal with feeding, housing, training, and grooming that breed of dog. You’re sure that your new canine won’t break your budget.
And you’ve decided to buy your new puppy rather than take your chances with a rescue dog. So, how do you find that one special puppy that is a match made in heaven?
The truth is, there are no perfect dogs.
There aren’t any perfect owners, either. But if you ask your breeder the right questions up front, you increase the chances that you will find a dog that loves you, and you can welcome as a permanent part of your family.
Here are 10 critical questions (and a few more optional questions) every prospective pet parent needs to ask their breeder.
Can I spend time with my puppy first?
Spending time with your puppy beginning almost as soon as it is born until it’s time to take it home keeps you from getting conned.
Seeing puppies during the seven to nine weeks before they are ready for their forever home allows you to make sure you aren’t dealing with a puppy mill.
You should never believe everything you see in an advertising newspaper or on a website.
You should be extra concerned if the offer is for “discount puppies,” or if the breeder offers to bring the puppy to you.
There is a common ruse among puppy peddlers that they need to let a puppy go for a low, low price because a child is allergic to it.
If a puppy seller only allows you one visit on the day you pick it up, and the mother is “at the vet,” or on a walk, or at a friend’s house, your early warning system should be set off.
If there are puppies of different breeds and ages, that’s a tip-off for stolen puppies.
If the kennel or the kitchen doesn’t look like it’s the house a litter of puppies for a couple of months, something is wrong.
Ask yourself these questions on your puppy visit:
- Is the kennel clean? You don’t want to adopt a puppy from a kennel that doesn’t pass the smell test. You want your puppy trained to live in a neat and clean environment from the very beginning.
- Are there bad odors? That’s a sign of bad health practices.
- Do the dogs all seem happy? Are they active and friendly?
- Do any of the dogs have protruding ribs, like they haven’t been fed?
- Do any of the dogs seem to be sick?
You don’t want to adopt a dog from a breeder who doesn’t pass even these basic qualifications.
A special word about rescue puppies
Whose heart doesn’t feel a tug for a puppy that has been left at a rescue center without its mother? It’s natural to care.
This doesn’t mean that you should become its puppy parent. At least not right away.
Most rescue centers will have get-to-know-you areas where you can visit with your puppy to make sure it is getting good care.
You need to make sure it is learning how to get along with lots of different people and pets.
Many rescue centers have pet foster parents who raise puppies to the age they can be adopted. Foster pet parents will want to get to know you and they will let you get to know your dog.
Visit your rescue puppy, preferably with the whole family once you are sure the puppy is adoptable, before making a commitment.
Can I meet the parents?
We can’t overemphasize that you shouldn’t spend even a minute with a breeder who won’t let you see the environment in which your potential puppy is being raised.
You want your puppy to come from a clean, hygienic, loving home, where it spends the first seven to nine weeks with its mother. (Adopting a puppy after the age of 12 weeks usually creates training issues for you and your dog.)
You want to make sure your puppy is being socialized to other dogs, cats, people of all colors and shapes and sizes, birds, turtles, cars, Roombas, and anything else your dog may encounter in everyday life.
And you want to meet your dog’s parents.
Every puppy inherits 50% of its genes from its sire (the father) and 50% of its genes from its dam (the mother).
Getting to know both dog parents can give you an idea of what to expect from your puppy.
- Meeting your puppy’s parents gives you a clear idea of where your puppy is being raised. You can see for yourself how well your puppy is being cared for. You can make sure it is spending crucial weeks of development with its mother. You can make a judgment on whether it’s being exposed to a disease or frightening experiences.
- Meeting your puppy’s parents shows you how your puppy is being raised. Cages stacked on each other is a signal to go elsewhere. Stacked cages invite rats and disease. Your puppy needs lots of time with its mother, who will train it not to bite her while nursing. Your puppy needs interaction with its siblings and the long list of animals, people, and things we mentioned above.
- Meeting your puppy’s parents gives you some idea of their temperament and the temperament your dog will develop.
- Meeting your puppy’s parents gives you a chance to size up their health.
Do you offer a puppy contract?
Puppy contracts enable you to follow your puppy’s progress from the day it is born to the day you take it home.
A puppy contract will give you ongoing information about the health of your puppy and its parents. You need to know how often your puppy and its mother are wormed.
You need to know about any major health problems either puppy parent has after your dog is born. You need to have confirmation of any checkups with the vet,
If you are buying a purebred dog, you need to know the results of genetic testing for heritable health conditions.
