Many breeders require anyone who purchases one of their dogs to sign a contract. To some buyers, especially first timers, a contract may feel invasive; they might think that for the money they spend, they should have total control over what they do with their puppy.
Explain to buyers that your contract is meant to ensure the dog’s well-being and preserve your reputation as a conscientious breeder. Signing it reinforces the responsibility they are undertaking and reminds them of the things they were told by you during visits and phone calls. Spending time getting to know buyers may be the best way to know what kind of dog owners they will be and will go a long way toward giving you peace of mind, no matter what is in your contract.
The requirement to sign a legal document should not be a last-minute surprise to buyers – it should be clear from the very beginning that there will be one. The contract should be available to review before the buyer decides whether or not to purchase a puppy from you. This act in itself can be a tool that will help you and a puppy seeker to decide if this will be a good fit.
This article does not offer any legal advice, but it does share insights and tips from some breeders about what they put in their contracts or whether they even use them at all.
Bobby Lewis, an attorney and long-time AKC Breeder of Merit of Sussex Spaniels, gave up written puppy contracts about 40 years ago. “My philosophy is to get a good feel for your puppy buyers up front and contracts are unnecessary. I also feel that many breeders’ contracts are too burdensome and draconian,” Lewis said. “I certainly would not buy a dog with some of the contract provisions I have heard about. While contract provisions are generally enforceable, the cost of litigation is prohibitive from a breeder’s perspective.”
Contracts vary greatly among breeders, but they should all contain the basics:
- the puppy’s AKC registration number
- the puppy’s microchip ID number
- names and registration numbers of the sire and dam
- purchase price
Puppies that are not show quality are usually sold with a limited registration and/or a spay/neuter requirement, and this should be addressed in the contract. Explain to buyers that dogs with limited registration are eligible to participate in all AKC events with the exception of conformation, and no progeny of these dogs is eligible for registration. A spay/neuter requirement is also common. There has been extensive research about when this should take place, and you should provide your buyers with information about how this applies to your breed. Read What Is the Best Age to Neuter or Spay Your Dog? for more information on spaying and neutering.
If you are selling a show prospect, chances are you’ll be doing some mentoring too. If the buyer does not want to show the dog, you might stipulate that you want to evaluate the puppy at a certain age and then show it yourself. Some breeders require owners to hire a professional handler to show their dog. Others will only sell show-quality puppies on a co-ownership. It might be changed to total ownership by the buyer upon completion of a championship title.
Since a show dog might be bred at some point, the contract should list all the breed-appropriate health screenings that must be performed (with acceptable results) before this dog is bred. It might also address who decides on a breeding match, who will whelp and place the puppies. Other details may include a puppy-back arrangement or financial details.
All good breeders want their puppies to have wonderful homes for life. But circumstances beyond the control of the best-intentioned buyers can change things. Health problems, finances, family issues, and more can make providing a dog the best home impossible.
AKC Breeder of Merit Betsy Kirkpatrick, of Bendywood Border Terriers, said “our main concern selling puppies is their safety. We have a buy back agreement and ask for first refusal if a family can’t keep a puppy. We offer to help place them as we want to know where they are and that they do not go to shelters to be resold.”
Health Guarantees & Veterinary Care
As a reputable breeder, you know that you cannot make a 100% guarantee that no health issues will ever come up; you can only do your very best by breeding only dogs that have the proper health clearances.
Some contracts include a guarantee against all genetic defects (usually up to a certain age), while others guarantee against specific ailments, such as heart problems, sometimes under certain conditions that may affect a breed.
Hip dysplasia is a common concern in many breeds and often breeders will guarantee against it in some way. Since it is thought to have environmental as well as hereditary causes, this guarantee usually requires the owner to limit strenuous exercise such as running on hard surfaces and jumping until the puppy is a year old or more, depending on the breed.
Requiring buyers to take the puppy to their own veterinarian within a few days of purchase is normal, as is providing a time frame during which the puppy can be returned to you for a refund if the vet finds any issues.
Saying that up-to-date health records will be provided is common too. “We give a schedule of when shots need to be given and shots and meds they have been given,” Kirkpatrick said.
Buyers might not understand why they don’t have complete freedom in the naming of their puppy, so you’ll need to explain why it’s important to you. You might require that your kennel name be part of the puppy’s name, allowing the new owners to choose part of name. Some breeders have themes for litters, and it can be fun for buyers to come up with a name that fits. Others provide a list of names and allow the buyer to choose one.
Some breeders send buyers home with the necessary form to register their new puppy, and some take care of it themselves. If you are an AKC Breeder of Merit, ensuring that your puppies get registered is one of the requirements, and you might let buyers know that you will be registering the puppy together online when they come to pick it up. Whatever your naming practices are, give the buyer time to choose their puppy’s registered name according to your agreement.
Other Contract Considerations
In Bendywood contracts, Kirkpatrick said that “fenced yards are a requirement but there are exceptions, and we are careful selling to homes with young children that may accidentally open a door. We explain about changing food from puppy to adult, and that the dogs are unaware of heights and to protect them from falling off decks and step railings.
“We have a 20-page packet we give with every puppy and a three-page list of instructions with every litter. Show puppies have different guidelines and breeding agreements, especially health clearances recommended by the Border Terrier Club of America.”
Kirkpatrick also goes into great depth with articles that are attached to the packet that goes with each puppy.
Cindy Stansell, AKC Breeder of Merit of Bulldogs, Finnish Spitz, and Siberian Huskies, feels that it’s “not good for the sport to have crippling contracts.” She uses contracts and tailors them to the expertise level of particular buyers. A first-time buyer’s contract may have more clauses.
As a breeder you want to ensure as much as possible that buyers will take care of their new family member to the best of their ability for a lifetime. Does your contract seem so restrictive or punitive that it intimidates buyers? If your contracts protect your puppies and your integrity, and offer the buyers support, you might even attract newcomers to the sport of dogs!