How to Respond to an Ad
(how to talk to breeders and rescuers)
This article discusses some conversational sequences that you might use in talking to breeders about puppies dogs they are advertising. The goal is to help you distinguish between serious and responsible breeders versus the less informed and less responsible ones.
A lot of this also applies to talking to rescuers. A rescue person in a breed specific rescue should know a lot about that breed, or should refer you to someone more experienced if they are a beginner. A rescue person in a non-breed-specific rescue may not know a lot about this particular breed. A shelter worker probably won't know a lot about this particular breed. But all rescue and shelter people are very concerned with making a good match so that the dogs will be getting a "forever home", a "till death do us part" home.
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My purpose is to discuss some conversational lines you might use in talking to breeders when responding to their advertisements for puppies or dogs for sale. For each of your lines, I will discuss some of the possible responses you might get and how these give you clues as to whether this breeder is likely to be a knowledgeable and responsible one from whom you might obtain a puppy or dog capable of becoming a good family companion dog versus whether the breeder is a less auspicious one ie a large scale puppy mill or backyard puppy mill or simply a casual and uninformed "gee my pet is so nice" type of breeder.
For the most part I am assuming that this is a telephone conversation, though it could also be taking place at a conformation show or a performance trial. If at a trial, be especially aware that this could be a poor time for the breeder to engage in any lengthy discussions since she has to focus on the dog(s) and the competition.
I am assuming that you are seeking a puppy or dog to become your personal companion, house-dog, family companion, etc. Possibly you also would like to enjoy training for and competing in some kind of show or performance event and hope your dog will have good potential for that activity.
Ideally every such high quality responsible breeder would also be an articulate and patient educator of those who phone for information. In our dreams ! I know many who are so, but I also know a few really good breeders whose people skills and people patience leave a lot to be desired and indeed some may strike you as somewhat rude. Still I think that if you show yourself to be genuinely seeking information and to be very thoughtful (rather than impulsive or impatient) in your desire for a dog, any good breeder should be glad to help you. Do be aware that the moment you choose to phone could be a bad one for the breeder to talk, and you will see that my first line addresses that issue. Also be aware that the best breeders breed much less often than the puppy millers and that their litters are often reserved long before the puppies are born , possibly before they are conceived, and so these breeders sometimes don't have a lot of time for those callers who sound like impatient or impulsive "gotta have a dog right now" buyers.
Always be aware that many of the puppy mill type of breeders, ie those whose only real interest is in selling merchandise (puppies and dogs) for cash , are often very charming and eager to talk to you just as long as they think they may be making a sale to you today or in the near future. They can be charming the way a used car salesman can be charming. They will be charming just as long as they can smell your money and think they can part you from it. The amount of knowledge that these people have of their breed can vary from a fair bit to very little. The generally will steer the conversation away from health issues if they can or else will give a blanket assurance that they don't have to worry about such things in their lines (note : if they don't worry, then believe me you had better worry !!!) .
All that applies to puppy mill breeders also applies to their chief outlet, the "how much is that doggie in the window" pet store. They can have the charm and the sincerity of a sleazy politician. In addition, the pet store salesman is likely to have little or no knowledge of dogs and may be getting a commission on each sale.
The "gee my dog is so nice" type of uninformed and casual breeder, who breeds her nice family dog to someone else's nice family dog, is probably also going to be happy to talk to you. She probably won't know much about the breed or about training and health issues, but she will be more than happy to talk about what a great pet her dog is and she will be absolutely sincere in doing so. This type of situation where both parents are nice adaptable family pets can produce puppies who are nice temperamented and sweet , and almost always the puppies have been much handled and well socialized because the family and all friends have spent much time playing with them. I sometimes call this type of litter a "friends and family litter" because the breeding was done on purpose with the goal of making nice puppies so various friends and family members could have a dog much like the Momma dog. Puppies are then available for sale or giveaway when it turns out that there are more puppies than there are friends and family wanting a pup right now.
