Finding a puppy: Choosing a dog breeder

Whether selecting your prospective pup from a professional breeder or from a family breeding a litter for the very first time, the criteria are the same. First, look for puppies raised indoors around human companionship and influence. Avoid pups raised in an outdoor run or kennel. Remember, you want a puppy to share your home, and so look for a puppy that has been raised in a home. Second, assess your prospective puppy’s current socialization and education status. Regardless of breed, breeding, pedigree, and lineage, if your prospective puppy’s socialization and training programs are not well underway by eight weeks of age, he is already developmentally retarded.

A good breeder will be extremely choosy in accepting prospective puppy buyers. A prospective owner should be equally choosy when selecting a breeder. A prospective owner can begin to evaluate a breeder’s expertise by noting whether she ranks the puppies’ mental well-being and physical health above their good looks. Assess several factors: whether the breeder’s adult dogs are all people-friendly and well-trained; whether your prospective puppy’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other relations live to a ripe old age; and whether your prospective pup is already well-socialized and well-trained.

Friendly dogs are self-apparent when you meet them, and so meet as many of your prospective puppy’s relatives as possible. Friendly dogs are living proof of good socialization by a good breeder.

Beware the breeder who is only willing to show you puppies. First, a good breeder will take the time to see how you get along with adult dogs before letting you anywhere near the pups. A good breeder wouldn’t let you leave with a puppy if you didn’t know how to handle an adult dog, which your puppy will be in just a few months. Second, you want to evaluate as many adult dogs as possible from your prospective puppy’s family and line before you let a litter of supercute puppies steal your heart. If all the adult dogs are people-friendly and well-behaved, it is a good bet that you have discovered an exceptional breeder.

The single best indicator of general health, good behavior, and temperament is the overall life expectancy of a kennel line. Check to see that your prospective puppy’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other relations are still alive and healthy or that they died at a ripe old age. Conscientious breeders will have telephone numbers readily available for previous puppy buyers and for the breeders of the other dogs in your prospective puppy’s pedigree. If the breeder is not eager to share information regarding life expectancy and the incidence of breed-specific diseases, look elsewhere. You will eventually find a breeder who will accommodate your concerns. Before you open your heart to a young pup, you certainly want to maximize the likelihood that the two of you will be spending a long and healthy life together. Additionally, long-lived dogs advertise good temperament and training, since dogs with behavior and temperament problems generally have short life expectancies.

Excerpted from Before You Get Your Puppy, by Ian Dunbar.

Ian Dunbar is a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and the author and star of numerous books and videos on dog behavior and training. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, trainer Kelly Dunbar, and their three dogs. The Dunbars are contributing editors to DogTime.