Purchasing a Dog or Puppy: What to look for in a breeder
So you have made a decision to add a dog or puppy to your family. Congratulations!
But how do you make sure you’re getting a puppy from an ethical source?
It’s not a ‘black or white’ matter. There is no definitive issue that makes a breeder ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Instead, here’s a guide which talks about necessities, niceties, and red flags.
If your breeder doesn’t do this then walk away…
Breeder shows concern and regard to the health of dogs and puppies – either in health testing or in the studs used (e.g. choosing old studs that show they’re healthy, using DNA testing, using x-rays, and other relvant tests)
Breeder shows concern and regard to the psychological well being of their dogs and puppies – either in providing enrichment on site, by frequently taking their dogs ‘out and about’, by using Dunbar’s methods of raising puppies (with toilet area, kongs, socialisation), and preferably a combination of these methods.
The breeder has a clear purpose in their breeding program that goes beyond ‘breeding pet puppies’ – they may enter their dogs in dog shows, participate in agility or obedience with their dogs, or have dogs that compete in working dog trials
The breeder’s dogs approach you in a friendly and sociable way. You are able to interact with and handle all dogs on the property. The mother should be available and should show exceptionable sociable behaviour.
The breeder is willing to provide life-long support to you as a puppy buyer – including taking back the dog at any point things ‘don’t work out’
The breeder happily shows you all the dogs in their care
It’s nice for the breeder to do any of these things, but don’t be concerned if it doesn’t happen.
The stud dog is on site
The breeder asks you lots of questions about your household and what you’re looking for
There is a sales contract that goes beyond simple money exchange
The breeder can show registration or affiliation to an organisation with a code of conduct/ethics
The breeder can recite pedigrees and seems to be oozing with knowledge about the breed
If any of these items take place, you may want to reconsider purchasing an animal from this breeder.
The puppies are not vaccinated
The breeder seems overly concerned about the purchase price
Not all adult dogs are sociable and friendly
Part of the breeder’s sales pitch is ‘lots of colours available’ or ‘will grow up big’ or ‘will stay tiny’ or ‘rare!’
The breeder asks for deposits before a bitch is mated
The breeder sells puppies together to the same pet family
The puppies are crossbreeds which seem to have no real purpose (ask, how do they fit into the clear purpose of their breeding program?)
The puppies are crossbreeds and are given a fancy name like ‘labradoodle’ or ‘spanador’.
The breeder does seem to be putting the hard sell on you – they’re saying “if you put a deposit down today, I’ll take $100 off the asking price” or “If you don’t buy him now, I have someone coming at 2 o’clock who will buy him”.
The breeder breeds more than 3 different breeds of dogs
Do Not Buys!
If a breeder performs any of the following points, then do not purchase a puppy and look elsewhere.
You cannot meet the mother or father in any circumstances (e.g. ethical breeders, even if the stud dog owner is interstate that should be able to say ‘you can meet them if you really want to go interstate’)
Puppies are not microchipped – in most states of Australia, this is a legal requirement
The dogs or puppies seem unhealthy or in poor condition (dirty, matted, skinny, fat)
The adult dogs are not sociable and friendly, especially if many of the adult dogs are not friendly
The breeder is unwilling to show you all the dogs at their home
When reading Terrierman he made reference to the work Schultz has done on the duration of vaccines. Intrigued, I decided to read one of his articles. I dug up a review Shultz wrote on the duration of vaccines. It looks at available research on vaccines and their ‘duration of vaccinal immunity’ (i.e. how long they last).
Whether a dog has immunity can be determined either by antibody titres (a ‘titre test’) or a challenge study (e.g. deliberately exposing the dogs to the pathogen).
For distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus the published data suggests an immunity period of 3 years or longer minimum.
Using blood products to test immunity, it seems that vaccines last 3 years or longer. When using challenge studies, dogs that were vaccinated 11 years ago did not contract the virus.