The "breeder" of an accidental litter, also called an "oops litter", is a poorer prospect than that of the friends and family litter. This is a person who was too ignorant or too irresponsible to either spay their bitch or to keep her confined during her heat period. A bitch in heat must be confined more securely than ever a harem guard kept the seraglio of a Sultan with a short temper and a long sword. If the bitch was a well loved house-dog, then there is still some chance that she has an aimiable personality and sound temperament and that the puppies were played with and socialized a lot. If the poor bitch was a backyard dog, then the puppies will not have had much socialization and the bitch's temperament is harder to assess. Unless the accident was "intramural" , ie with an intact male dog residing in the same home, the sire will usually be unknown, "a traveling salesman", and his temperament and often his breed will be unknowable. All you can be sure of is that the sire's owner was irresponsible enough to let him run loose, and that is not a great recommendation. However even the accidental breeder is a better bet for you than the breeding-for-bucks bakyard breeder or large scale puppy mill whose only desire is to make money. The accidental breeder will be happy to talk to you, but will be ignorant and will have the goal of getting rid of the puppies as quickly and easily as possible. A few of them may have some consicience about finding good homes for the unfortunate puppies, but seldom will they know how to educate or screen buyers.
Note : though I will generally keep refering to the dogs as "Bouvier", this same approach would apply to any breed or to that charlatan's delight , the "designer dog" pseudo-breeds.
Discussion : the reason for this intro is first to identify yourself, as for any call to someone who is not a close friend who knows your voice, and then to demonstrate courteous consideration for the breeder's time and implies that you understand that puppy time is busy time.
Some typical responses follow :
All three of the above would be typical responses from good breeders. Or of course you could just reach the answering machine.
Unfortunately you could get the same responses from a less desirable breeder, though the third one is less likely in that most of these breeders are seldom to be found at a show or trial. Unfortunately there are some breeders very active in beauty shows who consider themselves high class breeders but whom I regard as being high class puppy mills because they breed too often and are not very selective who they sell puppies to and because too damn many of their dogs wind up at the pound or being surrendered to Rescue a year or so later on.
Although these three responses all seem a bit curt, even rude, I do know some very responsible breeders who might answer in this way, especially if you happened to phone at a time when they are busy or tired or not in a great mood or if two puppies just vomited on the rug. The first one wants to know you found her in a manner that suggests you have been doing your homework. Eg maybe you found her web site, maybe you contacted the local Bouvier club and asked for a breeder referal, maybe you were refered by one of her happy puppy buyers from a prior litter. The second question would come up sooner or later in any serious breeder's conversation. She wants to know how much thought you have given to breed behavior and other breed characteristics. The third one may have little desire to talk to or educate those who are impatient or impulsive and want a dog right now ; such buyers seldom have done even the beginnings of homework researching the breed.
Do I need to tell you that these responsse are an absolute giveaway that you are dealing with a breeding-for-the-bucks puppy miller or an accidental litter regarded as a nusisance (except that the accidental litter owner may not be asking for any money, just for you to show up and take a puppy, any puppy , off his hands as soon as possible).
Is any comment needed ? This is the worst kind of accidental breeder, who would probably let you take the entire litter today even if you told him that you intended to use the puppies as "bait" for your pit-fighting dogs.
This question presents you as a novice and it makes clear that you are not likely to be ready to buy for a while or maybe will decide this is the wrong breed altogether. The fact that you are doing research, doing your homework, also means that you are not a sucker for a fast pitch.
If you are actually pretty experienced but are testing the breeder to find out if she is a responsible educator , ready to work for the benefit of the breed even though there is no money in it for her, this is a great test By the way if you really are a novice, please make sure that you find someone who really does know the breed or at least really knows dogs and is a responsible breeder or trainer or rescue worker to also make a phone call and find out if this breeder really knows much about the breed.
Some possible responses follow below.
All the above are things a highly responsible breeder , devoted to the welfare of dogs, would be likely to say. Of course each of them would have their own way of saying these ideas.
These responses represent the two types of puppy mill or irresponsible breeder responses : either to try to get you to make an impulse buy today or to get rid of you until you are ready to put money in his purse. Of course most puppy millers will not be quite as nakely blatant about it.
You are presenting yourself as someone who has a little knowledge and may think you are ready to get a dog, but actually you still need more breed education before you are really ready. A good breeder will want to tactfully encourage you to do more homework. So the concepts in all the anwers to the preceeding pure novice question would be good responses here too.
Other responses a good breeder might make follow below. A puppy mill breeder might make further effort to see if you are ready to buy this week and if not the responses would be those given to the previous question.
