Marilyn with Conan & Portia

Here are some things to look for when deciding to get that next puppy from a breeder.

Not all breeders have the same ethics. Production/puppy mill breeders and backyard breeders still call themselves "breeders."

It's even possible that puppy mill breeders and backyard breeders don't even know they aren't producing high quality dogs. Just because a dog is "registered," "pedigreed," or "purebred" doesn't mean they are a high quality dog, be wary of the breeder who touts these 'cerifications' like a badge of honor. Do your research and read between the lines! Just because a breeder has a contract doesn't make their dogs good either. And an inexpensive dog at the outset, could cost you thousands in veterinary care, not to mention the heartache and worry, if a genetic defect shows up later in life.

Responsible hobby breeders that are looking to improve their breed will do the following things:

1. The mom (dam) and dad (sire) are on site so you can see both dogs and their temperaments. In some cases the stud may not be available, ask for a video of the male interacting with other dogs/people. The stud should be available for you to visit if you are willing to travel to another location, but in some cases this won't be feasible for you (i.e. if the female was bred in another country or out of state). Still, it's nice to know you could see him if you wanted to. A good stud owner would be proud to show you their dog. And a good stud owner should also be a responsible breeder not allowing the dog to be bred to just any female. So check out the stud owners website, too.

2. Both parents should be at least 20 months old at the time the litter is whelped (born). Two years old is better, because then OFA certification can be verified. For some breeds first breeding isn't recommended until the breeding pair are each five years old to ensure the dog is sound and will not pass on genetic issues to their offspring.

3. Health checks have been done and the certified by the appropriate health foundation/vet. These should be available for your review and copies should be available for you to have your vet look over if you would like. Make sure both parents were tested for brucellosis prior to this breeding, and be aware of particular heath problems that plague your particular breed. Things like hips, elbows, eyes, heart, thyroid problems, pancreatitis, etc. You should be able to see CERF certificates for breeds that typically have eye issues. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals ( allows you to look up online OFA certification for hips/elbows, etc. for free. You should look up both parents OFA ratings, don't just take the breeder's word for it.

4. Puppies should never leave the breeder and their mother before 7 weeks of age. Bite inhibition and threshold happen from 6-8 weeks with mom and littermates. Puppies also begin to learn all important dog etiquette and body language at this age. Puppies are much better off learning this from their own species. Beware of a litter of one, it's likely that an individual pup will not be as well adjusted as pups from larger litters. You can certainly agree to taking home a pup from a single litter, but please be committed to socializing him or her early and often to all kind of new people, dogs, environments.

Phoenix, Portia, Conan & Maggie5. Puppies go home with a contract for spay/neuter unless you intend to show them in the breed ring. There is no reason to breed a "pet quality" dog. A good breeder that is doing their best to produce the highest quality characteristics in their lines will not want you to breed a pet quality dog. Pet quality dogs make excellent companions, but might have a show quality flaw that only a conformation judge would detect. They may also not have the drive that would make them a good working dog, but the temperament may be perfect for a family or other dog sports. Every litter produces 'pet quality' dogs, so unless you intend to breed for a reason - to strive for breed standard or to incorporate characteristics for your given sport or service dog - there is no reason to breed, best to leave that to the expert hobby breeders. If you breed your dog you will not get another dog just like him or her, you will have a completely different mix of genes. If you want another dog like the one you've got, get a pup from a repeat breeding from his or her same parents. It will at least be the same mix of genes, but it'll still be a different dog.

6. Be wary of a breeder that allows you to purchase littermates. Two puppies are a lot of work. Litter mates are difficult to train as they will bond first to each other. To train them properly you will need to spend time with each of them individually. This will take twice as much of your time. And with littermates you are dealing with three distinct entities - each pup individually and the combined personality of their bond. Think twins of another species. A good breeder will caution you against this monumental undertaking. A puppy mill or backyard breeder will only see the dollar signs of the sale of two dogs.

7. Breeders should require follow up with you to check on pup's progress and ensure spay/neuter gets done at between 8-24 months.

8. Puppy should be happy, well-socialized and healthy when you pick him/her up. Vet records are provided. Take your new pup to your vet for a complete check within a few days of picking them up from the breeder.

9. You should receive a general health guarantee against genetic defect for a minimum of 6 months. A bone structure guarantee of less than 2 years is meaningless (should be required for larger breeds and breeds prone to dysplasia). If a breeder offers you a hip/elbow guarantee for 1 year, find a different breeder. Dogs are still growing and OFA will not certify a dog under 2 years of age.

Portia Schutzhund10. A REALLY GOOD breeder will offer rebates for titles earned with your new dog. The rebates will be small, but this is a solid attempt to ensure you work with your dog and get him/her the proper training. A good breeder will encourage you to get involved in dog sports and activities and will have knowledge of sports that are particularly suited to the breed.

11. AKC/UKC papers mean only that your puppy has parents. Having papers, means nothing more than somebody took the time keep track of your puppies lineage. It is a family tree, not a testament to temperament, health or anything else. However, if you learn how to read the papers you can find out what titles your puppy's relatives have earned. If a dog comes from a long line of dogs who have excelled in a certain sport that may give you some idea of what kind of job your dog might like to do. Be cautious of working, sporting and herding breeds where the ancestors didn't earn titles or dogs that the breeders aren't campaigning for titles. Find out why the dogs they are breeding aren't working.

Beware of the breeder who talks about the fact that the dog has papers or shows you an AKC/UKC certificate without a lineage chart. A good breeder will sit down with you with a 5 generation family tree and tell you about all the dogs in the chart and why they chose to breed the sire and dam. They will tell you what they were trying to accomplish with this breeding and what genetic characteristics they are trying to promote. Ask if they are keeping a puppy for their breeding stock and if not, why not? If a breeder doesn't have or won't talk to you about a 5 generation lineage chart, find another breeder.

12. Find out how many litters a year a breeder produces. More than three litters in a two year period per bitch seems excessive. And how many dogs are on the property for the purpose of breeding? Use your best judgment, how many dogs seems like too many to you? Are the dogs being worked with, handled, trained? What kind of people contact do the puppies get?

13. Insist on seeing the area where all the dogs are kept. If it isn't reasonably clean and well maintained find a different breeder.

Phoenix, German Shepherd Dog14. A good breeder will question you as to your intent with the dog; house pet, hunter, dog sports, kid-friendly, low key, running partner, etc. They will help you select the personality that will be a good fit for you. They will also help you avoid choosing the 'wrong dog' for your situation. A breeder that lets you pick whatever pup you want without any guidance is only interested in selling puppies, you want a breeder who cares about where their dogs end up.

15. Ask for references and check them. Ask the references if they know of anyone else who's gotten a dog from this breeder, would that person be willing to be a reference? Do a kennel name search online and talk to people who have dogs from the same kennel.

16. Visit a breeder more than once before taking your dog home.

Support breeders that are doing right by the dogs. Don't support a breeder who is not screening you just as much as you are screening them. When you buy a puppy you are planning to have them with your for 10-18 years. A little research up front can save you a lot of time and money in vet bills and behavior problems by selecting a good dog from the start. Soundness in mind and body is very important especially when dealing with purebreds who already have health challenges in their lines.

17. Now that you've found the right dog from the right breeder, don't stop there... take your new dog to the vet, puppy socialization classes and get help from a qualified trainer to get you all started out on the right paw!

If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them.  - Phil Pastoret