Controversial Issue #4:
INTERVIEWING BREEDERS: LET THE BUYER BEWARE!
Scarbrough Fair Great Danes
It is very important for you to be able to trust and rely on the breeder from whom you purchase your new pup. Your breeder can help you raise a well mannered, healthy pet, and can provide you with guidance throughout you pup’s life. You should look for a breeder who obviously loves the breed, who is both honest and knowledgeable about the breed, who wants to be helpful to you, and a breeder who you feel comfortable with and feel that you can trust.
Screening breeders is a tall order, but it is very important. A mistake in judgment at this point in your search for a healthy pup can be quite devastating to you and your family at a later date. The internet contains a lot of useful information, but a bad breeder can also use the net to pick up on “just what to say” to people inquiring about pups. This is your chance to truly play detective.
The technique described should work for interviewing breeders of any breed of dog, but I will, from this point on, be Great Dane specific. Danes, as a breed, have a life expectancy of only 7-8 years. Due to their size, medical problems can be both physically demanding on their owners (lifting them or assisting them in walking, for example) and extremely expensive, not to mention the emotional toll on both the owner and the pet. It is very important to work with a breeder who is truly knowledgeable and committed to producing healthy pups.
When talking to breeders, ask a few basic questions. You don’t have to “grill” the breeder, just work your questions into the conversation. Since initial contacts generally include a phone conversation, you could make a list and check the questions off as you go plus you could take short notes. DO NOT PUT THESE QUESTIONS IN AN EMAIL!
In the paragraphs to follow, these questions will be addressed in detail. How did they get into breeding Danes? How long have they been breeding? How many litters of Danes have they had in their breeding career? How many Danes do they have? Do their Danes live in their house, outside or in a kennel building? Do they show in either conformation and/or obedience and agility? What are the most important characteristics that they breed for in a Dane? How long do their Danes generally live? What do they generally die from? What do they do with their dogs once they are too old to breed? Are they willing to provide references? Do they screen their buyers? Do they utilize a sales contract? Do they provide any type of guarantee? If so, what is it and how long does it extend? When working with their guarantee, do they refund money or provide a replacement pup? If a replacement pup, do you have to give up the Dane being replaced? Do they allow folks to come out and visit, meet and pet their adult dogs? Do they provide you with written instructions? Do they have any strict requirements concerning brands of kibble or specific diets? Do they have any specific requirements about veterinary medicine or homeopathy? Do they cull their litters? If so, based on what? How do they feel about ear crops…do they have any strong preferences? What type of support services, if any, do they offer you?
When you purchase a Dane from a breeder there is potential for three levels of suffering if problems arise. The breeder can be hurt; the buyer can be hurt; and the pup can be hurt. A good breeder should be carefully screening you while you are screening them to insure that you would be a good home for a pup and that the puppy would be the last one to suffer if something went wrong (after all, the pups can’t protect themselves). Since the breeder makes the final decision whether or not to sell to you, once you express a desire to purchase, the breeder should be willing to shield you from as much potential “suffering” as possible, in the event of a problem. A breeder who strives to protect himself/herself first is not what I consider a good breeder. Keep this in mind as you read the paragraphs below.
How did the breeder get into breeding Danes? There are many people who know a great deal about Great Danes and yet have never bred a litter and have no intention of breeding. These people are generally well informed Dane owners. There is a big difference in owning Danes and breeding Danes. I have a major problem with people who decide to use the “learn as you go” method of becoming a breeder. Their dogs and their pups are the first to suffer and the last to be protected from their bad judgment; lack of experience; inability to effectively screen their buyers; and inability to be helpful in the raising and training of the pup.
Everyone has to start somewhere. There are many books published about Great Danes; there are a substantial number of breeders in almost every state; and there is abundant information on the internet. Novice breeders who are interested in learning present a wonderful opportunity for experienced breeders to become mentors. Locating a willing, responsible breeder can be a challenge, but it is possible. Not all experienced, reputable breeders are willing to assist novices, but for the betterment of the breed, helping a novice to avoid mistakes that our dogs pay for really beats complaining about “backyard breeders”.