The last of these responses is moving into the phase in which the breeder is gathering information about you and figuring out whether you might be a loving and responsible adopter for one of her precious puppies. It is also the start of the matchmaking process, gathering information to figure out which puppy might be the most compatible match. Some breeders would just as soon you do a lot of the talking and questioning first, because often that reduces the number of questions they have to ask and make the process seem less like they are giving you an inquistion.
You are presenting yourself as an experienced Bouvier person, who probably understands the breed well or at least who gets along with them well. A responsible breeder , or a rescue person, would be very hopeful that you would be a good match for one of her precious dogs. So the interview would switch to the phase of matchmaking questions.
This is the response of a caring and empathetic dog lover, and this is a great way for the breeder to learn what type of relationship you seek with a dog, as well as being a way to help you mourn and heal.
All the above are responses a sensitive and responsible breeder or a rescue person might give. None of them will rush you into another dog, as they know that some people need a lot of time in between to work through mourning, though others are ready and needing fairly soon.
Even the puppy miller is not likely to be crass enough not to make some expression of sympathy, but he will never lose sight of the main goal which is unloading his puppies as early as possible while he has the least money sunk into them and uploading the contents of your wallet into his own. The comment about "second hand lemons from Rescue" is made so you will not notice that Rescue is offering you an already spayed or neutered and vaccinated dog who has been evaluated for temperament and behavior for probably a lower price than the puppy miller is going to charge you for a poorly bred puppy with poor pre- and post-natal health care and no socialization or training, who is very likely to grow up to be your problem dog.
I probably should add that there are some perfectly responsible people who sincerely believe that a new pet can help ease the mourning process. That may be the way their own emotional make-up works. But even so , they should not be rushing you into another dog and they certainly should not be down-playing the seriousness of your loss and your grief. As a Rescue person, I find that doing grief counseling is part of my job. Everyone grieves in their own individual way and there's no right or wrong way, only what is right for you. I sometimes encourage a bereaved "empty house" mourner to consider volunteering at their local shelter or being a foster home as a way of having doggyness in their life. I try to be extermely sensitive in making such suggestions.
You are presenting yourself as the kind of uninformed and impulsive buyer that makes good breeders either cringe and cry or else grab their professorial robes and start to teach you Bouvier 101. This is also exactly the kind of uninformed and impulsive sucker that the puppy miller considers his natural born victim.
Update 2015 : could be in a movie or DVD or could be on YouTube. Or maybe they actually read a book. The key idea is that you are an impulsive buyer based on supericiial information.
The responsible breeder with good people skills (and remember that not all responsible breeders also have good people skills) will try to be somewhat tactful in getting you to recognize that you don't yet begin to know enough about the breed to judge whether it is a good choice for you. Some may be more tactful and some may be more blunt and forthright. I hope none of them will actually say anything like the last of these responses (the Superman response), but I know that some of them are thinking something along those lines (I confess that I have had thoughts along these lines at some of the incredibly stupid calls I have received).
Is any further comment needed ? This is pure puppy mill and pet store talk. And if you fall for it, maybe you really should put on a red cape and jump out a window.
This is a fabulous trick question. A serious breeder will normally have only one breed, though a couple might have two because they each had sworn allegiance to their breed before they met. But it should be a loud clear warning if someone has several breeds, especially if they have several of the more popular breeds.
Some possible responses :
This is an ideal reply from a serious student of the breed. Moreover the remarks about competing in performance events shows this person knows something about training : understanding training is essential to being a good breeder. The presence of a couple of adopted dogs who are not part of the breeding program also shows a concern for dog welfare.
Again an excellent reply. Variations on this theme might be she has Bouviers and he has German Shepherds (they met at a Schutzhund trial), she has Bouviers and he has Golden Retrievrs (they met at a Tracking trial or perhaps on a Search and Rescue mission), she has Bouviers and other she has Basenjis (they met at a Lure Coursing Fun Day), he has Bouviers and other he has Border Terriers (they met at an Agility trial).
Do I really have to say anything ? This person is breeding whatever is currently popular or has been in a featured film recently. If he doesn't have it in stock, he'll order it over the internet from another fast-buck artist.
Now comes the time for serious exchange of information about what the breeder's goals are and what kind of puppies or dogs she has available (or for Rescue, what are the qualities of the dogs curently available) and about what your own goals and desires are for a dog.
