You want to add a new dog to the family and have decided on the breed. You are excited about bringing a puppy home, but now a different search begins — for the right breeder.
Adding a puppy to the family is a big decision to be made carefully, not impulsively. Selecting a responsible breeder, who conducts health testing and screens you to make sure you are a good fit for one of her dogs, is crucial. You are, after all, about to spend a substantial amount of money!
Knowing exactly what good breeders do that makes it worth the wait should help you make the right decision. Read on to learn how AKC Breeders of Merit and AKC Bred with H.E.A.R.T. breeders go above and beyond to raise healthy, well-adjusted puppies.
Responsible breeders screen for health issues. Both parents should be tested. Each AKC-recognized breed has a national parent club that has health information on its website and a code of ethics for members. Many breed clubs suggest members’ dogs have a Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) number before being bred. CHIC keeps track of what tests are recommended for each breed and maintains a searchable database of dogs that have had health testing.
After all this, there are still no guarantees. An honest breeder knows this. She already has a great deal of emotional and financial resources invested in her dogs, but if health testing doesn’t go well, the dogs will not be bred. If a breeder tells you that health screening is unnecessary and that her dogs are perfectly healthy, move on. Every breed has the potential for health problems.
Roseann Fucillo, who has been breeding Cilloette Butterflies Papillons since 1977, remembers making hard choices not to breed some beautiful dogs, particularly at the start of her breeding program nearly 40 years ago. One that comes to her mind was a daughter of her foundation bitch.
“I had been quite fortunate to start out with a quality show foundation bitch, Cassis,” says Roseann. “She was quite beautiful and very sound, with a distinguished pedigree that included several generations of Best in Show males. She produced well, no matter what dog she was bred to. She easily finished her championship under the age of eight months and was credited with producing nine champions. However, there was one exquisite daughter from her that had patellar luxation. This was very heartbreaking for me, because ethically, I would never use this puppy for breeding or even make her a champion.
“It certainly is personally satisfying when a dog of my breeding does well in competition, but for me it's not all about the wins. It's about being a responsible breeder, which is paramount to anything else, and it certainly isn't for the faint of heart,” she said. “You must make tough choices, knowing when to eliminate a dog from your breeding program, no matter how beautiful she may be. It's your responsibility to insure you do all you can to keep the breed healthy for generations to come.”
Roseann Fucillo and one of her Papillons
Once the dam and sire have been chosen and have passed their health clearances, it is time to plan the actual breeding. Breeders often will spare no expense to make their chosen breeding happen. Sometimes this means traveling to or having semen shipped from destinations great distances away. Once the breeding has been achieved, a breeder waits to learn if it was successful or not, and if he is expecting puppies in the future.
During gestation, the dam will be carefully monitored. There may be sonograms, and later, x-rays to count the puppies. Knowing how many puppies to expect helps the breeder oversee a safe delivery. A breeder is always prepared in case a C-section is necessary to successfully deliver the puppies.
After the litter is born, there is still a lot to be done. The breeder will make sure the puppies are thriving and the mother is doing well. The inhabitants of the whelping box (a special enclosure designed for mother dogs and their puppies) are watched closely. Puppy socialization starts right away, with the breeder carefully handling the puppies often.
When the puppies are about two weeks old, their eyes open and they become more active. Every day brings more feeding, more puppy poop, more cleaning and laundry. When they start climbing out of the whelping box, it is time to move them to a bigger living area. At around 4 weeks, they start eating real puppy food, and the weaning process begins. The breeder steps up socialization to help develop well-rounded, confident puppies.
While all this is going on, there are vet checks, vaccinations, and evaluations of the litter. The breeder will decide which puppy is the best fit for each potential buyer. Many breeders require potential puppy buyers to complete a questionnaire, so they can determine if the people who want a puppy are a good fit for one of their puppies.
The road to healthy, happy puppies is costly in financial and emotional ways, but well worth it to breeders who want a good life for every puppy.
Perhaps the most important aspect of responsible breeding is that many breeders take responsibility for every puppy they bring into the world for the puppy’s entire life. Many breeders will provide potential buyers with a contract that explains the breeder’s guarantees and policies, as well as the new owner’s responsibilities.
Fucillo has made lifelong friends of several puppy buyers over her 40 years of breeding. Many were repeat buyers. “It always warms my heart when I hear such great stories about my dogs. I take great pride in knowing my dogs were raised with a lot of love, which made them great pets. It's my responsibility to find them a great home, and in turn, make many families very happy, too.”
This article describes just a few of the things you should expect from AKC Breeders of Merit and Bred with H.E.A.R.T. breeders, who must meet stringent requirements. To learn the specifics, click the links above.