Finding The Right Breeder For You
The Quality Of The Breeder Is Reflected In The Quality Of The Dog
Anyone can be a breeder...put a male and a female together at the right time and a couple months later you have puppies...a few weeks after that, place an ad in the paper and bring in the money! The newspapers show the availability of AKC purebred puppies in a variety of breeds as well as those mixed breeds or "designer" breeds. Without a doubt everyone who placed those ads are breeders. The problem is that all breeders are not created equal...just as the animals they produce.
It is your decision and the decision of your family on not only the breed you want, but how much support you want after the sale and how much money you want to spend. If neither matter to you, then you have a large selection of breeders to choose from and you can probably save a couple hundred dollars too. Of course, in order to make that savings and lack of support worth it, you would have to buy the perfect dog. So, if that is what you are looking for, no need to read any further and I wish you good luck as you are going to need it. If you are looking for a long term investment from a source that works to preserve the integrity of a breed, then your choice of breeders narrows considerably and you have a lot more work to do.
If you have just started looking or even if you have purchased dogs or other animals in the past, you may not have realized the differences in breeders and may even view it like you are buying a used car....you just hope you won't get taken and don’t end up buying a lemon. There are some things to watch for that will increase your odds of getting a good, healthy match for you and your family. I have listed below my opinion on some major groupings of breeders based on what they offer both in support and quality of their animals.
The "What A Deal!" Breeder
As close as your nearest supermarket entrance, bulletin board, or discount ad circular....they have a special offer just for you because they realize how much you (or your puppy infatuated child) would love to have a dog. Cash is the only method of payment, and they share how wonderful the Mom and Dad are and they have been healthy all their life. They may ask cursory questions about your family but they won't be doing house inspections and they probably won't offer their phone number or ask for yours for follow up. The reasons for placing the puppy or dog could range from "we didn't expect another litter so soon" to "we wanted the kids to see the miracle of birth" to "we are moving and just can't take them all". Their only qualifier for you to buy their dog is the money in your hand. You go home thinking you have a great deal and maybe even helped out some people who were in a bind. If things go wrong and that suddenly healthy dog has seizures or Hip Dysplasia or any other problems, your good deal suddenly isn't.
The "Quality Purebred Puppy" Breeder
The most important thing to remember with a breeder in this group is that "quality" may mean different things to different people. They may test for some genetic disorders and may offer a limited health guarantee (i.e. 48 hours). The puppies are usually registered with the AKC or maybe one of the other more "less restrictive" organizations. They may charge more for ‘breeding rights’ or charge more for a girl over a boy. It can be hard to distinguish this type of breeder from a truly responsible breeder. Their monetary motivation is high on the list (rarely is this acknowledged) however they talk about wanting to offer "healthy" dogs to people who want them. They may put down other breeders who compete in competition (stating it is just a beauty contest and political) or they may have shown a little in conformation and proudly display some blue ribbons to prove how beautiful their stock is (blue ribbons are nice but unless it was a win at a National Specialty show, they aren't really worth much). If you are unfamiliar with AKC competition, these ribbons could be enough to fool you into a false sense of security that you really are purchasing the most beautiful dog in the world (but doesn't everyone think that?). The cost of these puppies is usually the same or even higher than a responsible breeder. It all comes down to how much they support the dog after the sale and what efforts they are taking to prove their 'quality' both in health screening and receiving acknowledgement for working toward the breed standard. In other words, they have to talk the talk and walk the walk...they should provide copies of all testing and provide documentation that the immediate family members have successfully competed in conformation and performance to the point that they have earned titles. Beauty, Brains and Health all contribute to the ideal Collie and if they are not focusing all three points, they are not doing the breed, and the buyer, justice.
