Made for Each Other:
Matching Your Puppies With the Best Prospective Homes
Part Three: A Breeders' Forum
By Arliss Paddock
Matching puppies with the right homes is one of the most challenging aspects of being a breeder. To conclude our three-part series on this topic, for this issue we invited six experienced breeders to offer their advice and comments. We thank them for sharing with our readers the knowledgeable insights that follow.
What are some of the first things you say or ask when someone inquires about a puppy?
Shih Tzu breeder Jo Ann White: I begin by asking if they have owned a Shih Tzu or other dog before and why they decided on our breed. I follow this by asking if they have children or a fenced yard, and so on, and then discuss breed specifics, such as the breed’s many good qualities and its need for attention and regular grooming.
French Bulldog breeder Jan Grebe: I ask, “Have you ever had a Frenchie? If not, why do you want one now?” I also find out if they have had other breeds, particularly short-faced breeds, as these have special considerations regarding care. I also ask whether they have hopes to show or breed or are primarily looking for a pet.
Manchester Terrier breeder Virginia Antia: If they haven’t had a Manchester before, I ask if they’ve owned any terrier breed. If not, I ask what made them choose a Manchester as their next dog.
Löwchen breeder Alice Bixler: First I ask, “Have you owned a dog before?” If they say yes, I ask what happened to the dog. If they tell me he was out roaming around the neighborhood and got hit by a car, or that he was turned over to a shelter when their baby was born, there’s no chance they’ll get a pup from me.
Roseann Fucillo, Papillon breeder: Among other things I ask if they have children, and if so, of what ages. I explain that Papillons should not be placed in a home with young children under 7 years old. Even if a child is good with dogs, I am concerned about her friends visiting and leaving doors open or picking up the dog and having it leap out of their arms, which can lead to serious injuries. I also have concerns about placing Paps in homes with larger pets; I have heard many horror stories, even involving good-natured larger breeds.
Jacqueline Gottlieb, breeder of Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers and Welsh Terriers: It can be a challenge to deal with certain hostilities. For the caller whose first question is “How much?” I just tell them the amount, saving further frustration.
For the caller who tries to get the dog cheaper, I simply say, “That is my price.” At the first sign of a difficult personality, get out gracefully, and save yourself-and possibly the dog—the trouble of dealing with human-personality aberrances.
Photo by Mary Bloom
Do you have prospective owners respond to a questionnaire?
Grebe: It depends on the situation. If I know the person, or she lives fairly close, I prefer to sit down with her in her home, with any other animals and family members on hand, and just work through a set of questions verbally. This allows for there to be follow-up questions to clarify anything that seems to need pursuing.
It also provides a look at the physical layout of the home. If the person inquiring lives at some distance so that I do not personally visit the home, I like to have someone I know visit for me, and I either conduct a phone interview or have the person complete a questionnaire via e-mail.
Antia: Talking to prospective puppy buyers on the phone works for me. Unfortunately people tend to say what they think you want to hear when filling out
This can be true of phone conversations too, so I don’t ask specific questions. Instead, we talk about dogs in general, dogs they have owned, other pets, family members, and so on.
Fucillo: I do either a telephone or e-mail interview before I tell them if I have a puppy available or not. I dislike receiving e-mails that only ask what I have available and how much the puppy costs without giving me any information about themselves or the home they can provide. I like receiving well-thought-out e-mails from people who tell me all about themselves and their family situation and how they plan to care for the puppy.
Gottlieb: I like to get people to talk. With this, given enough time, it will be clear that they are suitable—or not.
What are some of the most important criteria in determining if this will be the right home for one of your puppies?
White: Whether they have thought long and hard about whether to get a dog and what kind they should get. They must have the time to devote to a pet, no past history of “throw-away dogs,” and no boisterous, ill-mannered young children.
It’s the impulse buyers who wind up with an unsuitable breed or never should have gotten a dog in the first place whose dogs wind up needing to be rehomed.
Grebe: For Frenchies, an air-conditioned house and car are essential in most climates. I also talk to the person to find out what sorts of activities they expect to pursue with the dog. Frenchies are not dogs to go out jogging with their owners; leisurely walks in cool weather are more their speed.
Fucillo: I tell people that I will never ship my dogs and that I must meet them. Sometimes I think it is easier for people to adopt a child than it is to purchase a puppy from me!
Antia: The most important thing for me is that they sound or seem responsible. So many things come up in a conversation that speak of responsibility, such as if their last dog died of old age (or even of some disease where there was time and money spent on treatment), or they have done extensive research on the breed.
