1. Research breed(s). Learn in theory (books/articles) and then in actuality (meeting the dogs and their owners). Good places to look are akc.org, dpca.org, and at shows to meet owners/breeders. Consider temperament, care and grooming needs, breed associated health risks, exercise needs, size, etc and how it fits with your lifestyle. Consider your commitment if you are ready to invest the time and finances to a new family member for 10+ years.
2. Define your specific interests and requirements. Are you looking for a pet companion or do you have interest to show or do working sport? Do you want to do performance like agility or competitive obedience?
3. Research breeders. When you "research" a breeder, again this should be done in theory (reading about them and reviews if available) AND in actuality (phone/meeting in person). (*see note about etiquette at bottom of page before inquiring) There are three main types of breeders you should know about.
1) Puppy Mills. This is a commercial dog breeding facility. They breed dogs for profit. We associate this practice with filthy inhumane conditions which is what a lot of puppy mills are, but you may not realize that many clean and well kept "kennels" are actually "puppy mills." This is when there are many dogs, many litters, and sometimes many different breeds. There is little to no commitment and limited knowledge from the breeder. Depending on the price charged, these dogs could be very cheap or very expensive. The risk for future breaking your heart (behavioral and health conditions, early death) and breaking your bank (vet bills) are high. Please do not support this practice.
2) Backyard Breeders or BYB. This does not mean they literally breed or raise dogs in the backyard, but that they breed with little knowledge or qualifications for their program. If they are breeding for pets, for money, for a fun experience, etc they are practicing "backyard breeding." Although many BYB's are well intentioned, the risk for future breaking your heart (behavioral and health conditions, early death) and breaking your bank (vet bills) are still very likely because they are breeding blind (without an actual knowledge of pedigree's health and longevity, the dog's genetic health, etc).
3) Reputable Breeders. These types of breeders are incredibly dedicated and committed to the breed, to the dogs they produce, and to the owners of their puppies. They use the breed's written standard as a blueprint for what they produce. They are knowledgeable and willing to share that information with you. They are involved in show/working/breed appropriate venues because this is where we learn more and have our dog's structure/temperament/abilities qualified for possible future breeding. Their dogs are fully health tested and of appropriate age and condition to be bed. They carefully interview prospective buyers and a contract is provided for each puppy along with spay/neuter requirements and limited registration for pet homes. These dogs may cost more but because the breeder has invested so much into the quality of the breeding dogs and the quality and longevity in the bloodlines, is so dedicated in raising them well in the first critical 8+ weeks, and they follow up with you for life, then it is very likely to have a healthy happy experience.
Some questions to consider:
1. What is the overall goal of the breeder's program?
2. Are they knowledgable and thorough about their bloodlines?
3. What is their experience in raising/breeding dogs and in the breed?
4. Are they active in show/working venue? Do they title their dogs?
5. Do they fully health test their dogs prior to breeding?
(Look at proof and discuss the results.)
6. Are the dogs being bred at appropriate age and condition to be bred?
(Dogs are sexually mature and "able to be bred" by 6-8 mos in males and 6-12 mos in females. But the quality and health is not evident until the dog is mature physically and mentally and has been validated by show/working titles and official health testing (2yrs old). It is unhealthy mentally and physically for a bitch to be bred on her first heat cycle or on every cycle or for many litters or well into old age.)
7. What environment are the dogs and puppies raised in? What temperament testing and socialization is done?
(Some breeder's raise their dog's like family and in the home. Others have too many dogs to keep in the house so they are in kennels or on rotation. The first 8weeks of a puppy's life are critical for socialization and positive experiences acclimating them to the world like walking on new surfaces, playing, going outside, attention and interaction, toys, etc. Getting this kind of careful early stimulation will produce a well adjusted puppy whereas puppies without those experiences are likely to be frightened, hesitant, and may never grow out of it.)
8. Do they breed carefully thought out selective litters, usually limited occasion, or do they have puppies all the time?
9. Read and discuss the contract for ownership.
10. Do they provide you with instruction and commitment to answer your questions and help you along once you get your puppy? Do they care to receive future updates?
11. Overall do you get a good, trustworthy impression? Are they professional?
12. If you are unsure, is the breeder happy to provide references for you to contact?
13. Does the breeder thoroughly interview you, or are they more focused on a "sale?"
14. When you talk about price are they upfront with you and in an appropriate range? Pricing that is considerably high or low is a red flag. (see our PRICING page for more general info and discuss with other breeders so you know what is an appropriate fair range before assuming it is high or low)
15. Do they arrange for the ears to be cropped by an ethical and skilled veterinarian? Will they stay involved with aftercare and expertise for posting the ears? Vaccines/deworming/dew claws/tail docking?
(Ear cropping should always be arranged by the breeder by a vet they trust. If the breeder does not provide this, they are basically saying they don't care how it is done to their puppies or what the results look like. Tail docking and dew claw removal is done between 3-5 days old. For successful ear cropping it should be done between 7-9 weeks of age, later than 12 weeks is risky.)
Besides the obvious from the above questions here are some RED FLAGS on breeders:
(There is a breed standard for a reason, it is unethical and risky to produce extremes. If you insist on an extremely small or large version, consider to look in rescues but be prepared for health and physical conditions.)
