Every good breeder should have references to provide of past customers. I personally have not heard of any type of registration or place you can look to see if there are any complaints. I suppose if they are a registered breeder, you could look it up on the Better Business Bureau. But that would mean they would have to be a part of the BBB and I don't believe too many breeders would be. Definitely ask for references and follow up with them. Also, ask what the reference's relationship to the breeder is. You don't want to be getting advice from the breeder's sister, because then you would be getting a pretty biased opinion.
Contact the Great Dane Breed Club (AKC) and find out who they have listed as breeders. From there, a lot is up to your research. Check on health testing in the breeder's program, and ask to see it. You should expect an application form, and a lot of questions from the breeder. Any good breeder screens their dog's future owners, and most have a list a mile long waiting for a puppy. If you can, go to the breeder's house, and have a good look around. Take note of where the dogs are, and how many there are, and what kind of conditions they live in. Ask for references, and follow up on them. Ask to see the breeder's contract, and if there is no spay neuter clause, and the breeder wants a puppy back, walk away. Be careful about what registry the dog is under. You should not have to leave a deposit. You should be able to see the puppy by photograph, on e-mail, until you can go to see them. You should be able to strike up a decent relationship with the breeder, because she should be very interested in who you are, where her puppy is going, and how it is going to be treated. Breeders like to stay in touch with their puppy owners, and she should be available at all times for questions and advice. So, it's not like going to buy a toaster, it's like adding a member to your family. I've probably forgotten something, but I know the other members will fill in the blanks. There is also a sticky under 'Dog Talk' at the home page, which also gives advice about buying a puppy. Good luck, and post pics when you get a puppy!
I think the best and easiest way to insure a breeder is legit is to expect them to be active with their dogs outside of breeding. It's a lot harder to be a puppymill or be shady if you show, or compete in Agility, Obedience, Herding, Tracking etc... and especially if you are a member of a breed club or local AKC chapter. That doesn't always insure a breeder is great - but most Puppymills don't take the time to do these things, and most BYB's don't want other people giving them input on their breeding programs.
Personally - references don't mean a whole lot to me. Any intelligent breeder is going to give you references from a family member or the 2-3 happy puppy buyer's they have had. If you do get references from buyer's they had better be rave reviews. And honestly, I don't put much stock in vet references either. Puppymills have a vet they work with too and if they are going to give you their vets number, you better bet that their vet already knows they are going to get calls from potential buyer's. The vet makes their money off the breeder. If they say something bad the breeder will find another vet (and as a breeder - keeping in mind I do a lot of things lazy breeders don't - I spend somewhere between $5000-8000 a year at the vet in a normal, uneventful year).
I'd rather see a show photo with a clean dog and a normal looking handler.
Ideally, you should visit the breeder's location. Or at least be able to meet them at a dog show where you can see their dogs are clean, in good weight, and have nice temperament.
You CAN buy a puppy over the internet/phone. You just need to ask the right questions and expect high standards of your breeder. Get test results. If it's recommended that hips be OFA cleared - get a photocopy/scan of the certificate or the full registered name of the parents and go to OFA's site and type it in so you can see for yourself they were done. If eyes should be done - the same thing. I wouldn't buy a puppy from a breeder who does no testing.
There should be a "return" policy that is fair to you. Most good breeders will give you all/most of your money back if you're not happy with the puppy in the first week. This is a good sign. It means they are confident you're going to be happy with the dog and have the best interest of the puppy in mind.
Get LOTS of pictures. Pictures of Mom & Dad should be good, clear shots and should NOT look like someone just snapped a picture of them in the yard. A breeder who has any pride in their dogs, and nothing to hide, makes an effort to take nice pictures of the parents for you to CLEARLY see that they are healthy and well groomed. Don't accept excuses for bad pictures. EVER. If they sell puppies over the internet, they should be prepared for you to want a GOOD picture of the puppy and parents. Especially of the parents. If you have a well trained dog (which ALL dogs who are bred SHOULD be or they shouldn't be bred) it's NOT hard to get good pictures. Pictures of the puppy should also be well posed, clear, good quality pictures. Again - if temperament is good, this shouldn't be impossible. If you're getting bad pictures - assume the breeder is hiding something or is just not a smart person - neither helps you out any.
Complaints are hard to find - and even if you do - how do you know they are legit? I sold a puppy to someone 5 years ago. They ended up being totally insane (it happens to breeders too... some people are just nuts and are great and convincing us they are sane until they get the puppy). Their 13 year old son plastered untruths about their puppy and me as a breeder all over the internet. I talked to the parents numerous times and they refused to have their son remove the posts/webpages. I don't have the funds or time to waste sueing a 13 year old kid for slander and liable. I know a couple of great breeders this has happened to. The people usually think it's a great way to try and get a free puppy.