According to this article, if a cat or dog is:
Vaccinated with core vaccines at 12 weeks of age or older,
Is revaccinated at 1 year old, and
Receives a vaccination “not more often than every 3 years”
then this would be as protective to the pet as annual vaccination.
However, non-core vaccinations last a year or less.
Table 1 shows estimated minimum duration of immunity for the 4 core canine vaccines.
Shultz concludes, “Extending the revaccination intervals for canine and feline core vaccines does not place the animal at increased risk to developing vaccine preventable disease, but it does reduce the potential for adverse reactions”
He also recommends using titre tests to ensure that a puppy’s final vaccine enduces an immune response – and to revaccinate if the titre does not indicate that an immune response was produced.
Oh, and on cats? According to this paper, feline vaccines less researched, but feline parvovirus, calcivirus and herpes seems to last at least 7.5 years. Exception is feline leukemia which provides immunity for 1 year or less.
Reference: Ronald D. Schultz (2006). Duration of immunity for canine and feline vaccines: A review Veterinary Microbiology, 117 (1), 75-79 DOI: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2006.04.013
So, today, I share a story from another Australian breeder on breeding a litter of golden retrievers, and how it went anything but according to planned. It’s a story on how ethical breeders struggle through hardship, and again illustrates that there is no money to be made from ethical breeding.
It’s funny because I have had dogs all my life, been a dog groomer for 16 years and this was always a dream to have a litter of my own. Well at least I can say I tried. It was a shame because I did what I set out to do and that was breed something for the show ring that was better than what I had which is what we all do, try to improve the breed. But I couldn’t keep the puppy, every time I looked at him I cried and it brought back the memories and I thought it wasn’t fair on him. It is so lovely to see photos of them all and how happy they are with their new families. That is the best part.
Well my first breeding experience was horrible . It has been three months and I still wake up in the middle of the night crying sometimes. There were great times and I ended up with 10 amazing puppies who are each adored by their new owners and I have had so many updates with the owners raving about how great their puppies are socially, at training and to live with. I am proud so proud of that.
However I am still so emotional every time I think about the experience as a whole. Here is a brief overview. I have been planning this litter for four years. I own both the bitch and stud dog and they are from amazing kennels that I have admired for over 15 years. I did every test and they passed with flying colours and had brilliant hip and elbow scores. They both have done well in showing and complemented each other well.
Zena at day 58.
We had a great mating and a text book pregnancy until 58 days. My bitch seemed to double in size over night. Within 24 hours we were at the vet having an ultrasound. We thought there were six pups and the vet was worried about the pups heart rates. We went home and were on watch for signs of labour. We went back for a scan and the heart rates had picked up but my bitch hadn’t. Another 24 hours and my bitch wasn’t looking well and her joints had started to swell. I was syringing lectade into her as she wouldn’t eat or drink.
She couldn’t get comfortable and I felt she was trying to be brave when I was with her so as heart breaking as it was I sat outside the door and left her to try and settle. It broke my heart to hear her try to lie down. She stood the whole time!! I kept calling the vet and emergency vet to ask questions and thank goodness for the emergency vet at 3am talking to me or I would have gone insane! Everyone kept saying “just watch her it sounds like she is in labour”, “any time now, just be patient”, “the first stages can take a while”. I was home on my own and wanted to be strong for my girl so would go outside and sit down and just sob, wipe my eyes and go back into her with a huge smile and tell her what a great job she was doing. I rubbed her back and tummy and made a sling to try and hold her belly to give her a little relief. We both didn’t sleep for two days.
The next day I couldn’t take it and knew she had had enough too. I took her into the vet and we decided to give her a cesarian. This is the part I feel so very terrible about. I started to have chest pains, a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe and was shaking terribly. My girl kept looking at me and I was falling apart. The nurses made me go outside for a walk but I felt so dreadful leaving Zena alone. I had done this to her, I had wanted this litter and I had made the commitment to do this with her!! The last thing I said to the vet was “Whatever happens, save my girl”.
