Tips to Start Your Search . . .
Why do you want a Labrador? Are you looking for a companion; hunting sidekick; future therapy, obedience or agility dog? What you're looking for will help you determine the type of breeder you seek. Many people contact me saying: "I only want a pet, not a show dog". My question in return is: Why do you want a Labrador? As a preservation breeder, I breed to the AKC breed standard (many people refer to this as the English Labrador). So you want a Lab because of its great temperament? How about the beautiful blocky head? Maybe a dog who wants to retrieve a ball or play in the water? Another plus could be that it is the right size for your needs? All of that is in the AKC breed standard, if you are not looking for a dog to meet this standard then you aren't looking for a Labrador. All my Labradors are bred to standard, this means they all have show potential but only the very best get to stay. I place the rest in companion or performance homes where they will get to sleep on the bed (or at least near it) every night.
Where should you get your Labrador? That is a very personal question and not one with simple answers. While rescue may be right for the person with the time and ability to rehabilitate a dog, it may not be right for the family with young children, very active or sedentary lifestyles, etc.. Temperament and behavior are two different things. While behavior is learned and/or experienced, temperament is 100% genetic and built into the dog's DNA. Knowing the pup's parents will give you insight as what to expect when your dog grows older. Adopt or shop is a very personal question. Fortunately decades of spay/neuter campaigns have truly limited the number of rescues in this country. In some cases the dog you might be considering from a rescue is actually not from the U.S.. A family member of ours recently adopted a dog, when asked where the dog came from they reviewed the paperwork and found their dog was from Mexico not New York. There are "less than scrupulous" people out there selling their mixed (accidently on purpose) puppies to rescue for dirt cheap, these people are in fact breeders, but not the good kind. There are many reputable rescues as there are many reputable breeders. Should you wish to go the rescue route I recommend a local breed rescue. A little known fact, the American Kennel Club and its association of local and regional breed club is actually the largest rescue organization in the country.
What type of breeder should I be looking for to help me find the exact Labrador I hope for. Below are some definitions for different type of breeders. A commercial kennel will more than likely have supply and demand and will be ready when you are, a hobby breeder usually has a lengthy waiting list but the pups are raised in a completely different environment. There are breeders out there that masquerade as reputable so what do you do? There are some warning signs. The best thing to do is make a list of what you want from a breeder and then find that breeder, wait it out if necessary. A year wait or a few hour drive pales in comparison to a lifetime. Beware of the breeder who asks for a deposit. Don't put down a deposit on a litter for next year, a verbal commitment should suffice. Putting down a large deposit on a puppy that doesn't exist is quite risky, minimal deposits are reasonable to ensure that the puppy is held for you.
When is the right time to bring home a puppy? This is a very personal question. Remember a puppy is for life so the right puppy is way more important than the right time. The old adage "Where there's a will, there's a way" is very important when finding a puppy. If it truly is the right puppy for you, find a way to make it work. This leads to the final question of . . .
Not all breeders have the same focus. Find one that has the same focus as you whether it be a breeder rescue, someone who focus' solely on working lines or maybe someone that strives to produce the healthiest puppy possible. Well first, let's try to define the type of breeders you may encounter:
Puppy Mills: Puppy Mills range from the extremely large operation down to medium and even small operations. It is truly the conditions in which the dogs live and are treated that determine whether or not it is a puppy mill or a commercial breeder (see below). A puppy mill is a "cash" operation, cutting corners just as any businesses would do in order to reduce expenses and maximize profits. They may breed several different breeds -- or -- maybe specialize in just one breed; additionally it isn't about the number of dogs they have, it is about the conditions in which these dogs lives. Living conditions for the animals are usually extremely poor. Puppy mills tend not to worry about the health and temperament of the dogs they are breeding. They may advertise that the dogs are cleared by x-rays for hip dysplasia and other genetic defects; but in the end it is doubtful such x-rays were done or they were not professionally evaluated. Some puppy mill owners will try to portray they are active with their dog through clubs and various activities. A closer look may reveal that although at one time they were, they are no longer active -- or may never have been active at all. Puppy mills will advertise in newspapers but today it is most "cost effective" for them to advertise over the internet through puppy finder type websites. Some may sell puppies to Pet Stores, some sell puppies directly to the puppy buyer.
Commercial Breeders: A commercial breeder is someone who has many dogs and produces many puppies. This is not always a bad thing. Look around, how clean are the facilities, how social are the dogs? The mental and emotional well being of the dogs are just as important as the health of the dogs. Is there an adequate number of staff members on hand to care for the number of dogs and puppies. Have all parents received clearances before they are bred? How many clearances does the dog have. Quality commercial breeders do more than just what is needed to "get buy" (that is not a typo). Some commercial breeders are active in the same dog activities as hobby breeders. Commercial breeders usually advertise via the internet, occasional newspaper ad and possibly in the phone book.
