Finding homes and placing puppies is an intense and time-consuming part of being a breeder. You will need to make many important decisions as you proceed. These include developing a contract, interviewing potential puppy owners, and picking a keeper or breeding contract puppy. There is also fun to be had here, from picking out puppy pack items to sharing photos and videos with potential owners.
Contracts are a large part of the puppy placing process for most breeders. Contracts lay out specific expectations to your buyers. They can help set the tone for the relationship and give you both rules to fall back on if things fall apart. However, they can also be considered overstepping and micromanaging by many buyers. It will be up to you how much you trust your buyers to make the right choices in caring for their new dogs.
The first option is no contract at all. This is usually done when the two parties trust each other fully, such as a puppy going to the breeder’s best friend.
The second option is to use a contract, but not have it be legally binding. This is a valid option, but you will need to trust your buyers. You will need to decide the length and how detailed the rules and recommendations should be. This sort of contract is a good way to get everything on paper and signed to state intentions. Even if not enforceable in court, both you and the buyer will have to break a promise if you break the contract, and word will get around the community if you do so.
The third option is a legally enforceable contract; for this, you will need to talk to a lawyer. In the USA, dogs are considered property and there are specific conditions under which they can be bought and sold. The rules in your contract will need to be basic and worded precisely. Generally, this is used for rules such as returning the dog if unwanted and promises not to abuse the animal. But be careful: if you add superfluous rules, it may undermine the legality of the originally enforceable ones. A better idea here would be to put more minor points on a separate document, as a care guide.
The most recommended rules for contracts are fairly simple. The seller promises to take the dog back if ever needed. The buyer promises to return the dog if unable to keep it, or to at least discuss any decisions with the seller. The seller states the health testing they have done and signs off on it and pedigree if applicable. The buyer signs off that they will not abuse the dog.
The only other thing to be aware of is how your contract looks to buyers. Consider your market and decide if the rules are applicable. Some buyers will refuse to fill out a long or invasive contract, while others see that as a sign of dedication. Ultimately, the choice is up to you.
Owner Questionnaires & Interviews
When accepting applications from new puppy owners, many breeders choose to use a questionnaire to help screen homes. Questions on these can be as basic or as complex as you like to make them. Common questions include topics such as the reason that the applicant wants a dog, what the home situation is like, and whether they have had dogs in the past.
Things to note:
- Some applicants find long and detailed applications confusing and invasive. You will need to find a balance.
- You will need to tailor your questions by breed and purpose for your dogs.
- If you would rather have a real-time conversation, try making a simple questionnaire and later having a phone call or text chat.
- Ask yourself and others if your questions are confusing or misleading.
- Try to avoid questions with an obvious “correct” answer that someone could easily lie about.
Interviews are very similar; be prepared with the questions you want to ask, and expect the conversation to move off-topic as you both talk about your dogs. Know that some applicants may not be able to do a phone interview for various reasons, and decide if that is a deal-breaker for you, while taking into account that someone who has limited phone or internet access may still make a wonderful owner.
Home visits are a very controversial topic; many applicants do not want a near-stranger coming to their home to evaluate it. They may have concerns that you are judging based on income level or decorating sense rather than the safety of the home for a puppy. Some breeders will ask for photos of where the puppy will live in place of a home visit.
When to Send Puppies Home
The age to send puppies home is another controversial topic. First, you need to check local law, as it’s fairly common for the law to set a minimum age for a puppy before going to a new home. A good first step in deciding on go-home age is to ask fellow breeders of your breed or cross what age they send home puppies at, and why.
The usual range is between 8-14 weeks of age. Things to consider include:
- How much potty training the puppies have gotten
- If the litter squabbles are getting too serious
- How tired the bitch is
- How much socialization you can manage for your litter
- How experienced your homes are
- How developed and mature the puppies are; different breeds mature at different rates
- How certain you are with your placements and keeper
- Timing of fear periods in your breed or mix (it’s best to avoid sending a puppy to a new situation when he is in the middle of a fear period)
How to Send Puppies Home
Depending on how well behaved your little puppies have been, this may be either the easiest part or the hardest! At this point, many breeders will prepare a folder of contact information, pedigree records, and vet records for the new owner. Depending on owner experience you may want to include handouts on training and socialization. A common practice is to send home a housewarming “goodie bag” as well, though this is by no means necessary. These kits often include something that smells like the litter and mom, the puppy’s current food, a basic collar and leash, and a chew toy. The AKC has a nice page on essentials for a puppy pack, and this page lists some more ideas. Purina has a program with a vaccine tracking folder, puppy care information, and a free small bag of puppy food for each puppy.
