A few months back, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued a warning to families looking to buy a purebred puppy. Many Virginia families had become victims of “Puppy Fraud”, paying hundreds of dollars to a breeder only to find that the puppy didn’t even exist.
If you’re looking for that perfect purebred puppy, it can be difficult. Scams like the above exist, but even more so, once you do find a breeder, how do you know if he or she is reputable and trustworthy? How do you know if your breeder makes the health and welfare of his pups a top priority? How do you know that you are not cashing in on a “puppy mill” type of situation? Sadly, puppies are little more than big business to some people and it’s far too easy to be deceived.
How to Find a Responsible Breeder
First of all, I must urge you to visit your local animal shelter for the breed you desire. Call your county shelter, the Richmond SPCA, the Henrico Humane Society, AARF, or Fetch a Cure, to name a few. Although there are not as many purebreds in the shelters as once thought, you just may luck out and find the dog of your dreams. Plus, you’ll feel good about giving a home to a dog in need.
Then be sure and check out the AKC Rescue Network. A large network of purebred dog rescue groups representing 160 unique breeds. You can search for dog breeders specifically in Virginia. This amazing network of volunteers can provide in-depth knowledge about your purebred dog’s history, temperament, health concerns and special needs.
Secondly, ask around. Ask your dog-loving friends, ask your neighbor who walks a dog that looks like the breed you are considering, ask the folks hanging out with their pups at the dog park, ask the good people at your local shelter, maybe even ask the folks at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts to see if they can put you in-touch with a client who owns that particular breed. Another resource is the AKC Marketplace Puppy Finder. The AKC PuppyFinder is “the only site to exclusively list 100% AKC puppies from AKC-Registered litters”. The breeders listed there are required to follow certain rules and regulations established by the AKC for dog breeding.
So You Found a Breeder, Now What?
This is when your intuition needs to kick into high gear. Don’t let your heart rule your head. All the puppies you see will be simply adorable, no doubt. You’ll want to take them all home. But for your sake and the sake of your puppy, be perceptive, observant, discerning. Visits with prospective breeders should be all about transparency. You want to be sure that you find a breeder that produces healthy, well-socialized puppies with good bloodlines (genetics) and temperaments.
First, make a call to the breeder to see if pups are available, then arrange for an at home visit. First impressions are important. Is the breeder welcoming? Does he/she appear relaxed and aboveboard? Is the home reasonably clean, dust and smoke-free? Respect the breeder’s choice of lifestyle, but consider the effects a dirty, smelly home can have on a new puppy.
While interviewing possible breeders, the conversation should go both ways. Your breeder should be just as interested in the wellbeing of the dog after adoption as you are of the wellbeing of the dog before adoption. If your breeder asks little questions of you and appears to not be interested in how the pup will live, you probably want to look elsewhere. A dedicated breeder is devoted to finding the very best homes for their puppies.
Questions You Should Ask the Breeder
Ask to see where the puppies sleep. Is it a clean, healthy environment? Are the puppies comfortable in the home environment or do they seem ill at ease? Do they interact well with the breeder? Are they friendly with you as a stranger? Make note of pups that are unusually scared or apprehensive.
Ask to meet the dog’s parent. There will generally only be one parent available as the other parent is typically from another breeder. Your breeder should be able to give you full details and contact information of the other parent. Ask if health tests have been performed on the parent(s). If both parents are onsite, it may or may not be a red flag. Ask questions, find out how inbreeding is averted.
The health of the puppy is a primary concern. Is the puppy clean? Does he smell good? Are his eyes clear and bright with no discharge? Are the ears clean and odor free? Is his nose moist, but not runny? Is there any fecal matter stuck to the fur on his little hiney? How about his coat and skin… is he soft and shiny, free of dander, irritation, bumps or sores or fleas? How is his weight? He should have a little round belly, but not protruding or swollen.
Don’t be afraid to ask the breeder references. Get in touch with others who have purchased a dog from this breeder and ask about their experience. Look beyond “papers” or “registration”. Having “papers” tells you nothing about the quality of breeding or how the puppy was raised. They really can’t even guarantee that you have a purebred dog.
If you’re looking for a purebred dog that is “show quality”, make sure he has his AKC Conformation. AKC Conformation means that the pup has been verified by an AKC representative to be of the correct breed and in good health. You can also look at some of the health tests that these dogs are checked for: heart, hips, elbows, spine, EIC, eyes, ears, etc. All help ensure a healthier pup and dog, but more importantly, the long-term health of the particular breed.
Many breeds may “die” off because of poor breeding standards as irresponsible breeders are producing pups for vanity purposes only… they’re cute, fluffy, handsome, etc… The poor standards are impacting mixed breeds as well, we can see evidence of this every day in our shelters, groom shops and here at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Thankfully, there are a lot of reputable dog breeders in Virginia who make sure that their litters and future of the breed are sound from a health perspective and meet the breed conformation.
If you find that perfect little fuzzball at a pet store, I strongly encourage you to do your homework. I don’t want to imply that all dogs from a pet store are deficient in some way, or that all pet store owners obtain their dogs come from puppy mills. There are many reports of these types of businesses, but there are truly exceptions. You need to know the integrity of who you are dealing with. Fortunately, disclosure laws will require that the pet store owner provide you with the name of the breeder and the USDA license number. Then you can do your own research.
Best of luck to you!