How long has the breeder been breeding? I have read many misleading websites and talked to many people who grossly exaggerated their breeding experience. For example, one breeder I talked with had a Dane as a pet for several years…then didn’t have any Danes for numerous years….then, five years prior, decided to become a breeder. They claimed the entire span of time as years of experience to total over 20 years. Their actual experience…5 years max. You don’t have to be pushy to inquire about details…just be interested.
How many litters of Danes have they produced in their breeding career? If they claim 20 years experience and have produced 3 litters during that period, they are essentially novices. They do not have to mass produce to be experienced breeders. For instance, if a breeder claims 20 years of experience and has had 9 or ten litters, that’s believable.
How many Danes do they generally have at home, excluding puppies? This information will help you interpret info about the number of litters they’ve produced; plus the amount of experience they actually have with the Danes.
Do their Danes live in their house, outside with doghouses or in a kennel building? Sometimes the climate provides definite housing requirements, but in many areas, it’s personal preference, zoning influences, space requirements, etc. The answer to this question will also help to interpret the answer to many other questions.
Do they show in conformation and/or obedience and agility? The answer to this question will help to explain their breeding criteria and will help you interpret the answers to other questions. Conformation shows and production of champions generally doesn’t mean that much to a person looking for a pet, as conformation shows are generally concerned with conformation, movement, color and training. Showing in obedience and agility, on the other hand, can provide helpful information about their dogs fitness and attitude.
What are the most important characteristics that they, as a breeder, breed for? If they show in conformation, then movement and conformation are likely to be very high up on their list. Most dogs shown in conformation are building their reputation and that of the breeder for the time when they are either being bred and producing pups or are being used for stud. In my humble opinion, conformation and gait are not nearly enough to justify using a dog to produce offspring. If they don’t have their health and a good temperament, they are simply not good candidates for breeding. Personally, I like intelligent dogs too. If you are looking for a family pet, health and temperament should be top priority for you.
How long do their Danes usually live? What do their dogs generally die from? The average life span of Great Danes is supposed to be 7 to 8 years. Unfortunately, most American Danes don’t live to a ripe old breed standard age. The life span of American Danes has declined to around five.
When dealing with this question, you have to be thorough. If a breeder has been breeding for 8 years, it is not likely that they can claim a life expectancy of 7 to 8 years unless they produced several litters their first year and most of the pups are still alive or unless their dogs used for breeding come from a breeder known for their 7-8 year life expectancy. Asking what their dogs generally die from is very important.
What do they do with their dogs who are too old to breed? Believe it or not, I have known some breeders who put their Danes down when they were too old to breed. I don’t even want to further discuss these jerks.
Some breeders with very limited space place their retirees in pet homes to make room for younger dogs. Other breeders retire their dogs and maintain them in their home. It is super experience for breeders to maintain geriatric Danes. How can a breeder help you with important advice when your pet gets old if they have no experience with aging Danes?
Does the breeder x-ray the hips of their dogs before breeding? Ask about the general health of their Danes and what tests they normally run. Hip x-rays are very important for Danes. If they don’t x-ray, find a breeder who does. Some breeders will ask people to look at their dogs rear ends to see how strong they are because they don’t x-ray. You cannot tell with the naked eye. Some of the best rears I’ve ever see with my own eyes did not x-ray well. Without a sound set of hips, Danes are in trouble eventually. If the breeder is having specific problems in their bloodline, they should work with any testing available for their specific problems. You should not expect a Dane to be tested for every possible problem. It is not economically feasible and you wouldn’t be able to afford the pup. Think of a human physical. Most people are never tested for a wide array of problems.
Is the breeder willing to provide references from veterinarians and buyers? Any reputable breeder should be more than willing to provide you with telephone and/or email references from both their veterinarian and several buyers. If they are not, find another breeder.
