Once you think you’ve found a breeder you like, it’s time to plan a meeting. Here’s our comprehensive guide to how to prepare and what to avoid.
Before you go
Try to choose a breeder who raises pups in an environment that matches your own. Farm puppies will be used to early starts, wildlife, gunshots and heavy machinery, while puppies from busy urban homes will be more used to traffic, children and people coming and going. Puppies raised in a kennel may not settle anywhere other than a kennel (i.e. a family home) and timid pups with little experience of strange noises may struggle if you live near an airport or trainline.
If you’re buying a pedigree dog, look for a Kennel Club Assured breeder or, at least, one whose pups are Kennel Club registered. It won’t guarantee a healthy dog, but it’s a minimum requirement.
Be prepared to be put on the breeder’s waiting list, because a healthy puppy is worth waiting for. But be wary of breeders selling more than one breed (or two at the most) unless you’re sure of their credentials.
Try to arrange a visit before the pups are old enough to go to new homes, so there’s no temptation to take one right away. And consider inviting an experienced behaviourist or a good breeder to help give you some impartial advice.
Now, write down lots of questions – a responsible breeder will be pleased to answer them all. Here are some ideas:
- Can you return the puppy if things don’t work out? (The answer should be yes).
- Have the pups and parents had any relevant health tests? (Ask to see the paperwork).
- Why did they choose to breed the dog and what was the breeding designed to achieve? (A litter should be bred for a reason, not solely for sale).
- What activities do they do with their dogs? (Many reputable breeders will compete in some way).
- What socialisation has been done – like car rides, meeting people and experiencing busy places, vehicles and noises? (A new owner should expect a pup to be able to slot into modern life).
- Do they want to stay in touch with you and help with any problems, with a visit or over the phone? (The answer should be yes).
During the visit
When you meet the pups, it’s very important for you to meet the mother to see if you like her. A puppy’s temperament mainly comes from the mother – and it’s not unknown for very unscrupulous breeders to pretend a different dog is the mother, so make sure you view the mother and pups together.
It’s best to meet the puppy in the environment it was bred in (ideally the family home). If you don’t feel comfortable with the conditions there, don’t buy the puppy.
Now it’s time to ask all those questions you wrote down. And be prepared to answer lots of questions from the breeder too – if it feels like they’re interviewing you too, that’s an excellent sign.
If everything above goes well, it’s time to ask if they provide:
- Some food and nutrition advice
- A worming certificate
- Four weeks’ insurance
- A microchip (this is a legal requirement)
- A refund if a vet finds something wrong during a health check
- If possible, contact with a previous buyer so you can see a pup from a previous litter
Don’t buy a puppy from a pet shop or agree to pick one up from a neutral location like a motorway service station.
If you find pups in terrible conditions, please don’t buy out of pity. Instead, leave and report the breeder.
Don’t take more than one puppy – it’s not better to have two together.
Avoid pups with obvious health issues.
Don’t buy a puppy over 10 weeks of age. The cut-off point for socialisation is 12-16 weeks.
It’s not unheard of for puppy farmers to forge a Kennel Club certificate, so check with the Kennel Club if in doubt. If you have the mother’s registered name, look them up at www.mykc.org.uk to check pedigrees, health tests and see if her pups have actually been registered.
And don’t buy a puppy if the breeder only offers you one on breeding terms – e.g. letting them use it for breeding when older or promising them a puppy in the future. It may lower the price, but these arrangements rarely work well in practice.
Responsible breeders will be keen to stay in contact with you at every turn, to hear how the puppy is doing and offer support and advice. So it’s important that you like them and agree with their ethics and practices. If you don’t, don’t buy from them, because having the right breeder behind you is worth its weight in gold.
A good breeder will ask you to sign a contract – ideally one stating that they’ll have first refusal if you ever need to give up your puppy. While contracts may be hard to enforce in practice, it's a very good sign that they care.
Specific tips for companion dogs
The above applies to all dogs – but if you’re looking for a dog which will be a companion to you and your family (instead of, say, a working dog) here’s a quick checklist of specific things to look for in a pup:
- Reared in the house – not a garage, kennel or shed.
- Ideally from a litter of around five. The number isn’t crucial, but avoid pups with no siblings (and never take the last one if you haven’t seen it with its littermates).
- A mother with no signs of illness, distress or spooking, who can be seen with the pups.
- Health checks for the breed on both father and mother.
- For signs of a well-reared litter, look for lots of toys in with them, more food bowls than there are puppies and two separate surfaces to help distinguish toilet and sleeping areas. There should also be a place for the mother to spend time away from her pups (like a shelf above them) to shows you that she’s not kept separately.
- Pups should be weaned onto a wide range of different foods to avoid allergies, and never onto just one complete diet.
- Expect questions from the breeder – they should ask about your lifestyle, work hours and aims for the pup, and how much you know about the breed.
- They should offer advice for the lifetime of the dog and be able to tell you about the different personalities of the pups, to advise which may suit you best.
- They should also be able to tell you where they’ve taken the pups and lots of detail about who they’ve met (even down to age, race and whether they wore hats or glasses).
- The breeder shouldn’t have more than two separate breeds, and ideally not more than two litters a year.