Choosing a Breeder

Choosing a Breeder
Photo by Murilo Viviani / Unsplash

If you want to get into protection sports or compete seriously in any canine sport, then your best bet is to start researching dog breeds that excels in your chosen sport.  Once you've found your match, the next step is to find an ethical breeder with bloodlines proven to produce competitive dogs.

What is an ethical breeder?

Many have different standards for what they consider an ethical breeder, but this list should give you an idea when it comes to dogs:

The breeder has had breed-appropriate health testing done on their female and has chosen a health-tested stud dog.

This one is tricky, make sure to do your research on the biggest health issues in the breed and the available health tests. A good starting point would be to contact the breed branch of your local kennel club. One red flag is breeders who only use the all-in-one DNA tests such as Embark/Feragen and claim that their dogs are healthy: Not all things can be seen on a DNA test e.g. hip, cardio, or eye issues. Likewise, the hundreds of conditions tested may not even occur in your chosen breed!

The breeder most likely does not own both parents.

Because there are strict rules in place about how closely related two dogs can be in a pairing, it makes little sense for breeders to own both the female and the stud dog. The goal for breeders is to keep puppies from their own breeding to further their breeding program, if they only bred to dogs they owned this would lead to inbreeding (incest) and eventually health issues.

Occasionally a breeder may own a stud dog which they make available to other breeders and use themselves. However, if this is the only male dog they are using on their females and they never keep any of their own puppies, this would be a red flag as it signifies that they are geared towards profit.

The breeder participates in shows, sports, or other events.

This shows that the breeder actually enjoys spending time with their dogs and cares that their dogs are evaluated for health, conformation and temperament by a third party.

Their females are not overbred and puppies do not go to their new homes until at least 8 weeks of age.

According to FCI regulations, bitches may be bred from 15 months once per year (or twice per year as an exception when changing seasons or with permission from the breed warden), and their last breeding must be before they turn 8 years old. In general, especially when it comes to large breeds, bitches are 2-3 years old when they give birth to their first litter and are retired after their 4th or 5th litter. For puppies, eight weeks old is the earliest that they are allowed to leave their litter.

The breeder does not have more than a couple of different breeds available.

Doing things the right way costs money and time. A breeder with more than a handful of breeds cannot be doing things properly on their own while living a normal life: they would have to be running a commercial facility.

The breeder supports rescue programs and/or participates in health studies and other such programs to help dogs in general.

Ethical breeders do not breed foremostly for profit, they do it because they love dogs - especially their chosen breed and want to preserve these breed-specific traits for generations to come.

The breeder is happy to answer your questions and more importantly, asks questions about you - and your lifestyle and goals - in return.

It's always a red flag if a breeder is not discriminating when it comes to buyers. Buying a dog is not a decision to be taken lightly and this should be reflected during the buying process. You should not be able to click and buy your puppy from afar via PayPal and online shop. If any breeder's website offers this, keep looking.

The breeder sells puppies with a written contract, which includes a health guarantee.

The health guarantee can vary, covering as little as missing testicle and teeth to hip dysplasia and even a minimum lifespan. They may offer money back or a second puppy from a future litter, but in all cases you keep your dog.

The breeder maintains contact with the buyers even after the pups go to their new homes.

Ethical breeders expect to take their puppies back if it doesn't work out with the new owners, and are prepared to assist in rehoming the dog at any age. Many breeders have this specifically written into the contract one way or another, sometimes under a "right of first refusal" clause.

Some breeders may meet all of this criteria. Others may meet most of the criteria, leaving out a few things. This is by no means a be all and end all guide to identifying an ethical breeder. You have to decide what is important to you and then see how your chosen breeder measures up.

Be advised, though, that if your breeder meets NONE of these criteria, the chances are very high that you are not dealing with a professional, ethical breeder.

Finding a Registered Breeder

To find your national breed club, start by visiting the FCI website and locate your country. In Germany, the VDH is the national kennel club, and you can find a list of breed-specific clubs here. Depending on your chosen breed and its popularity in your region, there may be a waiting list of a year or more, so get in touch with breeders sooner rather than later.

Be patient and good luck with finding your future pal!