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Recognizing An Unethical Breeder

When you talk to people about their puppies, there are a few warning signs that you may be dealing with a disreputable, unethical, or irresponsible breeder:

The "breeder" lacks knowledge about the breed
The "breeder" shows ignorance or denial of genetic defects in the breed
The "breeder" has no involvement in dog sports
The "breeder" doesn't let you observe the puppies or adults, or let you see the kennels.
The "breeder" has no documentation and cannot provide a pedigree.
The puppies are not socialized.

How to read those ads!
Here are a few more things that you ought to look out for.
"Champion lines" -- look instead for Champion sired or Champion parents. All Champion Lines means is that there is a dog somewhere in your puppy's family that was a champion - it says nothing about the quality of the parents at all. Anyone can buy a puppy from a champion, but it does not mean that they have any other interest in the breed but to bank on the name and make money. The puppy may have been sold as a pet (since it had some problems that prevented it from being shown) and an unethical person did not have the dog desexed and is still breeding puppies.

"AKC Registration" or "AKC Papers" -- So what? AKC registration does not guarantee quality. AKC papers are much like the title of a car - papers are issued on the junked chevy on blocks in your yard just as easily as they are on a brand new, shiny Jaguar. AKC does not control breeding, approve litters, or guarantee soundness. Unfortunately, in the hands of some unethical breeders, it doesn't even guarantee that the dog is purebred.

AKC Registration is automatic if you buy from a reputable breeder - they will provide all necessary paperwork when you buy a puppy. It is not a selling point, and shouldn't be treated as one.

Be wary of other "registrations", as well. There are several groups that are registering dogs, occasionally even mixed breeds, for a fee. This registration means nothing, and is of no value to you. Not that AKC papers really mean much, either.

"extra-big", "extra-small" -- breeders trying for extremes are rarely raising healthy dogs, and any ad that has to stress the size and weight of the dog to sell the puppies is suspect, in my opinion. Usually, these dogs are outside of the breed standard and are subject to their own medical problems due to excessive size or lack of it.

"rare" -- Why? Is the dog showable? Are there too many defects for the animal to be bred? What kind of problems does this "rare" color or size or pattern entail? There are many people buying "rare" white boxers and Shepherds, not realizing that they are not show-prospects, and that they are buying a dog with medical problems from lack of pigmentation, and possible behavioral problems as well.

There are even some people selling unusual cross breeds as "rare" dogs, and people buy them thinking they are getting some unique treasure. I don't want to be too harsh about this, though -- every breed we se today is the result of some specialized and "rare" breeding to create a certain look or behavior. Shepherds herd, retrievers retrieve...because we have selectively bred them to do so. A breeder who is trying to 'recreate' a lost breed may fall on either side of the ethical divide. Shop with care.

"see both parents" As noted in questions to ask a breeder , this is not usually a good thing. Rarely will a good breeder have the luck to own both dogs for the perfect litter. If you can see both parents, it often means that the person had two dogs in the back yard and didn't supervise them carefully enough, resulting in puppies.

I probably get more mail on this one statement than anything else -- people who legitimately have both parents are incensed that I would suggest that they are unethical and bad breeders. That is not what I am suggesting -- there are some good and very reasonable reasons to have both parents on site. However, you need to ask the right questions and understand why this is true. If the breeder doesn't have an answer, or the answer is something like "well, they were just such cute dogs..." or "we bought another dog so we could have puppies" you need to evaluate whether this breeder is doing the right thing. They might be, they might not. It's up to you to ask.

"Must go now!" Why? Are they too big to be cute anymore? Need more money? Is there a problem? Be very wary of this one.

There really is no secret to buying a good purebred dog. It all depends on the knowledge of the buyer and the willingness of the buyer to utilize that knowledge when confronted with a bunch of cute fuzzy balls of fur. An informed buyer is less likely to be taken in. If only there was a Consumer Reports on dog breeders.

