How Do You Choose a Breeder?
By Janet Joers
Should we choose a breeder based on the number of champion dogs that have come from the kennel?
No. Most responsible Kerry breeders breed few litters (maybe once every two years or so). This allows them time to see how each puppy develops so they can improve their breeding program. (Color, by the way, cannot be evaluated until the dog is at least 2 years old.) Large-scale breeders may have less carefully planned breeding programs--they had to breed an awfully lot of dogs to claim their high number of champions. You want a breeder known for quality, not quantity.
In addition, puppies from large-scale breeders are usually raised in kennels, meaning that they are less likely to be well-socialized than home-raised ones, and are exposed to more health risks. Large kennels are also expensive to operate, and too often, corners are cut in veterinary care (prenatal and postnatal) to save money and increase profits. Money may be the bottom line here, not the quality of the dogs.
The better question to ask is: Are all the dogs in the puppy's pedigree champions? Although there are some legitimate exceptions, responsible breeders breed only champions. These are the dogs that have been impartially evaluated by many AKC judges to be of superior quality and worthy of breeding. For that reason, every responsible breeder is also involved in showing.
Should we choose a breeder based on how we were interviewed and treated on the phone?
Yes, that's important! Is the breeder "grilling" you as much as you are grilling her? If not, she may be more interested in a sale than screening for the proper home. Good breeders ask personal questions (some which you may consider too personal!) to ensure that the pup will get the love and care it needs, and that you are prepared to accept a high-maintenance dog and all the other responsibilities of dog ownership. Also, a breeder who takes the time to answer all your questions, and volunteers all kinds of other information you didn't ask for, is likely to stick with you later if you need help or advice on puppy care.
To determine honesty, ask about health problems in the line: How did some of the puppy's ancestors die? This may sound like a terribly morbid subject, but if the answer is a flippant "old age," look elsewhere. All dogs die of something-whether it's cancer, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, liver disease, etc. All breeds have these problems, but an honest breeder will be specific. Luckily, you've chosen a breed that has comparitively few genetic problems, so the only "red flag" answers would be conditions like PNA, vonWillebrandts, and hip dysplasia, to name a few-conditions (except for PNA) that can be tested in breeding stock before breeding. And even then, if the breeder did have one of these problems, she should be able to explain how she is preventing that disease from re-occurring.
Is it unfair to discount a breeder who seems unfriendly and unwilling to answer questions but who is well known for breeding top-quality dogs?
No. Part of your purchase price for a puppy is the knowledge, experience, assistance, and advice of the breeder. The breeder, in fact, "comes with" the puppy. First-time Kerry owners need help with ear-setting, grooming, proper feeding, training, and dealing with various puppy behaviors, such as destructive chewing and soiling the house. If a breeder is not inclined to answer your questions now (assuming you did not approach her at a dog show when she was preparing for competition), she will be less likely to offer real assistance later when you may need it. A responsible breeder will connect you with someone who can groom your puppy and set its ears (if she is unable to do it for you), and will always be more than happy to get your "puppy report." The sage advice "Choose your breeder like you would your therapist" is a good rule-of-thumb in deciding who to buy from. If you don't like the breeder, you are probably better off looking elsewhere.
Should we choose a breeder by asking other breeders for their personal opinions about the breeders we're talking to?
Sure, you can ask that question, but bear in mind that competitiveness in breeders runs high, and you are inviting them to tell you negative things about other breeders-comments which may or may not be true (or most likely are only partially true). It would be better to ask the question of someone more impartial, such as a knowledgeable nonbreeder, an owner of a previous puppy, or a breeder who currently has nothing to sell. Even if your potential breeder lives across the country, consider attending a local dog show or two and ask Kerry exhibitors if they are familiar with the breeders you are talking with. The Kerry community is surprisingly close-knit, and breeders across the country tend to know each other.
Should we avoid breeders who insist that we show and/or co-own?
Only if you have no intentions to show the puppy. Reputable breeders invest time, money, and effort into breeding a better Kerry, in showing their breeding stock and earning championships and high rankings in the breed, and in whelping, caring for, and placing their puppies. If a breeder has a number of potential show prospects in her litter, she has every reason to hope that those puppies will be shown. Showing-and winning-is validation of the breeder's knowledge and skill, and it is also a gift to the Kerry community to be able to admire a beautiful Kerry in the show ring. If you are not open to the idea of showing your dog, make sure you request a pet-quality pup.
Co-ownerships are common agreements between buyers and sellers of show dogs. These agreements often allow breeders to earn awards from their dog clubs for the dog's accomplishments. They may also give the breeder future breeding rights to the dog, or the privilege of showing it herself (such as in the "Bred by Exhibitor" class). If you are planning to show your puppy and are considering co-ownership, insist on a written contract and make sure that you thoroughly understand its conditions. If it contains certain obligations or responsibilities you are uncomfortable with, negotiate with the breeder. It is as much to their benefit as it is yours.
Beware of co-ownerships that retain a breeder's breeding rights with no mention of showing. Reputable breeders generally breed only champions-not dogs who simply turned out well. And by all means, never sign a contract that requires you to breed your puppy, whether it becomes a champion or not. Breeders who sell to get a "puppy back" are operating a self-serving "puppy pyramid scheme" and encouraging backyard breeders who have no desire to improve and protect the breed.
