Thursday, November 17, 2005

Buying A Dog / Choosing A Breeder

Buyers are becoming more and more aware that there is a difference between a well-bred dog and a poorly bred dog. So here’s the advice I give potential buyers when looking for the ideal dog. You will probably not find a breeder that meets all of these recommendations, but you should try to buy the best dog from the best breeder you can find.

The Type of Dog You Should Look For

When adopting a dog, regardless of the breed or age of the dog, the first thing I look for is friendliness. Friendliness to all people, kids, other dogs, other types of pets you have in your home and on your property. Shy dogs often times bite. Shy dogs often bark a lot and bother the neighbors. Shy dogs have a hard time obeying. Protective dogs are OK, provided that the dog isn't aggressive in inappropriate situations. It is OK for a dog to protect territory, set up a pack order in the home, and protect the owner from attack. However, this kind of thing requires some professional advice before you get a dog with protective tendencies. What most people consider as "protective" is really a dog that is wacky, and one you shouldn't adopt into your home. ALL pups should be friendly when you adopt them. Adult dogs are a bit different, and it depends upon the breed. When in doubt, don't adopt an adult dog that isn't friendly, OR ask a professional to evaluate the dog with you. Some breeds were designed to not like strangers. But, this dislike of strangers should only be an issue with the adult dogs, not the puppies, regardless of the breed. I have found, regardless of the breed, if the puppies are too wary of strangers, they are too "freaky" as adults to do good, stand up, face-to-face, protection work. These dogs will put on a good show behind a fence, but will lash out and then run away from a determined attacker. A bold dog will stand its ground against an attacker. The dog can't be so wary that it crosses over into avoidance when meeting a stranger. Thus, police and military dog puppies are friendly, but the adults are wary of strangers and will bite them. My experience and observation has been: too much wariness, too soon, negatively affects the way the adult dog turns out. The pups see everything as a threat those early years when they are young and impressionable, so the adults are more likely to behave as if they were fear biters, or to lash out at animals or people that aren't acting in a threatening manner towards your dog.

Second, I look for confidence. I want a dog that isn't afraid of stuff. A dog that isn't afraid of things is a happy dog. It is a dog that will be easier to train, take places, socialize, house train and get along with. A fearful or shy dog is always handicapped in dealing with its world. What you are seeking to evaluate isn't whether you can scare the dog. You are looking to see if the dog is a.) happy, b.) confident and c.) when presented with something unusual or startling, can quickly recover from the experience and bounce back confidently.

Third, I look for a dog that isn't touch sensitive. I don’t want a dog that will snap at a small child, or one that can't be bathed or handled or groomed.

Fourth, I look for a dog that likes treats. Treats are the best way to begin training most dogs. Treats make the initial training go faster. Trainers that condemn the use of treats are just showing their ignorance of behavior and learning. In addition, food motivated dogs will be easier to feed when they aren't feeling well, especially in old age. That could make the difference between recovery and death in a medical situation.

Fifth, I want a dog that will play fetch. Fetch is more than a game of chasing and returning a toy. A dog that likes to fetch will be easier to train than one that can't, all else being equal. A desire to chase and pick up toys gives me additional ways to train a dog to do a variety of tasks.

Sixth, I want a dog that will adapt to being on a leash. I would avoid any dog that panics when on a leash. On the other hand, if a dog has never been on a leash, it might balk at first. That is perfectly normal, and I'm not referring to that kind of thing. If a dog has never been on a leash, I have a special method I use to introduce them to it. I am talking about dogs that can never adapt to being on a leash. A few dogs will always balk and panic when on a leash; this is more common in some breeds and individual dogs than in others.

Seventh, I want a healthy dog. I don't want to spend thousands of dollars to keep the dog well. I especially don't want that dies young, or a dog with serious heath issues, such as allergies, joint injuries or deformities, malfunctioning internal organs, a tendency to bleed, or has a weak immune system. I want all these seven things, whether the dog is from a breeder or from a shelter.