I couldn’t go in for the cesarian and stood outside the door. Then I heard the last thing anyone wants to hear. “Holy shit, get more help.” Time just slowed as every horrible possibility went through my mind. After what felt like an eternity the most amazing sound, second only to the cry of my own children, was the scream of a tiny little baby being born. That’s when the tears of the last couple of hours came and with every cry of another puppy being born I felt the pain in my chest ease. I heard them count and say there were 10 puppies! 10! I was expecting 6 not nearly double that! I had the courage to go in and help with the puppies but no one would say anything about Zena. All I was told was it wasn’t good and they were doing everything they could.
I couldn’t bring myself to look into the theatre but the vet talked to me through the door. He said he had got her back but it was still to early to tell. What????? What do you mean got her back? It turns out the vet thinks she had a condition called maternal hydrops and said each puppy was surrounded my approximately 1-2 litres of fluid! No wonder Zena was so big with 10 puppies that is almost 20 litres of fluid and she was a slight golden retriever to begin with! After the pups she looked like a skeleton. What had seemed like a good healthy weight gain had just been a huge belly of puppies and fluid.
Her heart had stopped beating twice on the table and they had to shock her to bring her back. With that much fluid around it was very dangerous I am told. She was then monitored very closely as her heart beat was extremely rapid. It was decided to take her to the emergency specialist vet for overnight observation. Due to recent parvovirus outbreaks in the area I couldn’t leave the puppies so took them home with me. It was now midnight, and my birthday, happy birthday to me.
Zena’s newborn puppies.
I now had to learn how to hand feed new born puppies. Not to mention toilet them and burp them. I didn’t even know puppies burped! Thank goodness for my ‘bible’ by Dr Karen Hedburg. I had read it cover to cover and was set up for most just in case scenarios so had some bottles on hand and cotton balls for toileting. It took me 1.5 hours to hand feed all 10 puppies and I had to do this every two hours. After three days of no sleep it is a miracle they all survived. The next day I was able to bring Zena home and thank goodness for friends coming over to help for a couple of hours and my vet doing house calls and checking on the puppies at home.
Zena and her 3 day old babies.
Zena was a brilliant mum but after her trauma there was no way I was leaving her. I slept on the couch next to her whelping box for three weeks.
Surely there can’t be more?? Yep, two bouts of mastitis with me doing massage, hot packs and cabbage leaves. Zena was on antibiotics so I had puppies with the runs on and off for five weeks and nearly loosing three of them with an unknown virus. There were many nights I went to sleep sitting up on the lounge with a puppy or two down my shirt to keep them warm and hope when I woke up they were still with me. Then there were the times all of them would somehow escape their run in the garage and 10 puppies had had a ball pooping and weeing all over the garage and rolled in it.
Then there was the great times! They all weaned without a problem and thrived. We would all play outside for hours rolling around in the grass with 10 happy fat puppies. We found amazing homes for each and every one of them and they all were perfect little balls of fluff who were nearly fully toilet trained by 8 weeks when they left us.
Zena’s puppies at 6 weeks old.
So would I do this again? Absobloodylutely NOT! Everyone says I will change my mind but I just can’t see it. I am proud of the puppies I produced. All the research I have done says it is a rare condition that is suspected to happen when two lines don’t blend well and most bitches go on to have a normal second litter. I have had breeders of 30 years who say they have never had a litter with so many issues. I don’t see how I could ever put Zena through something like that again. I did this alone as a single mother of three children. There were lots of people that said they would help me but when it came down to it people had their own lives and it was very lonely and exhausting.
I was scared to say anything thinking that I must have done something wrong but going over everything I can see it was just a case of bad luck.
My question is has anyone had a traumatic litter? How long till you got over the trauma of it? Zena is perfectly happy and healthy and loving life jumping on the trampoline and wrestling with the other dogs but I still struggle with the memories.