The first step in the process is deciding which breed is right for the family.
The Internet offers several venues for testing your personality and matching it with certain breeds. A family with small children? Perhaps a smaller breed would be a better choice with an emphasis on temperament? An active lifestyle? Maybe one of the sporting breeds would be best. Large and giant breeds (over 60 pounds) are nice but remember they cost more to feed and should the dog get sick, require more medicine because of their size. Reading all you can about breeds of purebred dogs and familiarizing yourself with traits and characteristics is a must.

Once a breed has been chosen, the search for a breeder is next on the list.

Pet shops are certainly an easy way to buy puppies but these puppies are more likely to have been mass produced and little attention has been paid to health. Also, these puppies are sold with hefty price tags. Guarantees are sketchy at best and a return policy is usually for thirty days. After that, you are on your own.

The next option is the backyard breeder. These people have two dogs, one of either sex and decide that Rover should have some fun with Roverette. After all, the children need to see the miracle of birth and Roverette has to have a litter before she is spayed. Surely a litter of puppies is money in the bank. This sounds like a good idea to the breeder but to the buyer, it may be a disaster waiting to happen. These are the puppies where no health testing or pedigree research has been done on the parents. They might be registered and this fact is supposed to be a selling point.

Next is the sophisticated backyard breeder. He may dabble in showing in conformation and/or obedience but maybe has not accomplished much. He may have some knowledge but more than likely, hasn’t had enough experience or contact with people in the breed to be of any real help. His main selling point may be that there are X number of champions in the pedigree and these puppies may be show quality. That seems to be the catchall phrase and meant to impress the buyer. In fact, many things are done to impress a buyer and marketing is important. Again health testing is probably not done on the parents of the litter. If there is any health testing, it is minimal.

The last breeder is the serious breeder.

These are people who are truly interested in their breed. They are involved in showing, have champions and have years of experience under their belts. Their reputation depends on the puppies they sell so they are very careful about the pedigrees of their litters and the health testing done on the sire and dam. They have a lot of money invested in their breeding stock and take care of it. The best companions for a family come from show stock. Yes, the best pets come from show stock. Not only do the dogs look good but temperament is more likely to be even. The serious breeders are dedicated to the welfare of their chosen breed. They rarely advertise because their dogs sell themselves. The waiting lists for their puppies are long.

After researching the breed and finding breeders, the buyer needs to start the interviewing process.

By no means should this be done via email. The buyer either should make contact by phone or in person. This is a two way street. The buyer can see and/or hear what the breeder is like and the buyer is showing the breeder how dedicated he is in his search for the right puppy. The relationship between buyer and breeder is very important. Who else will help the buyer at 3 a.m. in the morning with a puppy question? A good breeder will be available to answer all questions, day and night, on weekends and yes, even on Christmas.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the terminology.

Know what a pedigree is, know what AKC stands for and know what OFA is. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. If the breeder claims to show, ask to see pictures and be leery of a bunch of blue, red, yellow or white ribbons. In essence, this means nothing in the quest for a championship.

The buyer should ask the breeder questions and if the breeder doesn’t have the answers, the choice of that particular breeder should be reevaluated. Some of these questions should include:

1. How many years have you been involved with this breed? (Preferably over fifteen.)

2. Why did you decide this was the breed for you?

3. Do you show your dogs? How often do you attend dog shows? How long have you been showing your dogs?

4. Do you have both parents on the premises? (This is a trick question. If the sire of the litter is there and is not a champion, this was probably a convenient breeding and no research has been done on pedigrees. Run.)

5. What health tests have been done on the parents of the litter? A visit to the veterinarian last week doesn’t count when it comes to health testing. (At the very minimum, OFA hips, CERF, and thyroid testing should be done. Do not accept the statement that the parents are very healthy and don’t need to be tested. The breeder should be able to back up a claim of testing with certificates. Actually take the time to look at the health papers and study them.)

6. Are the sire and dam registered? (A word here about registration. American Kennel Club or AKC registration is preferred. There are other registries out there but they are less stringent about their registration procedures. Don’t be taken in by the answer of “yes”. Ask to see the registration papers.)