If you are dealing with a breeder, I would advise that you try to get the breeder to be the one to give information first , as you certainly don't want the breeder to merely shape the replies to fit your expressed desires regardless of what the truth might be. Of course you could also plan to have a friend phone later on or earlier expressing the desire for dogs who are pretty much opposite to what you are seeking , thus testing if the breeder also gives your accomplice the assurance that these puppies fit that description.
If you are dealing with a Rescue person, you should be prepared to volunteer more information about your needs and desires. Most Rescue people are sincerely trying to make only truely compatible matches and will be quite candid about telling you that this particular dog would be a poor choice for you.
Most likely the conversation will volley back and forth as each of you volunteers some information or responds to questions or information from the other one.
I'm not going to give specific sample responses here, but just discuss generally what you should be looking for and what the red flags are.
This information likely will have come out earlier in the conversation. While you probably want someone who has been in the breed quite a while, don't automatically discard someone newer if they have a mentor or other source of preparation.
To be qualified as a breeder and as one who can educate puppy buyers about canine behavior and training, the breeder must have some experience in training activities and must be familiar with the working behaviors that characterize the breed. So a Bouvier breeder should have had some experience in one or more of the following : Obedience , Rally Obedience, Agility, Tracking or Search work, Herding , Protection (Schutzhund, Ring, KNPV, or Police K-9), or Disability Service Dog work. Don't expect a breeder to be expert in all of these, but the breeder should be seriously active in at least one and have at least a reading and observatonal acquaintance with several others. The traditional work of the Bouvier is Herding, Search , and Protection. They have also been Guide Dogs and are wonderful at other forms of Disability Service work. For any breed, you must be aware of the present and former working purposes of that breed. Most breeds do have some kind of working history, though there are some of the small breeds that have always been purely companion dogs. The working history may have endowed the breed with behaviors that you would consider very desirable or behaviors that you would find impossible to live with. The breeder must understand that and be willing to advise you candidly.
This is one of the absolutely most important questions you can ask a breeder. Remember that you are looking for a family companion dog, so you want a breeder whose number one priority is temperament (and socialization so that the temperament develops to its best) and whose number two priority is health. You could also accept health as number one and temperament as number two. Remember that behavior is what you actually live with and what will make your life with this dog mututally enjoyable or miserable. If your dog is a joy to live with, then of course you want good health so he will live as long and well as possible. If your dog is a misery to live with, then should he become injured or ill you may welcome having an excuse to let him die. That's why I place health secondary to temperament/behavior. In any case, at least 70% to 100% of the breeder's emphasis should be on temperament and health. That does not leave much left over for any other considerations.
Number three priority is likely to be either potential for the conformation shows or potential for working trials or some form of genuine work. It's important that this third goal be compatible with your own intentions for the dog. Don't buy a high energy , "high drive" working lines dog if you really want a couch potato to help you watch TV. Don't think a "show" puppy is better than a "pet" puppy unless you are dead serious about conformation showing and you can afford this rather expensive hobby and you are prepared for the added responsibilities of care-taking a reproductively intact dog. (AKC rules limit conformation classes to unaltered dogs, but altered ones are usually easier to live with.) Remember that in your own priorities this third aspect takes a back seat to temperament and health. That could be different if you were involved in a Police Dog program or a Disability Service Dog program, though really without the right behavioral qualities and the robust health, there is not much point in having a dog with great working talent who you cannot stand living with or who will become disabled or dead years before he normally should.
This is really just another way of asking about goals and priorities. Notice if the emphasis is on mental and behavioral qualities. If the breeder rhapsodizes primarily about conformational qualities or show wins, then you should recognize that this breeder's ideals are very different from your own. It's not that a dog cannot be beautiful and also be behaviorally good, but this breeder will not be emphasizing preparing a puppy to be a pet and companion.
The breeder should have clear goals for the litter and should be keeping a puppy for herself. The breeder's goals may or may not be compatible with your own goals. To a serious breeder, there is really no justification for breeding except to keep a puppy for oneself that one hopes will prove to be good enough to continue the line.
The backyard breeder and the puppy mill will have no goals other than to make as much money as possible with as little investment of work or money as possible, but they are not likely to be stupid enough to express that. These breeders will keep a puppy only if they are expanding or if they need to replace a worn-out breeding slave whose fertility is failing and who will be discarded.
The "friends and family" breeder will quite likely be very candid that the goal was to provide pets to family members and friends and undoubtedly to keep one or more for themselves because they adore the Momma dog and want another one "just like her".
