Puppy Buyer Etiquette
Kimball on April 26, 2009 – Permission to reprint/post
am posting this specifically because I do NOT have any puppies here now, and
don’t anticipate any for a while. So you know that I’m not singling any real
person out. This is because it seems that there’s a lot of confusion about the
whole “proper” way to go about things. So, puppy buyers and anyone else
thinking about maybe someday approaching a good breeder about a puppy, here you
STOP LOOKING FOR A PUPPY. The classic mistake puppy buyers make is saying “I
need an xx breed puppy at the beginning of the fall” or whatever it may be. So
they go out looking for litters due in August.
are not interchangeable; one is not the same as the others. This is largely
because every breeder has their stop-the-presses criteria for breeding or not
breeding, and each has preferences for size, personality, working ability, etc.
Breeder X’s “perfect puppy” is not the same as Breeder Y’s.
looking for a puppy; look for a BREEDER. Make a personal connection with a
breeder you feel shares your top criteria, and then wait for a puppy from them.
Maybe they even have a litter on the ground, which is wonderful, but maybe
they’re not planning anything for a few months. Or maybe they’re not
planning anything for a year; in that case, ask for a referral to another
breeder that shares those same priorities and has a similar (or just as good)
personality and support ethic. However it works out, screen the breeder first,
and then ask about a puppy.
EXPECT TO WAIT FOR A PUPPY. It’s VERY rare to wait less than a couple of
months; four to six is normal. I’ve waited a year on a couple of occasions;
no, even we breeders don’t walk through the field, able to pick puppies like
tulips. We ALL have to wait, and we ALL have to get matched up by the puppies’
INTRODUCE YOURSELF THOROUGHLY. The initial e-mail should be several paragraphs
long; block out at least an hour of quiet for the first phone call. When you
initiate contact, clearly communicate three things: You are ready for a puppy,
you are ready for a puppy of this breed, and you understand what sets this
breeder apart from the others and you share that commitment. Specifically
describe your plans for this puppy; be truthful. If you are not going to be able
to go to four training classes a year, SAY SO. Don’t say “Of course,
training is a huge priority around here,” or you’re going to end up with a
puppy who’s flushing your toilet sixty times a day because he’s so bored and
you’re not challenging him.
ideal first contact e-mail usually goes something like
my name is X and I’m writing to inquire about your dogs. I’ve been doing a
lot of research on [breed] and I think they’re the right one for me because of
[these four reasons.] I know puppies are a huge commitment, and I am planning to
[accommodate that in various ways.] I’m approaching you in particular because
of your interest in [whatever,] which is something I feel is very important and
plan to encourage in [these three ways.]”
the kind of e-mail that gets a response, and usually pretty quickly. If I get
something that says “I hear you have puppies on the way; how much?” it goes
in the recycle bin before you can blink.
Bring up price either at the end of the first contact (if it’s been successful
and you feel a connection to this person) or in a follow-up contact. It’s nice
to say “If you don’t mind me asking, about how much are [breed] s in this
area, if there is a typical price? I just want to be prepared.” The breeder
will usually give you two pieces of useful information: Her price, and the
median prices around you. That way, if you decide to go a different way, you
know about what to expect. If the second person you contact names a price
that’s double the median, try to discreetly find out why. A very difficult
pregnancy, nationally ranked parents, a surgical AI, c-section resulting in very
few live puppies, those are some reasons a breeder could be asking more and
it’s reasonable. If there’s no real difference from the other breeders
except price, think carefully.
BE WILLING TO BE TOLD NO. Not every person is the right match for every breed.
That’s just fact. There is no way on earth I could make our home appropriate
for a Malamute puppy, and I’d have to lie through my teeth to get approved for
one. And I have my entire life devoted to keeping dogs happy. I don’t expect
you to have anywhere close to the obsession I have, so that means there will be
some dogs that are just plain wrong for you. If a breeder says no, ask why. If
the answers make sense, don’t keep calling people until you finally get one
who will sell you a puppy of that breed. Go back to the drawing board and be
very humble and honest with yourself about what kind of dog really would be
right for you and your family.
PLEASE DO NOT GET ON MORE THAN ONE WAITING LIST unless you are VERY honest about
it. This goes back to rule 1. You need to understand that we think our puppy
buyers are just as in love with the puppies as we are. We’re posting pictures,
writing up instructions, burning CDs, researching everything from pedigrees to
nail grinding, all so we can hand off this puppy, this supreme glorious creature
of wonderfulness, with the absolute maximum chance that it will lead a fabulous
life with you, and we’ve built all kinds of air castles in our heads about how
happy this puppy will be, and what it will do in its life with you, and so on.
Finding out that you had your name on four lists shows that you don’t realize
that puppies are not packages of lunch meat, where getting one from Shaws is
basically the same as getting one from Stop and Shop.
as soon as your name is on one of our lists, we’re turning away puppy buyers.
If we’ve sent ten people elsewhere because our list is full, and then suddenly
you say “Oh, yeah, I got a puppy from someone else,” it really toasts our
bread. So just BE HONEST. If someone came to me and said “I’m on a list with
So and So, but she’s pretty sure she won’t have a puppy for me, and I’d
love to be considered for one of your dogs and I’ll let you know just as soon
as I know,” I’m FINE with that. I understand how this goes. It’s not a
disaster for me to have a puppy “left over” at eight weeks because you ended
up getting that So and So puppy; it’s just frustrating to have the rug yanked
out from under me.
