For the unsuspecting puppy buyer, it's getting harder and harder to tell a legitmate breeder from a dodgy one. At Kitaco Chihuahuas, we are contacted almost on a weekly basis by people who have bought dogs in the past from "pretenders" - believing them when they present themselves as professional, experienced breeders - only to take delivery of an unhealthy, poorly constructed dog that is clearly the result of bad breeding, inbreeding, ignorance or just flat out greed.
It's getting harder and harder to spot the good ones, A pretty website doesn't always mean a good breeder. Arguably, the top breeder in NZ doesn't have a website or any presence on social media at all. All their dogs are sold via word of mouth and referal.
Anyone with a bit of technical savvy can build a pretty website. With none at all, you can create a Facebook page and/or an Instagram account. There are website templates out there that make it look like you have a designer on staff. A logo helps, too. Makes you look quite serious and posh.
What about good copy? Easy, just cut and paste the text from a legitmate breeder's site so you sound good. (We've had this done to us.)
Oh, and of course, join your local kennel club and register a kennel name. Then you're a real, proper "registererd breeder". In most cases you just have to fill out a form, pay a fee and you're in business. Kennel Clubs exist to keep the stud book, not make sure their members are doing the right thing by their breed. They'll pretty much register anyone who pays the fee.
Don't have many dogs but want to look like you've bred more than one live puppy? No problem. Just list every dog you've ever owned on your website, even the dead ones, and pretend they're still alive.
Want to claim your puppies come from "imported lines"? Just check back in your puppy-farmed dog's pedigree (and hope the new owners don't ask for DNA proof). Every dog is imported from somewhere if you go back far enough.
Want to claim you have champions? Easy peasy. Find enough little, out of the way shows where you're the only competitor in your breed, and voila! A champion is born! (These dogs are known as "petrol champions" - they're Champions not because they are examples of their breed, but because of the amount of petrol burned getting them made up!)
So how do you tell if you're dealing with a legitimate breeder or a "pretender"?
Communication is the key. The first thing is talk to the breeder. Not just a quick call, but establish a relationship over many calls. A "cut and paste" pretender can't keep up the pretense if they're forced to elaborate.
Talk to them. Don't just communicate via email or messenger. Ask about their dogs. All of them. Listen to their answers.
Read between the lines on their website. It's an ad, make no mistake, and they want to sell you puppies. Look for specifics and ask for details, particularly if the text is flowery, meaningless bullshit. "Our dogs are beautiful examples of high quality show dogs with great confirmation, temperaments and intelligence", for example, and yes, that's from an acutal... ahem.... "breeder's" site. (Note the incorrect use of the word "confirmation", not "conformation".) Is the site current? Does it have a blog? Does it show reguar activity that indicates the breeder site exists to do more than sell dogs?
Ask where they stand in the dog community. Are they active members of a club? Are they a judge, a committee member? (We ace this question, BTW - Tracey is the national Dogs NZ Breed Health Liaison for the Chihuahua breed, the President of the Dominion Chihuahua Club and, well, a vet, so 10/10 on that one!)
Ask them how many litters they've bred. (If they've only bred one pup and kept it, that's fine, but not if they've got a website that implies they breed lots of champions and have been doing so for years.)
Ask how many puppies they've sold, to whom and what they're doing now.
Ask what the pup's faults are. A good breeder will give you a list without embarassment. There is no such thing as a perfect dog and if they are pet homing a dog from show lines, there will be a reason.
Ask them about potential health risks in their lines. Are they cryptorchid? Prone to slipping patellas? If the dog is black, have they been cleared for BHFD? Does the breeder even know what that means?
Ask to speak to other owners of their puppies. More than one. If they can't or won't give you names - big red flag. Every person we have ever placed a puppy with will talk to you about us and we're happy to give you all of their names.
Ask if they offer a re-homing guarantee - if they say no, or don't know what that means, again, a big red flag.
Ask for DNA proof of parentage, In the not too distant future, all breeders will need to supply DNA proof of pure-breeding. The legit breeder will have, at the very least, the health clearance DNA results on hand because they woudn't breed without them, and can tell you what they mean. If they hedge at all on the others, that tells you all you need to know.
Ask to visit their home and see where the dogs are raised and housed.
Ask to meet their other dogs - the temperament of all their dogs will tell you a great deal about them as breeders.
Ask other breeders about them. (We get asked about other breeders all the time, and even if we're not particularly friendly with them, we've sent plenty of people to our "competition" because we couldn't supply a puppy at a particular time, and we know the other breeder has pups, is a responsible breeder and they'll get a good dog from them.)
Ask about their "after sales service". How much contact do they expect to have once you take the dog home? Will you just take the dog and never hear from them again, or will you become part of the family? WIll they support you if the dog has problems? Will they refund you if the dog proves to have a lifelong health issue. If you take a dog with only one testicle descended, with they offset the significant additional cost to have the dog neutered?
Finally, #15. Curb your enthusiasm. Getting a good puppy from an ethical, responsible breeder takes time. Pretty puppies grow into problematic adults all the time but you can mitigate the risk, and the heartbreak, by doing your homework and not jumping at the first cute puppy that comes along.