A friend who I used to work with had a dog of the same breed, I got in touch with her and asked about her breeder. She gave rave reviews and we contacted them and were subjected to a pretty thorough interview process. Luckily we were deemed to be suitable puppy parents and advised that they were planning for a litter of puppies early in 2016 and they would be back in touch in late November or early December.
We didn't want to be pushy, but by the end of December we hadn't heard anything, we contacted them to be told that due to ill health, the owner had had to give up puppy breeding. We were naturally disappointed, but with the saga of Andrew's ill health in the first couple of months of the year, resigned ourselves to thinking that it was all for the best.
Once Andrew was fully recovered, the subject of puppies inevitably came up again. This time we were on our own. We joined a couple of forums for the breed we wanted and started researching. We were nervous about being sucked in by a puppy farm and didn't want to risk getting a poorly puppy and so were looking for a breeder with a good reputation. Unfortunately what we found was that there were very few approved breeders within a couple of hours of where we lived. We mulled it over and decided that the quality of the breeder was much more important than convenience. The name of one breeder had come up a number of times, with owners who'd bought dogs from him singing his praises, both in respect of him personally and the quality of dogs he produced.
We contacted him, he wasn't the easiest person to get hold of, but when we did it was worthwhile. He chatted to Andrew on the phone for about an hour, about what we should be looking for in a breeder and telling him more about the breed. He was happy for us to come and see his set up, but advised us to see at least two other breeders first, as it would make our trip to see him more worthwhile. I grumbled a bit, as it is so difficult to find local breeders, but accepted it as perhaps a test of our commitment to getting a dog.
I'd seen one breeder mentioned online, about 45 minutes from us. She was a hobby breeder but I'd seen some good feedback. We contacted her and asked if we could visit and she agreed. I'm not sure if it's unusual to meet a breeder when they don't have any available puppies, but she didn't really seem to know what to tell us. Luckily we'd gone armed with plenty of questions. She had one dam currently in pup waddling around, and the father was bouncing around as we chatted. It was good to see both parents, but the puppies weren't quite what we were looking for and we were anxious that she wasn't giving the puppies their first injections whilst they were with her. However, she was a hobby breeder and had had issues with conflicting types of vaccines before, so I could understand her point of view.
Our next visit was to a commercial puppy breeder about ninety minutes from home. Just writing that, it sounds like a puppy farm. They assured us that they were fully licenced, but not being able to see where the dogs lived, and only being able to meet the dogs they had chosen for us to see made me a bit unsettled. They even suggested that as a first time dog owner, we shouldn't proceed with our puppy choice, but should choose something slightly different (and coincidentally something that they had an unsold litter of!) It was a much more professional outfit and I'm sure all the dogs had the right injections and health checks, but it just wasn't right for us.
That then just left the visit to our preferred breeder, the drive took about three and a half hours, but it was completely worth it. We met a young puppy, an expectant dam, a grown dog of the breed we were looking at, a prospective father, and a litter of nine three week old puppies with their mother. He was happy to talk for hours about the breed and answer any questions we had. The more he spoke and the more we saw of the temperament of his dogs, the more we were convinced that this was the right breeder. Again, he was a commerical breeder, but you could freely see the pack of dogs and how they lived. He left us to mull it over and contact him in a couple of weeks.
I feel like I've learned an awful lot over the last couple of months and hopefully all the research will pay off. If I were to summarise what I've learned, it would be:
- See if there is a list of recommended breeders for the breed of dog you want.
- Ask on forums for feedback about your chosen breeders.
- Ask about the dogs which are being bred from, to make sure they're not being overbred, or being bred at too young an age.
- Check what health screening is recommended for your chosen breed of dog, and make sure that the parents have been appropriately tested.
- When you're viewing puppies, make sure their mother is there and assess her temperament.
- Look at where the puppies are being brought up. They'll make an easier transition to your home if they're initially brought up with the hustle and bustle of a normal household rather than in an old outbuilding.
- Always go to view the puppies, if the seller suggests coming to you, meeting in a car park or the like, alarm bells should be ringing.
- Expect to be asked questions. A breeder who cares about his dogs will only want them to do to a safe home.
The important thing is really just to listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right, walk away.