Thanks to my guest poster, the owner of a 6 month old Barbet puppy, for sharing her puppy research experience
The Quest Begins: Finding the Right Puppy Is Not Easy
Not too long ago, I was the typical inexperienced puppy buyer. We wanted a pup with the qualities we loved most in our last dog, a joyful rescue with a calm temperament who enjoyed our active lifestyle. Finding one would be easy, or so we thought at first.
Once our intention of launching a puppy search was made known to friends, the advice came pouring in.
‘Go to the shelter and just pick one.’
‘There are great puppy finder sites online. You can get a good dog a lot cheaper there.’
‘My friend knows someone whose dog had puppies. Want me to ask her?’
‘Don’t spend too much, that would be crazy.’
‘Get a doodle.’
And on, and on. Everyone had an opinion, but the variety of advice left my head spinning. So we launched our own search.
Weeks were spent visiting shelters in person and on their websites, checking in daily for just the right match. For many reasons, we began to understand that what we were looking for was not likely to be found there.
Our next step was to run online searches for puppies. The results were shocking. Pretty pictures and cheap prices were hiding an industry I soon realized we needed to stay far, far away from. Deeper digging revealed pictures and information that I wish I could forget, but cannot.
Next, I listened to the voice of popular opinion that Labradoodles are the way to go. Finding one was easy. Sifting through all of the information was not. The more I read, the more disheartened I became. A discussion about why I did not get a Labradoodle is a long and detailed story though, and too far off topic for this post.
I slowly began to realize that if we wanted a quality puppy, we had to look for the people and not the dog.
Finding a breeder meant settling on a breed and, believe it or not, we had not yet thought much about that. We knew the qualities we wanted in a dog, though, and so began searching for those specific terms. For us, the very first search terms were ‘best medium low shed family dog’.
After finding list after list of breed options, we began reading about each one and changing our search terms as we continued to look. Frequent and lively family discussions about temperament, grooming needs, trainability, and overall look of many different breed choices became the norm at our dinner table. Over time, our searches became narrower and narrower until we had found our top choice. Unfortunately for us, it was a rare and little known breed called the Barbet – for which there are only a handful of breeders in America.
At the time, we thought we were nearing the end of our research. But we had only just begun.
The Quest Continues: How to Find a Reputable Breeder
After a long search, we decided upon the Barbet as the breed of choice for our family. We were disappointed to discover how few Barbets there are in America and warned our children not to get attached to the idea of owning one.
The next step in our research was to find a quality breeder. Originally, we thought we did not need and could not afford a show quality dog. But reading about backyard breeders quickly taught me that we couldn’t afford not to find one. Here is a link to an article that explains this point better than I can: I Don't Want A Show Dog, I Just Want A Pet.
Our determination and research has paid off for us, and we are delighted with both our new puppy and the relationship we now have with her breeder.
Here are some tips that helped us find the right breeder for us:
- Begin with the breed club website. They will not generally recommend breeders, but you should be able to find a list of members that will get you started.
- Do not limit your search based on location. The best breeder match for you may be far away. Be willing to travel for the right person, it will be worth the effort in the end.
- Read each breeder’s website and blog in its entirety. This will give you a good idea of the people behind the site. They should be knowledgeable, active in the breed community and dedicated to their breed. If you read each blog from start to finish, you will gain an excellent understanding of how that person’s breeding program has evolved over the years.
- Try to look beyond flashy sites and pretty pictures. It can be hard to do, but remember that you are looking for a professional in the field who has real and successful experience breeding.
- Look for each breeder’s social media sites since these are often updated more regularly than the blogs and websites.
- Cross check each breeder that interests you. Look for their names in show results, articles written, and/or in breed club activities.
- Search for reviews about each breeder. Occasionally, buyers who have had exceptionally good or exceptionally poor experiences will post their opinion somewhere. You will find them if you look.
- When you find a good breeder, expect them to want to interview you. Reputable breeders will ask a lot of questions to help them place their puppies.
Avoid breeders who:
- Always have puppies available
- Do not show pictures of their adult breeding dogs
- Do not keep the dogs in their homes
- Do not provide regular updates about how their pups are being socialized
- Do not publicly post health test results
- Cannot show a quality pedigree of at least 3 to 5 generations for their breeding dogs
- Post fake or misleading awards, titles and testing
- Offer dogs at discounts based on color or size
- Invite you to get on a waiting list by sending a check without meeting you
- Want to move their puppy ‘inventory’ quickly and don’t bother to get detailed information about the puppy buyers
Our research took weeks of effort and thought. The amount of leg work we did in advance of bringing home a puppy helped us make confident, informed choices that were right in the end. I’m so glad we took the time to do it.
The Goal in Sight: I’ve Found a Great Breeder. Now What?
In previous posts, I have shared our family’s journey in selecting a breed and breeder that were right for us.. Because we wanted to avoid international travel with a young puppy, we chose to focus our attention on Barbet breeders in America. Today, I will share what I learned as an inexperienced puppy buyer about how to approach our top choice breeder.
