"Puppies For Sale!" We have all seen the sign scribbled on a piece of cardboard and taped to the bed of a pickup, or crudely painted on a square of plywood and staked near the driveway of a house, or perhaps professionally printed on a sign in the front window of a pet store, but many people have never taken into consideration the quality that lies behind the sign. I was pondering lately why it was that so many people were perfectly willing to pay $800-$1000 for a puppy purchased in a pet store that was more than likely bred, whelped and raised in a puppy mill, but they would balk at paying anything near that amount to individual breeders such as myself. Somehow, I had become convinced that the knowledge I had gained over the years about puppy mill establishments and "backyard breeders" had also been acquired by the average "man on the street", as well. Evidently, this is not the case, for I have encountered a number of people shopping for a Keeshond puppy that seem reluctant to pay that kind of money to us, but will more than likely feel quite willing to spend a similar amount to purchase a puppy from a "reliable source" such as a pet store, for they obviously have not learned what I have about the source of the puppies that are sold in the average pet store. So, here is my advice to all of you out there who have not purchased one of these puppies in the past or heard the litany of horror stories from acquaintances that have done so. Before you ever pay one dollar of your hard earned cash to anyone for any puppy, ask the following questions:
1) May you come to the breeder's home/kennel and meet the mother (dam)and possibly the father (sire)? The sire may not be owned by the breeder, since it is very common for a breeder to pay a stud fee to use the services of a dog owned by another breeder. If not allowed to meet the dam, run to the nearest exit. There should be no reason why you should not be welcomed to the breeder's home or kennel facility. If you are asked to meet the breeder at some other location to pick up the pup, this is a HUGE red flag and indicates the breeding animals and pups are probably kept in unclean and often inhumane conditions. Never even entertain the idea of purchasing a puppy from someone who makes this request. If they are not willing to have you see their home/facility, there is a very good reason! If you are purchasing from any pet store, request the address of the facility from which they purchase their pups. I can almost guarantee they will not give it to you.
2) Are the puppies American Kennel Club registered? Commercial breeders (puppy mills) are getting away from regsitering their pups with the AKC and have started their own registration club, in order to not have to abide by the AKC regulations. Don't be fooled by this. The AKC remains the standard registration entity in the U.S. that reputable breeders use.
3) What health tests have been performed on the parents? There are minimum tests that should be performed on the parents to reduce the likelihood of passing on genetic defects to the offspring. In the Keeshond breed, poorly bred individuals are notorious for having problems such as luxating patellae (slipping kneecaps), and hip dysplasia. There is a particular genetic disease, which can cost the owner in excess of $3000 to treat, called Primary Hyperparathyroidism (PHPT for short) and there is a genetic test available to rule out the use of affected animals in a breeding program. If a dog with this disease is used for breeding, the pups should be tested for the gene before being sold or the buyer should be made aware of the possibility that the pup they are purchasing may have the gene and develop the disease. The breeder should provide you with documentation of any tests that have been performed and have a good reason for not doing them. Things like "my dog has never come up lame, so they must not have bad hips" is not sufficient, since dogs by nature will do their best to hide any kind of physical weakness. There is no way to know the true soundness of a dog without performing the proper tests. Some breeders do not register the test results with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), but they should be able to supply you with an analysis from a qualified veterinarian, at the very least. If they claim the dogs have been registered with OFA, you may go to www.offa.org and input the dog's AKC registered name and find a list of all tests that have been registered and the results. We actually list the OFA certificate numbers on all of our breeding dogs on this website. Let me be clear, there is no way that a breeder can be absolutely sure their dogs are free of any genetic diseases and they are lying if they say they are, but the tests are a way to rule out as much as possible and make the most informed decisions on which dogs to breed. The tests we perform on our breeding dogs are as follows: PHPT genetic test, Hip x-rays, Elbow x-rays, Patellae/Stifle check, Heart certification, Thyroid certification, Eye certification (CERF exam). We register all of the test results with OFA.
4) Have the puppies been vaccinated appropriately for their age and does the breeder have documentation of such? Vaccination protocols can differ from one vet to the next, but most usually recommend beginning the vaccinations at between 7 and 9 weeks of age and every 2 to 3 weeks thereafter, until they have completed 3 courses of vaccines and then a booster at one year of age, except for the rabies vaccination, which is given at around 16 weeks of age with a booster at one year of age. What vaccines are suggested will vary from one part of the country to the next, depending on what diseases are prevalent, so speak to the veterinarian you plan to use and make sure the breeder is using a similar protocol.