2. Rare Colors
(Note there are 4 acceptable colors for Dobermans: black, red, blue, and fawn or also called Isabella. All have the tan or rust markings. Read more on ABOUT BREED section but just know that albino or white is a serious fault/risk and due to color genetic testing the outcome in a litter is predictable. Blue is a dilute of black and fawn is a dilute of red, they are often associated with some health concerns like poor coat quality and hair loss, consider it carefully. No breeder's lines are "perfect" in dilute varieties but some have better reputation. And dilute variety is NOT RARE and should never cost more.)
3. "Health Certified"
(If you see a statement like "health certified" and nothing else it is a red flag. Verify that the specific tests were done, and not just an overall check up. See HEALTH for more info.)
4. Breeding for pets
(A reputable breeder breeds for the betterment of the breed. They breed according to the standard and for health and temperament. They will also be proving their dogs deserve to have their genetics passed on. Showing and competing is costly and requires much time on the breeder's part. In every litter there will be puppies not to the standard enough for showing and these will be sold as pets. Breeding only for pets shows they have no interest in improving the breed. If a breeder is only breeding for pets, this does not excuse them of needing to do health tests and titling.)
5. Puppies always available (quantity over quality).
6. Multiple breeds and/or far too many dogs.
(Each breed requires so much knowledge and commitment from a reputable breeder, it would lessen the quality and be very difficult to manage many breeds. Some breeders specialize in just one, but it is reasonable for a breeder to do well in a couple breeds. Handlers may have multiple breeds on site that they show for clients. But breeding many-several breeds is generally a red flag and could mean the breeder is acting as a "broker" - reselling dogs for profit.)
(No dog can be "guaranteed" of anything. But lots of breeders include "guarantees" including ourselves. Here's what you need to know - it does not mean the dog will not contract any of the issues the guarantee covers, if that is what the guarantee states then know it is impossible. What the guarantee really provides is peace of mind and commitment from the breeder that IF the dog does develop one of the listed issues, the breeder will compensate or assist somehow as the contract states - which is a good thing but not all breeders have it.)
8. Lack of detail or interest in the dogs/breeding/questions you ask.
9. Lack of "screening" or qualifying in potential buyers. It shows they don't care.
10. No pedigree knowledge.
(This is a really simple test that can show you A LOT about the breeder. Just ask them what bloodlines their dogs have and to explain some details about the line/pedigrees. They should be able to tell you names, titles, longevity and health research, inheritance, and other notable information about the bloodlines they work with. If they don't even know the names or what the dogs are known for or where they come from - they don't know what they're breeding. Also no bloodline is "perfect." If they claim to have no issues ever in the history of the ancestors they are either misleading you or don't know enough. Steer clear.)
(This one can be interpreted differently and is a bit of my own opinion. Practically everything is done on the internet these days. A breeder should want to show off their dogs and share information to all. They should be an advocate for the breed and aim to educate. If a breeder has no website or the site is misleading/difficult to follow/poor quality - this COULD be a reflection of their program. Keep in mind that some breeders are just not as "tech savvy." Decide for yourself whether this is an important factor or not.)
(The attitude and tone of the breeder will say a lot! Do you get a good vibe? If they are "salesy" this is a red flag. They should be concerned about the placement of their puppy and not about "making a sale." )
4. Select breeder and maintain contact. After careful consideration to the questions above and more, go with what you feel comfortable with. Fill out the necessary paperwork and pay your deposit when the puppy/litter that suits you is available. While you are waiting for your puppy, follow the steps in our PUPPY TIMELINE to ensure you are prepared for your new family member.
5. Enjoy your pup and follow up. Don't forget to thank and update the breeder! Raising puppies is hard work involving many sleepless nights and lots of puppy poo-poo. The real reward is hearing and seeing how successful and loved the offspring are in their placements. Also keep in mind that puppy phase can be challenging for the new owner, but just enjoy and love your pup and with proper training they will mature into a reliable adult in proper time.
*A NOTE ABOUT ETTIQUTE
Most reputable and successful breeders are not in any struggle to "sell puppies." They often have far more over-qualified homes for their puppies than they could ever produce dogs for. This means they will be selective in whom they approve. This means you cannot be demanding and are not in a position to negotiate. Placement of the puppy comes down to timing of the best matched owner to the best matched puppy. Here are some things I consider red flags from potential buyers...
1. Price. If price is the first concern and/or first question, I usually write this person off because their priorities are not consistent with mine. DONT ASK PRICE FIRST. And don't ever ask a breeder if they will come down or negotiate with you on price. This is the adoption of my precious baby to your family - not a sales transaction.
2. Professionalism. Please don't have your receptionist call me about a puppy. Yes that has happened. Try to arrange a time when your kids are occupied so we can talk relatively uninterrupted. Don't call when you are driving, on your way into a movie or meeting, or on your lunch break. Choose a time when you will be fully available to have a quality discussion. Crude language is not appreciated either. Treat it like a job interview almost, have some information and questions prepared.
3. Track record. I'm going to ask about your current pets and household and lifestyle etc. If you have been irresponsible with pets in the past (giving them away, lack of care, lack of training, breeding negligently, etc) then it is not likely I will trust you with one of ours. People are always learning though so if your past has some concerns, the best thing to do is be honest and find a way to show your new commitment and responsibility. Understand that if you just don't fit with the breeder's level of expected care and values - they may deny you. That would be a good point to reevaluate yourself as a pet owner.