by Esther Ekman
OK you have done all your basic stockdog breed research, correct? You've decided on the breed you feel suits your needs, right? You've rechecked breed characteristics, right? Onward!
Next Step: Before contacting a breeder, you must decide what age pup suits your needs. Basic Rule: Do not take a pup younger than eight weeks of age. (I realize that there are books and people that suggest taking a pup of six, seven weeks or sometimes earlier.) I totally disagree. I have found that a pup of any age will bond with their new owners, but a pup taken earlier than eight weeks will generally be neurotic around other dogs. If the pups are kept with their litter between six and eight weeks of age or later, they will learn all of the social graces that they Need to get on better with other dogs. (This is not to say that those breeds that are dog aggressive by nature, will be less so, but they will know the moves to put another dog at ease if they chose to play and they will be less defensive, because they can read another's moves.)
Pet People: Seems that most prospective pet owners want a small puppy, but you should try to be open to an older pup, (Perhaps a show prospect that just didn't quite make the grade.) an older dog, (On occasion they may be an older finished champion that is retired, no longer to be bred, that a breeder may want to place in a pet home.) or a rescue dog. (Rescue dogs can come directly from a shelter or through a breed club rescue committee.) An older pup may be house broken, leash trained and the like, saving you most of the work involved with a young pup. Most herding breeds are hardy, have a longer life expectancy than a lot of breeds, so the older dog will give you a loyal companion for many years.
*** A side note on taking a rescue dog: For some odd reason some people seem to think a rescue dog will be "the perfect pet" from day one. Rethink! Though I admire the idea of saving a dog's life, you have to be realistic in your expectations. These dogs come from a traumatic background. Maybe an abusive home, maybe just a home where the prior owner has lost control over the dog, or it could be a stray who's family never looked or found him. (Or worst case: Left over pups dumped somewhere that somehow survived long enough to be picked up by the shelter.) It takes commitment to turn these dogs around. They may be cheap money wise, but can be expensive in time spent helping the dog back to normal, if normal can ever be achieved. There is also an unknown factor. Something that may have happened to the dog will have an effect on the dog's future behavior and you will never know when or if a situation will set off a bad reaction in behavior.
Show People: The older the pup, the less worry. (Teeth, bite, ears etc.) In the dog fancy there are certain people who's main goal is to own a winning dog. (Different from wanting a certain breed, with the option of showing.) If you are one of these people, depending on the starting level of your quest, it is best that you buy an older pup with points or a young finished champion that may have group winning promise. Most of you in this niche have a trusted pro handler that may bring your attention to a certain dog, but please be sure your handler and the dog click personality wise, because most herding dogs will bond with the handler not the absentee owner.
Performance People: Be open to an older pup, if raised properly, they would be just as willing, but in a shorter time.
Working People: By definition, a started dog will be older. Ten months to two years, depending on the level of training. If you are training yourself: be open to an older pup for the same reasons as in performance training, pet and show uses. Since you can't really start putting pressure on a pup until they are nine or ten months old, you'll know in a shorter time whether this is the dog you need, being sure to bond with the dog before starting heavy training.
If Your Main Idea Is Breeding: I'll address this idea later in the article.
Where Do I Get This Pup?
Who you buy a dog from is very important. In my opinion, there are two types of people who sell pups. The "Breeders" and the "puppy makers".
A breeder (with an understood capital B.) is a person who is knowledgeable in their breed, a person who knows what they are breeding and can tell you what to expect from your choice. They also will give you the post/buy support you'll need in answering questions and helping in any other way they can to assure that you and the pup are a happy combination. They will do as much testing of their stock as they can to insure that they are putting on the ground the best quality animal possible.
Be aware that breeding dogs is not an exact science and there is no shame in any breeder having faults in their line. (The perfect dog has not been bred yet and there is NO breed or line within a breed completely free of genetic faults. Anyone who tells you that they have never had problems, genetic faults or imperfect dogs is either ignorant or trying to sell you "swamp land".) What makes a true breeder is that they will be honest with you and they will give you a rundown on whether that fault will affect the usage of that peculiar pup. They will also offer you guarantees of health and a plan of restitution in case of a fault showing up after the pup is bought. Since this is a two way street, they may also ask guarantees of the buyer in the same written contract that protects the buyer. They will ask more questions of the prospective buyer. They care where their pups are placed and if they believe you aren't right for the pup, they will say so. They may decide what they have at the moment isn't right for you, but may have a planned litter in the future that would be just right. Be prepared to wait! Don't insist that you must have a pup this day and no other. If you do this, many times you will settle for something less than you wanted, even if you won't admit to it later. Buying a pup is a 10 to 15 year commitment, a few weeks or months waiting for the right one isn't a long time when you see the whole picture.