Does the breeder screen potential buyers, and if so, what technique do they use? This gives you some feel for the thoroughness of the breeder. Screening via phone or person interview are the two most revealing, if the breeder is a skillful evaluator of people.
Does the breeder utilize a sales contract? If their answer is yes, ask for a copy before you waste your time. I have seen many sales contracts used by breeders. Some are fairly simplistic and are used to either formalize the sale or to function as a back up in case their evaluation of the buyer was not accurate. Others range from complicated and impractical to an insult to anyone with half a brain.
Now I am going to ask a question that will appeal to anyone with an ounce of common sense. If a breeder has properly screened a prospective buyer and doesn’t trust the individual to take proper physical and emotional care of a pup, why in the world would the breeder allow the buyer to leave the kennel with a pup? The only thing I can think of that would fill the bill for some is MONEY. What is there about a contract that could possibly make a breeder feel reassured about letting a buyer they didn’t trust take a pup? Once again, sounds like the answer could be potential gain.
Please use your common sense. If a sales contract is difficult to understand, would be difficult to comply with, if it is full of legal ease, if it requires you to give up any of your legal rights (one of which is appearing in a court in YOUR county of residence), if it is very financially slanted toward the economic well fare of the breeder, run don’t walk to your car. Any breeder with a track record of frequent law suits would inspire me to question their screening process. If they are so bad at screening that they have to rely on the legal system, they should do the pups and the breed a favor and either hire someone who is good at screening to screen their prospective buyers for them or stop breeding.
Does the breeder give a guarantee? If so, what does it cover and how long does it extend? Is the guarantee in the form of money or a replacement pup? If it is a replacement pup, does your Dane have to either die or be returned to the breeder to get the replacement pup?
Ask the breeder what their guarantee covers and for how long. Also ask them if you encountered a problem covered by their guarantee, would the compensation be in the form of money or a replacement pup. Most breeders who give a guarantee, offer a replacement pup…not money. Many breeders require that your Dane either be returned or deceased before they will replace it, and if you ask about its fate should you return it, most will tell you that it will be put down. They are hoping that you will refuse to give up your dog.
I’ve been in Danes for well over thirty years now. In all honesty, I’ve not heard of or known many breeders who give a really good guarantee. A good guarantee should be simply written and easy to understand. It should not make you feel irresponsible or negligent. The breeder should not mind clearly and concisely answering any questions you might have. The guarantee should be written in such a way that you feel the breeder is confident and has faith in his/her bloodline and that the breeder wants you to feel comfortable working with them.
Most give from 24 hours to a few days for the buyer to get the pup to a vet. If they guarantee hips, it’s usually for either a year or at most two years. I’ve seen many guarantees that make you prove that you have taken good care of your dog with an array of demanding requirements (including but not limited to extensive unnecessary lab tests when the pup was first acquired, proof of purchase for labels from a specific brand of dog food, etc.). I’ve seen guarantees that attempt to dazzle the novices with the names of the many health problems that are supposedly guaranteed against only to discover that these guarantees require unrealistically early diagnosis and treatment (paid for by the puppy owner) with a negative outcome.
If you have a problem with your Dane, your breeder’s guarantee should not provide you with an additional problem. If it sounds like the guarantee is protecting the breeder more from the buyer’s claims than it is reassuring and comforting the buyer, find another breeder.
Does the breeder only want visitors when he/she has pups for sale or will they allow visitors to the kennel at other times? Most good breeders are very proud of their Danes and would be more than happy to have visitors, by appointment, to see and play with their Danes. If you’re talking to a breeder who does not want you to come out unless they have pups, check out some other breeders.
Does the breeder provide the buyer with written instructions for caring for the pup?
Most people buying a new pup are too excited to be expected to listen carefully and take accurate notes. It is the responsibility of a good breeder to instruct the buyer about how to care for a pup. Instructions should be clear, simple and easy to comply with. If they appear overly complicated, ask for clarification. Some people just can’t write clearly. Others expect too much. If the breeder expects too much, find another one.