Barbet litters are few and far between so we had to be careful and deliberate about the breeder we decided to work with. The breeding community is small, and good breeders tend to stay in regular contact with one another. Crossing paths at shows, sharing information about the breed and working together in the breed club is common. If you don’t believe me, read the blogs and social media pages of active breeders and you will see that people who care about the breed gravitate towards one another. This means that you must be conscientious about how you approach your breeder of choice, because word will quickly spread if you appear to be an unsuitable buyer for the breed.
Based on my own experiences, here are my tips for contacting a breeder:
- Rank top breeders in order of preference.
- Read the blog/website of your favorite breeder from start to finish as there will be clues about what he/she is looking for in a puppy buyer.
- Contact only your top choice at first. Begin a dialogue with that person.
- Do not send out mass emails to every breeder you can find. This sends up red flags to breeders looking for serious puppy buyers and will quickly get you scratched off every list.
- Take the time to write a detailed, informative and personal first email. Think carefully about what you say and how it would sound to the breeder.
- Do not ask if puppies are available. If you have done your homework and read the blogs/websites, you will already have that answer.
- Do not ask about price yet. Realize that it will be high if you contact a breeder who is doing everything right. Ask for the specific price only after you have established a good relationship with the breeder.
- Be patient. Wait for a response.
- If you get a response that is positive, ask if you can visit to meet the adult dogs and see where the puppies will be raised.
- Move on to another breeder only when you have finished with the first one.
- Expect to wait months to bring a puppy home. Planning litters and raising puppies takes time. It will be worth the wait.
I cannot stress enough how import the initial contact is. A conscientious breeder works for months researching, planning, health testing, breeding, whelping and raising high quality puppies. She wants to match them to great homes. Receiving an email that states, ‘I’d like a puppy next month. How much?’ is incredibly disheartening. That is not the kind of first impression that will help you.
Instead, take the time to carefully craft an introductory email that clearly explains who you are and why you are interested in that particular breed. Great breeders want to hear about any previous experience with dogs you have had, especially if it includes training or showing. They want to know that you appreciate the look of their dogs, that your dogs are treated as members of the family, and that you couldn’t imagine life without them.
These are the steps we followed during our own search for the right family dog. Check back here to see how it worked for us.
The Final Steps: Bringing A Puppy Home
It is important to remember that breeders of rare dogs like the Barbet receive regular requests for puppies from many, many interested buyers. Expect that the breeder will interview and screen you and your family well before any litters are available. She has the choice of many homes to choose from, and much of it is based on personal preference and instinct. If she feels a connection with your family, she will ask you to stay in touch.
In our case, we contacted our top choice breeder in early October. After several initial email conversations, she suggested that we come to meet her and the dogs. When we did, she had just as many questions for us as we did for her. She was clearly watching how each family member interacted with her dogs to see if we were a good fit for this breed. These were all good signs.
She also knew we were evaluating her and welcomed our questions. We saw the whelping box and room where the puppies would be born and raised. It and the rest of the dogs’ areas were clean, safe and had plenty of space for puppies to play. The dogs were clearly members of their family and happily interacted with our children. After an hour’s visit we were satisfied and impressed.
Although the visit was positive, the breeder was clear that she had no puppies available and would not for some time. She did not ask for a deposit and made no promises. We followed up with an email that stated our continued interest in her and her breeding program, knowing that there is never a guarantee that a litter will happen when expected. At that point, we could only wait.
In late winter, a successful breeding took place. This was excellent news, but the nervous excitement arrived only when we were sent a puppy questionnaire. After all the waiting, we were thrilled to reach that step in the process. Completing the questionnaire took patience and thought, as this would be the primary source of information our breeder would reference as she worked on matching puppies to families.
About two months later, photos of tiny sleepy puppies with sweet faces and beautiful Barbet heads appeared on the blog. We had maintained contact with our breeder from time to time throughout the pregnancy, but there was no match for the rejoicing that resulted when we learned that she had a puppy for us.
Did we respond by telling the breeder which puppy we wanted? No. Placement decisions are made by the breeder (and should be). She spends weeks caring for and interacting with the puppies and knows them better than anyone else. Had we chosen our own puppy, it would surely have been the one that happened to be the most awake during the hour we visited. A great breeder has invested so much time, effort and emotion into her puppies that she will only place them in homes that fit them well. If our home was best for a particular puppy, then that puppy was undoubtedly the right one for us.
When the pups were about 4 weeks old, we visited for the first time. It was delightful to see that the puppies were all healthy, happy, clean and well socialized. At six weeks, we learned which puppy would be ours. It was not a puppy we had taken notice of in our previous visit, for no reason other than that we were blinded by all of the puppy cuteness around us on that day. However, her personality and confident nature have been a perfect fit for our active family.
At eight weeks, we arrived to pick up our new pup and felt like first time parents all over again. We were given a folder full of information including a contract, vaccination/microchip reports, AKC/CKC info, feeding and grooming information, breed standard and history, and a good brush to get us started. Our breeder spent quality time with us to ensure a smooth transition into our home and an hour later we were on our way.
In the end, our search for a puppy took us nearly a year from start to finish. Many people told me I was being too picky, spending too much time or money, and worrying too much about a pet. They don’t say that to me anymore. They have met our dog and have seen for themselves that she was worth the effort to find.