The "Puppy Mill" Breeder
Volume is one aspect of this type of breeder but living conditions, testing, and motivation also play a part. The typical "miller" runs their operation like a business and profit is the only motivator. Volume is their key to success. There are, however, people with their families that may keep a small breeding colony of four or five bitches and one male and sell exclusively thru advertising...they seem to always have puppies on the ground or soon to be born. Again the issue is motivation, testing, and living conditions. Living conditions are often streamlined to take advantage of the most dogs with the least amount of labor (i.e. cage raised). Bitches are bred early and continually until they are no longer "profitable" and the amount of females is disproportionate to the number of males (i.e. 90% females). Socialization and genetic testing are not done as it does not contribute to profit...the goal is a healthy appearing puppy in a shop or available for viewing that will be purchased before any health issues become evident. You are not allowed to see where they were "raised"...they are usually sold thru pet shops but some smaller "millers" may make arrangements to meet you at a predetermined spot. Again, you are only screened to the point that you can afford to buy the dog. Buyers may fall for them based on an impulse purchase (how much is that doggy in the window?) or feel sorry for them with their sad eyes staring out from a cage. The problem is, by the time you take home that impulse purchase or that sad face you want to make happy, it is often too late for the puppy to become a well adjusted and healthy animal. Enough corners have been cut in a young puppy’s life that their chance for being a successful companion is significantly reduced.
The "Show Prospects" or "AKC Champion Lines" Breeder
At the most basic level, a 'show quality' dog is one that is AKC registered and not spayed or neutered. That's it. Some breeders offer 'show quality' when they have never even stepped into an AKC breed competition ring. If the dog has a few champions in the pedigree four generations back, it only tells you that the three generations closest to your dog did not successfully compete in conformation or were not shown. Even Champions have littermates that were not of the same quality so it is not realistic at all to think that someone calling a dog 'show quality' or a dog with a Champion generations back in the pedigree can get you a well bred dog that adheres to the Collie Club of America written standard. There are a very small handful of breeders who do work to breed to the standard without being in the show ring but they are VERY few and far between.
What does that mean for a buyer? If you have no specific plans for performance or competition, then it may not matter as much to you how much devotion a breeder puts into breeding to the standard. But, if you have plans that involve specific activities, finding a breeder that aligns their program to your goals becomes very important.
Most breeders who offer prospects for performance and competition are going to be more interested in someone who knows what they are doing and have a track record of success or at least a dedicated attempt. They may want to run your life (your success is their success), or they could cut you loose and let you succeed or fail on your own. If you are lucky, you will find someone in between-someone to support you when you ask for help but won't be banging on your door if you have some ideas of your own. If you really are looking for a prospect in the AKC conformation or performance ring, you would hopefully have read up enough on the breed to know the parent club website, the written standard of the Collie, the breeder referral network, local breed clubs, and a beginning understanding of the genealogy and "families" of Collies. If you don't start ahead and do your homework, you could have more than a few regrets.
The "Responsible" Breeder
Harder to find than a Polar Bear in a snowstorm (or at least it sometimes feels that way). In my opinion, I consider a Responsible Breeder to be someone with a high degree of dedication to the fancy and the breed and that includes all the tangibles and intangibles. If you have studied and are clear in your goals for the betterment of the breed and are embarking on your first litter, I would say that qualifies you over someone who produces two or three (or more) litters a year touting "healthy collies" or "champion pedigrees" and is looking no farther than the next "crop" of sales. A Responsible Breeder is as dedicated to the life of the dog at 10 years of age as at 10 weeks.
What is unique about a Responsible breeder is that they often draw from aspects of most of the breeder classifications above. They should combine all the best attributes of each with the motivation being improvement of quality, not improvement of the pocket book.
From the "What a Deal!" breeder they may have been known to make accommodations for a family that had the heart but not the funds.
From the "Quality Purebred Puppy" breeder they take quality even more seriously. They apply it to conformation, health, and temperament. They do breed specific testing, make sure their puppies are socialized, and provide health guarantees and often even require home inspections.
