As I sat this weekend at a wooden breakfast nook table with the breeder of my family’s new puppy, I began to think about what makes a good dog breeder. What had brought me to this moment with this particular person?
The search started last year after Peanut passed away. I started by going to the American Kennel Club website. From there, I followed the link to the national breed club website for Labrador Retrievers. I found the listings for all of the national breed club registered breeders in Florida. I looked at the breeding goals listed for each breeder (e.g., hunting, obedience, agility, conformation, family pet) and eliminated the breeders who bred dogs primarily for working ability. I was looking for a well rounded dog, not one with high drive or working ability. We were looking for a family dog who is laid back, what one of my friends calls a "Fireplace Lab."
Next, I went to each breeder’s website. I was able to quickly eliminate breeders who advertised by price or took payments online for the puppies without interviewing the prospective buyers. I was left with only two breeders. Because I wanted more options, I did a general Google search for Labrador Retriever breeders in Florida. I went through the same process with those breeders as I had with the first group that I had found. When I had the breeders narrowed down, I started e-mailing and calling.
When I spoke to each breeder, I was clear that I was looking for a puppy who was healthy, had the health clearances to prove it, and was not aggressive. I didn’t care about much else beyond that. In other words, the sex, color, and otherwise loveliness of the dog were not a big deal to me. I had a list of genetic clearances that I wanted, including: heart, thyroid, hips, elbows, and eyes. I ended up with two breeders to choose from — one in Georgia and one in Florida. I spent about an hour on the phone with each of the breeders, basically just talking as two friends would at a coffee shop. When you talk to someone on the phone for a long time, you get to know them. They start to say things that they might not say in a shorter conversation. This gave me insight as to their breeding philosophy and the temperament of their dogs. By the way, neither breeder had a litter at that time. I was willing to wait for the right dog.
When I mentioned aggression to one of the breeders she answered unequivocally that Labs should never be aggressive. Period. I knew that she was the one for me. I planned to wait until she had puppies for adoption and scheduled a time to meet them when they arrived. She made it very clear that I shouldn’t bring any money because she was not promising me a puppy. She had not met me and I couldn’t have one of her puppies without an interview. I wasn’t offended at all. If a breeder acts like you aren’t good enough, that is a good sign that she doesn’t need to sell to you. What I mean is that she is not in it for the money. She is willing to keep the puppies for 16 years if she has to do so.
At the first visit, I spent two hours at her house. She grilled me up and down about my philosophy on just about everything to do with dogs — their healthcare and overall care. I got to meet three generations of dogs in her line. I could see how the traits of each dog had been passed on to her offspring and her offspring’s offspring. She picked a dog for me that she felt fit my family. Finally, she felt that I was good enough for her pups and I went home to wait. One week later, I went to pick up my pup.
But wait, there was more. We sat for half an hour going through the adoption packet. There was a four page contract, healthcare information, and training information. I looked at my husband’s face and smiled. He just wanted his dog! I did too, but I was grateful for her thorough nature; it reinforced my choice. The road has been long, but it looks like we have a keeper: a 6-month-old, male, yellow Lab named Maverick. He is settling into our family well and is great with my daughter.
Dr. Lisa Radosta