Questions To Ask A Breeder

I get asked often, usually by puppy buyers, what they should ask! I understand it can be hard to find a good breeder you can trust if you don't know what to look for and Rico Suave on the other end of the phone is telling you everything that every puppy buyer wants to hear. Here are some questions that I will personally ask a breeder if I'm looking for a puppy or hoping to use their dog with one of my girls.

  • How long have you been breeding? Beginners are not necessarily a no-go if they are well researched and knowledgeable. Some one who has been breeding for 40 years but has failed to work most issues out of their lines could be trouble.
  • Why do you breed? What is your goal? No breeder should be out to make a quick profit. Any breeder doing it "right" isn't making a profit. Just ask them! They should be doing it for a passion and devotion to the breed. Their goal will ideally be to constantly improve any faults or health defects in their lines and their breed in general.
  • What's the good and bad on mom and dad? An honest breeder will tell you faults and how severe they are. If the parents have any health issues your breeder should discuss them with you and explain why they've chosen to breed the dog. A good example would be an injury - certainly not genetic. Or perhaps something that is potentially genetic but not life threatening such as food allergies (believe it or not, most dogs have food allergies if fed grains)!
  • Vaccinations? Worming? How many and how often will the puppies receive? Why this protocol?
  • Where is the litter being raised? In the house? The garage? Outdoors in a kennel? Ideally, in the house is your best answer. Puppies should be socialized with people and common people things (think vacuums, glass doors, door bells, etc)
  • When do the puppies go home? NEVER take a puppy before 8 weeks. I strongly encourage you to avoid puppies who aren't still with their mother at 8 weeks (even if they are weaned; she has valuable social lessons to teach them).
  • How many litters per year? How many at a time? Quality versus quantity is the idea here. 1 litter at a time is my preference. My favorite breeders to work with are that handful out there who have maybe a dozen dogs themselves. They breed 1-6 litters a year and each litter receives a high level of planning, care, socializing, and selection when placed in new homes. If the breeder always has puppies and they are small or dirty or anti social or suspicious then be leery. I don't recommend places where puppies and dogs are always (day and night) in kennels away from frequent interaction.
  • How do you handle puppy selection? Does the breeder choose for you? Does he or she give first choice to the first deposit, second choice to the second, and so on all the way down the line? Maybe he just has everyone come over at once and pick the puppy that hopefully picks you! Or does she help each family select the correct puppy based on temperament and behavior within the litter and what the goals of the family are with the puppy? This latter choice is best; it shows your breeder knows their litter well and has the best interest of each puppy at heart.
  • What are the congenital defects in the breed? The major health concerns? What health screening regime do you follow? Example: Rottweilers need to be considered carefully for cancer especially bone cancer, hips dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, congenital heart defects, cataracts, sub-aortic stenosis, and von Willebrands Disease--all of which can be reduced in the breed with careful breeding. Not only should your breeder know the answers to these questions, they should also be able to tell you honestly about any occurrence in their lines, what they screen against when selecting dogs to breed, and be working diligently to eliminate these issues within the breed. The breeder should screen against the major issues in your breed when screening is possible. Not all issues, such as Cancer, can be pre-screened for. But many can and your breeder should be doing the certifications relevant to your breed. If the breeder is vague, simply says "I don't have any of that in my puppies," or seems to have little to no knowledge of the issues that plague your breed then it's time to find a new breeder!
  • What guarantees, if any, do you provide? If a breeder is genuinely working to eliminate genetic defects in their breed than a health guarantee is most likely provided that might cover genetic defects or known common conditions such as hip dysplasia. Any breeder can write a guarantee. And it's difficult to figure out which ones will honor it. Look up reviews if you can find them; get references to other breeders and past puppy buyers; and use your best judgement.
  • Do you dock or crop (if this is common practice in your breed)?
  • What do you feed? Learn about the adult dogs' diet and what the puppies will be eating when they go home.
  • May I visit? May I meet mom and dad (sometimes dad will have been an outside breeding and won't live with your breeder)? May I see your whelping room and where you will raise the puppies? The answers should be yes, yes, and yes!
  • Do you show your dogs? Conformation is usually what people are referring to when they say "show" titles. Conformation means weighing the individual dog against the Standard written for the breed and typically choosing the best in the ring that day. Conformation is not the be all end all because it's based on the judges opinion. Not to mention you could have a ring of 12 dogs who really don't fit the standard at all but the judge needs to simply pick the best. But showing is a good thing! It means your breeder is having objective eyes examine their dogs to determine if they are on the right track with maintaining the standard of the breed! Look for other show outlets as well - herding, agility, rally, obedience, protection, tracking, and so on. If your breeder shows in an outlet that showcases your breed's strengths and talents than this can be even better than conformation titles!
  • How do you socialize the puppies? Do you do any training with the puppies? You're going to want to hear that the puppies live in the house with people. They should meet plenty of new people and hopefully some dogs of various sizes and ages who are well mannered and safe with puppies. Inevitably your breeder may correct puppies for bad behaviors. How? He or she may begin housebreaking. What method do they use? What about meal time? Your breeder may have a regime for meals such as handling puppies all over including the belly and face when eating. They may work on impulse control with the puppies by having them sit and wait for an okay cue to eat, etc.
  • Who do you think should or shouldn't have this breed? Your breeder should know a lot about the temperament and drives in your breed. As such they will know that it isn't the right breed for everyone. Not everyone needs a poodle that fits into a purse. Or something that rounds up goats the way a border collie does. Or pulls carts like a mountain dog. Being a Rottweiler breeder I know these dogs should be gregarious and confident, though loyal to a fault. If a person lacks confidence and leadership than this isn't the right breed for them!
  • Do you provide lifetime support? Your breeder should be enthusiastic about you coming to them with any questions or concerns for the life of your dog. A good breeder will also always take a dog back if you can no longer care for him or her. This shows real devotion to their program on behalf of the breeder.