A Puppy Maker In My Mind Can Be Many Things: (My comments after each type of "person" may seem harsh, but it must be stated that even though I have a sarcastic sense of humor, I am very serious about the results of unthinking people.)
A person..... who bought a pet quality dog (That was supposed to be neutered and wasn't; or bought from another "puppy maker".) and decided to get their money back by having a litter or two or three..... (I wonder whether this person would rent out their new bed to a motel until they made a profit?)
A person..... Who has bought into wives tales that a bitch should be bred once to fulfill her life. Or having a litter makes the bitch a better, kinder, more stable pet. Or on the opposite sex, I had to find a wife for my boy just once or twice so he can be a real male. (Like most "wives tales", it's just not true.) Bitches do not have a conscious biological clock ticking like some humans. The only time a bitch would seem to want a litter is if she has a hormone imbalance, going into a false pregnancy with nesting behavior. This is totally chemical, not mental. The bitch under the guise of the second tale, is usually bred on her first or second heat as a youngster and by the time she has weaned the pups she is older, more settled and tired. If the owners had just waited out that active 7 to 18 month phase, the result would have been the same, without a pile of pups to get rid of as quickly as possible. (Except the bitch wouldn't now look like a moth eaten rug left out in the rain.) Guess what guys? A male dog is a "real male" with or without being a "dad". (Even neutered, he is still real.) Dogs only have sex on their mind if there is chemical/hormonal stimulus from the bitch, otherwise they certainly wouldn't be paying any attention to you. They would be out there on their own gathering girls..... (Or to put another way, would you ladies like the idea that every time you had PMS or got to acting silly, someone insisted you had a litter of kids? The only difference is that you're stuck with the kids.)..... (The guys know who you are. At least the dogs only make pups unconsciously.)
**** A side note on a male dog's mounting behavior: This most embarrassing behavior is NOT sexual. It is a form of dominant behavior, especially when directed toward humans. ACD bitches often do this to other dogs (male or female) because most of the bitches are more dominant than the males and if they think they are in control, they will do this to you too.
A person..... Who has a litter for the "kids" to see life being born..... (Any breeder will make you a video for the kids! Or perhaps you'd like to include a day pass to a shelter to see the inner workings of the other side of "life", it's not pretty, but very educational.)
A person..... Who is one step up from a puppy miller, but still makes a living selling pups..... (There is no humorous thought here. Most of these people will tell you anything to sell you a pup and they are good at it. Sort of like a shady "used car salesman" or the guy who's selling Rolex watches out of his car.)
*** This is not to say that some real breeders out there who with creative bookkeeping, with a reputation for excellent dogs, with "way out there" PR, can and do get "big bucks" for their dogs. They may be able to break even or better, but they show, they trial, they are active in their part of the dog fancy. They take on others dogs for a fee, sometimes. They don't "just sell dogs."
Or even a person..... That is a novice in showing or performance, does some winning and starts breeding without a solid base of knowledge in the breed..... (Most of this person is ego.) My Uncle used to tell me about these 90 day wonders in the war who rarely lasted more than a day or so in battle. Most of these people don't last too long in the dog fancy either, but they certainly are flashy. (I guess that in any endeavor, these type are there, leering behind a pole looking for someone with less knowledge than themselves to impress with their flashy forms and buzz words)..... Let's face it, all breeders started on the ground floor, but most that survive skipped this phase..... Once in awhile this person will be under tutorage of a breeder, but you'll know the difference because if the breeder you contact doesn't have what you need, they will refer you to this person's litter. Many times a show bitch is sold on a "breeder's contract" and the breeder has planned the mating and is getting a pup from the litter.