If you are a police officer, security guard company, or in a special situation where you should be seeking a protection dog, and
you are qualified to own a protection dog, then I want to know: How many related dogs are active police/ military dogs? Name of police department/ military unit and phone numbers of handlers? Accomplishments? Failures in trials? How many dogs has this breeder bred? Have these dogs ever bitten anyone, and was there a resulting lawsuit (I want evidence these dogs will protect me in a life and death situation)? How many are good workers? Scoring at trials, and names of judges who evaluated their performance? Placement at trials? Age when dog reach Schutzhund III, or comparable title? What kind of health testing and what kind of health guarantees? What kind of restrictions will be placed on the ownership of the dog?

Adopting A Dog From A Shelter or Rescue Organization

Regarding dogs from shelters or rescue organizations: when adopting a pet, you are better off getting an adult dog rather than a puppy. When the dog is an adult, you can see what the dog will be. I figure that if anything is going to go wrong with an unknown dog, it will happen by 1 to 2 years of age. Puppies are an unknown, even for an experienced evaluator (unless you are dealing with a reputable breeder). If you decide to get a puppy, it is a good idea to get one that demonstrates all of the above qualities. Many things can be observed at the shelter or at the breeder's place, but some things won't be known until you get the dog home, and after it bonds to the family and attaches itself to your territory. Some things can't be determined on a puppy until the pup is at least 2 years old, such as health problems and some types of temperament problems, so it is better to get an older dog from a shelter.

Adopting A Dog From A Breeder

The best age to get a puppy is at 8 weeks of age (avoid taking a pup that is older than 12 weeks of age, or younger than 7 weeks of age). Spend some time with the pup to get to know him or her. The purpose of pure breeding is to create a predictable adult dog. If you do your research, as I have described in this article, you will have a better idea of what kind of dog your puppy will grow up to be.

What Should Most People Look For When Getting A Pet?

Predictable and consistent behavior
Prefers human company, especially children
Relatively "directable" without training
Able to be banged around, by kids and clumsy humans
Comfortable indoors, and in the climates you live in and take vacations
Doesn’t require a lot of exercise
Calm in the home; not hyperactive
Medium high food drive; medium high prey drive (for fetching)
Able to take, and learn from, a correction
Low initiative
Low fearfulness
Low other-dog aggression
Quiet; not highly reactive to bark at sights and sounds around the home or in public
Image of a guard dog without the actual follow through (if you are into that kind of thing)
Easily Housetrained (some breeds are easier than others)

Many breeds were never intended to be pets

When breeders attempt to “tone down” these breeds, in the attempt to make them into something that they are not, they invariably create dogs that have weaknesses in temperament and health. The deliberate watering down of these breeds is absolutely irresponsible.

It is important to research the original purpose of the breed you are considering adopting. When you notice glaring health or temperament problems, from dogs that used to be working dogs, then you’ll know why they have ended up this way. They end up being unpredictable, unstable and overly sensitive. Then dogs that would normally have been good with children are now found to attack them. Dogs that were hardy and able to do real work, are now medical basket cases.

I am of the firm belief that if all we are preserving is the picture of what the dog is, without preserving the inner temperamental and biological structure, then we might as well let that breed go into extinction. By focusing on the outer shell, we are not only fooling ourselves (we aren't really preserving anything), but we are directly responsible for many of the terrible consequences we see with some of our breeds. So... be sure you understand what you are getting... and make sure the dog you get is a full representation of what the dog IS and always WAS, not some facsimile of what the dog used to be but isn't now.

What Should Most People Look for When Getting A Dog For Obedience or Work Purposes

Predictable and consistent behavior
Prefers human company, especially children
Relatively "directable" without training
Able to be banged around, by kids and clumsy humans
Comfortable indoors and outdoors
Doesn’t require a lot of exercise
Calm in the home; not hyperactive
High drives and excellent mental focus
Athletic, excellent conformation, and excellent endurance
Able to take, and learn from, a correction
High initiative
Low fearfulness
Submissive to Dominant… depends upon the nature of the work
Low other-dog aggression is preferred, but not always a requirement
Quiet… unless barking is needed for the work
If used for protection, will follow through and bite with intention, if not used for protection, then little to no aggression in most circumstances
Easily Housetrained