From the "Puppy Mill" breeder they keep in mind fiscal issues. Throwing money at something won't necessarily make it better. A fiscally sound breeder knows that they have responsibilities to themselves and their dogs and if they cannot afford to keep some due to budget and time, they owe it to the dog to find someone who can.
The "Show Prospects/AKC Champion Lines" Breeder...if you aren't producing quality based on evaluation in the conformation and performance rings then you are ignoring one of the most definable features of the Collie - Beauty. You also have a responsibility to future fanciers by sharing your knowledge and assisting when you are asked. You have a responsibility to the history of the breed, the betterment of the breed, and giving the dogs the opportunity to prove they have "the stuff".
Some things to watch for in advertising:
If they cannot spell 'purebred', don't expect them to be able to produce it. This may sound harsh, but if they confuse 'purebred' with 'full blood', 'pure blood' or just plain old 'pure' then they haven't learned enough about the breed to use the right terminology, let alone the finer points of the breed and recommended health testing.
Just in time for (insert the holiday of choice). They aren't stupid...they know they can place more puppies around the holidays by attracting impulse buyers so they plan it that way. Responsible breeders often refuse to place puppies or dogs during the holidays or other hectic times...with rare exceptions, Holidays are not the time to try to help your new puppy or dog adjust.
Females and males are priced differently. There should be no distinction...a quality dog is a quality dog regardless of sex. They are just trying to get a little more for females at the point of sale because they assume you will be making more money with her as you will be breeding her. Responsible breeders are extremely selective in allowing breeding of any puppies they sell as they realize that quality is hard earned and easily lost.
Pricing is different "with papers". This type of selling can get the seller barred from AKC privileges and it is not tolerated. The AKC registration papers are not a sign of quality...it is recognition that the parents, grandparents, great grand-parents etc etc back to a specified "official" beginning of the breed were registered with the AKC. The dog could be blind, born with 3 legs and not have a tooth in its head and still be AKC registered.
Something with an "oodle" in it (colliedoodle). OK, if that is your selling point, then nothing I am saying will mean a thing. Mixing breeds to meet a fad is irresponsible and guarantees you nothing for temperament and type.
Breeding dogs is part science, part luck, and part financial ruin. It is not an endeavor that you will make money at on a consistent basis if you are taking the appropriate precautions, testing, and proving the quality of stock through exhibition....frankly I have yet to make money on ANY basis. The primary importance of breeding your dog should be WILL IT IMPROVE THE BREED both inside and out. This doesn't mean just getting closer to the standard, but getting a healthier and happier dog. As a responsible breeder, it becomes my job to balance what I feel is most important vs. the risks....and there are always risks.
So Why Breed Dogs?
Why indeed. There are plenty of statistics available on the amount of animals put down every year and there are rescue groups across the country. Does this mean all breeding should stop and there should be breeding laws? No. Beyond the fact that enforcement would only be applied to those who publicly acknowledge their attempt to sell puppies, I firmly believe that those methods would be the best way to ensure that many of the caring people involved in the breeding dogs would disappear....people who have little if any priority on profit, but also do not want to lose more money that they already are. The survivors would be puppy millers who can afford to pay the exorbitant breeding fees, as well as the thousands of dogs that belong to people who do not keep vaccinations up to date let alone worry about spaying or neutering or paying license or breeding fees. This is why breeding must be taken so seriously.
I believe that sound, healthy dogs will hopefully replace the many poorly bred animals that occur now. I also believe that we have a right to a quality animal and should not be bound to only adopt castoffs, strays, and other people’s poor choices. That being said, adopting could be the most rewarding choice you may make. Go to the shelters and rescue groups and only after you have researched and decided that these were not options for you and/or your family, look for the breed of dog that will most likely fit your personality and lifestyle....and then do some studying. Familiarize yourself with the problems of the breed you are interested in and do not be afraid to ask the breeder questions. Every breed has its problems and the best way to create a good outcome is to educate yourself.