If we are not going to show or co-own, do we need to sign a contract?
You should-for your own protection. There is a reason why the U.S. Kerry Blue Terrier Club's Code of Ethics states: "It is strongly recommended that a written agreement accompany all sales." A puppy contract is one of the best ways to ensure that each party in the transaction understands the expectations and responsibilities of the other. (To see a sample puppy contract, click Sample Puppy Contract.)
From the breeder's standpoint, a puppy contract clarifies the conditions of sale-conditions that are primarily designed to protect the future welfare of the puppy. The very least every breeder should ask of their puppy buyers is to provide humane treatment and veterinary care, to spay/neuter a pet-quality puppy, to register the puppy with the AKC (if it is not already registered), to advise of any change of address, and to notify the breeder (and return the dog) if they are ever unable to keep it.
From the buyers' standpoint, a puppy contract clarifies your responsibilities as new puppy owners, and spells out the breeder's responsibility to provide you with a healthy dog, full disclosure of its temperament, the appropriate registration forms and medical records, the pedigree, and the breeder's guarantee to take back the dog for whatever reason at any time.
A puppy contract is not a "license to sue." It is the written version of a verbal agreement. It's purpose is to avoid problems before they happen, solve them when they do occur, and to honor the commitment on both sides of the transaction. Buying and selling a puppy is serious business.
What questions should we ask about the temperament of the parents in order to determine which litter to pick from?
Ask about dog aggression. This is a common Kerry trait (which can be tempered through training and neutering), but some lines have more than others. You want to look for parents who won't back down when challenged and will stand their ground, but will not go looking for fights. There's a big difference here.
Ask about energy level. While all Kerries are active, some border on the hyper-active. Some people thoroughly appreciate a very active dog, and others are driven crazy by it. Try to determine where you stand on the issue.
Ask about the level of obedience training. A dam or sire that has earned an obedience title may imply a willingness to please-a trait that could be imparted to the litter. (It also indicates a special committment to training on the breeder's part.)
And ask how the parents interact with strangers. Some Kerries are wary of strangers and protective of their owners. Others are friendly, nearly to a fault. Give some thought to the kind of dog you prefer.
What behaviors should we ask a breeder to perform on our behalf with the puppy to get an idea about her/his personality?
Most reputable breeders have their litters "temperament tested" at 7 weeks of age and should be able to provide a written report on individual puppies. One such test is called the "Puppy Aptitude Test" (PAT), which measures such things as social attraction, dominant and aggressive tendencies, social dominance/submissiveness, and independence.
Make sure both parents of the litter have OFA ratings of Fair, Good, or Excellent. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals evaluates x-rays of hips and elbows to determine whether a dog has hip or elbow dysplasia, inherited degenerative bone diseases. OFA provides preliminary evaluations on x-rays of dogs younger than 2 years old, which are about 90% accurate. Kerries are, unfortunately, one of the few breeds in which hip dysplasia is on the rise.
Make sure both parents were registered with CERF, the Canine Eye Registration Foundation within the last 12 months. This means that the dam and sire were examined by a member of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and found to be unaffected by any major heritable eye disease.
Make sure both parents have been tested for von Willebrand's disease (vWD) and Factor IX deficiency (inherited blood clotting abnormalities) and hypothyroidism (a common endocrine disease).
And beware of a breeder who claims the parents are "PNA clear." No test yet exists for Progressive Neuronal Abiotrophy (an incurable inherited disease of the nervous system that affects puppies 2 to 6 months old). What you want to hear is that no puppy in the breeder's lines ever had the problem (or if it did, you want to know what the breeder did to eliminate the problem in future litters).
I also tend to raise an eyebrow when a breeder "guarantees" the health of a puppy. Even breeders who do all the required testing, carefully plan their litters, and have each puppy physically examined by a vet cannot guarantee that a future problem will not develop. Breeding is an imperfect science at best.
Should we look elsewhere if one or both parents have cysts? What about spiculosis?
No, not necessarily. Cysts of all kinds (epidermal, dermal, sebaceous gland) are very common in the Kerry, as they are in all soft-coated, nonshedding breeds. They are usually not malignant (but can rupture and become infected) and are either expressed or removed surgically (or by other means) by a veterinarian. Some bloodlines have a higher prevalence of cysts than others. I think the key here is to look at the number of cysts and the age of the dog. A young dog covered with cysts indicates that the problem is pronounced in the bloodline, and it may also indicate that the breeder is not seeking proper medical attention (particularly if infection is apparent).
Spiculosis, a skin problem sometimes called "Hard Hairs," "Rose Thorns," "Bristles," or "Spikes," is widespread in the Kerry, particularly adolescent males, and like cysts, are thought to be more prevalent in some bloodlines than in others. The hardened spicules are usually easy to remove (with tweezers, fingers, or a rubber brush) and do not affect the health of the dog. Therefore, unless the dog is covered with this condition, it should not impact your decision to buy one of its offspring.