The "oops litter" breeder has no goals and will not understand the concept ; their goal is to get rid of the puppies before they eat up next month's mortgage payment or cause the family to drown in dog poop.
Any serious breeder can point out, indeed eulogize at length upon, what she considers the best qualities of the parent dogs. These may or may not be qualities of any value to you, or indeed may be counter to your own needs, but you will be told in exquisite detail. But the acid test of an honest and knowledgeable breeder is to be able to fault her own dogs and any outside dogs she might use at stud. Remember that no dog is perfect, though very rarely one will come close. Perfection exists mostly in the eyes of a besotted owner.
Every breed has at least several genetically influenced health problems that a serious breeder would know about. For the Bouvier, the top two genetic problems are Sub-Aortic Stenosis ("SAS", it's not just an airline anymore) , which in severe form will kill a dog usually in early adulthood, and Glaucoma, which can cause a dog to go blind and suffer great pain. The breeder is also likely to mention Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, and Low Thyroid (hypothyroidsim).
The breeder may also mention Bloat, which may or may not have a significant genetic component, but is something any responsible breeder will want you to know how to recognize and know to consider a class one life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to avoid a very painful horrible death.
As to what the breeder can do to prevent the genetically influenced problems, that will vary according to the current state of veterinary genetics knowledge and technology. In the absence of a DNA test for a condition, all a breeder can do is to avoid breeding from dogs who exhibit the problem, ie are phenotypically affected, and avoid repeating matings that have produced affected dogs or matings between dogs who each have previously produced affected dogs. You will hear Bouvier breeders refer to a dog as being "4 star" or "5 star". That is not something from the Guide Michlin. It refers to phenotypic health tests the dog has passed. You don't have to take the breeder's word for it that this dog has a given certificate : you can verify the information on the web site of the relevant organization (OFA, CERF, etc) and the www.caninehealthinfo.org/ database of dogs in participating breeds (including Bouvier) can lead you to information about relatives ; this database only tells you that the dog was tested, but does NOT give the results. OFA and CERF only give names and registration numbers of dogs who have been tested and passed, but will not give information on those tested and found to have problems.
In the future DNA testing will allow breeding on the basis of genotype, rather than phenotype, and will allow the more sophisticated strategy of identifying at risk matings and avoiding them, ie avoiding matings between two dog who both carry the same delecterious gene. Research is currently underway to provide a gene test for SAS and one for Glaucoma. (I'd probably better add that Glaucoma can arise from genetic causes but can also arise as a side effect of just about any disease or injury that causes inflamation and raised pressure inside the eye.) I expect that within a decade or so , there will be tests for most of the serious disorders that are due have single gene or oligogene inheritance. Hip Dysplasia, being highly polygenic and having a large environmental component , will still be difficult to absolutely avoid.
The puppy mill, backyard, "friends and family" , and "oops" breeders will either not even understand the question or will just say something like "you don't have to worry about any of that stuff" (which means that you had better worry a whole lot !) or that "I haven't had any problems" (hasn't heard of any problems because does not keep contact with past buyers or damn well has heard and is lying through his teeth !). One backyard breeder (whose funeral I would attend with the greatest of joy) answers questions about health testing by saying , in tone of highest virtue, "I don't need to bother with any of that. I am just breeding dogs that ordinary people can afford."
You want to meet relatives because that will give you an idea what your puppy is likely to grow up to become. You want to talk to owners of past puppies because they will tell you if the breeder has remained acessible and helpful after the check cleared the bank. A serious breeder will always try hard to keep in touch with everyone who has ever gotten a dog from him. A serious breeder also knows many of the other dogs who are related to his own and exchanges information with breeders whose lines are related to his own. A good breeder is never afraid to let you see his progeny or talk to his past buyers. Of course anyone who has been breeding many years may have had one or two buyers who proved to be lemons, but you want a breeder whose past buyers have come back again for another dog or plan to when the old one passes on.
Puppy millers, backyarders, and "oops" breeders will not want to put you in touch with any of their past customers for fear of what they may say. The "friends and family" breeder will probably be happy to do so. Of course the friends and family breeder rarely will be breeding a second litter except in those breeds that only have small litters.
Without adequate socialization, your puppy will grow up to have serious behavior problems, mostly fearfulness and/or fear-based aggression. The period between 5 weeks and 12 weeks is the most sensitive period for socialization. That means that what has happened at the breeder's is crucially important. You then must continue what the breeder began, and indeed socialization should continue (less intensively) for the remainder of the dog's life.
