Don't Pick A Puppy, Pick A Breeder
Last year I wrote this article for the CPLR. I thought it would be a great subject to elaborate on for the blog. So here it goes! The new and improved version!
Unfortunately looking for a puppy to join your family is more than just a pretty face. All breeders and all puppies are not created equally. This is largely because every breeder has their hard and fast criteria for breeding or not breeding, and each has preferences for size, personality, working ability, etc. Make a personal connection with a breeder you feel shares your top criteria, and then wait for a puppy from them. Screen the breeder first, then ask about a puppy.
How do you make a personal connection? First of all talk on the phone or meet your breeder in person. You CANNOT get a feeling for someone in a text message or on Facebook. You need to have at least one real conversation. Listen to their stories and get a real feel for the dogs and the kennel.
Make a list of questions. What should be on your list to ask a breeder?
How long how you been breeding?
It takes years to learn pedigrees, understand specific lines, get a few generations under their belt so they know what exactly they are producing. Especially when it comes to dilute coats.
What are your breeding goals?
Do these align with what you are looking for in a dog? Do they have the breeds best interest and your best interest at heart?
If you are looking at a pairing, ask what flaws the parents have? Every dog has flaws and a good breeder knows what they are and will share them. If they say the dog does not have any flaws, run! This breeder is not realistic and is only trying to make a sale. Every dog has pros and cons and the breeder should be aware of them and pairing accordingly. Are they pairing the same dogs over and over again because it is convenient? Using the same in house stud to save money rather than using a dog that may compliment the female? Are they using different pairings to create genetic diversity and better the breed or just repeating the same breedings?
Are these proven bloodlines?
What do proven bloodlines mean to you as a buyer? If you are looking for a hunter, you want working hunters or dogs with hunt test and field titles. This shows drive, trainability, and instinct. If you are looking for a service dog, you may want a dog that has a history of service dogs, obedience titles, rally titles, and CGC showing trainability in specific tasks. If you are looking for a dock dog your want something with athletic ability and drive so you will want to look for hunt titles or dock diving titles. Stack the odds in your favor. Proven dogs and pedigree do that for you.
Any history of issues in these lines that you are aware of?
You are looking for things like torn ACL's, seizures, heart conditions, etc. Something that could not be tested for, but may be hereditary.
Make sure your breeder understands your lifestyle, activity level, favorite breed traits, and what your dog may be used for whether it is hiking, laying around the house, or hunting. This will help them pair you with a litter and a puppy later on down the line. Trust your breeders recommendation on a puppy. They are with the puppy day in and day out and see them as more than just a pretty face.
How do they do puppy picks? At what age?
Avoid breeders that do them too soon. Though you are likely on a litter that parents are most inclined to suit your needs, not every puppy will be the same. Your breeder should be matching you with a puppy that has a suitable activity level and personality for your home. Puppies do not start showing personality until around 3.5 weeks and activity level until closer to 5 weeks. If a breeder is picking prior to 5 weeks it is a bit more luck of the draw than a calculated pick. Breeders that do picks between 6-8 weeks will have a far better pairing than one that does before. Another reason to pick pups AFTER 6 weeks is the first vet check is normally done at 6 weeks. Picking before may get you locked into a pup with a heart murmur or undetected overbite, or worse. What does that do to your pick now? Does this bump you to another litter or bump someone else off the litter?
Understand price. Ask your breeder how much the puppy will cost and what factors they use to help determine that? This will help you get more for you money when comparing two breeders side by side.
Things to look for that add value? Vet check? First vaccinations? Microchip? Dewclaws removed? Started potty training? Health Tested parents? Titled parents? Titled pedigree? Well socialized?
What other things are important to you? Puppy updates and weekly photos? Breeder support once your puppy is home?
Do not get on more than one breeders waiting list unless you are up front with all breeders involved about it. The breeder is picking you just as much as you are picking them. They are trusting you to take care of their baby after all. If they don't ask you questions and exchange stories, that is a red flag. They are just trying to make a sale.
Look through pedigrees, health testing, and references. Make sure you understand your guarantees. Good breeders will be happy to go through all of this with you and provide copies of everything. Get it in writing! Your breeder should have a contract. This protects your guarantees if for any reason you end up with an unhealthy animal and if they have hip and elbow guarantees. They should also want a contract so that they can help a puppy if for any reason the pup ends up in a bad situation.
Do they take their pups back? A good breeder will take their pups back at any time and any age. Most have the first right of refusal and will help rehome or a place to stay for the dog in a time of need. Do they offer breeder support? If you have questions regarding health, training, or problems, is the breeder readily available to help answer them or find the answers in the event that they don't know them?
Is you breeder active in the breed? Do they show their dogs? Involved in local breed clubs? Do they hunt with them? Dock dive? Do they have a group of peers they can reach out to and bounce ideas off of? These resources may also be helpful to you down the road.
If you have never owned a lab, research the breed and make sure you are prepared. Remember when you choose a breeder in most cases, you are choosing someone to help you with this puppy for the rest of the dogs life. In that case, don't choose a puppy, choose a breeder.