When buying a puppy - have high standards and use your own personal judgement. If it doesn't feel right - it probably isn't. Things are usually too good to be true (example - the $200 puppy with a lifetime guarantee and "breeding rights"). A serious breeder doesn't treat puppies like a product. Ask lots of questions - because that scares the bad breeders and makes the great breeders happy.
Don't rely on someone else to be your common sense. There is no "Breeder Rating Meter" out there. Just like no one can tell you what kind of car to buy, or which doctor to go to. You have to use your own intuition.
Don't buy a puppy because it is the right sex, color, price, or it's available now. Look closely at the breeder. Ask questions about personality, where the puppy is raised and expect the puppy to be brought up as a family member and the breeder to KNOW their puppies.
I do disagree that you can find a great breeder within driving distance. It depends on the breed and part of the country. I used to live in Western SD - there wasn't a reputable Sheltie breeder within 6 hours of me. The ONE within 6 hours only had 1 litter a year - I had to go at least 8 hours to find anyone else. It's tricky to "visit" a breeder with that kind of distance between you and them. As a result you end up either driving 8 hours HOPING you like the breeder and the 1 puppy they have available OR you commit with a deposit, over the phone before you meet the breeder or puppy. I do ship my puppies. I will always offer to go at least 3 hours one way to meet someone (because I'd also rather meet a puppy buyer), but I still deal with people who can't find a great breeder in what I consider "driving distance" (2-3 hours). I actually moved to Eastern SD just because I wanted to get closer to other good breeders and dog show opportunities!
In the midwest there may be a LOT of breeders - not very many are actually good breeders. You're a lot more apt to find Puppymills and BYB's than a good breeder. There are probably 2 dozen cruddy Sheltie breeders in South Dakota. There are maybe 2-3 that are what I consider good. In Iowa - probably 2 dozen cruddy breeders - maybe 6 great ones. When you consider that a great breeder usually doesn't have 20 litters a year - if you're dealing with a breeder who only has 2-3 litters a year, 3-5 puppies a litter, and they grow things out themselves, or trade with other breeders they work with, and show prospect puppies - they may have 5 pet puppies available a year. Then throw color, size, personality... it can be really hard to find the RIGHT puppy from the RIGHT breeder if you limit yourself to someone in a 2-3 hour radius of yourself.
It's always preferred that your breeder be close - but it may be hard to find one who is and I don't think it's mandatory that you visit a breeder's home to insure you're getting a great puppy. There are other red flags.
I'm looking for a puppy as well and there are several breed specific forums where you can ask about a specific breeder. I think it's a great tool. You can also PM a particular member and ask where they got their dog. I think these reference are a little more trustworthy than any reference a breeder can give you. Having said that, you have to take any referal with a grain of salt. They could be some wacko like Abbylynne had to deal with. For me I look at what everyone says and also how respected and established a member is before I trust there advice. You should never substitute someone else's judgment for you own.
Abbylynne, I stand corrected, sort of. It does depend of where you are and what breed you are looking for. I also realize that driving distance is a relative term. I'm in West Texas so I'm used to driving several hours to get anywhere. I also may be a bit biased because I really don't agree with shipping for the average pet buyer, but that's JMHO.
As a show breeder, I choose NOT to ship. I prefer to have the buyer visit my home, see the dogs, ect. I want them to be completely confident in where they are getting their beloved pup from. Also, I prefer to meet people in person. Phone convos reveal alot as well, but that face to face meeting is key to being comfortable with my choice. I agree, references are great, but of course the breeder will choose those satisfied coustomers and not give out those who they know will be negative. A vet reference is a great tool, I cant imagine a vet making up a good reference just to keep them as a customer, I would expect more integrity than that from a vet, I hope.
Research, gut feeling, health guarantees, checking out the premises, etc.
Good advice aside, (ie. visit the breeder prior to exchange of money) is there any known location designated for complaints "after the fact" within TerrificPets.com? I would like to file a formal complaint to this sites administration regarding a breeder advertising here that failed to follow through on a refund. I've navigated a little around the site but haven't found any such opportunity. Any suggestions or direction to such a location would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
The best place to locate a breeder is the national breed club, not a puppy classified site. Every breed has a club, even if they aren't an AKC recognized breed. A few breeds have more than one. Each club maintains a breeder referral list and it's a great place to start. You can contact breeders close to you and if they aren't close enough or won't have any puppies available, they can refer to someone who may not be on the list. Not all breed club members are listed, not all members are ethical (you still have to do your homework) and a breeder doesn't have to be a member to be ethical. Starting w/ the breed club greatly increases your chances of finding a good breeder and it's and great educational opportunity.