Once you have done your homework and found out what the right breed is for you and your family, the next step is to find just the right breeder. It is important to work with the breeder, as they will often be a wonderful resource for you, especially if you wish to show or breed the puppy in the future. Some breeders may even require that they maintain contact with you and the dog, and that any future breeding of the puppy must be approved by the original breeder, to ensure that the breeding will be in the best interest of the dog and the breed as a whole. Typically, the sales contract will indicate all these specification,s and even without this level of detail the breeder can still be an excellent resource.
Typically, breeders that have experience and a true love of their dogs will be more than willing to take all the time necessary to make sure individuals that are purchasing their puppies have all their questions answered. Breeders that seem unwilling to take the time to answer questions, or that do not seem to be able to answer questions are often those that are simply not knowledgeable about the breed. This can be a clear sign that you may wish to look around for a more established breeder, that has more experience with the breed.
The questions to ask the breeder to determine if they are a good choice should include:
1. Questions about the length of time the breeder has been actively involved in breeding or working with the particular type of dog. This can include questions about showing, trials, events and competition as well as about the kennel operation. Most breeders will either be actively involved in competitions and shows, or will operate a kennel without showing. If you are interested in showing your puppy when it matures, it will likely be more critical to have a championship line than if you just would like a dog as a family pet and companion.
2. Questions about the competitions that the breeder is involved in. This will be particularly important if there is more than one type of dog or line within a breed. For example, many of the hunting dogs have a show line and a field line. This means that some of the champions will be show dogs, bred for conformation to breed standards as established by the various Kennel Clubs. There may also be a field line that is bred for the event trials, or their ability to hunt. Typically, both field and show lines can do either, but are more specialized to one type of competition. Even if you do not wish to show your dog, it may be important if you want to use them as a hunting dog for your personal use. It makes more sense to purchase a field line that has a strong natural retrieving, pointing or tracking instinct than the show line.
3. How many litters does the breeder produce per female dog per year? A reputable breeder will only breed one litter per year, or one litter every two years with the large breeds, to allow the females to stay healthy and avoid the stress on their bodies from too many pregnancies in a short period of time. Good breeders put their dog's health, both for the male and female, before anything else. Breeders that seem to always have puppies but only a few females are not considering the health of their dogs, and are more likely to produce unhealthy puppies.
4. Ask to see the kennel. Breeders should be very open to having potential owners see the kennels and the adult dogs in the kennel. Be aware that breeders may not allow you to handle the dogs, especially young puppies, or may restrict your movement in the kennel unless they are with you. This is largely for the safety of the dogs, as well as for liability reasons for the breeder.
The kennel itself should be clean, free from waste or foul odors, and well ventilated and light. In summer months the dogs may be housed outdoors, while in colder winter months they may be inside, depending on the weather and the age of the dogs. Many breeders even in larger kennels will bring puppies into the house a week or so before they are to go to the new owners, to start them with socialization and familiarize them with being inside and experiencing new sounds and environments. Breeders may request to keep the puppies longer than the traditional 8 weeks, as research shows that with the larger and more aggressive breeds, additional time with littermates when they are puppies helps with overall temperament, socialization and adjustment to new environments.
Lastly, the breeder should leave you with a feeling of both confidence and competence. He or she should be able to discuss the history of the breed, talk about health concerns and issues within the breed, and even provide insight and additional information about the breed, the particular puppy and even about potential problems that may arise as the puppy matures.
Many breeders will provide an information package about the breed. This information should include tips and pointers about the puppy you are taking home as well as information about feeding, veterinary care and vaccinations, as well as how to contact them should you have any questions or concerns. A good breeder will encourage you to stay in contact, and may even ask if they can come and check in on the puppy in a few weeks. This should not be taken as an intrusion or question of your ownership abilities, rather as a sign of the breeder's commitment to each of the puppies they breed.
Breeders that are well established in an area can also provide information on grooming services, trainers and pet supply companies that are knowledgeable, or that have a working relationship with the breeder. Some breeders even offer training and obedience classes right within their own facility. This can be a wonderful opportunity to train your dog with someone that is very knowledgeable on the specific breed and its individual training requirements.