Puppy buying is a bit of an art. As a breeder, and being in breeder-communities, I know that breeders can experience a lot of frustration with enquiries. Puppy buyers, I’m sure, also get frustrated, and perhaps don’t know that they are going about puppy buying in the ‘wrong way’.
I’ve compiled a list of tips for contacting a dog breeder. These are broad and general, but hopefully will help anyone who is searching for a puppy.
Don’t treat puppy buying as a financial transaction. Don’t use commodified terms – like “stock” or “product”. Don’t expect to turn up, pay money, and get a puppy. That is not how the process works. We don’t need to get the puppy ‘off our hands’, so don’t bargain or haggle. Don’t ask for a discount for any reason, not even if you’re a pensioner. A puppy that is mis-marked, or ‘pet quality’, or older than 8 weeks took just as much work (perhaps even more work) than the show quality stars in the litter. If you’re so concerned about price now, we are unlikely to have faith that you will put any money into treating medical conditions of the puppy or dog at a later date.
Politely ask any questions. While it is reassuring that you have compiled a number of questions for the breeder, there is a polite way to present them. Don’t ‘bombard’ a breeder with many questions at once. Choose several highly relevant questions, and ask them. The most important issues you to are probably health checks in the breed, the temperaments of parents, and the socialisation of the puppies. While you may be interested to know how many litters per year they breed, or if they show their dogs, or how many times bitches are bred, it’s not actually highly relevant to your puppy purchase. If you are very concerned about these practices, then these are the kinds of questions you ask over time, not all at once. This is a ‘play it by ear’ kind of thing – questions are good, but if you’re just going to rattle off your questions, not so much. Subtlety placing questions into a conversation is a polite way to have you queries met.
Show off your knowledge on the breed. Show the breeder that you’ve done your research, and explain why you’re attracted to the breed. (Note: If you like Dalmatians because of 101 Dalmatians this is not a good start, so do a bit more research than watching a celebrity dog on television or in a movie.) Talk about all the bad things you know about the breed, too. You should already know what health clearances are important from your research, so ask about them specifically.
Express your willingness to take guidance. The breeder has probably been involved with the breed for at least several years, but perhaps several decades. Listen to them! Be willing to ask questions about their breed and their suitability to your lifestyle, and be prepared to listen to their answers. Tell the breeder that it’s important that you find a breeder you ‘click’ with in order to build a long-term relationship, and so you can come to them for support and guidance when the puppy is older.
Go visit. Make a time to go visit the dogs, even if they don’t have a puppy available immediately. At the very least, you will get to know the breed better. Hopefully, though, you are on the way to forming a solid relationship with the breeder, and that makes them more likely to sell you a puppy! You will look pretty good if you make an effort to travel to visit the breeder. If you go and visit the breeder and they do have puppies, go and get dirty with the puppies! Don’t keep the dogs at arm’s length, show that you like dogs and puppies.
Be prepared to answer questions. The breeder is sussing you out as much as you are sussing them out. Be prepared to tell the breeder about yourself, and don’t get offended by their questions – they just want the best home for their puppy. Also, make sure you answer their questions – don’t try to avoid certain questions. You will be caught. If you think you have answered a question ‘wrong’, then ask the breeder for advice in that area. This goes back to asking the breeder for guidance.
Don’t hassle. If you’ve sent a breeder an email and a phone call, and they haven’t replied, then they’re probably not someone you can expect ongoing support from. And on phone calls, be considerate. Don’t call a breeder at 10pm or 5am. Choose reasonable times for contact. For many breeders who are not technologically savvy, using a phone is normally the best way to get in touch.
Consider your resume. Speak about your existing pets in a kind and loving way. Refrain from telling horror stories about your pets dying or becoming maimed through negligence, like being hit by a car or eating snail bait. If you’ve had any big vet bills to your credit, mention them in passing – breeders like to know that their dogs will be well looked after if they do happen to get sick. Think about your experience with the breed or with dogs, and talk about your achievements – if you have got obedience titles on your dogs, or if you’re a vet nurse, these are good things. Then go into what you will do with this puppy: You will socialise, take it to puppy classes, and then take it to training classes. Show a commitment to making this puppy’s life awesome.
Don’t ask for specific colours. The colouring is just a packaging to the breed you have spent time researching and selecting for your family based on temperament and personality. Though you may have a colour preference, do not go into this preference straight away, and certainly don’t go into specifics like “I’d like one with white on it’s chest and one ear black and the other white” or “I want one just like my old dog”. The breeder cannot colour-order for you. It is fine to mention if there is a particular colour you find appealing, but otherwise you may be wiser to keep your specific colour dreams to yourself.
Approach breeding with caution. The breeder you’re consulting with has probably spent a long time in the breed, and are likely to be protective of their breed and perhaps their bloodlines. If you are interested in breeding, don’t mention this straight away. What you can mention is your interest in partaking in conformation dog shows, or other dog sports, and how you would appreciate finding a ‘breeder-mentor’ to help you in your process. This leads the way into a conversation about dog breeding, and hopefully won’t set alarm bells ringing for the breeder.
Show your patience. Express that you know that the ‘right pup’ might not be the ‘right now pup’, and show a willingness to wait. Puppies cannot be ordered to arrive at a particular time, so puppies for special occasions (like birthday or Christmas presents) are out, particularly surprise presents.
Show that you’ve researched the breeder. Visit the breeder’s website and learn the names of some of their dogs, and take note of any recent updates. If you are enquiring regarding a particular dog or puppy (i.e. responding to an ad), then ask specific questions about that puppy or dog. What do they like? Dislike? How do they play? Where are they used to sleeping? What does it think of other dogs? And so forth. Show an interest in the individual dog at hand, if relevant.
All the best for those of you breeder hunting. Remember that this process will be worth it when you have a highly suitable, sociable, and healthy puppy in your care.
If you enjoyed this post, you might want to visit Ruffly Speaking’s blog post on ‘Puppy Buyer Ettiquette‘.
For breeders reading, what really appeals to you in puppy buyers? What really puts you off? Please comment.
And for puppy buyers, have you found any strategies more successful than others?