Puppy Kindergarten/Puppy Class is a great way for new owners to socialize their new puppy in a controlled environment under the guidance of an instructor. According to ClickStart Dog Training Academy, a good puppy class involves learning to transition from play to settling to training, learning good play skills with other puppies, and experiencing novel items. Dr. Jen’s Dog Blog states that Puppy Class is different from a normal obedience class in that it teaches young puppies how to socialize with other dogs, accept handling, and explore surfaces. They are designed for puppies still in the critical socialization phase, particularly under 16 weeks old. Puppy class should be a priority over obedience class for young puppies, since they have a narrow window for socialization.
PreventativeVet discusses some criteria for choosing a puppy class. In particular, the class should be clean, and the trainer and staff should have a sense of control. If free play is allowed, owners should be taught how and when to intervene. Enrichment opportunities should make up at least some part of the class, especially focusing on novel experiences.
Another great part of puppy class is the human side. There will often be handouts on dealing with common puppy issues such as housebreaking, and time for owners to ask questions about any trouble they are having.
We recommend that puppies start in a basic rewards-based class. This will help build a foundation of loving training. A class founded in rewarding desired behavior builds confidence and encourages puppies to try new behaviors. A great first step is encouraging your puppy buyers to check out nearby trainers and conduct interviews/audit classes. This is a great way for them to see if the class provides what they are looking for. This basic class can help new puppy owners bond with the puppy, and have the benefit of a trainer on hand to ask about any problem behaviors. Spirit Dog Training is a great website with basic behaviors that owners can train at home as well.
A couple of things to note: puppy brains and bodies are still developing, and so intensive training and most sports should be slowly built up to. Puppy owners should consult their vets on when to begin training skills for sports such as agility and flyball.
When it comes to potty training, remind new owners that puppies have small bladders and need frequent breaks, especially when active. A good rule of thumb is the puppy’s age in months plus one. The AKC has a great page on the basics of potty training.
Crate training is another skill new owners will want to teach. Remind your puppy buyers that this requires patience and dedication. There are several methods of crate training, with the goal being to create a positive reaction to the crate. Research supports not letting puppies cry it out in crates. Your puppy owners may want to purchase Susan Garrett’s Crate Games or Sarah Stremming’s Happy Crating or use the AKC’s free guide.
When raising your litter, it can be very valuable to start crate training before the puppies go home. A common method is to put all or half of the litter in the crate together when they are ready for a nap. Then you can slowly build up to separate crates in the same room, and from there to being fully separated.
All puppies should be coming home eating the same food they ate at the breeder’s, and gradually switching over if needed. A good rule of thumb for kibble diets is to follow a food that is approved by WSAVA. WSAVA foods have a veterinary nutritionist on staff formulating the diets. When it comes to home-cooked and raw diets, puppy owners should work closely with a vet nutritionist.
Vaccines should be discussed with a vet in the area where the puppy will be going home. They will know what is more important in the area and the age at which rabies is required. WSAVA has an outline of recommended vaccines.
This is one of the most important parts of your job, especially if you want a pup to continue the legacy of your lines and start your next generation. The hard part is choosing which puppy that will be. You can use puppy evaluations and temperament tests to help you along, but keep in mind that your overall impression of the puppy will probably be more valuable than the results of any individual test.
When making this selection, you need to consider many different aspects of the puppies including:
- Breed standard (if applicable)
- Program goals
- Puppy homes/market
Your dogs will still change a lot as they age, so you will be making an educated guess here. Some breeders stack the odds in their favor by placing dogs in co-own and guardian homes.
Note: These are complex and nuanced topics, and will be expanded upon in a future section. These relationships and terms are often used differently between breeders and even between dogs. Below are brief definitions to help get you started.
A co-own is a home that has partial ownership of the dog; for example, the breeder is guaranteed a specified number of litters, and the puppy owner gets full ownership after the contract is fulfilled. Often, the puppy owner is a prospective breeder who uses the dog to start their own program after the co-ownership is over. A co-own dog is often steeply discounted and the breeder pays for or splits health testing costs with the puppy owner.
A guardian home is a home where the breeder retains breeding rights to the dog. The breeder pays for all of the health testing and makes the breeding decisions. The puppy owners of guardian homes are often pet owners who live locally to the breeder, and typically are not interested in breeding for themselves. If you go this route, be prepared to work with the guardian homes if you want to breed the dog, and to be understanding if breeding the dog ends up being difficult for them. Guardian homes can be a great way to keep breeding rights to several potential breeding prospects without having to keep them all in your home, but it’s important to balance your own needs against the needs of the people who are living with the dog. Building up close relationships with your guardian home owners can be extremely rewarding.
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