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Questions To Ask The Breeder Or A Rescue Before Deciding This Is Where You Want To Get A Dog

This is part of a ‘Food For Thought Series regarding the unregulated world of dog breeding and training’. More, but not exclusively for people thinking of getting a puppy or dog so they can avoid some of the more common ‘before the purchase’ mistakes. It’s also for those that have a dog and are wondering why things may not be working out.

  1. Series Introduction To: Bad Companion Puppy and Dog Training Advice (Pseudo-Science) Is Now More Common Than Good Companion Puppy and Dog Training Advice (Science)
  2. But At Least We Can Rely On Professionals Like Veterinarians and Vet Techs?​
  3. You Say You Researched The Breed, The Breeder, The Training Or The Trainer…
  4. Questions To Ask The Breeder Or A Rescue Before Deciding This Is Where You Want To Get A Dog
  5. Questions You Should Ask A Dog Trainer – Especially If They’ve Given Themselves A Fancy Title

Distinguishing Between A 'Greeder' and a Breeder, and a Rescue and a 'Rescue-Mill'

Table of Contents

Breeders and Rescues - Caveat Emptor

caveat emptor cartoonIf you ask the questions you’ll find below to a series of dog breeders and rescues you’ll quickly begin to wonder if most dog breeders aren’t puppy-mills, but with better living conditions. You may also wonder if many (and leaning towards most) volunteer-based rescues (breed-specific rescues are often the exception) mightn’t be better described as ‘rescue-mills.’

Ask enough of them these questions, and you won’t wonder for long.

Keep in mind that when it comes to placing a dog in a home, there aren’t really any regulations in place to protect the consumer, so it’s very much the wild-west with far more showmanship (charlatanism may be a more accurate word) than the average potential companion dog owner realizes.

That’s not to say that those ‘breeding’ don’t ‘love’ dogs or the breed. Often it’s their ‘love’ of dogs that’s the problem. “I love cars.”, doesn’t mean you’re a mechanic. “I love children.”, doesn’t mean you’re a child psychologist.

When an industry is unregulated in the sense that there isn’t an educational program leading up to calling oneself a lawyer, teacher, dog trainer, breeder, etc., and post-education a governing body to ensure that standards taught are maintained, it opens the quackery door for anyone with a little charisma and Internet marketing ability. This is the case with the dog-breeding world, and it is the unprotected consumer (and dogs) paying the price.

Ask A Breeder

  1. How do you followup to ensure your breeding program is sound? If a breeder does not schedule followup, regularly during the remainder of a puppy’s critical imprint period (begins at 3 weeks, and over at 12 weeks of age +/- 1 week), monthly after 12 weeks of age and into adolescence, quarterly until adulthood, and annually thereafter, how can they know (or claim) to be breeding physically and mentally stable dogs? Good breeders do this, ‘Greeders’ do not. They can’t fix what can be fixed if as most do, they choose ignorance over self-education. Besides being scientifically sound, it’s just common-sense. To not do so, and still call one’s self a breeder, as opposed to ‘puppy-mill with better living conditions’ is unethical.
  2. May I have a copy of your critical imprint temperament shaping program as applied while puppies are in your care? Most breeders have no idea what this is or believe that it takes care of itself because the pup is with littermates and its mother, or a puppy socialization class. This is far from the truth. (See this article, Puppy Critical Socialization, Fearful Puppy and Reputable Breeders. Or, buy and read this eBook Socialize Your Puppy for Everything by John Wade.)
  3. May my veterinarian contact your veterinarian to verify that all testing for known genetically transmitted issues has been tested in both parents? A breeder may mislead, less likely one veterinarian to another. Additionally, your veterinarian will know what questions should be asked depending on the breed.
  4. May I speak to several people that purchased from these or similar bloodlines (mother or father) 2 years ago? (All puppies are cute. Not all puppies grow up to be physically and behaviorally sound.)

Breeder Warning Signs

Red Flag Warning

Things you shouldn’t give much weight to and consider as potential red-flags:

  • Do they tell ‘The Big Lie’ when they describe the characteristics of their breed?

The biggest (and most common lie) told by breeders is some version of, “‘Insert Breed Name‘ has a “great temperaments. “‘Insert Breed Name’ is good with children. Love, people, etc.

In the U.S.A approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year, with 800,000 of those bites result in medical care. In essence, a dog bites 1 out of every 73 people. Additionally, one out of two children are bitten by dogs in North America before the age of twelve.

One has to wonder how or why such blanket reality-ignoring statements are so widely made in the breeding world. It is worthy of noting that it is breeders making these silly claims that are responsible for some of these bites. One does not tell a puppy buyer they are buying a minivan, when they are in fact buying a Ferrari, and not expect more than a few to end up in a ditch.

