For each breeder you contact, keep track of the answers to each question. Use the checklist provided at these links.
There is an interactive spreadsheet in Excel format that you can download to your computer and create one sheet per breeder. Type in your answers.
Breeder Selection Checklist
There is also a pdf version in case you do not have access to Excel. Download it and print off a copy for each breeder you interview and write in your answers.
Breeder Selection Checklist PDF
To help you know what is a good answer and what is not for each question, there is more detailed information below. Each number matches the question on the checklist.
The sheet is divided into three sections just like this lesson is. The first section is designed to help you rule out breeders that you do not want to follow up with. Make sure to fill in answers and extra comments to help you remember their answers.
The second and third sections give you an idea of how well the breeder provides for your needs, and the needs of their puppies.
Section 3 looks at some really great things breeders could be doing. The more check marks you are able to put in section 2 and 3, the more reputable and responsible the breeder is likely to be.
This sheet is handy since after talking with several breeders, the details will mix together. Writing it down gives you a detailed record of each breeder and offers you a less subjective way to compare the details.
1). Breeds for temperament and health first and foremost.
Does health screening testing on their puppies’ parents (and ideally grandparents). What specific tests these are depend on the breed. Common things they look for are eyes, hips, elbows. There are also medical problems that may not be tested for but you can ask if they are present in the lines: epilepsy, heart, allergies, thyroid etc. Research what your breed or mixes common genetic weakness are before approaching a breeder. They will give you copies of the applicable test results for you to verify yourself. Some types of tests need to be done on the puppies: Collie eye anomaly and deafness (for white and merle breeds) are two more common ones. Here is a link to an Orthopedic Foundation of Animals (OFA) article that explains what they do and why it is done.
Here is a list of breeders globally that do health checks on their dogs.
Browse by Breed
Note that dogs that are not recognized by the clubs will not be listed (such as Australian Labradoodles or breeds not recognized by the local kennel club). They have their own registries that you will want to check to see what tests they do.
2). Be a member in good standing of a breed club.
Membership in a breed club is a good sign if the breeders follow the club guidelines for breeding. Find out what the breed club’s guidelines are and ask the questions if they do the specific requirements (health checks etc). Some breeders will join a club but not follow the rules. Since most clubs do not check on their member’s practices and rely on outsider reports before they will investigate, it pays to be diligent.
Check out the Puppy Culture program for a listing of breeders who follow the puppy culture raising strategies. Avidog is another program that helps develop well-rounded confident dogs.
“Master Breeders” are long time members (at least 20 years) of the Canadian Kennel Club. Look for that name in the CKC breeder listings.
The American Kennel Club has “Breeder of Merritt ” program which is now the “Bred with HEART” program.
Note: There are some breeders who are also breeding mixed-breed dogs with the intention to improve the health or temperament of the original breed. This is frowned upon at this time by most AKC and CKC breed clubs so they are usually excluded. This does not mean they are “bad” breeders. Check out the Functional Dog Collaborative Facebook Group for more information.
3). Sells you a puppy or dog directly from their home environment and not sell through brokers or pet stores. A “Broker” or reseller will take a litter from one geographic location without the mother and resell the puppies in another location. Keep in mind that some unreputable rescues are no more than brokers. You easily could end up with a broken dog.
4). Will not breed a female or male until s/he is physically mature (2 years old for most breeds).
Will not breed a female any more often than every other heat cycle (unless they can state reason to do so such as recent studies).
5). Retires females from breeding at a reasonable age for the breed. Usually after no more than 3 to 4 litters in her life.
6). Will not allow you to take your puppy home until at least 8 weeks old. (This is law in most states and provinces.)
The ideal time to remove a puppy from its litter and mother to becoming a service dog is between eight and nine weeks.
By this time the puppy has had a chance to begin to develop both dog social skills needed as an adult and develop bite inhibition (the ability to control the amount of pressure he bites with). Bite inhibition is critical later on when the dog is faced with a situation that puts them over threshold and he is forced to bite. A dog with bite inhibition is more likely to bite softly than a dog that has not developed bite inhibition. Taking the puppy home at this age, gives you 3 to 4 weeks to to grow the puppy’s brain through socialization and environmental enrichment before the sensitive period starts to close. Taking a puppy home much later than this reduces the amount of time for you to expose the puppy to the people, animals, places and events (that you need him to be comfortable with later in life) during the sensitive socialization window. For most breeds, by 12 weeks the window is already closing and socialization window has declined by 16 weeks.