For the general description of a good response, see any of the great puppy raising books, such as Dr Ian Dunbar's "How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks". "The Art of Raising a Puppy" by the Monks of New Skete has a lot of detail about the part of socialization and other teaching that should be done at the breeders. "How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With" has a week by week schedule of desirable experiences. Some breeders also follow various protocols of sensory stimulation during the first couple of weeks that researchers think enhances brain development.
Do notice whether the description of socialization includes exposure to gentle children ; every knowledgeable breeder borrows every nice child that is available to ensure this.
The puppy miller and backyarder either won't understand the question or will tell you they don't have time for that nonsense.
The "friends and family" litter will probably be extremely well socialized, and the "oops" litter may likewise be well socialized, not because the breeder understands the need for this , but simply because the puppies are so cute and many friends of the family come to visit and play with them.
A serious and responsible breeder will be delighted to have you meet all the adults and will explain to you how each is related to the puppies. My old Obedience mentor could Stand-Stay her dogs in pedigree formation on the lawn to form a living pedigree. A really clued in breeder will be thrilled that you want to meet adults before meeting puppies because she only wants you to get one of her puppies if you totally want the adult dog that this puppy will soon become. Related adults give you a clear picture of what the puppy should become. A serious breeder will be very appreciative that you understand that there are precautions she will want you to take (eg disinfecting hands, leaving shoes outside or putting covers over them, and so on).
You absolutely MUST see the conditions under which the puppies are being raised. Since you want a family companion dog who will live as a housedog, you want to be sure the puppies are being raised inside the breeder's house. I used to joke that one of the ways you can tell a good breeder is "by the stains on the carpet" , but many breeders replace carpet with more damage resistant surfaces in the puppy parts of the house. (If you were buying a puppy of a Livestock Guardian Breed to guard your flock of sheep from predators, then you would instead want to insist on a puppy raised in the flock and socialized to sheep with secondary socialization to humans.) Do NOT accept ANY excuses for the breeder not wanting to have you come to the breeding site for a visit or for several visits.
One excuse you might encounter is that the breeder is afraid you want to come not to buy a puppy but to case the joint for a later robbery. Now it is true that there have been rare reports of puppies being stolen from breeder premises, and I suppose it is possible that the thief had previously visited as a pretended buyer. If a breeder mentions this, be sympathetic and say that you know it is a concern but that this risk is one that is part of the job of being a breeder. Tell him he is welcome to take down your car license and your driver's license and even a set of fingerprints, but that if you cannot see the puppies' environment, you will not be getting a puppy there.
Another possible ploy to avoid your seeing the rearing conditions is for the breeder to offer to bring a puppy to your home as being so much more convenient for you or because the breeder wants to do a home check to be sure your home is suitable. Now it's certainly true that a very careful breeder who is vigilant for the welfare of his puppies should want to do a visit to your home before you are allowed to get a puppy. So tell the breeder that you would welcome a home check visit and pre-adoption advice from the breeder, but that the puppy will not be attending unless you have already visited the breeding establishment.
Any breeder who is unwilling to have you see how the puppies are being raised is someone from whom you should run, not walk, away from. This person is not simply afraid that you won't approve of their housekeeping. It's because the conditions under which the dogs are living are quite obviously sub-standard and that a knowing visitor would probably turn them in to the local Animal Control or law enforcement. Or perhaps they fear an angry or vengeful visit later on after the puppy turns out to be an absolute monster.
Note : this question comes late in the conversation. No point in asking unless you think you would seriously consider getting a dog from this person. Some breeders have different contract terms for puppies sold as "show" potential dogs or as potential breeding dogs, and different terms for dogs sold to be family companion dogs. For "show" puppies, it is not unreasonable for the breeder to want you to commit to actually showing the dog. For "show" puppies it is also not unreasonable for the breeder to want to have a veto over showing a dog who does not meet the conformation standard and would reflect poorly on her breeding program. For "pet" puppies, the contract of a responsible breeder should always contain a requirement that the puppy be spayed or neutered by some stated age. For any puppy there should be some kind of health guarrantee and a clear statement of your remedies if the puppy proves to have an infectious disease at time of purchase or later proves to be suffering from a disease or disability that the veterinary profession considers to be partly or wholely inherited.