Pretty Dogs vs. Obedient Dogs

Find a breeder, and line of dogs, that have proven themselves in obedience trials. The pedigree should be full of dogs, on the mother's and father's side, with high level obedience titles. This is some proof that they dogs are going to be easy to train and live with. To me, "pretty is what pretty does." I feel that way about people, and I feel that way about dogs. There are two types of purebred dogs, show dogs and working dogs. Dog shows are, unfortunately, just beauty pageants. There is no objective examination of the health, temperament, or working quality of the dogs that win these shows. It seems unbelievable that a dog can win a National Dog Championship, yet not be the best combination show and working dog of that breed, with a verified health and working pedigree for the parents and grandparents. If a Greyhound wins the Westminster Dog Show, then shouldn’t it have been at least raced and won some AKC-sponsored Lure Coursing event and obtained at least a CD obedience certification? Shouldn’t the national champion German Shepherd Dog also obtained a Schutzhund III, and scored highly in Obedience, Tracking and Protection? Shouldn’t a champion Labrador Retriever also have won a regional AKC Field Trial or Hunt Test for Retrievers? Dog shows are subjective evaluations of dogs, based solely upon appearance, and also there is a lot of behind-the-scenes politics that can determine who wins that has nothing to do with how good the dog is. Field Trials, Obedience trials, and other working trials are generally more objective evaluations of the temperament (the behavioral genetics of the dog), health (if the dog’s body can’t take the stress of Trial work, then it’s not healthy enough to be bred), and personality of the dog (top trainers won’t campaign with a dog that they don’t like or can't handle). It’s time that dogs that are show champions also be field champions in order to be crowned the Best In Show of our regional and national dog championships. It’s also time that we demand more of our dog judges. They should to be evaluated as judges to prove they are experienced experts in dog behavior, training and conformation before they can be certified to judge which dogs should be crowned "Champion." Always try to pick a breeder with dogs that have obedience or working titles for some or all of the parents and grandparents. This will be difficult with some breeds of dog.

Highly Trainable Dogs Are Easier To Own

You will get a better dog if it comes from proven working lines than if it comes from purely show lines. An easily trained dog is easier to live with. These dogs will also be healthier because an unhealthy dog (hips, elbows, internal organs, etc.) can’t take the rigors of Field Trial work. Be aware that "highly intelligent" is not the same as "highly trainable". A wolf is highly intelligent, but not highly trainable. A show dog might be highly intelligent, but not highly trainable.

Be aware that some Field Trials don’t test obedience

They are more specialized. They might test the speed of the dog in a race. Or they might just test the ability of the dog to get Aggressive when threatened. Or they might assess the natural hunting ability of a dog. These types of Field Trials, though a necessary part of improving the breeds, won’t, by themselves, help you pick a good companion dog. The puppy you buy should come from parents that have been tested for their specialized abilities AND tested for their competence in obedience, and come with good references from other people that own dogs that are directly related to the dog you are going to get. One warning: obedience titles don't indicate the dog is easy to live with, or is a good family dog. You need references to find out these details.

Get a dog from the best breeder and best lines you can find in your country

A great breeder is one that is improving the breed. A "backyard" breeder is one that just doesn’t know enough to improve the breed. You have to learn to identify which is which. A good breeder will know a lot about every good dog in the breed, by name and accomplishments, going many generations and years back. They will have bred many field champions over the years, and they actively work their dogs (meaning obedience or other activities that demonstrate the capabilities of their dogs). They will also be experts in practical genetics and dog breeding. Sometimes, in order to get the best dog from the best breeder, you will need to import a dog (however, this is very involved and you need to know some folks you trust, otherwise you'll surely get a poor quality dog for too much money). NEVER GET A PUPPY FROM A PET STORE! You will probably get a pup that is hard to train, might be impossible to house train, and has health problems. Plus you are probably getting a pup from a puppy mill: a farm where hundreds or thousands of dogs are bred like cattle in the Midwest, shipped by truck to your local pet store, forced to learn to live in its filth for weeks (meaning the dog might be impossible to house train), and not properly socialized with other dogs.