PLEASE DO NOT EXPECT TO CHOOSE YOUR PUPPY. This one drives puppy buyers CRAZY. I
know this, trust me. I have a lot of sympathy because I’ve been there. But the
fact is that when you come into my house and look at the eight-week-old puppies
and one comes up and tugs on your pant leg and you look at me, enraptured, and
say “THIS IS IT! He chose ME,” I’ve been looking at people coming into the
house all week, and every single time this same puppy has come up and tugged at
them and every single one of them have said to me “THIS IS IT!”
you are seeing is not reality. You are seeing the most outgoing puppy, or
you’ve fallen in love with the one that has the most white, or the one that
has a different look from the rest of the litter (when I had one blue girl puppy
in a litter of black boys, every human that came in the house wanted her; when I
had one black girl puppy in a litter of blue boys everyone kept talking about
how much they loved HER), or the one that’s been (accidentally) featured the
most in the pictures I’ve posted. Or, sometimes, you have a very good
instinctive eye and you’re picking the puppy that’s the best put together of
the litter. And that puppy, of course, is mine, and you’re going to have to
pry him out of my cold dead hands.
responsibility is not to make you happy. And that, dear friends, is why I am
posting this now, and not when I have a bunch of actual puppy buyers around
while I do care, and I will try to take your preferences into account, do not
expect to walk into my living room and put your hand in the box and pick
whatever puppy you want. And do not expect to be given priority pick because you
contacted me first; conversely, do not expect that because you came along late
you somehow won’t get a good puppy. Sometimes the person who calls me when the
puppies are seven and a half weeks old ends up with what I’d consider the
“pick” for various reasons (sometimes because somebody called me up and said
they’d gotten a puppy from someone else; see rule 4 above). I am going to try
to do my absolute best to match puppies to owners as objectively as I can, not
according to who called first.
I was waiting for Clue, I think I initially called Betty Ann six months before
she was born. I waited through two other litters, where Betty Ann thought she
might have something for me but then in the end told me no. Then I waited until
8 weeks when she thought this one might really be the one, and then another two
weeks until she made her final picks and sent me a puppy. I was about ready to
vomit with the tension. I UNDERSTAND. But the rewards of waiting and being
matched with the right puppy are greater than any frustration with having to sit
with an empty couch for a few more months.
ONCE YOU GET YOUR PUPPY, THERE WILL ONLY BE THAT PUPPY IN THE WHOLE WORLD. If
you’ve been sitting around with your fingers crossed saying “Please, Molly,
please, Molly, I only love Molly,” and I say “I really think Moe is the one
for you,” you’re probably going to feel disappointed. But take Moe and go
sit on the couch, and put your finger in her mouth, and realize that she has a
really cool white toe on one foot but none of the other feet have white toes,
and let her try to find a treat in your pocket, and I guarantee you by the time
you’re five minutes out of my driveway Moe will be YOUR puppy. And a year
later you may remember that you thought Molly was so pretty, but Moe… well,
Moe could practically run the Pentagon she’s so smart, and her face turned out
MUCH more beautiful than Molly’s did. And so on.
PLEASE FINISH THE ENCOUNTER WITH ONE BREEDER BEFORE BEGINNING ONE WITH ANOTHER.
If you end a conversation with me saying “Well, this just all sounds
wonderful, and I’m going to talk it over with my wife and we’ll call you
about getting on your waiting list,” and then you hang up and call the next
person on your list, that’s not OK. If you don’t feel like you click with
me, or you want to keep your options open, a very easy way to say it is to ask
for the names and numbers of other breeders I recommend. That way I know we’re
not “going steady,” and I won’t pencil you in on my list. If you are on my
waiting list, and you decide that you don’t want to be anymore, call me AS
SOON AS YOU KNOW and say “Joanna, I’m so sorry, but our life has gotten a
little crazy and I need to be taken off the puppy list.” And I make
sympathetic noises and take you off. If, then, you decide you want to get a
different puppy, be my guest. Just keep me apprised and let me close off my
commitment to you before you open it with another breeder.
brings us to something that is super important and most puppy people don’t
) EVERY BREEDER KNOWS EVERY OTHER BREEDER. Now of course I don’t mean the bad
breeders, but the show breeding community is VERY small and VERY close-knit. If
you’ve been on my list for three months, I’ve kept in contact with you, I
think you’re getting a puppy from me, I’m carefully considering which one to
sell you, and finally I match you with a puppy when they’re eight weeks old,
and THEN you e-mail me and say “Sorry, I got a puppy from Arizona, bye,” my
instant reaction isn’t going to be “Oh no's!” My instant reaction is going
to be “From Jill?” I probably e-mail Jill several times a year, if not
several times a month, and I’m probably going to pick up the phone in the next
sixty seconds and say, “Did you just sell a puppy to Horace Green from Topeka?
Did you know that he put himself on my waiting list three months ago and has
been saying all along how excited he is?” And two minutes after that she’ll
get a call from Anne in Oregon and Anne will say “Did you just sell a puppy to
Horace Green from Topeka? He’s been feeding me lines for eight weeks! I had a
puppy ready to go to him next week!”
we will take your name in vain, Horace Green from Topeka, and Jill will feel bad
that she sold you a puppy, and oh the bad words we will say. And Horace Green
from Topeka will be a topic of conversation at the next Nationals, and t-shirts
will be made that say “DON’T BE A HORACE,” and someone will name their
puppy Horrible Horace and everyone will get the joke and laugh.
the end, “Be excellent to each other,” as Bill and Ted so correctly ordered
us, is pretty much the paradigm to follow. If you err, err on the side of this
being a relationship, not a transaction. Try to act the way you would with a
good friend, not with an appliance salesman. And the ending will be as happy for
you as it is happy for us.