I wouldn’t wish this experience on any responsible breeder but I wonder if a puppy farmer’s first litter cost upward of $6k if that would deter them!!
There is some confusion on what ‘with papers’ and ‘registered breeder’ means, and this confusion adds to the complexity of looking for a breeder and a puppy. This is a brief post that explains what ‘papers’ are and a ‘registered breeder’ is, to ensure that you don’t find yourself ripped off in your puppy purchase.
What are ‘papers’?
When you say, ‘a purebred puppy with papers’, then the ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council) pedigree papers is what ‘the papers’ bit is.
It’s also a good idea, when purchasing a puppy, to look for other documentation, such as:
A vaccination certificate
A microchipping certificate
A vet check certificate or similar (keep in mind that vaccines can only be administered to healthy animals, so if the puppy is vaccinated, s/he should’ve been ‘healthy’ at the time of vaccination)
Any relevant health testing paperwork for parents and puppy (this will depend on the breed)
What is a ‘registered’ breeder?
When people refer to a ‘registered’ breeder, they are referring to a breeder which is registered with an ANKC member body (such as Dogs SA, Dogs Victoria, and so forth). A registered breeder should be able to show a membership card with their name, their prefix, and a membership number on it.
Some people call themselves a ‘registered breeder’ because they are registered with the council. While many councils require breeders to be registered with them, it is not any type of endorsement for the welfare of the animals that are maintained or bred at the facility.
How do I find a puppy with papers from a registered breeder?
A typical vet consult is just 15 minutes. Is this long enough for a vet to diagnose future behavioural problems in puppies? Vaccination consults seem to be an ideal time for vets to assess puppies and make recommendations for the future, but is it really enough time for a vet to reach adequate conclusions? Pageat set out to find out.
Listen to audio:
Or read on…
256 puppies were observed during a vaccination appointment at the vet. The puppy was first allowed to ‘free range’ around the room, and then the puppy was examined. The behaviour of puppies during this consult was noted. The owner was also asked to answer 8 questions (on fear, sleep, and self control).
Pageat wondered if the behaviours shown by the puppies and the answers given by their owner might have a correlation between the behaviour (including problem behaviour) the puppy may have as an adult.
Telephone consults occurred 1 month after the vaccination consult, then 6 months after, and then another evaluation was done when the dog came in for its vaccination 1 year afterwards.
Pageat found that there was a correlation, and referred to 6 classifications for adult dogs: ‘normal’, deprivation syndrome, hypersensitivity-hyperactivity, disorder of sensory homeostasis, phobia, and separation anxiety.
This preliminary study showed that there was some merit to Pageat’s ideas. Below are the behaviour classifications that Pageat created and how they correlate to the behaviours and questionnaire responses seen in puppyhood.
Pups that were likely to have a ‘normal development’, unsurprisingly, displayed normal behaviours in the vet clinic, like:
sought comfort from their owner,
checked out the room while ocassionally checking in with the owner or vet,
sought vet’s contact,
had submissive posture when vet reached over the puppy, and
sometimes cried when restrained, but soon settled.
On the questionnaire, owners said there were no fears, no sleep problems, and no excessive biting.
So: Puppies that act normally in the vet seem to act normally as adults.
‘Deprivation syndrome’ is the term that Pageat used, which means dogs that are under socialised and so fearful of most things, which in turn leads to fear aggression. (source)
In the vet consult, pups were more likely to grow up with deprivation syndrome if they:
were stationary (didn’t move around the exam room),
reacted fearfully when touched by the vet,
remained fearful even when the owner interacted with them,
persistantly tried to escape and bite from restraint, and.
if they appeared to calm when restrained, they started fighting again when the restraint was lessened.
The owner’s responses to the questionnaire described the puppy as ‘fearful’ towards loud noises, moving objects, and people.
That is: puppies that acted fearful during the 15 minute vet consult will probably stay fearful. They should immediately start an intensive socialisation program to try to reduce their fearful reactions.
