Just as your house and living space says a lot about you, the breeder's kennel says a lot about them and how they care for their dogs and puppies. Most breeders are very happy to have prospective buyers come through their property and look at the kennels, whelping areas and to see the adult dogs in their environment. Breeders that seem to avoid having potential owners to the kennel area may be concerned about either the condition of the kennels, the condition of the adult dogs, or possibly other issues that may be occurring at the kennels. The more open and honest the breeder is, the easier it will be to work with them in the future.
It is important to remember that breeders may have specific rules or expectations for visitors to the kennel to follow. Some of these rules may include only visiting one kennel per day, and not bringing any other animals, (including your own dog) or even children onto the kennel property. This is a safety issue for both your pet and the dogs in the kennel, as well as a way for the breeder to control any possible communicable disease between outside dogs and dogs in the kennel. Very young puppies have less immunity than adult dogs, and must be protected from contact with other dogs until they are vaccinated and their immunity is developed.
In addition to not bringing your own pet, the breeder may request that you disinfect your hands or even wear paper covering over your shoes when entering the kennel area or handling the puppies. Again, this is a proactive measure to ensure that the puppies and dogs are not exposed to any bacteria or germs that may be brought in from those having contact with outside dogs and other types of animals.
The specific issues within the kennel facility that a prospective puppy buyer should look for include the following:
Open and Clean
The kennel area should appear clean and neat. This means that the walls or pens should be painted and well maintained, free from areas where dogs have chewed, where paint is peeling, or where there is rust on metal fencing. Chewing tends to indicate dogs that are bored or not properly exercised. Peeling paint and rust can be potentially dangerous to the health of both the dogs and any young puppies. Many breeders will keep the dogs and puppies in metal pens or runs rather than in wooden enclosures, simply because metal can be more easily disinfected and has less likelihood of becoming moldy or carrying bacteria on the surfaces.
Dogs in kennels should typically be housed in reasonably sized kennels, or runs that will allow them enough room to walk around, have space to play and lie down as well as to get a bit of exercise in the kennel. In addition, the kennel should also have larger enclosed spaces to allow dogs to get out and really run and romp. Depending on the breed and size of the dogs, these areas similar to a small yard or garden area or may be much larger. There may also be training equipment and play equipment in the exercise yards. The exercise yards should look well used, and well maintained as well. Most breeders will allow the dogs to socialize within the exercise yards, and you may notice that small groups of dogs are in the exercise yard together. This is an important part of the socialization process and is wonderful for the dogs. Puppies, depending on their age and stage of development, may or may not be using the large exercise yard, but there will typically be a smaller, more secluded exercise space for the litter of puppies. Adult males and other females in the kennel usually will not interact with the puppies until they are older.
Water and Ventilation
The whelping pen and all other pens and runs within the kennel should have access to clean, fresh water. This is particularly important in outside pens, where the dogs will be in direct sun or will be exercising. Many kennels have automatic waterers, that provide a constant supply of clean water to the various runs and enclosures. The bowls should be very clean looking and free from any waste, food or fecal matter. Dirty water is often the biggest carrier of disease, and is one of the easiest to control. Once puppies start drinking on their own, the water bowl should be cleaned and disinfected several times per day.
Fresh air in the kennel area is essential as well. Of course there will be a slight "doggy" odor in the kennel, but it should be very minimal. The area around the puppies should be well ventilated but not in any direct draft, under air condition units or in direct airflow from heating vents. These two extremes in temperature can add to the stress on puppies, and contribute to possible health conditions and respiratory infections.
Condition and Temperament of the Other Dogs
While at the kennel looking at your soon-to-be new puppy, take the time to look around at the other dogs in the kennel. Ask the breeder's permission to look around, or request a guided tour of the kennel area. Check the condition of the other runs and pens, but also watch for signs of healthy and alert dogs that are well behaved and well mannered. Dogs in kennels should be alert and interested in new people, and of course may bark, but they should calm down when they see the breeder is present. They should be responsive to the breeder, and appear happy to see him or her. Dogs that shy to the back of the kennel, have no interest in the breeder approaching, or that appear overly aggressive may signal that they are not emotionally connected or bonded to the breeder. Often, this is a sign that the dogs are not socialized, and may impact on your puppies temperament.
There are also small breeders that tend to keep the litters in their own homes. This is one of the best options if you wish to have a companion dog that is well socialized and started on a housetraining routine when they come home. If the breeder has started on a housetraining program, be sure to find out about the program, so you can continue it in your home. Changing the housetraining program as well as moving the puppy to a new environment may be confusing, and may lead to a delay in housetraining for the puppy.