A reader writes: "Dear Gail, As a first-time dog owner, I enjoy reading your weekly column in the NH Sunday News. Could you shed some light on what to look for in a 'reputable' breeder?
"We wanted a cocker spaniel and visited one breeder who insisted on placing the pup when she was only 6 weeks old and didn't have a health certificate. Plus, the mom had to be locked in the house because she was so aggressive. We could hear her growling and snapping behind the door. That was my first visit. Luckily, we visited another breeder. 'Susie' was the last pup in the litter so we had no choice, but she was very friendly and smart. Mom and Dad were friendly and personable, so we took Susie home. She has turned out to be a lovable, friendly, smart dog, but I consider it dumb luck that we ended up with a good dog. If you could give your readers some pointers as to what to look for in a breeder, that would be great. I'm sure that there are some 'first-time dog buyers' out there that would appreciate it."
What a great question - and a timely one because we're looking to adopt a puppy soon, and I've been in contact with several breeders. Let me describe what I look for in a reputable breeder. She (not to be sexist, but most breeders are women) is interested in bringing healthy, quality puppies into the world. She breeds only dogs with good temperaments and screens for health issues that might be prevalent in the breed. These include hereditary problems such as hip dysplasia, eye problems, hearing and blood disorders and the like. She chooses her stud dog carefully, making sure that he, too, is healthy with a good temperament and has physical characteristics that enhance the breeding.
A reputable breeder obeys state laws, which in New Hampshire require a health certificate and prohibit giving away or selling a puppy under the age of 8 weeks. But the reasons she obeys these laws are less because of the law than that it's right for the puppy and the new owner. Placing a puppy at 6 weeks is harmful to the puppy. (I'll write about the important time periods of a puppy's life in a future column.) Further, buying a puppy without a veterinarian's certificate is foolish and can be heart-breaking and expensive. For most dog lovers, all it takes to fall in love with a puppy is taking it home. From that moment on, if the pup is sick and requires extensive veterinary care - well, you already love it. You'll spend the money. A veterinarian's health certificate goes a long way toward protecting the buyer from this distressing situation.
A big clue about whether a breeder is reputable is how she handles inquiries. Good breeders carefully screen the people who adopt their puppies. They ask prospective buyers at least as many, if not more, questions than the buyers ask the breeder. Questions might cover topics such as what has happened to previous dogs you have owned, do you have a fenced yard, what other breeds have you owned and what training have you done. Of great importance is what you're looking for in a dog and learning about you, your family and lifestyle. A good breeder works hard to match the personality and temperament of the puppy with the right home. For example, a family with young children wouldn't be a suitable placement for a puppy that is protective of objects and that might nip a child. Or a quiet, shy, timid puppy should not be placed with a large, boisterous family that engages in outdoor activities and wants a dog to share their active life or to compete in performance events.
Finally, the reader's experience was more than dumb luck. She trusted her gut feeling about the first breeder and puppy she wrote about. If there is ever a question about the temperament of one or both of the parents, walk away. Temperament is hereditary. If a parent is shy or aggressive, chances are that the puppy will be, too. You need to like and trust your breeder, and ultimately, your pup will be like his parents.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.