Most puppy buyers use the Web to look for puppies. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you realize that irresponsible breeders are not sticking to the penny saver or ads on the supermarket wall anymore. They know where their buyers are, and they know how to pull them in. It’s up to you as a buyer to do your research, but it can be very confusing; bad breeders will try to claim all the same things that good ones do.
Here are some things that help me tell the difference.
1) Good breeders use websites to showcase their dogs and their accomplishments; careless breeders use websites to showcase/sell puppies.
– Good breeders picture their dogs doing whatever it is their dogs do better than anyone else. Show breeders have stacked win pictures; field breeders have dogs on point or holding a duck; flyball breeders have professional pictures of their dogs jumping or coming off the box. There may also be candid pictures or pictures with the family, but it’s clear that the focus of the breeder’s efforts is on something besides pets. Careless breeders just have pictures of the dogs sitting down someplace; in my experience the very worst picture the bitches pregnant or hanging low obviously nursing.
– It’s a major red flag if the pictures of the dogs show them behind wire, especially if that’s the only way you see them. I’ll take a picture through the fence if I see my dogs doing something crazy, but their formal portraits are win pictures and their casual portraits show them at their best, washed and blown out and stacked nicely. If the breeder is giving you lots of pictures of dirty dogs behind chain link, beware.
– Good breeders never have headings called “Mommies” or “Daddies” or “Dams” or “Sires.” They may have “Males” and “Females,” but the dogs are highlighted in and of themselves (and will, as above, be shown doing whatever it is they’re accomplished at doing), not as producers of puppies.
This cannot be overemphasized – the website of a good breeder highlights their life with their dogs, and the accomplishments of that life, whether in the show ring or the stock pen or the field or the agility ring. Puppies are an (important) byproduct, not the focus of the site.
2) Good breeders use the correct vocabulary for their breed and discipline.
Careless breeders will try to appropriate the same type of language, but they always do it wrong. Good breeders will describe a bitch like this: “square and typey, this chocolate bitch has lovely open sidegait and is sound down and back.” Careless breeders will say “She has a nice stride” or “He’s big and burly.”
Good words = typey, sidegait, down and back, sweep (in Cardigans; refers to a dog who is long, balanced, and put together beautifully), balanced, front, rear, socialized, conformation. Careless breeder words = thick, heavy, stride, front legs and back legs (show breeders say front and rear, not front legs and back legs), confirmation. They’ll use nonsense phrases like “relationship stature” or “domestic breeding” or “trained in socialization.” I recently saw one advertise that they breed from “the largest bloodlines available.” My guess is that they mean that their dogs are oversized, but it made me laugh – “My 64-dog pedigree actually has SIXTY-FIVE, so beat THAT!”
3) Good breeders do not highlight the superficial.
They don’t go on and on about how pretty a color is, or talk about how the markings on a puppy are so even and nice and that’s what makes the puppy worth buying. They do NOT breed oversized or undersized dogs; if anything they go out of their way to avoid extremes in size. Many, many health problems in dogs are associated with bizarrely large or small size; if you are looking at a dog under six pounds or over 90 lb. (unless it’s a giant breed and supposed to be that big) you should consider very hard and carefully.
– Good breeders do not brag about unusual colors, coat lengths, eye colors, ear shape, or use the adjective “rare” in association with anything but a steak.
4) Good breeders very, very rarely sell individual puppies before eight weeks.
Responsible breeders very often have the entire litter sold as soon as it is born, but they do not match puppies with owners before the puppies are old enough to grade for show/pet and to temperament-test. Breeders who match puppies with owners before the puppies are old enough to be evaluated are selling puppies based only on color, because that’s the only thing you can tell before the age of seven or eight weeks. Do not buy from a breeder who can only see color.
5) Good breeders do not use the phrase “pick of the litter” or “runt.”
Those are phrases used exclusively by careless breeders. We may talk about a puppy being “one of the show picks” or “small at birth,” but those particular phrases are never used. It’s a myth that every litter has a runt. Small puppies who grow normally and catch up with the others in the litter are perfectly healthy and may go on to be our top show picks. Puppies who are unhealthy and cannot grow normally should never be sold as pets. As for “pick of the litter,” it’s meaningless if you’re a pet buyer. Breeders who use it are trying to sell you a puppy by telling you that it was the very best puppy in the litter. So if someone uses it, ask what they mean. Most will say something about markings, or color, or some other superficial trait. Those things have very little to do with what makes a puppy a top show pick. Another red-flag word is “throwback.” Bad breeders will use this to try to excuse an incredibly ugly puppy who looks nothing like a purebred. You got a Basset with foot-long legs? Throwback. A Lab with a collie head? Throwback. Seventy-pound Dane? Throwback. It’s nonsense.
6) Good breeders virtually never list the weights of their dogs except incidentally.
Bad breeders put it in bold type under the dog’s name. This is a ploy to impress you with how big or impressively small their dogs are. Good breeders do not need to list their dogs’ weights, because they’re breeding to a standard. You already know that their dogs are going to be in a certain range. Bad breeders often try to go appreciably above or below the standard, producing 100-lb Labradors or 2-lb Yorkies, so they concentrate on a certain weight as being evidence of desirability. This is one more way in which they’re selling the superficial and not fundamental soundness.
Imagine buying a puppy with your eyes closed. Do you get the feeling that you have an adequate amount of information to make that decision from this website? Or has the breeder only told you about coat color, eye color, ears, eyes, or other superficial qualities?
7) Good breeders do not reduce the price on older puppies.
If anything, the price goes up. Bad breeders have a market that ends when the puppies are no longer cute. Good breeders are selling a dog whose value increases with more maturity, training, and exposure. Good breeders often retire adult dogs for very little money, but you should never see the price on a three-month-old puppy go down in order to get the puppy out the door.
8) Good breeders have a sense of where their dogs fit in an entire breed and group.
When responsible breeders talk about a pedigree, you should get the feeling that they knew the dogs – back to grandparents at a minimum, but often much further – even if they never owned those or even saw those dogs. As above, they will not talk about dogs in the pedigree as being nice pets, or pretty colors. You should hear about how great-grandsire so-and-so is a top producer of herding dogs, or how this one or that one has multiple titles and a wonderful work ethic. Good breeders have a grasp of health issues in the entire breed, of how their breed relates to other breeds in the same group, and the unique challenges of owning and training the breed.
You should be thrilled with your dog for its entire life, and you should have knowledgeable support from your breeder if anything goes wrong. You should have a sense of value that has nothing to do with cuteness, and you should walk away with the feeling that your puppy represents the best its breed has to offer. If a breeder cannot offer you those things, please go elsewhere. If you don’t care about breed distinctives, please RESCUE and do not buy at all.