What you absolutely do NOT want to see in a contract is any kind of provision that requires you to refrain from neutering or spaying your puppy (with the exception of a "show puppy" during the time you have promised to show him) or that (for any puppy) requires you to produce one or more litters and return some or all of those puppies to the original breeder or requires you to keep a male intact and allow the breeder to use him at stud (with or , more usually, without any stud fee to yourself). That would be making you bear the risks and burdens in order that the breeder may get the benefits. If a breeder wants you to keep a male unaltered so the breeder can use him at stud, your counter-offer should be that you are willing to keep him intact to age of 12 months or 18 months and let breeder at own expense have semen collected by a vet within some stated distance of your home so the breeder at own expense can freeze this semen for later use; after that stated age you will neuter the dog if you please, and at any event, the breeder will no longer have the right to collect semen from him and will never have the right to do a "natural service" breeding to him. I guarrantee you that very few breeders want to use this pup as sire badly enough to bear that expense ; the breeder who really considered this pup as an essential next step in her breeding program would be keeping him, not selling him.
This is one of the last questions in the conversation, but do NOT omit to ask it ! It is the acid test of a genuinely responsible breeder that they will always be willing to resume responsibility for the welfare of any dog they brought into the world. Indeed the breeder's contract should demand that if you are ever unable or unwilling to keep the dog, that dog MUST be returned to the breeder. Now it is still possible that the breeder could be disabled or dead at that point in time, but at least it should be the breeder's intention to take the dog back if at all possible. The breeder may then re-home the dog with an adopter or may keep the dog herself.
Many of the questions you would ask a breeder are also questions you would ask a rescue person. Of course the dog's parentage is likely unknown and the questions about breeding goals would be irrelevant.
You will be asking for information about whatever history the rescue person might have received from a former owner and you will be asking about everything the foster home has observed about the dog's behavior while in foster care.
The questions about the contract and whether the rescuer will take the dog back if you are ever unable to keep it are just as crucial or perhaps more crucial for a rescue dog as they are for a puppy. Also ask whether the first few weeks of the adoption are viewed as a "try out period" during which you are encouraged to return the dog back if things are not working well or if you find that the adopted dog is not getting along with one of your resident pets. Most rescue programs do have some kind of provision for this "try out" or "dating" period before they consider the adoption to be a success and permanent. Refund policies however can vary a lot.
I am NOT going to give you the answers, because it is terribly important that you be totally candid. Sometimes the unwelcome news that the breeder or rescue person is turning you down ( eg that the breeder or rescue person does not consider this breed to be right for you or does not consider a puppy to be appropriate for you or does not consider this individual dog to be right for you or does not consider this to be a good time in your life for you to get any dog) may actually be a tremendous kindness to you. At times I have later been thanked for my candor in telling an applicant why this breed or this individual dog was a poor choice or why this was a poor time for them to adopt.
The order in which questions are asked can vary a lot. A rescue person will give more emphasis to questions that are relevant to a particular dog that is available, but will also do a general interview that would apply to other dogs that might become available.
Some rescue people will simply invite you to tell them whatever you think is relevant, and then the rescue person will ask for more details and will ask questions to fill in any missing pieces. That is the strategy that I have found works well for me.
If you do mention some special purpose, such as a dog sport, the next question should be what would you do or how would you feel if the dog proves to be not very good at this purpose or sport.
This is a crucial question and it is one you should have asked yourself and every human family member before you ever talk to the breeder or rescue person. There is always some behavior you would consider intolorable, such as biting yourself or your children, and you had better be honnest with yourself about this beforehand.
The careful breeder or rescue person will insist on meeting all resident children and seeing them interact with dogs. If a breeder tells you that your children are too young or too rough or too active or any other reason, pay attention and recognize that the breeder is doing you a great service and preventing you from getting yourself into trouble.
(Note : for some rescue dogs, there may be a separation anxiety issue that would require a home where a person would be home much of the time and that would require an adopter willing to do the treatment protocol to teach the dog to be better able to relax when home alone.)
These are the ONLY questions this kind of breeder is likely to ask you. I sometimes refer to these breeders as "paper or plastic breeders" because the only thing they will ask is whether you plan to pay with paper (cash or check) or with plastic (credit card). ( I probably should add that it is not improper for a breeder to be willing and able to accept credit cards. I know some very responsible breeders who do so.)