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What you need to know before buying a dog from a breeder

Written by Napo HQ
22nd Apr 2022
8 mins read
Before buying a dog from a breeder, you must be able to see the puppy with its mother. A good breeder should ask you questions about your home and lifestyle, and they should gladly answer any queries you have about the pet and its parents. Look for the Assured Breeder’s Scheme and make sure the puppy's parents are health tested. Never pay for a pet before you take them home.
Prices and demand for puppies skyrocketed during the pandemic. There was also an increase in first-time puppy buyers, according to a survey by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC).
The pandemic puppy boom led to “red flags for poor purchasing decisions that encouraged, unfortunately, puppy farming, puppy trading, puppy imports,” said Dr Rowena Packer, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the RVC.
With so many marketplaces online and hundreds of breeders of various qualities, it can be hard to understand what makes a “good” breeder, let alone find one.
But with this detailed guide, you’ll know everything you need to know before buying a puppy from a breeder, including how to sniff out a brilliant breeder and the perfect pet.

Choosing the right breed for you

Hopefully, you’ve thought about whether a dog is the right pet for you and decided a pup is the perfect fit for your lifestyle.
Before buying a puppy from a breeder, you need to figure out which breed of dog is right for you and work from there.
The search for a breeder begins with finding the right breed, said Bill Lambert, health welfare and breeder services executive for The Kennel Club.
“There are 221 breeds registered with us,” he said. “And they all have very different characteristics. There is likely a breed that will suit your lifestyle. Puppy buyers should always research what type of breed is the right type for them,” he said.
Potential puppy parents should be wary of selecting a breed because it is said to need less exercise or help with behaviour. All dog breeds need taking out for daily walking and play, and it is important to always plan to put in adequate time and effort for stimulation and training.

Good breeding: Pedigree or crossbreed?

Buying a pedigree puppy does provide some assurances about what to expect from the dog, said The Kennel Club’s Lambert. 
“The benefit of buying a pedigree dog is that they are a completely known quantity. For example, if you want to buy a Labrador, we can tell you all about Labradors, their pedigrees, how big they will get, and their temperament. They’re more predictable,” he said.
Yet, there has also been a notable rise in people looking for crossbreed puppies. 
“We’re now seeing this phenomenon of designer crossbreeds. And we saw a huge surge in that during the pandemic; these intentional sorts of portmanteau crosses such as your Cavapoos and Cockapoos,” said Dr Packer from the RVC. “Lots of people are looking for a hypoallergenic, non-shedding dog that fits in well into family life. But lots of these dogs aren’t hypoallergenic; there’s plenty of data that you can still be allergic to them,” Packer added. 
“There are lots of lovely crossbreeds. However, they are less predictable,” agreed Lambert. “They will inherit 50% of their genes from their father – you may want the father’s temperament but actually, what you get is the mother’s.”

Where to find a good puppy breeder

Having picked a breed, you need to find a good breeder. So, how do you do it? 
An excellent place to start is with the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeders Scheme. Lambert describes the scheme as “the gold standard for what dog breeders should try and achieve.”
Breeders pay £25 to apply and, if approved, £60 to join the scheme. The Kennel Club inspects all breeders. In addition, breeders must agree to a list of requirements, including registering all puppies with The Kennel Club, agreeing to rehome a dog for its lifetime, and ensuring that any potential buyer can see possible puppies in the company of their mother - a very important part of the process.
A list of Assured Breeders is available on The Kennel Club’s website. You can search for breeders near you using your postcode. Finding a breeder from this list gives you peace of mind before buying a puppy from a breeder, that the dog’s welfare is a priority.
Anna found her Shiba, Watson, through the site. “It [Kennel Club] has that whole Assured Breeders section, which takes the stress out of trying to find breeders that are licensed Shiba breeders. That helped make a shortlist of breeders,” she said.

What types of breeders are available?

