Dog & Puppy Training Frederick, Urbana and Clarksburg, MD

I usually don’t talk much about selecting a breeder, because by the time someone comes to me, they already have a dog, they already love the dog, and they want to spend the time and money to improve its behavior.

But what most potential dog owners don’t know is that buying a dog is NOT like buying anything else online. It HAS to be a very hands-on, well-researched process because puppy mill agents have gotten incredibly skilled at marketing. They know people make buying decisions with their eyes and with their emotions, and that new dog owners don’t know how to fact-check their claims of health testing, good temperaments, socialization, etc.

If you’re shopping for a puppy on Lancaster Puppies, Puppies . com, Greenfield Puppies, Crockett Doodles, etc.–STOP! These are notorious online puppy mill brokers. Puppy stores like Just Puppies–NO. Buying a puppy from these sources supports puppy mills and irresponsible breeders. Good breeders put their heart and soul into each litter. They want to know their puppy buyers rather than using a middleman to sell the puppies for them.

Craigslist is not a good place to find a puppy either. If you can’t afford the $1000-3000 price tag of a purebred dog, adopt a dog from the shelter instead.

A badly bred dog could have a lower “ceiling” of what is possible than one bred for a specific purpose or to a specific standard. For example, I wouldn’t buy a plow horse and try to enter it in the Kentucky Derby, just as I wouldn’t use a nervous, reactive dog for a service dog. Just not a situation likely to be successful.

Now you never know…if you’ve ever read the book “Snowman: the Eighty-Dollar Champion”, that’s a wonderful story of a horse rescued from slaughter who became a famous showjumper. But stories like that are fascinating because they are so unlikely.

My own mistakes

To be honest, I made some mistakes myself when choosing a breeder so I don’t judge people for it.

With Calvin, I thought I was doing the right things—a breeder who health tests and I met both parents, who were well trained and friendly. Then eight months after we brought him home, Calvin’s hip started making an alarming clicking noise. We feared we might have to do juvenile hip dysplasia surgery. $500 later at the orthopedic specialist, it turned out nothing was physically wrong, and I had the vet check out his parents’ elbow and hip test results.

As it turns out, his parents were not breeding quality…the breeder DID health test, but the results of the test were nothing special. I didn’t know how to read the test results when I bought him as a puppy.

Knock on wood, Calvin has been pretty healthy since then, other than allergies (which is a genetic fault). I feel I lucked out with an amazing dog in spite of his genetics, not because of them.

So what should you look for in a breeder, and what are some red flags?

Good signs in a breeder

✅ Does health testing as recommended by the breed parent club (different breeds are prone to different genetic diseases). An Embark test is NOT sufficient. A breeder spends a lot of money on these tests and should be happy to provide you with the info.

How can you fact check the health claims? Go to Carfax for dogs. Yup, there’s a Carfax for dogs. It’s called the OFA, and you should double check that the breeder has done the tests they say they’ve done on the parents, and the scores are what they claim. A breeding dog with a CHIC designation is a GREAT sign. It means the dog has passed all of the relevant health tests for its breed.

✅ Does the breeder do some kind of competitive activity with their dogs and have the breeding dogs earned titles?

Yes, even if you only want a pet dog, it is a good idea to work with a breeder who competes in some kind of dog sport. Titles are third-party proof that a dog can do what the breeder says it can do, and good breeders are proud to show their dogs. Conformation titles show that a dog conforms to a breed standard and performance sports like obedience, protection, agility show the dog’s working ability.

For pet dogs, a Canine Good Citizen and trick titles on the parents would be good signs of trainability.

✅Breeder picks the dog for you—they have been raising the puppies since birth and know which personality would suit you

✅ Breeder maintains contact with owners to support them and find out if any issues arise that would impact their future breeding plans

✅Breeder will take puppy back if you decide it is not a good fit

✅ Breeder does some early training: desensitizing pups to new sounds, surfaces, places, people, crate training, loading a clicker, etc. Avidog and Puppy Culture are two reputable training programs many breeders use.

✅ A website that looks like it’s from 1995. This one is just a personal quirk but I actually trust a breeder more if their website is bad. That means they probably spend more time on caring for and exhibiting their dogs than they do on marketing. Of course a good website is nice, and there are some tech-savvy breeders, but the quality of the website has NO correlation to the quality of the breeder.

Red flags in a breeder

🚩Breeder always has puppies available. This is a sign they get dogs from puppy mills or backyard breeders and act as a broker.

🚩 Doodle breeder. Yes, sorry to burst the bubble–but doodles do NOT have “hybrid vigor” . They are just as likely to inherit the health issues of 2 breeds rather than only inheriting the good traits…that’s just how genetics works). Sometimes you get the calmness of a Golden Retriever with the coat of a poodle, and sometimes you get the hyper-drive of a poodle and the increased risk of cancer of a Golden.

Doodle coats mat easily, are expensive to maintain, and are NOT hypoallergenic! (They may be less allergenic–but fur is still shedding.).

If you still really want a doodle–look into Australian Labradoodles. This is a type of doodle with breeders who are trying to breed to an objective standard.

🚩Many different breeds available. I wouldn’t totally discount a breeder that specialized in two breeds…but it gets increasingly difficult to have an in-depth knowledge, and compete the more dogs and more breeds there are.

🚩Different prices for different colors. Color is the least important quality in a dog, and breeders who prioritize breeding for color are typically sacrificing some other quality in order to do that…like good health and good temperament.

🚩Purposefully breeds against the standard—for example Merle French bulldogs, white Dobermans, silver labs.

🚩Neither parent of the pups is on site (at least the mother should be there)

🚩Delivers the dog to you, or meets you at a location convenient to you. This is a really easy way for a puppy mill breeder to avoid showing you the condition of their kennel and their dogs.

🚩Won’t let you meet puppies (after 6 weeks it is safe!)

🚩Unclean environment. I‘ve had multiple owners say they felt like they were “rescuing” their dog from the breeder because the pup was sick and infested with ticks or fleas. It is sad but you should NOT give your money to people who would mistreat a dog like this.

🚩Says their breed is healthy and doesn’t need health testing. This makes no sense, because how would you know that without health testing?

🚩Makes their health guarantee dependent on feeding a particular food that they earn a commission on

🚩Requires pediatric spay or neuter (under 1 year). The current research supports waiting to spay or neuter your dog until physical maturity, especially for large breeds. They need their hormones to support bone and joint development.

🚩has puppies of multiple ages, with older pups costing more… It is not uncommon for puppy brokers to sell a puppy, the owner returns it, and then the broker turns around and sells older puppies for more money.

I don’t usually bring up these things if it’s not relevant to the training (for example, with genetically nervous or aggressive dogs, or “dirty dogs” that are difficult to housetrain because they were kept in unsanitary conditions as puppies) but I figured I would write it all down for future reference!

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