Hobby Breeders: Hobby breeders are truly the future of the pure bred dog. Their dogs do not just live to produce puppies. Hobby breeders are active with their dogs, whether it be in conformation (show); obedience, agility, hunting, tracking, luring, and therapy, to name just a few. Hobby breeders are breeding for themselves first and foremost. They want to produce a healthy, sound pup that can live up to their expectations. A hobby breeder may keep their dogs in their home, or in an outside kennel -- but in either case, the dogs are well socialized, trained and loved. Hobby breeders not only clear both parents before breeding; they also evaluate the health clearances for the entire pedigree of puppies they wish to produce. Hobby breeders will breed a litter with the goal to keep a pup or two from that litter. Unfortunately, not all the pups in a litter measure up to the hobby breeders' high standards. Maybe their nose isn't dark enough, maybe they aren't quite tall or short enough, maybe they simply have a white mark where there shouldn't be one. These are the circumstances that the companion puppy buyer should be looking for. The slight cosmetic imperfection that will allow them to bring home a sound, healthy, happy puppy that can play, run, jump, live and love a family for years (not just 12 months). Hobby breeders may or may not have a personal website, some will advertise in the newspaper -- but it is very rare. The best way to locate a hobby breeder is to contact a local all-breed OR specialty breed dog club; visit a local dog show; or ask your veterinarian. Beware though of the breeder who says everything right but is unable to back up their statements.
Back Yard Breeders: Back yard breeders, for lack of a better term, are companion animal owners who wish to breed their dog because their friend loves their dog and wants one; because they feel it would be a good experience for their children to see; because they love their pet so much they want another one. Back yard breeders (BYB) often do not understand the importance of health clearances; they do not know the grandparents, great-grandparents of their dog and the important role they play in regards to the pups that will be produced by breeding a litter. Although their heart is in the right place, the education and knowledge isn't quite there. Some potential back yard breeders take the time to learn and become educated,in that case they turn into the novice hobby breeder and deserve to be taken seriously. A desire to get ahead without learning is another sign of a back yard breeder.
Now that you are educated in the type of breeder you are dealing with, the choice is yours. The only sure way to stop puppy mills and educate back yard breeders is to stop supplying the demand. That is why you must interview each potential breeder of your future puppy.
Puppy Search Recommendations:
There are ways to ensure that your search for a new puppy will ensure you bring home a happy, healthy companion.
Recommendations: ask your friends, ask your family, ask your neighbors. Ask more than one person. First hand knowledge is a precious thing.
Observation: At some point, you will visit the kennel. You do not necessarily have to visit before you commit to buying a puppy, in today's digital age photographs and in-home cameras work just as well. In today's world, many reputable breeders are uncomfortable asking strangers into their home, please be understanding of that. However, never purchase a puppy without visiting the breeder, even if it is when they are 8 weeks old. Try and view all places where the dogs reside; but don't expect a tour of the breeder's medicine cabinet. Remember, in most cases this is the breeder's home. (Note: It is quite common for breeders to protect their new puppies and expectant mothers from disease; please take appropriate precautions as directed by the breeder when visiting their property. In most cases you will not be permitted to visit the puppy nursery area, however, it is not unreasonable for you to ask for photos of these areas.)
Interview: A reputable breeder will expect you to ask questions. A reputable breeder will also expect you to answer questions. Be prepared to be asked such things as: what is your work schedule? Who lives in the house with you? What is your yard layout like, do you have a fence, if so, what kind? Do you rent or own your home? Although these may seem like personal questions, a breeder who cares about their puppy wants to ensure that it is placed in the best possible home. A breeder who does not ask questions is probably just looking for a sale and won't be able to offer you the same quality of puppies as a reputable breeder.
Health Clearances: Ask to see the actual Health Clearance Certificates for each parent or, if the parents were cleared through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Paw Print Genetics or other on-line verification organizations. Take time to conduct a search on their website to verify the clearances. Visit the website for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or Paw Print Genetics. If you are short on time, let the good people at Good Dog do some of the leg work for you. This is the Good Dog has given me their top rating of excellent. Ask if the sire and dam have passed their clearances, if they have they will be listed on these sites. If they are not listed ask for a copy of the health certificate, if they are not listed or health certificates were not available for viewing then the dogs either did not pass clearances or exams/x-rays were never submitted for evaluation. Different breeds require different clearances, search for a specialty breed club website or AKC Breed Parent Club, the Labrador Retriever Club Inc, the recommended clearances are often listed. Bait and switch tactics have been used by less than reputable breeders. They may show you certificates for another set of parents, take the time to write down the name of the dam and sire of your future puppy. In some cases, health clearances may have been obtained through a foreign registry (British Veterinary Association, BVA) or another U.S. registry (Penn-Hip, Wind-Morgan) without an open data base; in those instances you will need to see the actual certificate.
Contract or Bill of Sale: Most breeders offer a contract or bill of sale. What is said within the context of that document is what sets apart the reputable breeder. Read it word for word and understand it fully, never sign it without reading it and understanding it. Do not be tempted to sign such a document at the last minute without reading it first.
AKC Individual Registration: Expect the AKC papers to be provided with the puppy. Never leave the premises with the puppy on the condition that the papers will be mailed to you. No certificate (or proof that a certificate is being sent to you directly from the AKC), then no puppy. Some breeders have taken weeks, even years to forward papers, if they are ever forwarded at all. Review those papers. Ensure that the parents on the paperwork are in fact, the parents of the pup in your arms. Do not accept home-made registration certificates (not to be confused with breeder generated pedigrees) -- or -- certificates from a registry other than the AKC (or the equivalent from other countries). Some breeders have actually made up their own "certificate of pedigree" and don't actually have any registered dogs. A breeder generated pedigree is perfectly acceptable if accompanied with the official AKC Puppy Registration.
Reputable breeders will be able to help you find the puppy that is right for you and will be happy to give you tips on raising and caring for your new family member. They will be available to you for the life of the dog.
As long as you find a reputable breeder, finding the right puppy is as easy as 1-2-3!