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You’ve made the decision to add a purebred puppy to your family, and now you want to know where to find the perfect pup for you. There are numerous ways to find breeders, ranging from your local newspaper to the internet, from dog shows to postings on the gas station bulletin board. With all these options, it can be difficult to tell a legitimate breeder selling healthy pups from the backyard breeder just looking to make a buck.

Despite public perception, most backyard breeders do love their dogs. Many even think that their dogs are the best dogs ever, and they honestly believe that by breeding more “just like Rocky” they are doing a service to the dog-buying public. Despite this, purchasing a pup from one of these breeders results in the acquisition of a poorly bred representative of the breed, often riddled with health problems and costing the new owner more in veterinary bills than a quality pup would have cost.

Compounding this problem is the internet, where anyone with basic computer knowledge can now set up a professional-looking website to promote their “kennel” of pups. After looking over too many breeder websites to count, it can be difficult to tell who the true, reliable breeders are.

Using this checklist when finding a breeder will help you avoid the heartache of purchasing a low-quality pup whose time with you is limited by health and temperament issues.

How many breeds do they own and breed? Typically, a good breeder will have their hands full with two different breeds of dogs. On rare occasions, three breeds can be juggled, but that is not the norm in the dog world. It takes considerable time and dedication to learn the genetic ins and outs of a single breed, to develop a reputation in that breed, and to research pedigrees so that only the best specimens are bred to each other. Working with more than three breeds almost without exception means the breeder is not taking care in their selections, which leads to trouble for the puppy buyer.

Do the majority of their breeding dogs have CKC Conformation titles? Most legitimate breeders have taken the time to purchase quality breeding stock. To make sure that their dogs are of breeding quality, they should have taken their dogs to enough CKC conformation shows to earn the title of Conformation Champion. Occasionally good breeders will use dogs that are not yet Champions in their breeding programs. However those dogs should have points towards their championships, and they should be the exception – not the rule – in their program. Backyard breeders may claim that their dogs have champion lines, but if you look at their pedigrees the champions are often 4 or 5 generations back. If you are looking for a quality dog, you want one whose parents and grandparents are Champions.

Do they health test their dogs? This does not mean that the dogs receive regular veterinary care, or that the dogs have health certificates, or the vet says they are healthy. While these things are important, they do not guarantee the health of the offspring. Every breed has certain genetic ailments that a breeder needs to guard against. For some breeds this is hip dysplasia, others have eye disorders or bleeding disorders. Do some research and find out what genetic disorders your breed is predisposed to, and what health tests are run to screen for them. If the dog is at risk of hip dysplasia, the breeder should be able to provide you with copies of the parents’ OFA or PennHip clearances. If genetic eye disorders are an issue, an annual CERF clearance for both parents should be provided. Do not take the breeder’s word that the tests were done – you want copies of the health clearances in hand before any money changes hands.

Are they breeding dogs that are younger than two years of age? There are some very rare exceptions to this, but overall if the breeder is breeding dogs before they reach the age of two they are not being responsible. Many health tests, including OFA certifications for hips and elbows, are not valid before the dog turns two. Any results before the age of two are considered preliminary, and need to be repeated after the animal turns two years of age.

Do they always have puppies available, or do they have a waiting list? Patience is a necessity when you are searching for a well-bred puppy. Good breeders spend a great deal of time deciding who to breed to whom, showing their dogs, and doing research into genetic disorders and pedigrees. Once they have a litter on the ground, they spend a lot of time in the raising and socializing of their pups. This is a time-consuming endeavor, and good breeders do not take this responsibility lightly. They may have one litter every two years, or a small handful of litters a year. Most good breeders find that their pups are spoken for before the litter is even conceived. Be very wary of someone who has puppies always available, or has an entire litter of pups looking for new homes, as these are hallmarks of the backyard breeder.

Do they have a comprehensive sales contract? Many potential puppy buyers are offended by the fact that they have to sign contracts with sometimes odd clauses. Co-ownership of a promising show puppy, limited registration rights for pet puppies, promises to spay or neuter a pet pup by a certain age, provisions for puppy classes to be taken, and limits on the foods a dog may be fed often seem pushy to puppy buyers. However, the requirement of signing a contract is often a sign that you are dealing with a reputable breeder. The contract should be more than just a bill of sale, it should include some sort of health guarantee – good for the life of the pup, along with the promise that the dog can always be returned (free of charge) to the breeder if the owner can’t keep it. Some breeders include health testing results for grandparents or siblings of the pup you are purchasing, lists of toys that are best for the breed, information on dog foods that the breeder recommends, and information on the vaccination and worming history of the pup. Backyard breeders tend to either have no contract, or a contract that is a simple bill of sale without any other provisions.

Searching for a quality purebred pup can be a slow process, and patience can be hard to come by. However, if you keep in mind that a quality pup purchased from a reputable breeder will be healthier and live a longer life, it will be much easier for you to pass up that cheaper pup offered by the backyard breeder. Those who purchase from the backyard breeder due to the up-front cost considerations often find that they spend more in vet bills than they would have on the purchase price of a quality pup. Good luck, be patient, and remember: you deserve a quality puppy!