You want a written 2+ year health and Temperament guarantee in the sales contract

Only Buy A Dog Bred From Adult, Healthy Parents

BE PREPARED... WHAT I'M GOING TO SAY HERE IS GOING TO BE CONTROVERSIAL! A LOT OF BREEDERS ARE GOING TO BE UPSET WITH ME WHEN THEY READ THIS, and with you if you require it from them... but when you've been on the other side, and had a pet with health or temperament problems, and had to either put the dog to death, or had to pay massive medical bills, and lived with the heartache... you'll agree with me 100%...

I have felt for a long time, if breeders want to eliminate most kinds of inherited diseases, they should collect semen and eggs from young breeding dogs, then hold onto them for 10 years. After 10 years, you test the living dogs for all the typical health related diseases, and the ones which are still healthy, you breed pups from the preserved semen and eggs. If eggs aren't collected from the females, then they shouldn’t be bred until they are at least 5 years old. My experience is that most genetic defects start showing up by the time a dog is 5 years old, whether it is blindness, allergies, hip dysplasia, heart disease, anxiety disorders, aggression disorders, or other common canine disorders and diseases. In addition, most breeders write up contracts that are of no benefit to the buyers of the puppies. They don't guarantee anything, and there isn't any reasonable compensation to the buyer when things don't work out. There ARE honorable breeders: I have done business with breeders that would give you a new puppy if the one they sold you was defective in any way (and I have done business with breeders that would take no responsibility for their shabby breeding practices). So, "let the buyer beware!"

I figure if a dog will live 10 years, and a bitch lives for 5 years, without manifesting any genetically inherited diseases, yet still possessing excellent temperament and conformation, then they should be used for breeding. Too many breeders start breeding dogs as early as two years old, which is long before many serious genetic problems manifest. With modern science, and the use of mature, healthy dogs, within a generation, we could make major inroads to eliminate most of the debilitating and fatal diseases, and temperament defects, plaguing many of our dog breeds. Therefore, UNLESS YOU PERSONALLY KNOW THE BREEDER AND KNOW THE GENETIC HISTORY OF THE LINE OF DOGS YOU ARE CONSIDERING, I wouldn't recommend getting a dog from any breeder unless the sire and dam are at least 5 years old at the time of the breeding, you have met the breeding pair, and verified these breeding dogs are disease free. In addition, ask for a complete copy of the proposed pedigree of your puppy. You need references (name, phone number, and address) to verify of the health of previous litters, and to know the fates of the grandparents and great grandparents of the pup I was considering. At the very least, don't get a pup from if either parent is under 2 years of age! If you are a breeder, you SHOULD STOP breeding dogs under 5 years of age. I recommend not breeding your bitch until she is at least 5 years old, you should look for healthy sires that are at least 5 years old (though 10 years or more would be ideal), and do the required and typical health testing at this later age even if you have to pay for it to be done all over again. If your breeding dogs are clear of the typical diseases of the breed, and have proven to have good temperament and conformation, then by all means, start breeding. I BELIEVE DOGS SHOULD ONLY BE BRED IF THEY WILL IMPROVE THE BREED, otherwise they should be spayed or neutered. If you plan on being in the dog breeding business for a number of years, you could save yourself, and your customers, many heart breaking moments by starting out with better breeding stock. Spend a little money and patience now, and you WILL reap the rewards of satisfaction later.

Ask for references

You want at least 3 buyer references, preferably from buyers that live near you so you can visit their dogs. Better yet, get references from 5 people that own a dog related to the mother, and 5 related to the father, of the puppy you are intending on purchasing. You want to ask them how it was to do business with the breeder(s), what they think of the dog they purchased, any behavioral or health problems that they have noticed, DO THEY KNOW OF ANY GENETIC OR BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS that people have encountered owning this line of dogs, and whether they would buy from that breeder again. You’ll also want trainer references. You want to talk to the trainers that have worked these dogs, preferably in competitive obedience or in Field Trials, or individually where they did private lessons with that particular dog. Ask for their overall opinion on the dogs. Also, you want to talk to their veterinarians, and ask about health and Temperament issues with these dogs. The key here is to verify that you are getting the dog you think you are. A very nice breeder, just like a dishonest breeder, might not know a thing about breeding. They may also gloss over the problems others are having with their dogs. I have to tell 1 or 2 people a week to put their dogs to death because of inherited behavioral problems (viciousness). Make sure you don't get a problem dog that can't be fixed!