Getting a puppy over 12 weeks of age requires that you rely heavily on the breeders (or previous owners) efforts at socialization. Are you willing to take that risk? If yes, get a list of everything the puppy has been positively exposed to. Also ask about any fear issues that may have shown up in that period. The breeder may want you to pick up puppies and drive them home, rather than flying them home or other way of transporting them. Some breeders will not ship puppies, especially at certain times of year (too hot or cold in cargo), or during a fear period. Some may allow it if you (or someone you trust) takes the pup as carry on in the passenger part of the plane. This only applies to puppies of suitable size to fit under a seat in a bag in. Some airlines will not transport dogs or puppies.
7). Provides at least a two year guarantee on their puppies.
That is, if a genetic health defect occurs in the first two years, they typically will either pay for part of all the vet bills (depending on what the issue is, how much you paid for the pup and if you played a contributing factor), replace the dog with another puppy of similar value (in the case that the dog needed to be humanely euthanized with the prior knowledge and written permission of the breeder), replace with a suitable adult dog (if one is available) or give you a refund for the dog.
8). Raises puppies in the house underfoot.
This location is critical for maximum brain development so you want to make sure you can see where they are raised. (Look for cleanliness, indoors, accessibility to family life, people and noises, other family dogs, access to different surfaces and environments (indoors and out)). Ensure multiple daily (brief) positive handling, play and interactions with people of all ages (their family and friends) from the time they are born.
Puppies that are raised by one sex only, away from the family in our garage or outdoor building like the shed, barn or kennel, do not have the desired exposure that a potential service dog needs.
9). Starts gentle handling training (paw handling for nail clips, ear checks, hands on all over for grooming and vet visits, etc) at about week 4.
But the handling is never rough or aggressive. Examples include picking up puppies by the ears, scruff of the neck only or letting/encouraging adult dogs pin the puppies aggressively are not good signs.
10). In addition, the breeder should make a conscious effort to bring in people of all ages sizes shapes were in different clothing with different voices and different ethnicities as possible without disrupting or stressing the puppies.
11). Encourages you to visit regularly from week 4 or so onwards to help socialize the litter to people.
They may ask you to clean your shoes in a solution or that you refrain from visiting if you have been with other litters in the last few weeks to prevent spread of disease. Parvo is a big concern for all breeders.
12). Have completed at least one vet visit where puppies receive first inoculations and a look over by the vet before they are taken home.
13). Will provide lifetime support for their dogs.
This means they will be available by phone or email for help in raising the puppy through the various life stages, make training referrals, provide support for health issues etc. This also means that should you need to be unable to care for your dog and need to re-home him or her, they will either take the dog back and re-home it or help you to place the dog directly.
14). Will not charge you extra because the puppy is registered.
In Canada, it is actually illegal for them to charge more for a puppy or dog just because they are registered with the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC.)
Do not allow cost of the pup to decide which breeder you choose. A good breeder may cost less than a poor breeder (you see this with popular or rare breeds). A mixed breed pup from untested parents is usually cheaper than a tested purebred, but if the history of parents or pups is unknown it is not a bargain and you will pay later on in heath or behavioral issues causing the dog to fail being a service dog. The purchase price is small compared to the long term costs of owning a dog, even if it is an “expensive” dog.
Price is a personal thing for the breeder. It is usually based on a combination of stud fees, health tests, vet bills to pay for mother and pups, average litter size, breed popularly or rarity of the breed, titles on parents etc. If the breeder is a member of a breed club, they may set the price range for puppies.
It is common for there to be a different price between breeding quality pups and pet pups. There should not be a differential between males and females though. That is an arbitrary price increase and a red flag.
Be careful how you handle asking about the price and when. Don’t start off with that. Work it in the conversation and only near the end if you feel you want to pursue this breeder. If they feel that price will be your main criterion, a good breeder will lose interest in you as a potential owner.
Avoid taking a puppy that has been sick (parvo or other gut-related diseases) or from a litter that had sick puppies even if your pup didn’t get it. There is a strong relationship between puppies with gut issues and future misbehavior (anxiety, aggression etc).
Summary of Step 1
If you like the answers to all of the above questions, and it feels good to interact with the breeder, they can be added to your keeper list. Any that didn’t answer questions to your satisfaction, you didn’t like the answers to their questions or don’t feel right, or maybe don’t come across as knowing their dogs, can be crossed off your list for further consideration.