Choosing A Breeder
As the Leonberger becomes increasingly popular, more and more people are joining the ranks of breeders of these majestic dogs. Unfortunately, not all breeders are created equal. Sadly, there are some who are driven solely by the desire to make money. These individuals cut important corners in their breeding programs, which usually results in dogs with potentially serious health and/or behavioural issues.
Photo by Cyd Erich
By following these guidelines you will be in a better position to make an informed decision and will be able to protect yourself from unscrupulous breeders.
Be sure to take time to make yourself familiar with what the breed should look and act like. And don’t buy a puppy because he’s less expensive than others. You may be sacrificing quality. As the old saying goes - you get what you pay for. It may be worth spending that extra few hundred dollars now rather than paying thousands later when health or behaviour problems arise.
Whenever possible, try to meet the breeder and pay a visit to the kennel you are considering buying your puppy from. First impressions and instincts are very important. Are the facilities where the dogs are kept clean? Are the dogs clean? Do they look active and healthy? Do they have clean water bowls present? Are the dogs kept in a pen? If so, are the pens clean and of adequate size to allow the dogs to move about comfortably? Do the dogs have an exercise area where they can run and play? Is adequate shelter from the rain, cold and hot weather provided for the dogs?
If there are puppies, they should be in a separate area and be clean and healthy looking, not too fat, not too thin, with clear eyes and noses.
If the answer is “no” to any of these initial questions, you should seriously consider looking elsewhere for your puppy.
Note: Don’t be concerned if the breeder you visit tells you not to visit other kennels that day, or to bring a change of footwear and clothing to reduce the risk of transmitting something from one kennel to the other that may put the dogs at risk.
Ask to see the parents of the puppy. Often times the sire is not owned by the same person as the bitch, so the sire may not be on the premises when you come to visit. However, you should always see the mother at the least, and the breeder should provide photographs which give a realistic representation of the size and overall structure of the missing parent. The puppy buyer should be able to approach and pet the parent(s) without them showing any sign of aggression. Any breeder who doesn’t want the buyer to come to his kennel, or wants to meet the buyer somewhere to give him a puppy is a breeder to avoid.
Ask to see other offspring from the same parents, if any are on the premises. Seeing the dogs of previous litters will give you a good picture of what your puppy will become.
Never buy a puppy from someone who breeds more than two or three different breeds of dogs. People who breed more than that are usually out for the money and don’t care about the quality of their puppies. Show breeders are usually the best source of good, purebred Leonbergers.
The breeder should be familiar with the general history of the breed and what health problems are inherent in their lines and, more importantly, what they are doing to eliminate them. Since there is no such thing as a perfect dog (all lines have some type of problems, some more than others) acknowledgement of problems and honest efforts to rectify them is the sign of a good breeder. Be very wary of the breeder that puts down everyone else’s dogs while insisting their dogs are perfect.
A good breeder is very interested in potential puppy buyers and will ask many questions about lifestyle, home and family, or have a questionnaire for potential buyers to fill out. This helps them match up the best dog to its new home. In fact, some breeders may also want to come out and do, or arrange for, a home check prior to selling a puppy.
The breeder should assess the potential puppy buyer’s knowledge of the breed and proceed to further educate them on all aspects, including temperament and health problems in the breed, so beware of breeders who are not forthcoming about potential genetic illnesses and health issues inherent with the breed.
Questions to ask about the Breeding Program
Ask how often the mother is being bred. A breeder who cares about their dogs will breed every other season. Some breeders will breed back-to-back once. This occurs when the breeder wants puppies in a specific season, if there was a small litter immediately prior to the breeding, or if the female comes into heat once per year. All puppies should be ‘expected’ and well planned. If they’re not, it’s a lucky dip as to whether you’re going to get a good puppy or a nightmare.
A good breeder should be able to tell you about the dogs in your puppy’s pedigree. Have them explain the often cryptic letters and titles awarded, and get a good feel that they know the lines they are breeding from. At the very least, they should be able to provide you with a four-generation pedigree and be able to tell you about the dogs. You might see the same dogs listed a few times on the pedigree, and the breeder should be able to point out any line-breeding and in-breeding and explain the benefits and dangers of both.