Like dogs, puppy breeders come in all shapes and sizes. Many are small-scale; 60-70% of Kennel Club Assured Breeders only ever register a single litter. 
“The vast majority are not people making money out of breeding or who have a business breeding dogs,” said Lambert, who, having bred around 14 litters, is “in the top 5% of breeders.” 
Website Tailwise was set up to counter the rise in puppy farms and has a list of vetted, smaller dog breeders. Chief Dog Officer, Beverley Cuddy, believes smaller breeders provide an excellent start for puppies.  “If the dog is reared in a home by someone who loves mum and gives them a full life, the dog learns to be a valuable member of the family in the first eight weeks,” said Beverley Cuddy, Chief Dog Officer for Tailwise. 
Beverley added, “The person who breeds that litter will care as much about the home that the dog goes to as the person buying should care about the breeder.” 
Yet, there’s no reason to be suspicious just because a breeder has multiple litters; for example, Guide Dogs for the Blind breeds high volumes, but has excellent welfare. 
However, large-scale puppy farms do exist. “Yes, many highly commercial breeders go under the radar,” says Lambert, adding that one red flag to watch out for is multiple breeds on offer. 
“Most breeders specialise in one or two breeds. If a puppy buyer is going somewhere where they have multiple breeds, it may be a warning sign that they are a highly commercial breeder and that profit rather than the puppies’ welfare is the motive,” said Lambert. 

How to buy a healthy puppy

Another key thing to understand before buying a puppy from a breeder, is how to find a happy, healthy puppy.
A reputable breeder will have health tested the puppies’ parents; it’s a requirement of the Assured Breeder’s Scheme and a pivotal question before any potential puppy purchase. “We now have lots of tests that we can do on parents to produce a far better chance of producing healthy puppies,” said Lambert. 
That includes testing on Brachycephalic or flat-nosed dog breeds known to have had breathing difficulties. “We have developed a testing system so that breeders can then make choices. Their airways are listened to by a specialist vet, and those dogs are graded.”
The Respiratory Function Grading test (RFG) assesses the dogs’ capability, allowing breeders to decide whether to breed from the parents. 
Having dogs' health tested is very important; we know that up to 90% of Pugs and French Bulldogs suffering from Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome. It is vital for owners to be doing research to make sure the puppy they’re buying has been bred in a healthy way. 
And this isn’t any different for crossbreeds.
“We do know what breeds have a predisposition towards certain conditions. You may have heard pedigree dogs are less healthy than crossbreeds, but that’s not necessarily the case; we just have more data on pedigrees,” said Lambert.
Dr Packer agrees there are unknowns with crossbreeds. “There is this inherent assumption that they won’t have the same health issues as their pedigree parents because they're crossed. But without health testing to check that their parent breeds don't have problems, we’re potentially having a bit of a ticking time bomb there.”
Whether you’re buying pedigree or crossbreed, Lambert’s advice is to quiz the breeder. 
“If the breeder is a good breeder, they will know all about health testing and what tests they should be doing and what applies to their dogs,” he said. 
A good puppy breeder will expect and welcome questions because they’ll have the puppy’s welfare at heart. Try and get a picture of their motivations. “How often are they breeding, and how much do they know about the breed? Do they specialise?” said Lambert. 
If a breeder is averse to answering your questions, or is reluctant to show the necessary health testing documentation, beware.
You can find out more about how to find healthy puppies in our podcast with Ben the Vet.

What to expect from a good puppy breeder

Similarly, a good puppy breeder will ask you questions because they want the best for their puppy. Anna recalls checks before when she bought her Shiba during the pandemic. 
“We spent an hour on the phone with the breeder. We had to do a little tour of a flat on video and explain our routines and lifestyle and how that would work, which made me feel loads better because they're invested in their puppies,” said Anna.
You should also be able to see the puppy with its mother, said Tailwise’s Cuddy. “The most important thing is to give mum a quality, full life. Dog's behaviour doesn't lie. It's very difficult to fake affection and a relationship,” she added. 
The chance to make multiple visits before you buy is also critical to weed out bad breeders.
“The repeated visit element is vital,” said Dr Packer. “It tackles people who are trying to present as legitimate breeders. We know that is an unfortunate culture of organised crime groups and puppy dealers setting up stunt homes with stunt mums,” she said. 
There have been reports of people using Airbnb properties for a couple of days. 
“If your breeder is willing to let you visit that place twice before purchase, hopefully removing dealers who can't maintain visits over that period,” said Dr Packer.
Puppy contracts are becoming more common, and it’s worth asking for one. A puppy contract will set out the dog’s purpose, terms of sale, what the dog was bred for (for example, a show or working dog), details of health checks – it will typically also commit the breeder to rehome the dog for life if things don’t work out.
Finally, don’t part with any cash before the puppy is in your home.
There are various good breeders to help you find the perfect pup. “Breeders provide a fantastic service because we’re a nation of animal lovers,” said Lambert. 

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