Discussions about dog food, dog toys, other pets, and places they went with their last or current dog, along with talk of that dog’s tricks and cute quirks, tell me pretty much what I need to know.
Bixler: Go with your intuition. Most of the time, it’s right. Don’t ignore it. If there’s something about a potential puppy-buyer that doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
What things do you consider in matching specific puppies with individual homes?
White: The less-outgoing puppy is generally best suited to a calm household with no young children and with owners who want a dog to cuddle rather than roughhouse, while the more energetic one is better suited to people with children and/or those who would enjoy engaging in lots of activities.
The fearful puppy needs a more experienced owner willing to take the time to deal with his problems. If a person wants to keep her Shih Tzu in full coat rather than clip him down, she needs one with a sturdier coat texture rather than one who mats if you look at him cross-eyed.
Grebe: Shy or fearful puppies are good for older, single people who live alone, without other pets, and who spend a lot of time with the dog and don’t expect it to be too athletic or to interact with a lot of strangers.
More energetic pups would do well with a family whose children are old enough and responsible enough to realize that Frenchies must not be allowed to overheat and that the breed should be picked up and held carefully.
Fucillo: The less-outgoing puppy can come out of her shell if she has been submissive to a sibling. A retired couple would be best suited for this type, as they could bring the dog confidence with lots of one-on-one attention.
A more fearful puppy needs lots of socialization, training classes, walks, and lots of love and attention to gain confidence. This type of pup as well would respond best in a calm, all-adult situation and much exposure to people, public places, and other animals, done in progressive stages. Use rewards and treats when a behavior has improved.
Bixler: For the most part, it’s a matter of talking to the people and getting a feeling for what they really want or need in a pet. A breeder is part psychoanalyst.
Sometimes people tell you what they want, but what they describe is not the right dog for them. In one case (I was breeding Beardies at the time), a woman with three active children insisted on a particular high-energy pup, and I let her take the pup, with misgivings. I was right.
Several weeks later, she called and said the dog was running rampant over the furniture and chasing after the kids (when they ran and yelled, naturally), and they couldn’t control her. This was obviously the wrong dog for this household, and I told her I believed I knew exactly the sort of personality she needed.
I had a 3-year-old male, a finished champion, who was playful but laid-back, and I said, “Why don’t you take Boomer for a week or two, and let me know if this is more the personality you want in a Beardie? If it is, then I’ll pick that sort of pup for you when I have another litter.”
Sure enough, she called me later to tell me Boomer was “perfect.” Then she added, “but instead of a pup, can we please keep Boomer, please?” I thought that might happen, and agreed. They stayed in touch, and he had a long and happy life with them.
Gottlieb: A home with not-too-young but active kids is best for the very energetic and outgoing puppy—but I love that home for all my babies.
Often the seemingly shy puppy is just a quiet, confident one who looks at his siblings as though they are nuts. Caring, not-too-young adults who will go to classes and not “hover” too much would be the best bet as owners.
What are some of the ways that you assess puppy personality?
Grebe: I closely observe each pup’s interactions with his littermates, other animals, and people. I also temperament-test at an appropriate age.
White: I look at which puppy goes out eagerly to meet strange people and new situations, and which hangs back a bit and seeks reassurance. You must evaluate the puppies separately, not as a pack, remembering that sometimes they might be tired or out of sorts and react differently than they would normally.
Antia: I play with my pups and have them underfoot in the kitchen. I sit on the floor with them, let them climb on me, pick them up and hold them, and bring new things into their environment for them to explore—such as cardboard boxes, empty dog-food bags (I throw in a few kibbles), and noisy plastic water-bottles that crunch when bitten. I take the pups to different rooms and put them on different surfaces.
After a while you can sort them out—there’s the Explorer, the Climber, the Burrower, the Tugger, the Snuggler, and the Suspicious One.
Gottlieb: I watch them carefully. (That is why we call them “the little time wasters.”) I like to see who is first to get out of the box and to use the step that goes up from their little ex-pen to the drop pen. I notice how they react to different surfaces, situations, and people.
A Lifetime Effort
White: It is extremely important to spend time from the very beginning socializing puppies so that they are well on their way to being trained and will adjust well to their new homes. You also need to take the time to advise new owners, both before and after they take their puppy home, so that minor issues don’t become major problems. Contact them to check on how things are going if they don’t contact you. This is really a lifetime effort on your part if your placement is to be a good one. And, of course, you need to be willing to take back the puppy who doesn’t work out.
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.