Thursday, July 19, 2007

Questions to Ask a Breeder

While there maybe dogs who were bought from newspaper ads, yard signs, local thrift papers or at local flea markets that are healthy and happy, far too many are ill, poorly socialized, genetically flawed dog-catastrophes waiting to happen.

As you search for your perfect puppy and try to screen prospective breeders, here are a few thoughts and questions that could be helpful.

How long have you been in the breed? Why did you begin to bred Mastiff? What other dogs have you bred?

You probably want to avoid anyone who has "switched" breeds every couple of years, from popular breed to popular breed. Are they breeding Mastiffs Just because they get premium prices for the puppies? Look for someone with some experience with the breed. If they are new to the breed, do they have experience with a similar large breed?

Also, be very wary of people who have multiple dog breeds. It is not uncommon to find people breeding more than one kind of dog (for example, quite a few Akita breeders are also interested in Shibas), but a breeder producing litters of many different breeds of dogs and/or "designer dogs" (which are in fact mixed breeds) is not going to be your best source, and probably should be suspected as a puppy-mill or disreputable breeder.

What kind of congenital defects are present in this breed? what steps are you taking to decrease these defects? Do you do any health testing?

Avoid and run like hell for the door when anyone says "none" or "not my dogs!". There are genetic problems that are present in almost every breed. Do some research and look for the information you will need to know what kind of answer you need to get from the breeder. The Mastiff Club of America (MCOA) has a health section with lots of information on genetic problems. Devine Farms site also has lots of health information in it's article section. Both are listed as links to my blog. Tons of good dog books are available online at local book stores that can help explain health problems and health testing.

As a breeder, I can not stress how important it is for you as the buyer to have a good idea of what the correct answers should be. Find out what you need to expect before you fall in love with that cute puppy face. A breeder who can't tell you what kind of things affect their dog breed is not going to be breeding to avoid those same problems.

A reputable breeder should be able to tell you what kinds of problems might be present in Mastiffs (for example, hip dysplasia, entropian, thyroid problems, etc.) and what kind of testing is done to rule out these problems. It goes without saying that the breeder should be doing those tests on all their dogs before breeding. Any dogs that are showing signs of any of these problems should not be bred--avoid anyone who is breeding dogs with genetic problems, or who is not testing their dogs and bitches.

Do you have the parents on site? Can I see them?

For most breeders this is a trick question--most breeders will not own both dogs. They will own the mother (and you should be able to see her), but the best match for that bitch probably belongs to someone else. So. if you see both parents on site, you should be a little suspicious and ask further questions. It could mean that the breeder has a large pool of dogs and is carefully matching them to breed a certain line; or it could mean that they had two attractive dogs in their backyard and had either a planned or unplanned breeding. It's never a good idea to breed two dogs because of connivance--just because you own them does not meant they need to be bred together.

You should be able to see the mother and any other dogs on site when you visit. If the breeder hesitates, you should wonder why. Are the dogs kept in clean, healthy conditions? Are they too aggressive to let loose? You should be very comfortable with any reason not to see the dogs.

Please remember that you should not be interacting with very young puppies, and might be prevented from seeing puppies that are less than 4 weeks old. This is OK, and is simply the breeder trying to eliminate ant chance of illness in the puppies. Breeders don't know what kind of dog diseases you may be carrying, and don't want the litter to get sick.

What are the good and bad points of the parents? Do the Parents have any titles?

Breeders will usually gush and begin to enumerate all the wonderful qualities of their dogs, but the best will also point out their flaws. What you're looking for here is temperament, possible aggression, how the dogs deal and interact with people, and how they are not "perfect."

As for titles, reputable breeders show their dogs, and should be working toward a championship if not a champion already. This is important--while there are many wonderful dogs out there that haven't seen the inside of a show ring, if the breeder is truly trying to improve the breed , they will be comparing their dogs to other breeders and trying to breed dogs that match the standard. The only way to do that is to show their dogs.

Many breeders compete in obedience as well, and will have Companion Dog (CD) or other obedience titles for the parents. AKC also awards the Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) to dogs who pass a temperament certification. Dogs with Therapy Dog International (TDI) titles have also passed a test requiring obedience and temperament parameters. Titles at the end of the name are just as important as titles in the front! Any of these titles are good benchmarks to judge temperament and behavior in the parents.

Can you explain the puppy's pedigree?

A good breeder should be able to tell you something about the dogs in your puppy's pedigree. A good breeder should be able to give you a 3-5 generation pedigree on the litter. Have them explain the often cryptic letters and titles awarded, and get a good feel that they know the lines they are breeding from well. At the very least5, they should be able to provide you with a 4 generation pedigree and be able to tell you about the dogs in it.

If you see the same dogs listed a few times on the pedigree, the breeder should be able to point out any line breeding and inbreeding and explain the benefits and dangers of both.

How Many litters do you have a year?

Some small breeders may breed 1 or 2 litters every year or every other year. Most serious Mastiff show breeders breed every year and the number of litter may vary from breeder to breeder. The Mastiff Club of America accepts 8 litters every 24 months as an acceptable limit.

Definitely avoid anyone who "always has puppies", or who is breeding their bitch more frequently than twice every two years. If someone has three or more litters (especially if they note that it was "unexpected") on the ground at the same time--they are certainly not planning these puppies. All litters should be 'expected' and well planned. If they are not, it's a crap shoot as to whether you're going to get a good puppy or a nightmare.

What guarantees do you have for this puppy?

At the very least, the breeder should guarantee the puppy against any debilitating genetic problems, insure the puppy is in good health, and place these statements in a contract.

A breeder should be prepared to take back any dog for any reason--part of being a ethical breeder is making sure that the puppies they bred have good homes and that it stays that way.

When Can I take the puppy home?

Puppies usually go home between 8 and 12 weeks. Avoid anyone sending tiny puppies home.

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