Breeders that make such unsubstantiated claims are either ignorant of or ignoring the realities of dogs’ genetics in general, especially certain breeds of dogs and social imprinting influencers. These breeders are almost certainly amateurs or charlatans. They may be well-meaning; they may be merely trying to preserve their income stream. Whether amateurs or charlatans, they should be avoided if they use these tactics instead of providing an accurate review of what the breed in question was bred to do and not to do.

A guarding breed will not stop being a guarding breed because the breeder says they will be gentle and good with all people, children, etc. To state otherwise is dishonest and potentially dangerous. Besides, where a properly bred, socialized, and trained guarding breed may be highly tolerant of the children it lives with, does not mean it will be of their visiting friends.

Beyond genetics, (and even more importantly) the social imprinting that occurs (or doesn’t) between 3 – 12 weeks is a massive influencer for any breed’s outlook towards infants, toddlers, children, senior citizens, people of various ethnicities, etc. Some breeds may have been selectively bred to have higher tolerance (genetics). Still, ultimately the imprint period has a lot to say concerning how the dog will feel and behave.

Breeders can make these dishonest claims because the people on the receiving end of this misinformation will find them very believable – until their dog matures into adulthood.

  • “I’m an AKC/CKC breeder, and my pups are as such, registered.” Reality: Used as a marketing badge of authenticity when it’s actually relatively meaningless. The standards for membership and registering a litter are only that a male and female of the same breed are the parents and that the breeder pays their annual dues, and the litter registration fees. 
  • “The mother/father won ‘best in show’ . . .” Reality:  This is a common, but false badge of ‘honor’. It is an undeniable truth that the majority of show breeders have historically emphasized ‘fashion’ over ‘function’ (the norm in the show world) and are responsible for doing untold damage to dogs both physically and behaviorally due their emphasis on a breed’s look over a breed’s functionality.
  • I’ve been breeding for ____ years.” Reality:  With the above in mind, and the reality that very few breeders follow their litters behavioral and physical stability into adulthood, in most cases, more accurate in to say, I’ve been breeding dogs poorly for ____ years and making money doing so. Someone saying they’ve been married for 30 years is not the same as saying they’ve been happily married for 30 years. It doesn’t mean they’re any good at it. 😄

Ask The Rescue

Red Flag Warning
  1. How reliable is the breed description? It is becoming more common than not, for volunteer-based rescues to intentionally mislead the public as to the history, and, or genetic nature of a dog so as to ‘save’ the dog.
  2. Has the dog been formally trigger’ tested for various common forms of aggression and anxiety? This is a simple but usually ignored workflow to determine what sort of baggage the dog may carry so that the purchaser is not caught off guard.
  3. How sure are you about the breed? Rescues are infamous for the unethical practice of knowingly mislabeling a breed for marketing purposes. For example calling a pit-bull a LabX.
  4. May I see a copy of the surrender information (if the dog wasn’t a stray)? If not, why? In many cases, it’s either because it wasn’t done, was poorly done, or might contain information that would ‘ruin the sale.’
  5. If fostered, for how long, and may I see the assessment/report? More often than not, rather than use this period to test/assess the dog in question, it was merely baby-sat by someone that loves dogs.
  6. What sort of training do those fostering receive concerning canine behavior? Usually, none whatsoever, and as a result their ‘assessment’ of the dog in question, should be taken with a large grain of salt.
  7. What is their return policy? All too often, depending on how thorough their behavior vetting of the dog – far too short a period for the purchaser to learn the dog’s idiosyncrasies. As a result many new owners uncover the hard way, what the rescue should have learned (or revealed) which are often the real reason(s) the dog ended up in the rescue. Almost all rescue dogs will come with some baggage. Matching that baggage with a potential purchaser’s ability to help ‘carry’ that baggage is important. Many people attempting to return or even inquire as to a behavioral aspect they uncovered find themselves wrathfully and unfairly accused of ruining the dog themselves.

Rescue Warning Signs

Red Flag Warning
  • No Kill – Too often, this means “We don’t kill. Hope you don’t have to. Fingers crossed, though.”
  • Do they insist on some variation of ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free/Never Say No/R+…’, treat, treat, treat training. This is an ideology and has become a good sign they may lean more towards rescue mill rather than ethical rescue. No species teaches life skills this way. “No’ is not a dirty word if the dog comes away understanding, “You’re, not, bad, I’m not bad, the behavior was bad.”

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2 thoughts on “Questions To Ask The Breeder Or A Rescue Before Deciding This Is Where You Want To Get A Dog”

  1. If buyers want to know if the puppy they are getting comes from health tested parents they can go to Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. It is a public database and as long as you know the registered name of the parent dog you can research it there yourself.

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