Once you’ve researched and chosen your puppy breed, it’s time to research questions to ask dog breeders and be alert for warning signs when you encounter an unethical breeder. Puppies easily wiggle their way into our hearts but it’s important to know what you should expect from your dog breeder.
Consider Pedigrees and Registration
It may not be important to you to have a registered puppy if you don’t plan to breed or compete in conformation dog shows. But legitimate and responsible breeders have pedigree information and registration documents available. If you’ve paid for a pedigreed dog, you should receive the proper documentation.
Be sure to ask if your chosen puppy is a show prospect or considered “pet quality.” The breeder may retain showing or breeding rights or only offer co-ownership if the puppy has a good chance for excelling in competition. The breeder may offer only a limited registration or withhold papers altogether until a “pet quality” puppy has been spayed or neutered. Pet quality puppies usually cost less but are equally wonderful pets.
Ask About Health History and Guarantees
Even well-bred and cared for puppies may develop health problems. For instance, hip dysplasia may not become apparent until the puppy is a couple of years old. Ask if the purchase price includes any sort of health guarantee, and what health clearances have been done on the puppies and the parents.
For instance, breeders of dog breeds known to have problems with hip dysplasia should have the parents screened with OFA or Pennhip radiographs, the test for hip dysplasia based on studying X-rays of the dog's hips. Since this is a heritable condition, responsible breeders should not breed any dog that has evidence of hip dysplasia, which could increase the risk that puppies might have the condition. Make sure you educate yourself on common inherited conditions in the breed you are seeking so you can ask about the appropriate screenings. Even with screening tests, there is not a guarantee your puppy will be healthy but improves the chances he won’t inherit certain breed-related problems. Some breeders offer refunds or rebates of purchase cost should the puppy develop heritable conditions later in life.
Your breeder should also provide medical history on the puppy. Depending on the age of adoption, this will include some puppy shots and other routine care like deworming. The purchase contract may require owners to maintain specific health care practices, feed recommended diets or other specific instructions.
Check Out the Facilities
Before being smitten with puppy-love, get an up close and personal look at where the baby was born and raised. Visit the breeder. If the breeder refuses, that should raise your antennae. Breeders have valid reasons for declining visits—puppies may be too young, for instance—but they should be able to explain to your satisfaction.
The facilities should be clean. There should be adequate food and water. Look for warm comfortable sleeping areas free of feces or urine. Look for a modest number of dogs, and go elsewhere if the yard or house is filthy and they’ve got dozens of dogs with multiple litters. Puppies can be hard to keep clean, especially with large litters, but you can tell if cleanliness is neglected or is a priority. If the pups and mom-dog are kenneled, ask how much people interaction is provided. That’s vital for proper puppy socialization.
Check Out Mom
Ask to see the parents, if possible. Stud dogs often are owned by someone else, but the mother dog should be on the premises. Some mothers are quite protective of puppies, so it may be best to meet her away from the litter. Checking out mom can be a window into your puppy’s future and lets you see how her puppy may develop once grown. If the mother dog acts fearful, growls, or must be locked away, it may be a red flag as to her own lack of socialization and temperament. Also look mom over for a sense of her health. Is she very thin? Does she have a healthy-looking coat? Any signs of an unkempt or unwell mother dog can tell you a lot about the care she and her puppies receive, and give you a sense of what the breeder prioritizes. A breeder who provides good care for the mother dog is taking responsibility for her health and wellbeing and not just using her to churn out puppies for a profit.
Expect a Quiz
The best breeders want puppies to go to a forever home that provides proper care and training. So expect to be quizzed on what you expect and can offer to their treasured baby. If there are no questions from the breeder, run the other way.
Ask if the breeder has ever turned down a sale. You want the answer to be YES, rather than learning they’ll let a puppy go to just anyone who asks.
A healthy puppy from a reputable breeder with a good bloodline won’t be cheap and can run several hundreds or thousands of dollars. Local newspapers may post advertisements for much less. Backyard breeders and puppy mill establishments may offer “purebred” puppies dirt cheap, but they won’t pass any of these test questions. You’ll get what you pay for.