Choosing a Breeder
I wrote the following article for the Mastiff Club of America, and Deb Jones of Devine Farms, (one of the best Mastiff web sites around!) Since that time, it has appeared in numerous publications, (including the American Kennel Gazette), and is on several web sites.
Since I wrote the article, however, it needs to be updated. The sad part of breeding is that there are very personable, con artists out there, and it is very tough to keep up to them and their newest tricks. When it is time to sell a litter of puppies, they are charming, helpful and friendly. Sadly, once you have a problem, you are abandoned. - I know because I get those calls for help, when the breeder won't.
These cons take advantage of the fact that the public, once having made up their mind to get a puppy, will generally purchase from the first person who has what they want. The public does not do the research they should.
Some things to be wary of:
1) Meeting 6 people who all had pick of the litter. - if you are given pick of the litter, then ALL puppies should be available for you to choose from and you should be first there to pick your puppy.
2) Meeting people who have a pup from a certain breeder and the pup has a problem. The breeder tells them that this problem has never appeared in their lines before. And yet, I can tell them that person A and person B also have the same problem! Be checking into health certifications! Reputable breeders have their dogs certified at reliable registries, and you should be able to look at parents, grandparents and even siblings to see that the dogs are indeed free of health problems. Ask to see the certification papers on the sire and dam of the puppies you are buying. Don't accept excuses - the dogs ripped it up, (breeders can get paperwork replaced); I have it filed away and can't find it right now; she failed due to an accident, etc. You can check with the registry as to whether results are due to an accident, or speak to the breeder's Vet, (with the breeder's permission and release. No release - walk away!) It is also very easy in this computer age to forge documents now. Double check with the registering body! Go to the breed Club to find out which problems are prevalent in the breed. Many breeders don't test for everything they should with the amazing excuse that it hasn't appeared in their lines. How do you know if you don't test?
3) Seeing a puppy sitting on a web site for weeks, then suddenly the story changes and this puppy was pick of the litter and returned for one reason or another. Check with the previous owners.
4) Arriving to pick up your puppy and the terms and conditions of your agreement are now changed. This happens a LOT! It is a warning sign that your breeder can't be trusted. Run, don't walk away from this one! Better to lose your deposit than to spend a fortune down the road in Vet bills and heartache.
5) Similar to the above, you go to pick up your puppy and suddenly it has a health issue that you haven't been told about. And the problem is minimized - "It will outgrow that twisted leg". Don't believe it! If it has a problem, there should be something in writing from their Vet, or you should be given the opportunity to look in to the problem yourself before making a commitment. Many so-called minor problems are actually BIG problems!
6) The non-existent guarantee. "Contact me if you have a problem and we'll discuss it". Why would you sign such a loose guarantee - this is a giant loophole for your breeder to blame you and not be responsible for anything! Insist on specifics - "What happens if my dog has a hereditary problem?" And get it in writing! Go over the sales agreement/guarantee point by point making sure you understand. If it seems vague, or you needed clarification, get it spelled out on the paperwork! Some guarantees seem to last 30 feet or 30 seconds, whichever comes first!
7) There is now the contract that excludes specific problems. i.e. If a line has elbow dysplasia problems, the contract won't guarantee OCD, FCP, DJD, etc. These are all forms of elbow dysplasia. Contracts with exclusions should set off alarm bells!
8) Watch out for pyramid sales - you can read more here.
Before putting down a deposit ask for copies of the pedigree as well. Watch for in-breeding. And if you don't understand how to read a pedigree, then ask an impartial third party to explain it to you! Many breeders try to save money by using their own stud dogs over and over again to the detriment of the puppies and the breed. Reputable breeders will have copies of the pedigrees of their dogs on their web sites - not just 3 generation, but 5 generation. I have an article on in-breeding, elsewhere on this site.
Get copies of the health testing on the parents, and research them. Most reputable breeders will post copies of the health testing of their dogs on their web site.
Get a copy of the guarantee and go over it carefully.
Why do they show only some of their dogs? Or none at all? Or not have any titles on their dogs?
Are they charging different prices for show and pet quality dogs, and yet the sire and/or dam of the litter don't have a championship?
