How to Find a Puppy: 8 Questions to Ask a Breeder

Colour me excited! Seven weeks ago, I met my new love: a week-old white and black puppy who stole my heart at first sight. Next weekend, she’s coming home with me.

The pretty little pup’s got a big job ahead of her: blending in with my trio of cats, Sally, Daisy and now Henry, and helping mend my broken heart. In July, I lost my precious dog and plus one of eight years. (He was 16, so clearly rehomed and the best impulse decision I’ve ever made).

It’s been a long year for everyone, and few people I know haven’t experience loss of some kind.

But this weekend’s a new start – I pick up my pup and the journey begins. For the first time, I know one of my pet’s origin story. I know her birthdate, her pedigreed, and her puppyhood.

And that last one scares me a bit – ok, a lot – because I’ve got to do this right. I’ve never trained a puppy before, so I’ve got some research and learning ahead of me.

I’ve also never bought a puppy either.

Until I lost my Victor in July, I had no idea how difficult it is to adopt a rescue dog. I’ve supported rescues, donated, participated in fundraisers and promoted local rescues on dogtrotting.net.

Then I tried to adopt through a shelter, then a rescue, then another, and another. Rescues are harder to adopt dogs from than I realized. During my research and while sharing tales of woe on social media, I started to hear similar stories – and not only during a pandemic, either. At least 15 people on a Facebook post shared past stories of rescue rejection because of their age, kids, lack of fence etc. I was surprised yet heartened a bit because it wasn’t just me.

I understand pet rescues have the best interest of the animals at heart (I’ve adopted three cats), but many dog rescues seem to be overlooking remarkably dedicated pet parents for remarkably minor reasons, even at the best of times.

And these are not the best of times.

We all know what happened in 2020. Quarantining had many unforeseen effects including a societal yearning for canine companionship, so applications for dogs increased. Add to that a US/Canadian border shut down and you’ve got a situation where supply can’t meet demand.

 The border closure is significant. Apparently, many grassroots volunteer-run rescues in Canada transport van loads of small dogs from high-kill shelters in the U.S.

Add the fact efforts to shut down puppy mills (in Ontario, anyway) is working and we’re left with a weird good news bad news situation: Fortunately, Canadians aren’t surrendering dogs at a rate high enough to supply small dog adoption demand.

Yet the demand is fueling some nefarious practices like stealing or ‘flipping’ dogs online as prices for mutts creep into the thousands of dollars. Otherwise, backyard breeders are selling unfixed 8- or 10-year adults whose ‘usefulness’ has expired.

The picture isn’t pretty, and circulating are stories of people advertising pups that don’t exist, yet demanding etransfers as down payments. It’s one reason I don’t etransfer … or make a down payment on dogs I didn’t meet in person.

I gave up filling in form after form with rescues, receiving a reply from only a few and a dog from none. But I continued looking for a new barking buddy to fill the canine-sized hole in my heart … and finally, I found the Sprocker – half Cocker Spaniel and half Springer Spaniel – of my dreams.

If you’ve read my previous post about finding Victoria, my new puppy, you know that seven weeks ago I jumped in my car to meet her, see the environment she’s being raised in and then leave a cheque deposit before heading to Three Dog Winery to celebrate my victory (check it out here).

Before that though, I did something I said I’d never do: I answered an online ad selling puppies. Of course, I was hesitant but also at a loss for other options. First, however, I tapped into my extensive online dog enthusiast network and solicited advice from dog communities and groups.

Here are the results.

Questions to ask a home breeder or accidental litter situation:

  • Ask to visit the home to see if the dogs are family pets and not in cages. (I did).
  • Ask questions about the health of mom and dad. (I met mom who was happy and playful).
  • Ask to see where the puppies will be born, and where they’ll be raised with mom. (In my case, the pups where already born).
  • Ask if they begin potty training the puppies before they go home (at eight weeks or more).
  • Ask what food they feed mom and puppies after weaning. (Mine comes home with a bag of kibble).
  • Ask what kinds of enrichment activities they provide for mom and dad and what they plan to provide for puppies. (In the case of my puppy Victoria, I received weekly photos and videos of playful puppies with children and outdoors too).

If you are adopting from a professional breeder:

  • Ask to see the agreement you’ll be signing when you do pick up the puppies. Any reputable breeder should have a clause that you as the adopter should never surrender the dog to a shelter or rescue. Instead the breeder should take the dog back. If they re-home the dog, they’re re-homing according to their standards.
  • A professional breeder should provide a health warranty. For instance, you should get a certain number of days to take the puppy to your vet. If there’s anything life threatening diagnosed, you’d get your money back.
  • Also, professional breeders should warranty for a certain number of years for potential genetic problems.
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What have I learned so far on my journey to finding a new four-legged sidekick? First, there’s a lot of viewpoints about where, when and how to adopt a pet out there. Second, not every litter of puppies is from a puppy mill, not every breeder is recklessly producing dogs and finally, not every rescue is the ideal place to find your next family member.

Don’t get me wrong; I still support rescues and shelters above all else. (It’s the only place I know to find cats). But I won’t be filling in anymore complex forms and releasing personal information to volunteer-run organizations, many who don’t have a confidentiality policy or guarantee. I will be trusting the universe to bring me what I need when, which is exactly how I met Victor … and now Victoria.  

9 comments

  1. Weemontyandmissmolly · · Reply

    So very happy for you!! Congrats on your new fur baby!

    1. Thanks so much!

  2. Oh! You are fellow Torontonian! That’s so great!

    And I love the name “Victoria”! I’m sure you are counting the days. And your readers will get to follow her adventures as she grows up. 😊

  3. Congrats! I’m in the US, recently lost my best girl, and found myself in a similar situation. I’ve previously adopted from rescues and shelters (7 dogs, adopted as adults of various ages, they all lived well into old age). The rescues I applied to, had notified me of my approval and the dog adoption ensued. In 2020, I have filled out numerous applications, provided personal and vet references, gave permission to come to my home/yard, etc. and have not a word from any of the rescues. And, yes, I did give them ample time–months–to get back to me. I ended up at an SPCA adoption event (held outside), where I selected the dog I was interested in (I knew that dog would be there that day and hoped she wasn’t adopted by the time I got there), filled out the application and took her home that same day. I took her back to the shelter clinic a week later to have her spay surgery. I am grateful the shelter made the adoption so simple. I am over the moon in love with my new girl. I am a believer in rescue and did not want to buy a puppy (I also was not interested in training a puppy!) and feared the rescues were going to force my hand to do so. Fortunately, I was at the right place at the right time. Your tips are excellent ones for someone pursuing a pup. All the best to you and Victoria.

    1. So glad you found a dog so easily. Buying a puppy wasn’t my first plan either but even a local SPCA declined me last minute (after checking all my references) because I didn’t have a fence.

  4. Nice post Sherri! Sounds really frustrating what you went through with the rescue shelters. I’m just curious where you do live? Canada or the U.S.? I don’t think there’s a difference in process of rescue applications. I hear it’s quite rigid here in Toronto and I have heard the frustrating stories! Sounds like you found a lovely puppy! That’s pretty exciting! ❤️

    1. Canada – just outside Toronto. I’m getting Victoria from Kingston.

  5. Looking forward to hearing more about Victoria and your adventures together! Congratulations!
    And thank you for the great advice!

    1. Thank you. It will be an adventure!

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