‘Hypersensitivity-hyperactivity syndrome’ is basically a dog with lack of control, especially bite inhibition. They are often not-aggressive but nonetheless hurt their owners and others because of their lack of bite inhibition in ‘over the top’ play.
In the vet consult, pups were more likely to grow up with this syndrome if they:
were active, ran everywhere,
repeatedly interacted with ‘every thing’ they could in the exam room,
if this interaction included chewing and often destroying items,
immediately started to play during the physical exam,
growled and bit,
tried to escape restraint by biting, urinating, or defecating, and if this fighting may continue for 30 seconds or more,
had an owner who’s presence didn’t influence the puppy’s behaviour, and
had an owner who was covered in bites themselves.
Owners on the questionnaire indicated the puppy didn’t sleep solidly (i.e. made noise at night) and described the puppy as rough or bitey when playing.
That is: Puppies who seemed hyperactive and orally fixated would stay that way into adulthood. Puppies in this category should be put in puppy playgroups and otherwise taught to inhibit their bite.
Disorder of Sensory Homeostasis
This was the most confusing classification that Pageat used. Here are a couple of definitions I was able to come up with in regard to ‘sensory homeostasis’:
“the ability to react in a suitable manner to sensory stimulations coming from the external environment” (source)
“The normal state can be regarded as the normosensoperceptive [normal sensory perceptive] condition to be maintained in the physiological range by means of various cooperative and coordinated mechanisms” (source)
That is, ‘dealing with’ (behaviourally, psychologically, and physically) the environment in a normal way. So, a dog who has ‘sensory homeostasis’ could be described as ‘a dog that reacts suitably to sensory input from its environment’.
The behaviours of puppies in this group were diverse:
Puppies were active, running everywhere and chewing everything – or they did the opposite, staying in one place resting and not moving much.
Puppies either began to play when you interacted with them, or just stayed still.
These puppies bit when they were restrained – sometimes with urinating and defecating as well, but always did not submit.
The owners reported these puppies were fearful, that they didn’t sleep well or were active, and they were rough biting and playful.
As you can see, there is a lot of variety in this category, and I’m not sure what conclusions can actually be reached. This is especially true when you compare with the rather logical and conclusive results made under different headings.
Phobic Adult Dogs
Dogs were more likely to be fearful adults if they were puppies that:
sought comfort from owners in new environments,
if the explored, they checked in with the owner or vet as exploring,
adopted a submissive posture during handling,
cried softly during restraint, or
moved legs when restrained, but soon calms down and is submissive.
That is, the pups that overall seemed quite soft and ‘submissive’ and sought reassurance from people were likely to be fearful dogs in adulthood. These puppies could also have their behaviour remedied by socialisation where they could learn to be more outgoing (as they realise the world is a not-so-scary place).
Separation anxiety is basically a fear of being alone. Pups that exhibited the following behaviours were more likely to have separation anxiety as an adult:
rests as close as possible to the place it was left,
vet has to initate contact, and
pup exhibits fearful behaviours like escaping, biting, urinating, defecating or anal sac excretion, but when the owner approaches, these behaviours stops.
The owner answered ‘yes’ to fearful behaivours on the questionnaire.
A vet could recommend that puppies displaying these behaviours begin to engage in a separation anxiety program before issues become apparent. Undertaking anti-separation anxiety procedures are good practice, anyway, but could be applied with more emphasis in puppies like this.
Unfortunately, this research is almost 10 years old and hasn’t been as revolutionary as first hoped. However, it shows there is still promise in the original suggestion: Vets could have a role in preventing problem behaviours from developing or becoming more pronounced by making recommendations based on behaviours seen in a 15 minute consult. Vets are a major source of information for dog owners, including new puppy owners, and almost all puppies will visit a vet for at least their first vaccination. Because of this, it’s vital that we make the most of these consults and direct puppy buyers to appropriate resources.