Or the worst of the lot..... The real "puppy mills." I'm sure most readers have seen or heard of the horror tales of these commercial breeding operations. They usually have USDA licenses, seemingly are mainly based in the Midwest. The problem with these operations, other than the sorry conditions and sad life of the dogs, is that they sell their pups in litter lots to anyone, at a very young age. Most of these pups are sold through pet shop chains nationwide. They very well may be registered stock, but most of these dogs are bred from "pet quality" stock that is inferior quality to begin with and only can get worse when bred to the same. Time is money, pups are not socialized, shipped out at a very young age and many can be sick. There is a law that pups cannot be air shipped before 8 weeks old, but having personally seen 5 and 6 week old pups in these stores, they must get around the law in some way.
My advice is never buy a pup from one of these type of stores. Never take your children in one of these places. They count on an impulse buy and/or that individual breeders are sometimes hard to find. All pups are cute! Not all pups grow up to be dogs that are right for your family and you can do better, usually at a better price, always a better dog, somewhere else.
*** A side note: There are some small pet shops which are owned by people that are in the dog fancy. Some of these shops will have a list of referral breeders. Check it out, making sure that the listees are breeders and not just puppy makers, but don't pass on it just because of the pet shop moniker.
There is also a type of person..... out there that may have USDA resale licenses. They may buy pups from other people and resell them as their own breeding for more money. They may even farm out bitches to other people and sell the offspring without having the work involved..... (Business is business, type of thing.)
Sometimes you can luck out and get a fine dog from the above sources, but odds are that you will not get your money's worth in future support, knowledge or honesty.
Any which way, the breeder is the best bet to get what you want and know that you'll have someone to go to for advise.
Where To Find A Breeder:
The best place to start looking is getting a "breeders list" from breed specialty clubs. There will be a list of these clubs etc. in a separate reference article.
The newspaper in your area may have what is usually called a "Breeder's Referral" service. These are commercial ventures, people can be listed for a fee, by the month or year. Don't assume from the name, that all listees are breeders. Actually don't assume anything, some real breeders will even put their own ads in newspapers, but most rely on referrals from clubs, show contacts or word of mouth.
The same is true of "Dog", "Horse", or "Farm" magazines. Some breed clubs will pool together and use ads for group referrals, since these ads are expensive.
If you are buying your first working stock dog, don't be embarrassed to ask your neighbors for ideas. Check out feed store employees, (Delivery drivers in peculiar.) or the farm machinery salesman and/or serviceman or the large animal Vet in your area. Word of mouth can work well and please don't forget those of us who are not out there on 100,000 acres, but can breed excellent working dogs.
*** A side soapbox comment: I have a real annoyance with tunnel vision. There are some show breeders who put beautiful, typey animals on the ground, but don't give a hoot whether those animals can work stock or have livable temperaments.
There are some performance event breeders who's dogs can score 200's, catch any Frisbee and be of glorious, useful structure, but because they ignore breed type, you'd be hard pressed to know exactly what breed the dog is supposed represent.
There are breeders of working dogs who only care if the dogs can work stock. Some don't test for genetic faults because it's too much time or trouble. They will replace a pup if something shows up, so they don't think it is necessary. (What about the time, training and affection put into that pup? Fact is the more testing done, the less you have to replace.) Some also ignore breed type as much as performance breeders. (There is an old saying that "a good horse can't be a bad color." The same can be said of a working dog in many respects, but a good working dog that is also typey is better.) Why claim that your working line is such and such breed if they aren't recognizable as such? Might as well be cross breds. Ideally a stock dog should be able to work all day, play Frisbee with the kids at night, sleep on your foot and after a bath, take the points at a show on the weekend.
Of course..... there are very few ideals in the flesh and the perfect dog has never been bred, but it would be nice if all the above persons would try to look at the whole dog, not just their main interest. All of the above can be breeders with a capital B, but... I can have a wish list too. End of soapbox.
You have finished "Picking Your Special Pup, Part 1 ". Please take the time now and CLICKon Buzz Words, Registration Pitfalls and Terms Used or Misused as you will find it both informative and useful when you're talking to a stockdog breeder.
If you would rather do it later then go on to Picking Your Special Pup, Part 2" which takes you through the selection process of picking your pup along right along with the "do's" and "don'ts".