  • Have these dogs been good with children? Have any of the dogs ever bitten a child?

  • Are these dogs good with other dogs? Are any of these dogs dog fighters? Are they good with puppies?

  • Have these dogs been difficult to house train? Have any of these dogs had problems with submissive urination?

  • Have any of the dogs had aggression or fear biting problems? What does your dog growl or bark at?

  • Have these dogs been easy to train? Have any of the dogs obtained obedience titles? Do they like treats? Do they play fetch or tug?

  • Have any of the dogs experienced serious health problems? How long do these dogs typically live, and if they die, besides old age, what do they typically die of?

  • Have any of these dogs ever suffered from Separation Anxiety? Do any of these dogs suffer from any known phobias? What is your dog afraid of? Can these dogs be left alone in a crate or kennel? Do they have any problems riding in a car? Are they generally happy and outgoing dogs?

  • Do you know of any of these dogs being put down (euthanasia) for behavioral or health problems?

  • Are these dogs easy to live with? Are the adult dogs relaxed in the home? Anything else you think I should know about before I purchase one of these dogs?

Get A Pedigree, Then Talk To Their Owners

You want a 3+ year pedigree, showing titled working obedience dogs on both the mother’s and father’s side. Then, research each dog and find out as much as you can about any problem temperament and health issues. This is a list of dogs that are related to your potential new family member. Call the owners of each of these dogs and interview them.

Don’t be fooled by lots of hype concerning pedigrees

You’ll hear breeders say things like this dog’s lines “go back to” some ancient line of dogs that hasn’t been seen or bred in decades. Stay away from these types of loudmouths. You need a true pedigree that shows who these dogs are really related to, and evidence (by way of references that you can talk to) confirming these dogs really are all that the breeder says they are. Some breeders can talk a good talk… and sell you a dog that you’ll regret you ever adopted. Remember the old saying: Trust, but verify! How selective were they in choosing the sire and dam for your puppy? What were the selection criteria and how were they verified? How often do they breed their females? Most dogs shouldn't be bred more than about once per year. What do they feed their dogs? It should be a good diet. You want to know that they don't sell dogs to pet stores, commercial wholesalers, or dealers.

The breeder is knowledgeable and experienced

You will only determine this after you’ve done all of your homework and compared what they have done with what their competitors have done. Don’t believe what they say, believe what they have done – it will be evident from your research.

The breeder is friendly and freely expressive of their program, their strengths and weaknesses, who they purchase their dogs from and why, and their accomplishments.

They answer your questions without guile. You will be establishing a long term relationship with this breeder, you want to trust them and be able to work with them. It is worth spending more money for the dog from a good breeder.

The breeder will allow you to inspect their facilities and look at the breeding females and males they own.

Look for cleanliness, that they have enough money to take good care of the dogs, and that the dogs look healthy and well mannered. A puppy mill is usually run to supplement farm income. Large numbers of dogs are bred, then the young puppies are shipped across the country in truck, left unsupervised, and then often distributed for sale in pet stores. Never buy a dog from a pet store, unless it’s a rescue dog and you know the people personally. Puppy mills have no quality control, are not involved in showing or Field Trialing dogs, the pedigrees are worthless, and conditions are often filthy. You won’t be invited to visit, the facilities will be poorly designed and under-funded. Health isn’t a concern to the puppy mill breeder. There will be no Proof of vaccinations, they’ll feed the dogs a poor diet, the females will be bred every heat cycle, and the pups won’t be alert. The dogs are unhealthy. The puppies will be very hard to house train. The adult dogs will have potential health and temperament problems that you can't fix. Be careful if the dog you buy will be shipped from far away, no other breeder or trainer speaks well of their breeding program, you can’t get good references, you can’t visit the father or mother, and they are just interested in the money. You are buying from a puppy mill. They will sell a dog to anyone.

The breeder has a planned socialization and temperament testing program for their puppies.

