Matching Your Puppies With the Best Prospective Homes
Part One: Reaching and Screening Potential Owners
By Arliss Paddock
While screening prospective homes for a litter of English Cocker Spaniel puppies several years ago, I had a memorable phone conversation with a caller who was inquiring about a pet puppy. This person was of that especially challenging category: He’d never had a dog. He had decided it was time, though, and he’d earnestly done research on dog breeds and responsible ownership.
We had a pleasant initial chat about the breed and its proper care and were about to hang up when, after a pause, he offered a final question, with great concern in his voice.
“If the dog had been on the sofa, and then I sat on the sofa afterward, would I get dog hair on my pants?”
Uh oh, I thought. This nice fellow has not done quite enough homework. Perhaps he’s not quite ready to get a dog, if indeed he ever will be. I explained that, yes, he probably would get dog hair on his pants—and on his shirt, and in fact there would always be some amount of dog hair all over the house, no matter how often he cleaned.
Finding wonderful homes for puppies is far from easy. For many breeders, this process—not cleaning up soiled puppy-papers—is the most unpleasant aspect of raising dogs. Carefully screening prospective buyers so as to match each available pup with the most suitable home can be a time-consuming process accompanied by enough stress and worry to keep one tossing and turning for many a night.
What can you do to help ensure that you’ll find the right puppy homes? Although there is no perfect formula, there are a number of things that can optimize your success in screening potential owners and pairing them with the pups who suit them best.
Getting the Word Out
The first step is making sure that people know you have or will have pups available. If you are relatively new to breeding, this will entail more effort on your part than for the prominent longtime breeder who may have a large network of people who know of her or have obtained dogs from her in the past. Such a breeder may even have a waiting list of homes for upcoming litters.
If you’re not yet a member of your breed’s AKC parent club, as a responsible breeder you should be, and you can look to the club for excellent resources to help in puppy placement. The AKC recommends to prospective owners that they start their search for a puppy with the parent club, and most parent clubs maintain a breeder-referral program whereby prospective owners who contact the club are referred to breeders in their area.
For many parent clubs, breeders who wish to participate in the referral program are expected to abide by the club’s code of ethics. This requirement affirms for potential owners that the people listed have the breed’s best interests foremost in mind.
Links to the parent-club breeder-referral contacts for every AKC breed are provided on the AKC website, under both the “Breeders” and “Future Owners” headings. As a supplemental resource, the AKC site also offers online Breeder Classifieds, where available puppies can be listed.
Many parent clubs provide space for advertisement of planned or current litters in the club publication or on the website. An ad in the club publication can be a great place to feature the litter’s pedigree and photos of the sire and dam.
The Importance of Having Your Own Website
If you haven’t done so already, as a reputable breeder you might consider creating your own website where you can share news and information about your line and about the breed. Your website can be an excellent educational resource for potential owners who want to learn about the pros and cons of living with the breed. Take advantage of the fantastic public-education opportunity the Internet offers. You can refer people who inquire about a puppy to important, in-depth breed information on your website and that of the parent club. Be honest about the challenges of owning the breed as well as its delights. An understanding now of these realities by someone who thinks they want to own this breed might prevent an unfortunate situation later for both the dog and the person involved.
Coming Up With the Right Questions
If the person has been educated about the pros and cons of owning the breed and is still interested in a puppy, the next step is to have him respond to a puppy-buyer questionnaire. This consists of a series of questions that will first of all help to confirm whether this person will provide an appropriate home for a dog of this breed. Secondly, the responses will help to indicate areas where the person may need education. Finally, they will provide valuable information toward identifying which puppy in your litter, if any, will most suit this person in aspects such as temperament and activity level.
The questionnaire can consist of a page on your website where a potential owner can enter information, or it can be a document that you provide in printed form or via e-mail. It’s important that the questionnaire is tailored according to issues especially relevant for your breed. For example, if dogs of your breed or bloodline are prone to leaping or climbing out of enclosures, you might include very detailed questions regarding the height and construction of the potential owner’s fences. If your breed can regard small animals as prey, you’ll need to ask specifically about any small pets in the household.
A paragraph at the top should convey to the potential owner that the function and intent of the questionnaire are ultimately to help ensure the best-possible match and the best-possible future for both dog and owner. Ideally the person will realize that honest answers are vital to identifying which puppy will be most suitable to their household, lifestyle, and personality.
Also at the top, you will want to provide space for the person’s name, address, and other contact information.
Below are examples of the sort of questions that you might invite potential owners to respond to. Again, it will be most productive to tailor the questionnaire with an eye toward the special needs and idiosyncracies of your breed and bloodline.
A Sample Questionnaire<
- Please indicate what type of dwelling you live in (e.g., single home, townhouse, or apartment). Does it have a doggy door leading outside?
- How long have you lived at this address? Do you own or rent your home?
- Is your yard fenced? If so, please describe the enclosure (height of fence, material/construction, and so on).
- Who will be the puppy’s primary caregiver?
- Where will the puppy spend the daytime hours?
- Will someone be at home with the puppy during the day? If not, what arrangements will be made to feed and exercise him?
- On average, how many hours will the puppy be left alone every day? Where will he stay when left alone?
- Where will the puppy spend the night?
- Do you have a swimming pool? If so, is it fenced?
- Do you have children living in the household? If so, what ages are they?
- Is anyone in your household allergic to dogs?
- Do all household members agree to the addition of a dog?
- Please describe a typical weekday in your household.
- Please describe a typical weekend day in your household.
- What leisure activities do you engage in frequently that you would like to do with a dog?
- Have you ever owned a dog? If so, what breed(s)? What happened to the dog(s) you previously owned?
- Have you ever bred a dog and/or raised a litter of puppies?
- Have you ever turned in an animal to a shelter or rescue?
- Have you ever had a dog hit by a car?
- Describe any other animals in your household. (Species? Size? Age? Sex? Spayed or neutered?)
- Have the other animals in your household been around a puppy or dog? If so, how did they react?
- What is your feeling about crate training?
- How do you plan to housetrain this puppy?
- Are you willing to attend puppy-socialization and basic obedience classes?
- Have you ever attended puppy-socialization or basic obedience classes with a dog you own? If so, what was that experience like for you?
- Have you ever participated in a sport or competition for dogs? Would you like to? If so, which one(s)?
- How do you feel about the fact that this dog will shed hair?
- How much grooming of this dog do you plan to do yourself?
- What do you consider to be the ideal activity level of the dog you hope to own?
- What do you consider to be the ideal personality of the dog you hope to own?
- Why do you want a dog of this breed? Please be very specific.
- What gender of dog do you want? Why? Will you agree to spay or neuter?
- Are you prepared to make a commitment to this dog for its entire life?
Coming Up in Part Two
Next time we’ll conclude our discussion of screening the potential owner, and we’ll also look at assessing puppy personality with an eye toward matching each pup with the right home.
Arliss Paddock breeds and shows English Cocker Spaniels, is former managing editor of the AKC Gazette, and is editor of the magazine’s Breed Columns.