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Written by Sarah Fulcher, CDT, Cert.CBST

Getting a puppy from a breeder or a rescue is a personal decision. While it certainly is a wonderful choice to choose to adopt a puppy (or adult!) as you are saving a life, sometimes the uncertainty of genetic background of a rescue dog means adoption might not be the right choice for everyone. For instance, if you need a dog who will be adept at a certain job or low shed because of allergies then purchasing a certain breed from a responsible breeder may be the best choice for you and your family.

I help run a dog rescue and breeding is a hot button topic among the rescue community. For those who work tirelessly to save society’s animal castoffs from an untimely end, it’s extremely difficult to justify bringing more animals into the world. You see, millions (yes, millions) of perfectly healthy, happy, and adoptable companion animals are euthanized each year because there simply aren’t enough homes. A pretty daunting fact, isn’t it? Obviously I am fully supportive of adopting animals, but I also support responsible breeders. Think this seems like a contradiction? Maybe, but I believe there is a need for healthy, well-bred dogs that can fulfill a certain job or purpose. Without dedicated, responsible breeders purebred dogs would be lost. Responsible breeders also actively rescue their breed of choice.

I also personally feel that responsible breeders (key word: responsible!) are not the ones producing dogs in large volumes that fill North America’s shelters. Responsible breeders produce a very small amount of puppies, maybe one or two litters every few years or even less, and they screen their buyers to make sure the puppies are going to the best homes possible. They also ensure the puppies they are producing are as healthy and mentally well balanced as possible. Considering that genetics makes up some 60% of temperment this can be a pretty big deal. Early socializing from day one to 8 weeks done properly can have an immense bearing on a dog’s temperment as well.

So where are dogs in shelters coming from? Polls of people dumping dogs show that most dogs coming into the shelter system were obtained through friends or acquaintances. So not responsible breeders, per se, but what is commonly called a Backyard Breeder. These are people who are breeding dogs “just because”, for money, or having accidental litters. Backyard breeders produce purebred, mixed breed, or “designer” dog breeds. Backyard breeders have little or no knowledge of genetics, health testing, or proper socializing of young pups. This knowledge is all essential to produce a physically and emotionally sound dog. Considering that backyard breeders charge the same as responsible breeders, it pays to do your research. Backyard breeders and puppy farmers are usually not too choosy about who they sell their dogs to, and sell to people who are unprepared and not committed to the dog for it’s entire lifetime. As a result, very few dogs end up in one home for their entire lifetime. The majority of dogs bred are bounced from home to home, dumped into shelters or rescues, or put to sleep.

Don’t get me wrong, rescue dogs and puppies are certainly not a ticking behavioral time bomb. In fact, since they are usually a mix of several breeds they more often than not end up with an amazing well rounded temperament. I have personally fostered many rescue dogs and puppies, and have found them to be for the most part happy, friendly, easy to train dogs. Of course there is no guarantee, but if you’re not needing any specific qualities in a dog mixed breeds are a wonderful choice. Each dog will be truly wonderful and one of a kind! To be perfectly honest the complete mixed breed dogs I have seen come off of reservations and out of the North West Territories have had some of the best temperaments I have seen. Temperaments a breeder could strive to achieve for years and years and never produce. For that reason a mixed breed companion will almost certainly make a wonderful choice for your family, provided you continue with proper socialization and early training.

So, if you really need to buy a puppy, how do you find “responsible breeder”? It takes some research, but I will tell you you’re not likely to find them in the local newspaper. Don’t be surprised if your breeder of choice wants to interview you as much as you do them, or if you have to wait a while to get your puppy. Remember, they’re not breeding very much and want to ensure the pups go to the best possible home! Purchasing from a responsible breeder is in your best interest. Because of the close genetic pool of purebred dogs, breeding indiscriminately can be akin to playing Russian roulette with your dog’s health and temperament. Cross breed dogs are not immune. Purposely bred cross breeds or designer breeds still require adequate health testing to be sure the parents are healthy. Mixing two unhealthy parents together will not magically cause the puppies to be healthy even if there is an increase in genetic diversity with a mixed breed pairing. With the cost of vet care these days, a responsible breeder or adopted mixed breed is the smart choice.

Breed clubs are a good start to finding a responsible breeder, but more care must be taken. Just because someone registers their dogs with the CKC or AKC or has Champion show titles on their dogs does not mean they are a good breeder. These groups are merely registries, and although they have a Code of Ethics for members to adhere to, this is not enforced or policed in any way. Please do your research and help eliminate the puppy mill industry.

Things to look for in a breeder:
-Not breeding oodles of litters every year. 1-3 litters every few years is probably a maximum. Responsible breeders produce litters to better the breed, not just to make more pets to turn a fast buck.

-Does not breed any dog until they are at least 2 years old, health tested (hips and eyes generally, thyroid is highly recommended, and some breeds require other testing depending on what is common in their lines), and does not breed a female every heat.

-Titles their dogs in conformation showing, appropriate working venues, or both.

-Puppies are raised inside the home, and are well socialized from the beginning. Adult dogs are part of the family.

-Parents should be available for viewing (unless an outside stud was used) and should be in good health and temperment. The breeder should know the bloodline of the dogs and understand the genetics going into the pairing.

-Where the puppies are kept should be tidy and not appear unsanitary. Puppies should be outgoing and friendly, not frightened. They should be vaccinated, dewormed, and vet checked before going to their new home. Puppies should be well socialized from a very young age.

-Breeders should have a contract which requires puppies to be spayed and neutered, have a health guarantee, and also the breeder should take the dog back at any time during their entire life for any reason.

-Does not sell to pet stores or puppy brokers.

-Should be always willing to answer questions or give advice or references from their vet or previous buyers.

You should purchase your puppy directly from the breeder, not online or through a pet store. If possible, visit their home. If the conditions are miserable, please resist the urge to purchase a puppy to “rescue” it. As hard as it is, buying a puppy continues to support this nasty business. Walk away and contact the SPCA. Sometimes the breeder may understandably not want you to visit their home as a protection of their privacy or you may be too far away. In the first scenario, ask to meet the parents of the pups in a public place so you can see if they are healthy and of good temperament. In both situations, a reference from a vet and previous buyers of puppies would be advised.

Of course if you are looking into a rescue dog it pays to do your research on the rescue group as well. The rescue group should want you to fill out an application, and they may or may not want to come and do a home check. The adoption fee should include spay or neuter, vaccines and de-worming. They should be clear on where they obtain their dogs. Unfortunately, there are also people involved in rescue who operate less than ethically. Some steal peoples pets and adopt them out for profit, and others bring oodles of dogs in from outside the country and “adopt” them for a quick couple hundred dollars profit without any screening of potential homes.

Whenever you add a new dog to your family, it pays to ask the right questions. Getting a dog is a huge commitment. Save yourself the heartbreak of purchasing an unhealthy or genetically unstable puppy by doing the research. For more information about finding a dog that is a good fit for you and your family, feel free to contact us.

Read part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series.