Breeder Beware: Choosing a Good Breeder

Finding a puppy from a good breeder is no easy task.

Earlier this year the Government passed new legislation regarding the sale of puppies and kittens. Breeders are now required to be licenced and follow tighter regulations which make them accountable for the puppies they breed. Despite this we’re still seeing news reports of poorly bred puppies dying days after arriving with their owners.

The hope was that this legislation would reduce the number of unreliable breeders and make it easier for potential owners to find well-bred puppies. But it’s still a minefield of secrets and crafty tactics with money-making at the centre. At the very least, you should see the puppies with their mother in a home environment, but this isn’t really enough. Even well-meaning breeders make mistakes or neglect some vital areas and there are so many aspects that must be considered when choosing a puppy.

The Key Ones

Health tests – different breeds are prone to different genetic conditions. Responsible breeders will be knowledgeable and open about potential health issues in their breed. They should be able to provide evidence of health testing and breeding from generations of dogs with clear histories. Certain breeds will be more prone to health issues so research thoroughly and be prepared for this if you choose a more susceptible breed.  

Health records – your puppy should be microchipped and have a record of vaccinations, flea and worm treatments. Make sure the breeder is able to provide a history of this and all vet visits.

Breeding – look at how many different breeds are being bred. Offering puppies of a variety of different breeds may not be a good sign. Consider how many litters are there too. If they have two or more litters on-site it could be a red flag to a less responsible breeder. Check how many litters the breeder has from each dog – if they are breeding frequently or having many litters from each female, it’s never a good sign.

The Mother – make sure you see the puppies with their mother. It’s easy to make up an excuse of why the mother isn’t there (on a walk, needed a break, doesn’t like visitors etc.), but any excuse is a bad one! Look at how the mother is interacting with the puppies, it’s not hard to make a ‘fake’ mother and replace the real one with a more appealing stand-in. If the mother seems uninterested or uncaring it could be a warning sign of a ‘fake’. Visit multiple times so you can establish a clearer picture of how the mother and puppies behave.

Meeting Place – never agree to meet in a neutral or convenient place. This is a sure sign that something is not quite right. A good breeder will want you to see where the puppies are growing up, they should be proud of their environment and keen to show you around, they should welcome you to spend time there and ideally visit multiple times before taking your puppy home. Don’t settle for less than this!

Pressure – a good breeder will never put pressure on you to take a puppy. They won’t tell you a sad story to melt your heart and persuade you that you need the puppy, or the puppy needs you. They should encourage you to take your time and come to a decision. If you’re having doubts, they should be too so never take a puppy if the breeder is trying to over-sell it!

These are all points most people would think about when choosing a puppy, and a quick Google search will bring up numerous sites which all recommend the same basic things to look for. However, it’s not as simple as that. A breeder who meets all these points is unlikely to be an irresponsible one, or one who is purely looking to make money, but it doesn’t guarantee you’re getting a puppy who has had the best start to life.

There are many amazing breeders out there, and breeding dogs is not easy or profitable when you do it for the love of your breed. But sadly, there is still a huge lack of behavioural knowledge when it comes to breeding puppies. If you’re looking for the best possible puppy, you need to look deeper than the surface level of meeting places and health tests.

Early Socialisation

We all know about the importance of socialisation when you bring a new puppy home, but in reality, at 8 weeks old we are well into the critical socialisation period. Socialisation should begin with the breeder; in many ways they have the most crucial role in your puppy’s development.

They can’t be taking their litters out in public to meet the world, but they should be gently exposing them to a whole range of experiences, including handling exercises, noises, surfaces, novel items, normal household activities, and in an appropriate way, other people and animals.

Positive Experiences

Socialisation isn’t a case of passing the puppies around groups of people or playing sounds over a loud speaker. It requires careful thought and planning. Choose a breeder who is knowledgeable and thoughtful about their puppy’s socialisation. Ideally, look for someone who is following a socialisation programme, for example, Puppy Culture.

They should be aware of each puppy’s unique personality and any areas of socialisation they needed more support in. All puppies will be different, even within well-bred litters, there will be bolder puppies or more reserved puppies. The breeder should be able to identify each individual and have records of their behaviour in different situations. From this, they should be able to effectively match each puppy with the most suitable home.

The best breeders will start preparing their puppies for life in their new homes. This could include short durations of separation from the litter, crate training, toilet training and maybe even some basic obedience training!

Separation training is a great one to ask breeders about, puppies who have learnt to enjoy time on their own before moving to their new homes will be much better prepared for the change than those who have never spent any time away from their mother and littermates.

A Relaxed Mother

Research suggests that a mother who experiences high levels of stress during pregnancy will pass this onto her puppies because her body’s hormones and chemicals will affect how her puppies develop. There are fewer studies on dogs, but in people it has been shown that extreme stress in a pregnant mother can affect how a child’s brain responds to cortisol, which leads to high anxiety in response to low level stressors. We can assume the same happens in dogs and these puppies would be tuned to react strongly to stressors, creating more fearful and anxious dogs.

We can’t control every aspect of our puppy’s development, but being aware of the conditions the mother has lived in will go a long way to helping reduce the likelihood of lasting damage.

Behavioural issues can be genetic and hard to change. If the mother or father appear nervous, the puppy will be more likely to show similar traits. Never choose a nervous puppy and assume you will be able to build its confidence. A puppy who displays a lot of fear at 8 weeks will likely develop into a fearful adult and even the most dedicated, skilled owner will have a tough time changing that.

Know the Breed

This one may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people get a puppy without fully understanding the breed they are taking on. Don’t just get one person’s opinion, speak to as many owners, breeders and dog trainers as possible. For every perfect Labrador you meet, there will be another whose owners describe it as a ‘nightmare’. Never choose a breed based on one person’s experience because the chances are, yours won’t turn out the same.

Spend time with the breed and really get to know their individual traits and motivations. There is no denying every breed has specific traits. You might meet exceptions to the rules, but they really are the exceptions!

A good breeder will give you an honest view of the good and bad traits. They should be able to give you a truthful overview of the puppy’s parents and ancestors, don’t settle for only positives, dig out those less appealing traits too. A breeder who wants to sell the puppies quick may not be as truthful or as willing to discuss potentially negative traits.

Remember what one person sees as a positive, may not be your idea of a desirable trait. If you’re looking for a quiet, placid family member then a breeder selling you a German Shepherd who will ‘take care of your family’ is probably not what you want. That ‘taking care of your family’ probably involves a lot of barking and scaring away any intruders which isn’t ideal in a busy home with regular visitors.

‘Talkative and happy’ could be a positive spin on ‘they bark all the time’ or ‘loyal to their family’ could imply ‘they don’t take well to new people’. Never accept a statement at the surface level, find out what they REALLY mean when they describe their breed.

Worth the Wait

Never rush into getting a puppy. Remember it’s a decision that will stay with you for many years. Bringing a new family member home is a decision worth waiting for and something that should never be rushed. If possible, visit several litters and take the opportunity to compare the puppies. Be fully prepared to join a waiting list and don’t choose a breeder simply because the puppies are ready to go.

The longer you spend researching and planning, the better your chances will be at choosing a well-mannered, stable family pet.

There is a lot of hard work to come after you collect your puppy, but choosing the right breeder and the right puppy will go a long way to helping you bring up a dog who suits your home and family.

At Adolescent Dogs we see both sides of the breeding world and we meet countless puppies or young dogs who sadly didn’t get the best start to life. We’ve developed a good understanding over the years and we’re always happy to assist in finding the right breeder and puppy. We’re also here to help if your puppy didn’t get the best start and you want to give him the best life now!

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