Watch for, "Do as I say, not as I do.", breeders. If the breeder is evasive or you get a bad feeling then don't buy from this person. Be prepared, no matter how late in the game it is, to walk away from your puppy and deposit.
Take a look at the Breeder Chart for clues as to what makes a good breeder.
Looking for a Breeder? Take Your Time!
I will consider only the betterment of the breed when allowing a mating of Mastiffs, being conscious of controlling and eliminating inherited problems (from Article 1 of the MCOA Code of Ethics).
The warning signs I’m about to discuss should alert you to be cautious, look closer and dig deeper, but just because a breeder does some of the things I mention doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad breeders. Many of these points apply to buying a puppy or selecting a stud dog.
A common but major mistake is rushing into things and dealing with the first breeder who can provide you with what you’re looking for.
Owning and breeding are big commitments of money, time, effort and emotion. Take your time! Impulse buying or breeding can end in disaster. Many bad breeders know that having puppies available is to their selling advantage.
First, speak to as many breeders and see as many Mastiffs of all ages as you can. As in anything in life, people who are honest and upright and produce quality are respected by their peers. And the opposite is true of those who rip off others to produce poor quality. Note who is spoken well of and who other breeders refer you to. Ask what clubs they belong to. Call the clubs, as well as the national and regional breed clubs, and ask if there have been any complaints.
Next, become familiar with problems in the breed and discuss them with your veterinarian. To most common problems in Mastiffs are hip and elbow dysplasia and eye and thyroid problems. All these should be checked (eyes once a year – and breeders should provide you with copies of the certification (exam sheet in the case of eyes). Don’t take the breeder’s word for it! Some will lie; others will minimize or even dismiss the problem itself.
There is no such thing as the perfect Mastiff and no one has perfect lines. A breeder should discuss the problems in their line and what they are doing to eliminate them. If a breeder tells you they have absolutely no problems and their dogs are “the best”, be careful!
Don’t be offended if the breeder asks you for references or asks you as many questions as you ask them. If they don’t care about the type of home their puppies go to or the quality of the bitch and their stud dog is to be bred to, they likely don’t care about the quality they produce. Be suspicious if a breeder is not interested in keeping any of their dog’s puppies. Why not?
Get a written contract with guarantees and review it before making a commitment. Terms can be tricky or unclear. Your concerns should be addressed and the terms explained to your satisfaction.
A common trick of the less-than-scrupulous breeder is, “If the puppy develops a crippling or life-threatening hereditary problem, return it and you’ll receive a full refund or replacement puppy.” Many hereditary problems don’t manifest themselves until age 1 or older. Will you return the family pet – often to be euthanized – to get a refund? If you don’t, you don’t get the refund. Many unethical breeders count on that.
If the replacement pup is from a repeat breeding do you want to take another chance with the same lines that may produce the same problem? Do you have any choice as to whether you receive another puppy or a cash refund? It’s wise to agree on an authority such as a veterinary college to verify medical problems that may arise.
If you might want to show or breed, be very careful of limited and non-breeding contracts. These precautions denote a conscientious breeder, but be sure you understand the conditions that must be met to have the restrictions removed. Such terms can be used vindictively or as a weapon when the breeder and buyer have a falling out.
Look at the dogs that live at the kennel. Are there any older dogs? Breeders whose first priority is to make money, not a love of the breed, tend to dispose of older dogs no longer useful for breeding. If their first priority is to make money, run – don’t walk – away!
Is there a discrepancy between how they want you to treat your dog and how they treat their dogs? Do they insist your dog be kept in the house and treated as part of the family but keep their own dogs kennelled?
Ask to see the litter’s sire and dam. I the breeder won’t allow this, be suspicious. If you have any concerns about the temperament or the sire or dam or pups, don’t buy. Mastiffs are too big and powerful and can do too much damage to take a chance on poor temperament.
If, after your visit and conversation, you find you don’t particularly like this breeder, don’t do business with them. Things won’t get better if there is a problem in the future!
Most complaints arise because buyers violate the cardinal rules: Paying top dollar for a puppy doesn’t ensure you will get the best dog, and be extremely cautious about entering into a co-ownership agreement. Also, don’t forget that, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!” A con artist’s biggest asset is being a personable, smooth talker.