If not, see if they will agree to allow you to socialize their puppies for a couple of weeks (between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks old -- the breeder should allow you to take your pup home no older than 8 weeks of age... otherwise, don't get the puppy!) before you pick yours. Don't do business with a breeder that will give you a pup under 6 weeks of age. And don't get stuck with the unsocialized or shy pup they couldn't sell (I wouldn't adopt a young pup over 12 weeks of age from any breeder... you are asking for trouble... the pup will never be as sociable or confident as it could have been).

The breeder is committed to excellence, and has established a reputation for excellence.

All breeding stock has been tested for the typical health problems for the breed. Ask the vet if this is being done and find out the results of the tests that have been performed on your prospective puppy’s parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.

The breeder belongs to their breed club and is in good standing with them

They actively show their dogs and/ or they actively do obedience, or participate in Field Trials with their dogs. You want someone actively into their breed.

The breeder has a reasonable sales policy, and a written sales contract, that you can live with.

Have the contract reviewed and approved by your attorney before you sign it. If you can't abide by the contract, don't buy the dog. Contracts are only as good as the people who sign them.

The breeder is just as interested in you, why you want the dog, and what you will do with the dog.

If they are just in it for the money, all you have to do is send them the money and they will send you a dog, no questions asked. STAY AWAY from breeders or sellers that are just in it for the money! You will get a dog with serious problems. A good breeder will usually ask questions like: Who are you going to hire as a professional trainer? Why are you interested in this particular breed over another? What do you know about this breed? Why do you want a dog like this? Have you ever owned a dog like this and what was its history? How much do you know about dog Training? What is your philosophy on dog Training? Do you have any children, and how old are they? What kind of job do you have? Do you live in a house or an apartment? What happened to your last dog? Are you willing to obtain an obedience title on the dog if I sell one to you? It’s OK if they ask you a lot of questions. And you better be prepared to give them knowledgeable and friendly and truthful answers, or you won’t get one of their dogs. It’s also OK if they make a lot of money selling dogs, but it can’t be their sole love or concern. I have been interviewed by some breeders that were so picky and obnoxious, that regardless of how good their dogs were, I didn't want to do business with them. There has to be a balance, like everything else in life.

The breeder displays integrity.

They do what they say they will do. If they say they will mail something to you, do they do it promptly? If they promise you something, do they do it? Honesty is verified by their actions, not just their words.

Investigate several comparable breeds of dog, and have a backup plan.

If you can’t find a good breeder of one breed, switch to one of the comparable breeds. Don’t fall in love with a breed or its looks. If you can’t find a good Golden Retriever, look at Labrador Retrievers. If you can’t find a good German Shepherd, look at Dobermans, Rottweilers, Giant Schnauzers, Airedales, etc. If you can't find a good Jack Russell Terrier, look at Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Rat Terriers, etc. Don't get so locked into a bad decision, that you go ahead with your feelings and get a dog that your head says isn't going to work out.

Don’t discuss price until you’ve verified everything.

Good breeders have spent a lot of years, money and effort to establish and support their breeding programs. The money you will spend will represent the cost of the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. of the puppy you are purchasing. With some breeds, the breeder has invested huge sums of money to acquire, train, field trial, and show their dogs all over the world. A good dog is worth every penny you’ll spend. It will cost less to train because it will be more trainable. It will cost you less in vet bills because it is less likely to get sick. It will be less of a liability for biting someone because it has a sound temperament. I always buy "quality". It may cost more up front, but it costs less over the long run and avoids potential heartaches.

Hire a trainer/behaviorist to select your puppy for you.

Tell them what you want in a dog and get the breeder in agreement that this pup that your trainer recommends is the only dog you will purchase. Even I try not to pick my own puppy. I get a friend, who is also an expert, to give me some feedback. You don’t want to make an emotional decision. This dog is going to be a new family member, living with you for the next 10 to 15 years. Make sure it’s going to be a dog that you would never give away or have to put down.

Before you take your puppy home, go to your veterinarian for a complete physical checkup.

If anything is wrong, then immediately notify the breeder. Make sure your contract allows you to return the puppy and get your money back.

Copyright 2005 by Sam Basso, All Rights Reserved,

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