Does the breeder have any specific requirements concerning brands of kibble or specific diets? If they do, you had better make sure that you are willing and able to comply or you could wind up voiding your guarantee (if the breeder is giving one).
Does the breeder have any specific requirements concerning veterinary medicine or homeopathy? Some breeders do not want their pups to have vaccines. See the upcoming comments under controversial issue #11, Vaccinosis. They want their buyers to use homeopathic medicine. Some go so far as refusing to guarantee their pups if the pups receive any vaccines. They want the pup’s health dealt with by homeopathy.
I have a serious problem with this demand. First of all, there are not enough homeopathic practitioners to treat the entire pet population. Secondly, anyone can claim to be a homeopathic practitioner. Make sure you are willing to comply with the breeder’s health maintenance requirements or you could be in real serious trouble if your pup develops a health problem.
Does the breeder cull their litters? If so, based on what? Some breeders cull their litters immediately upon birth of any non-show marked pups because the dam will then have more milk for the show marked pups, and the breeder will not have to work with people seeking pet pups. Personally, I find this offensive, lazy and hard-hearted, and I would never want to contribute to their economic well-being.
Some breeders cull mostly white pups fearing that they will be blind and/or deaf. You can’t tell anything about these pups for several weeks. It does take a great deal of extra effort to insure that deaf pups are placed in qualified homes. We do put deaf pups (at no charge) into homes willing and able to teach them to respond to hand signals. However, some of the whitest pups we’ve ever produced could both see and hear. Blind pups are almost impossible to place, and, fortunately, are infrequently produced.
Does the breeder require that you crop your pup or does he/she permit natural ears? Which do you prefer and will the breeder support or permit your choice. If not, find another breeder. If you need help with this decision, you can order a tape from S.F. Products (800-235-2094) called “All About Ears”. The tapes discusses the pros and cons of both cropped ears and the natural ear; how to locate a vet to crop; how to tape cropped ears; how to deal with problem ears with taping techniques; corrective surgery for some problem ears, etc. You can order via phone with either Visa or MasterCard between 8:00 AM, EST and 9:00 PM, EST.
What type of support services does the breeder offer you, if any? Will the breeder be a resource for you if you have questions about behavior; training; health? If not, find another breeder. Do they board at all?
Your breeder should be there for you via either phone or email with information about behavior and assistance with training tips. You will need guidance with regard to certain surgical procedures, where veterinarians differ in their recommendations, like tacking stomachs in an attempt to prevent torsion. I don’t put my foot down with regard to much, but I will not allow stomach tacking in a pup as a preventative surgery. I don’t object in an adult who has actually torsioned.
BOTTOM LINE: There are many bad breeders in the dog world. Some are bad because they don’t know what they are doing, and others are bad because they don’t care. The ones who don’t know will improve as they learn. It’s up to you to ferret out a good breeder who is willing to provide any assistance you might need and a breeder that you feel comfortable dealing with. Ignorance on the part of the breeder can produce results that will break your heart.
If a breeder’s paperwork sounds like the breeder is attempting to dazzle you with info that they know is over the average person’s head (thus making the breeder look extremely knowledgeable); if the breeder’s paperwork is excessively concerned with finances, especially their expenses and compensations; if their paperwork tends to make you feel totally stupid; if they give a guarantee that requires you to “prove” you have taken or are taking good care of the pup; if they give a guarantee that requires you to maintain unreasonably detailed records; or if the breeder’s paperwork requires that you “sign away” any of your legal rights, run don’t walk to the next breeder you’d like to interview!!
Remember, the internet is helping you gather information about Danes. The internet can also assist bad breeders, so that they can successfully mask their inadequacies.
ADVICE: Make sure that your selected breeder is knowledgeable, caring and willing to share. If there is an abundance of glitz or an overload of info that is over your head, be careful. Remember, if you don’t understand the information presented, it is not much good to you. Make sure that you are totally comfortable with the breeder and would not be uncomfortable calling the breeder to discuss health, temperament or training issues.