You can have a happy experience with a dog that has a genetic health problem, but it’s always best to know ahead of time.
In Canada, the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation and the RSPCA both recommend puppy contracts.
You can find the model puppy contract for American dog breeders from the American Kennel Club here.
Can I see a copy of the puppy’s health tests and certifications?
Certain breeds have predispositions to health problems. Responsible breeders do genetic testing for these problems before they allow dogs to breed.
Two conditions are especially likely to be tested for. Don’t hesitate to ask your breeder about the results for your puppy’s sire and dam.
Hip dysplasia. Some breeds like Bulldogs, Great Danes, Pugs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Golden Retrievers, and St. Bernards have a hereditary disposition for his dysplasia.
This doesn’t mean that each and every dog of that breed will have hip problems.
But if you know your puppy’s parents have had the disease, then you can do things to prevent it from becoming severe (like making sure your dog doesn’t have to go up and downstairs, for example).
Hip dysplasia is a condition that shows up when dogs are about two years old. It’s detected by x-rays.
Good breeders keep records on puppy parents, grandparents, and sometimes great-grandparents that confirm that hip dysplasia doesn’t run in your dog’s line.
You may decide to take the puppy home even if it does, but you need to make an informed decision.
Thyroid and eye problems. Some breeds are prone to thyroid problems. Breeding dogs should be tested every year for it.
If a breeding dog develops hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, breeders must disclose this fact to you.
Some breeds are prone to hereditary blindness. There’s a CERF test for detecting it. Breeders are required to disclose this to you, too.
If the person selling you a puppy doesn’t even know about these tests, that’s a red flag.
You may also want to inquire about one-time genetic testing to confirm your puppy’s breed.
If you are buying a pure-bred dog, your breeder shouldn’t have a problem with providing you with genetic testing results that confirm the breed.
If you are buying a mixed-breed dog, it’s not too much to ask them to run a test like the Wisdom Panel Dog DNA Test Kit that tracks over 350 breeds and varieties.
Breed testing can also reveal expected adult weight and food requirements. Of course, if you have found a great puppy, and you aren’t planning to enter it in dog shows, you may not care.
Questions about the Puppy Contract
We’ll assume that you are choosing a reputable breeder who offers you a puppy contract.
There are certain rights and responsibilities for them and for you that every puppy contract contains.
You should make sure you understand what’s in your puppy contract before you sign it.
Here are some key questions.
What’s in my bill of sale?
Your bill of sale documents your purchase of the dog. It may also have some guarantees and conditions.
Most bills of sale in the US include a clause that states you can bring the puppy back for a full refund if it gets sick during a stated time after purchase.
Have you filled out my AKC application?
The AKC (American Kennel Club) provides the “papers” that confirm that your dog is purebred.
Your AKC application includes information on parents’ registration, breed, color, sex, date of birth, and other information.
You have to file your AKC application yourself. Your breeder can’t file it for you.
But most breeders will have the application filled out for you so you just need to sign it.
Is there a health clause in my puppy contract?
Most breeders will guarantee the good health of your puppy for at least two years.
They will make a commitment to keep you informed of relevant health problems come up with your dog’s parents.
In return, breeders will ask that you inform them of any health problems your puppy has. That’s so they can keep track of health conditions in your dog’s lineage.
If an unexpected genetic problem occurs with your dog, they may prevent further breeding between its parents. This keeps future generations of dogs healthier.
If your dog dies of natural causes in its first two years of life, breeders may have the right to request a necropsy if a vet didn’t diagnose them when they got sick.
Does my puppy contract say anything about breeding?
Many puppy contracts require that you have your dog neutered or spayed by a certain age.
You won’t have this condition in your contract if you disclose that you are buying the puppy as a show dog. However, you may have to pay more for your dog.
Breeders like to keep track of the dogs they sell, so they know more to help them keep all the dogs they raise healthier and happier.
Are you available for questions later?
One of the reasons to build a relationship with your dog’s breeder is to keep them available for questions later.
They will know details of your dog’s temperament and behavior that you may not think to ask until they have been in your home for a few years.
They can help you find good trainers and great vets. They can help you find specialty diets for senior dog care.
Another reason to establish a relationship with your breeder is to get to know other people who own dogs of your breed.
Breeders know lots of dog lovers. They can help you make connections for shows, for play dates, or just for expanding your social circle.
And often they will take your dog in if you become unable to take care of it.
The more you know about the breeder and their dogs, the better off both of you will be. Make sure to ask these questions to a dog breeder before buying a dog from them.
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