Matching Your Puppies With the Best Prospective Homes
Part Two: Ensuring a Happy Future for Puppy and Owner
By Arliss Paddock
As we saw in Part One of this series, reaching and carefully screening potential owners so as to place puppies in the best-possible homes are among a breeder’s most difficult—and most important—tasks.
It is our mandate as breeders to do all we can to help ensure that every pup who leaves us will have ahead of him a happy, healthy life where he is cherished, given ample attention, suitably matched with his owner’s personality and lifestyle, kept safe, and cared for well and responsibly. These are the conditions we must strive to ensure above all; only secondarily can we then focus on hoped-for future directions for the pup, such as success in conformation, performance, or companion events, accomplishments as a service or therapy dog, and so on.
Each experienced breeder who has dealt with many puppy inquiries over the years has fine-tuned her own system for matching pups with homes. A breeder’s approach might be tailored a certain way because of her particular breed’s traits and care requirements, for example. Other factors that can play into how a breeder deals with inquiries include breed popularity, region of the country, the personality types of people who tend to inquire about the breed, and the manner in which most of her inquiries are received (whether by telephone or through a website, for example).
Photo by Mary Bloom
One Breeder’s Perspective: Lilian Barber
AKC Breeder: What are some of the first things you say to or ask new people who inquire about a puppy?
AKC judge Lilian Barber, of Murrieta, California, has owned, shown, and bred Italian Greyhounds for more than 40 years, under the La Scala kennel name. She is past president and current first vice-president and membership chair for the Italian Greyhound Club of America, and she works in breeder referral and co-authored the breed’s illustrated standard. She is also the author of four books on the breed. We are honored that she took the time to share with us her comments on matching pups with the right homes. Her interview follows.
L.B.: “First I ask if they’ve had the breed before. If they have, the next few questions are a little different than for prospective first-time owners. For the sake of this article, let’s assume they have not owned the breed.
Do you routinely provide inquirers with breed information?
“My first question is whether or not they are familiar with the breed and its characteristics. Often they’ll come up with some misinformation acquired on the Internet. In this case I tell them (nicely) that we’ve had IGs in numbers from 1 to 14 living with us since 1966, and I can assure them that what they saw or heard was not correct.
“I tend to tell them the ‘bad stuff’ first—for example, noting that yes, IGs are difficult to housetrain. (Then I tell them that it’s not by any means impossible, however.) I also try to weed out people to whom I wouldn’t sell a puppy under any circumstances, such as people who think dogs should be outside all the time, people with multiple small children, and people who want a live pet who behaves like a stuffed toy.
“In the past two years I have also weeded out those who say they will not buy pet insurance, even after I explain to them that the costs of veterinary care and the potential expense of a broken leg or a serious illness.”
“The Italian Greyhound Club of America has a breed brochure, much of which I wrote. I provide that, and I also supply them with an FAQ that I wrote and that we use for Meet the Breeds events. I also refer them to the websites of the IGCA and the American Kennel Club.”
Do you have prospective owners respond to a puppy-buyer questionnaire?
“Personally, I have not found formal, written questionnaires to produce really useful answers. Usually I start with a telephone interview, and if that goes well I invite the prospect to visit. I’ll do that even if I don’t have any puppies immediately available, and I’ll refer them to someone else. As I’m the parent club’s breeder-referral person, there are quite a few inquiries.”
What are some of the criteria you consider most important in determining whether a person or family will be the right home for one of your puppies?
“They have to be looking for a charismatic breed and be willing to deal with its foibles. If there are children, those children must be able to understand that this breed is not one for rough play. The family must be willing and able to give the dog the attention it needs. If the puppy is to belong to a child or teenager, I need to be convinced that an adult will provide backup for the necessary care and training.
What are some of the things you consider in matching specific puppies with individual homes in terms of puppy and owner personality?
“Definite physical requirements include a fenced yard or other secure area for the dog to potty. I no longer accept a prospective owner’s promise to walk the dog whenever necessary, since I’ve had more than one bad experience with that promise.
“As mentioned, the prospective owner must agree to get pet insurance. I explain to them that the AKC provides a starter policy when the puppy is registered. Someone who wants to bargain about the puppy price is an immediate no. My stock response to that is that they’re acquiring a living thing, not a used car.”
“Since IGs are very energetic youngsters and can remain so for years, I want to make sure that the future owners can deal with that energy.
“Less-outgoing puppies or those who might be fearful have to go to people who are able and willing to work with the puppy’s personality and who know that there might never be a huge change in it, no matter how much they try.”
What are some of the ways that you assess puppy personality?
As soon as puppies have had their second shots, we take them to a nearby pet store that allows people to bring their dogs. We try to repeat this visit twice a week, and I make a note of how each puppy reacts to the different situations encountered, as well as any improvements or regression.”
Are there any further tips not covered above that you’d like to share?
“I hate to say it, but one of the biggest problems is that people will tell you what they think you want to hear. The worst are the ones who may have been turned down by one or more other breeders; by the time they get to you, they know what to say. Ask enough questions to catch those little white lies.
“For a breed that has specific needs, ask questions about the home environment. For example, with Italian Greyhounds, I try to identify potential hazards that might cause the dog to be injured. If a prospective owner invites me to visit and check out their home, I’m more than happy to do it. I don’t ever specifically require a ‘home inspection,’ however.
“I also won’t ship a puppy under any circumstances. If the buyer isn’t willing to come and pick the dog up (or to pay my car expenses or plane fare to deliver him), it’s no sale.”
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.