5) Have the puppies been wormed in accordance with their age? We worm the dam with fenbendazole during her pregnancy and we worm the pups at around 6 weeks of age and again at around 9 weeks of age, just before they go to their homes. Fenbendazole, otherwise known as Panacur or Safeguard, is a very safe and broad spectrum wormer that is the only wormer that I am aware of that is safe for use in both pregnant females and young pups. It is highly effective against giardia, which is a pervasive parasite in the mountains of Colorado. No puppy should ever go to its new home infested with worms, period, end of statement! However, worms and other parasites are extremely common in puppies that hail from puppy mill establishments.
6) Where were the puppies whelped and reared? Ideally, the answer will be somewhere within the home of the breeder, even if it is in a basement area. Kennel whelping and rearing is less desirable, because of the reduction in socialization that occurs, but it is not uncommon with breeders who maintain a large number of breeding animals. In cases such as this, you should be allowed to see the kennel and where the pups are kept. Filthy conditions should be a huge red flag! Our pups are born in a whelping box in our bedroom and raised in a puppy pen in our living room and an outdoor enclosure, in good weather, until they go to their homes. This insures our pups are socialized and exposed to a variety of sights and sounds.
7) How many litters does the breeder produce in an average year and how many different breeds do they have? Be leary of any breeder that houses and breeds in excess of 3-4 breeds. A reputable breeder that gives the proper attention to their adult dogs and the pups they produce will not be breeding a litter of pups for every month of the year. It's not practical unless they have paid staff to look after their dogs and I would, personally, consider that type of establishment to be a commercial facility. We average around one litter every 1 to 2 years, but there are breeders who breed multiple litters in a year and produce sound, healthy, well socialized pups.
8) Can the breeder provide you with references from previous buyers that you are welcome to contact? A good breeder will be more than happy to do so, because they take pride in the pups they have bred and are confident the owners are happy with their purchases. Run really fast from anyone who answers no to this question or comes up with reasons why they cannot do so.
9) One of the most important questions is, is the breeder willing to take the dog back at any age for any reason, should you not be able to keep it. A good breeder is concerned about the welfare of the pups they produce and will be more than willing to take them back, if need be. Many breeders, including ourselves, actually place stipulations in their contracts regarding the return of the dog. We specify that the dog must be returned to us rather than being relinquished to a shelter or rescue club.
In conclusion, the pups raised by breeders such as ourselves, with love and excellent care in a home environment, are healthier, happier puppies with a considerably lower chance of developing crippling diseases during their lives. The time and attention that we pay to the pups during their first weeks of life cannot be offset by any monetary savings you might realize by purchasing from a commercial establishment, where profit is the bottom line. We have never made a "profit" off a litter of pups. When you add up the cost of completing an AKC championship, the feeding and vet care of a breeding dog, the cost of all of the health tests we have done, the cost of breeding a bitch and caring for her needs during her gestation and whelping and the cost of feeding and vet care for the pups, as well as their AKC registration and microchipping, we are very much "in the red" with every litter. This is something we do for the pride we feel when we produce a beautiful example of the Keeshond breed and the challenge of breeding an even better example of the breed with the next litter. Money is never a motivator for us. It is merely a way of recouping a portion of our expenses and insuring the pups are going to homes that will care for them now and for the remainder of their lives. Be sure and ask the pet store owner or commercial breeder why they breed Keeshonden and compare their answer with ours and ask yourself if it is worth the monetary savings to take your chances with them. Look into the future and try to weigh the immediate savings you might realize from that purchase against the vet bills a few years later when you find out that adorable puppy mill purchase has hip dysplasia or PHPT or knee caps that are luxating and causing arthritis. I wonder if that pup will seem like such a bargain then!
One more added bit of information. Do not be fooled by internet ads. With technology as sophisticated as it is, it is not difficult at all to produce a website that makes the breeder appear legitimate and ethical. You always want to visit the home of the breeder and see the conditions within which their dogs are kept. And please do not fall for the excuse that you are saving a puppy from living in the poor conditions of a pet store or puppymill by purchsing them. As soon as you take that poor little pup home, the volume breeder will have another in its place and you are financially rewarding them for their poor breeding practices. The ONLY way to shut down volume breeders is to not buy from them and that includes pet stores, who only buy from commercial kennels. Do your homework and do what you can to discourage poor breeding practices!