7. Is there a pedigree for the puppies that I can look at? (A good breeder will have one of these available.)

8. Are the dogs conformation champions, obedience title holders or do they have CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certificates? Are these certificates available for viewing? And if so, do the names on the certificates match the names on the registration papers? (All these things are ultimately temperament tests and very important things to consider for the future member of your family. If the breeder boasts about certain accomplishments, don’t take his word for it. Have him prove it)

9. Why did you breed this litter? (If the answer to this is anything but “I want to keep a puppy”, run as fast as you can. Litters of puppies are hard work and expensive to produce. Serious breeders don’t breed just to have puppies. They want to continue their lines and of course want to keep a puppy to show, etc.)

10. Do you have a sales contract? Ask to see a sample. (Companion dogs should be sold on limited registration. If there is nothing in the contract about spaying and neutering, ask yourself if this is a person you want to deal with.)

11. What health warranties do you have? What is the health history of the sire and dam of the litter? What did the ancestors of the puppies die of and how long did they live? (A minimum of three years for a warranty is fair for genetic defects such as hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy or PRA. Know beforehand what diseases afflict your chosen breed. Every breed has something.)

12. What happens if I can’t keep this dog? (A good breeder will take the dog back at any time, no questions asked and find another home for it. The dog is the breeder’s responsibility for the dog’s entire life. This is called a right of first refusal clause.)

13. Do you have references? Ask for names.

14. When you see the puppies, are they clean, friendly and well fed? Runny eyes or puppies that hide in the corner are indications of problems down the road such as an illness or a fear biter. Ask to see the whole litter. Don’t accept the excuse that the rest of the puppies are sold and you don’t really need to see them. It is very important that you do see them. Maybe there are problems with the other puppies that the breeder is trying to hide.

15. What are the temperaments of the parents like?

16. Are the puppies raised in the home? Socialization is important for a well-adjusted puppy. If the puppies are kept in a shed out in the backyard or a kennel run, thank the people for their time and drive away.

17. Is the breeder a member of the parent club for his breed or an affiliate club? These clubs have their own screening processes for membership. If the breeder claims to hold membership, ask for the name of the president of the club and check this out.

18. How does this person interact with the dogs? Kindly? Harshly? How do the dogs interact with him? Friendly? Fearful? Dogs have a sixth sense about people and observing a dog’s behavior serves as an important barometer.

19. Ask other people in the breed about this person. What is the reputation of the breeder? Beware of long silences or responses like, “I can’t recommend them”. If you are going to deal with this breeder, he should have a sterling reputation in the breed.

20. Lastly, what is your gut feeling about this person? Trust your instincts and people skills. Be wary of the fast talker, the one who boasts extensively. If they can’t provide proof to any claims, then they aren’t the breeder for you. You should feel comfortable with dealing with this person because you will have a long term working relationship with him.

Now it’s the breeder’s turn. The questions you are asked may be rather pointed and personal but don’t take offense. A good breeder wants to make sure you can supply a stable environment for the puppy. Breeders are sometimes leery of unmarried couples and people who rent their homes. Problems can crop up with these situations and more than likely the dog will end up going back to the breeder. Also, the breeder will ask you for references. Be wary if these things don’t happen.

The least favorite thing a breeder wants to hear is that you “just” want a pet. This implies that you are willing to sacrifice quality for a lower price. This will jeopardize your chances of buying a puppy from a good breeder. You need to dedicate yourself to finding the right puppy for you regardless of the price. Certainly a budget can be made and things have to be taken into account like feeding and vet expenses but think very carefully about what you really want. A healthy puppy that looks like the breed it is supposed to be will cost money. However, in the long run, it will also be a money saver. Vet expenses will be kept to a minimum over time. This dog will be a member of your family for years to come.

As with anything, buying a purebred puppy is a buyer beware market.

Do your homework, take your time and be careful.