Buyers are becoming more diligent in their search for the ideal dog.
The "ideal" dog, even among the more easy-to-find breeds, often cannot be found next door or even in the same city.
Ma Bell and the U. S . Post Office often have a hand in placing puppies these days. More and more frequently, to my delight, buyers are doing their homework before deciding where, when and what type of dog to purchase. The process includes making numerous phone calls and checking references. No longer is buying a pet a matter of simply turning to the fields or to a next-door neighbor.
If you are in the market for a dog, consider carefully what appeals to you not only aesthetically but also in terms of what type of canine pet will fit comfortably into your lifestyle. Talk to vets and owners you meet at dog shows and look for your future companions through magazines such as this one. Many times, the ideal dog, even among the more easy-to-find breeds, cannot be found next door or even in the same city. For instance, I sell most of my puppies to people who come from farther than 200 miles away, and I rarely meet the new owners before they pick up their little guy or gal.
Exercise patience when looking for your special dog. You may need to make several contacts before finding a breeder who currently has puppies or who will soon have a litter. If none of the breeders you contact is expecting a litter within your desired time frame, ask for a referral to another breeder. Take notes, and watch for the same name to pop up from various sources.
Person to Person
Your initial contact with a breeder is a two-way street, and your questions as a prospective buyer should encompass much more than just price. This is your chance to ask questions about health, experience and guarantees. Talk to a vet, and read books to discover the problems that predominate in the breed you are researching. Find out whether the breeder's dogs you are considering are free of genetic defects.
If the dogs are certified free of diseases, such as hip dysplasia, un-united anconeal process, cataracts or progressive retinal atrophy, you will have added insurance of a healthy pup. Some buyers like to see copies of certifications as well as a sample pedigree. If the seller merely says, "We've had no problems," beware. Anyone who has bred more than one litter has had some problem. If they say otherwise, they're either liars or fools-or they should stop breeding dogs and start buying lottery tickets.
Ask breeders how many years they have bred dogs, if they show their dogs, and if so, what titles their dogs hold. Some breeders participate in such activities as therapy or performance events with their dogs. Serious fanciers are usually members of at least one dog club, and because they love their breed and dogs in general, many aid in rescue operations, work on health committees or help with fund-raisers for various canine causes. Don't discount first-time breeders though. As long as the bloodlines are what you want, you might find a bargain you couldn't touch once the breeder has established a reputation.
Guarantees from the breeder to replace the animal or refund money may help ease a prospective buyer's concerns. Exactly what constitutes fair compensation, should the unthinkable happen, varies in each situation. Some sellers stipulate 30 days, others as much as two years. Some guarantees cover anything hereditary; others stipulate only disorders that severely affect the dog's or owner's life, such as a slipped patella, diabetes or epilepsy. One year's coverage for serious problems is the most common for a puppy-or 60 days for an adult-and should be the minimum expected.
Show guarantees should also include disqualifying and, preferably, serious, faults as listed in the standard. Some breeders cover any fault that would prevent the dog from finishing its title, and a few guarantee a championship providing certain conditions are met. The seller may also stipulate various requirements, such as handling by a professional handler or competition in a specified number of shows.
In most cases, when shipped, puppies are on approval. As a buyer, you should be granted at least 48 hours to have the animal examined by a veterinarian and determine for yourself whether the pup is satisfactory. If the dog is not as represented or, in your mind, will not live up to your expectations, you should be able to obtain a full refund by contacting the breeder within the specified period. Find out in advance who is responsible for shipping and out-of-pocket veterinary expenses.
Tell breeders exactly what you expect from your dog: rowdy or mellow, active or laid-back, property protector or buddy to the world. You should also explain whether your plans include show, obedience, agility, performance events or simply a best buddy. Color and gender are of secondary importance unless you plan to become a serious fancier.
Ask the breeder to describe the various personalities of his or her pups. Some breeders conduct formal temperament tests that help them determine which pup is right for each family. These, along with day-to-day observations, demonstrate the pup's place in the pack, its willingness to please, retrieving ability, sound sensitivity and so on.
Some breeders make up packets containing literature about the breed, a suggested reading list, sample photos and a history of their kennel. This is helpful, not only as a sales pitch but also to assist those who are considering more than one breed.
You will want to see photos of the parents and some of their typical puppies. You may even want to look at more than one breed. You and the breeder may both ask for references. (Breeders should supply names of people who have purchased a pup from them, sometimes within your area.) Prospective buyers can give the name of their veterinarian, neighbors or other dog owners.
Once you have made connections with the right breeder for the ideal pup, send a deposit to reserve your dog. Keep in mind that deposits show earnest intent and are rarely refundable. Ask for explicit care and grooming instructions, especially with longhaired breeds. When the purchase is made from someone in Juneau by a party in Palm Beach, it's comforting to know assistance is only a phone call away. Once the pup is safe in your arms, call the breeder to let him or her know the dog arrived safely. Don't be a stranger; keep those calls and letters flowing. Follow the breeder's advice; remember, he has everything to gain by assisting you and everything to lose by steering you wrong.
Your puppy is likely to keep you awake for a few nights. Spend that time wisely-explore the packet that came with your dog. Study its pedigree, sales contract, care instructions and medical records.
The right dog for you could be next door, but if not, the wonders of the telephone and airlines can bring it to your doorstep.
Chris Walkowicz is a breeder of Bearded Collies and a freelance writer. The second edition of her award-winning book, Successful Dog Breeding, co-authored with Bonnie Wilcox, D.V.M, is now available.