Ask the breeder what genetic testing they have done on their breeding dogs. You should be provided with all health clearances for the dogs used for breeding, together with their countries of origin. In addition to seeing the health clearances on the adults, you should ask what they test for as far as clearances are concerned. Proof of these tests should be provided to all prospective puppy buyers. Responsible Leonberger breeders test their breeding dogs for Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, eyes, heart, and Hypothyroidism as a minimum. In addition they test for Von Willibrands disease (this is a disease that affects the blood’s ability to clot, similar to the human equivalent of Hemophilia).
Ask the breeder what vaccines and vet care the puppies receive prior to going to their new homes. Puppies should have a fecal check at 6-8 weeks and, if necessary, should be on a regular worming program recommended by the vet. Puppies should have received their first set of vaccines at 6-8 weeks.
Note: There are some breeders who prefer a more holistic or natural approach to rearing. They may not vaccinate at all. They may use homeopathic nosodes, or they may use nosodes in conjunction with a moderate vaccination schedule. Frequently they feed raw, whole food instead of kibble. If a breeder uses any of these approaches, ask them to explain their approach, and to recommend reading material to further investigate their methods.
Natural rearing should NOT be an excuse to avoid vaccinating. Most people who use this approach have done extensive research prior to implementing it. If the breeder seems unable to provide a logical explanation for his beliefs, then perhaps he is not truly practicing “natural rearing” and should be avoided.
Ask the breeder how long they have been involved with the breed and how long have they been breeding Leonbergers. If this is their first litter, are they under the guidance of someone more experienced? If so, who? Is that person available to talk to?
If they have been breeding Leonbergers for some time, ask what they have produced, and what titles they have on the dogs they’ve bred. A good breeder will show pedigrees that contain such abbreviations as the following by the dogs’ names: Ch. (Show Champion), CD (Obedience-Companion Dog), UD (Obedience-Utility Dog), CGN (Canine Good Neighbour). This is important to know as these titles suggest that the dogs, by whose name they appear, ‘measure up’ in terms of conformity to breed standard and temperament, although it is equally important that the puppy buyer be familiar with the breed standard, since not all dogs with these titles are created equal. There are numerous other titles as well that dogs can hold, so be sure to ask which titles mean what.
Ask the breeder to tell you about the breed standard using one of their dogs. The breeder should be familiar enough with the standard to cite most of it without using a reference. If they use their dog to demonstrate, see if they point out how their dog does or does not meet the standard. Be aware that all dogs have faults and the breeder who refuses to acknowledge their dog’s faults is a breeder to avoid.
Ask the breeder why they have bred this litter. There should be some goal or purpose other than just having puppies. Best answers: To correct a fault in their line to bring their dogs closer to the breed standard, whether it is a physical fault or to improve temperament. The breeder should point out the good and bad aspects of the sire and dam, and explain how they are trying to improve upon what they have.
Ask the breeder if they are a member of a Leonberger Breed Club and/or the CKC. Most clubs have a Code of Ethics that all members agree to and sign when they become members. Although this does not guarantee anything, it is a step in the right direction.
Ask the breeder if they have ever been suspended from the CKC or any Leonberger Breed Club(s). If the answer is “yes”, find out why. If the explanation doesn’t seem plausible it should raise a cautionary flag.
If the puppies have already been born, observe how they are handled and allowed to interact with people. Do the puppies seem happy to be around people or do they shy away? What you are looking for here is an indication of what kind of socialization the puppies have had. The first eight weeks are critical to behavioral development of your Leonberger puppy. For this reason, it is important that your puppy be exposed to people, other dogs, new situations, normal household sounds and activities in order to learn. A puppy raised without this important social interaction can be shy, fearful, aggressive, or have other problems as they get older.
Ask the breeder for references from previous puppy buyers. Any breeder reluctant to do so may have something to hide. They may ask to contact the previous puppy buyers first for permission to give out their numbers and/or have the owner call the puppy buyer. Either way is fine. Call these people and ask them to tell you about their experience with their breeder and ask if the breeder has been responsive to their calls and assisted them in a timely manner when they needed help. Ask how the puppies/dogs are currently doing and if they have any health problems.
Ask the breeder at what age they are allowing the puppies to leave to go to their new homes. Responsible breeders would never let their puppies leave to go to their new homes until they are at least 8-9 weeks of age, sometimes older. Studies conducted have proved that removing the puppy from its siblings and mother prior to this age can result in behavioral and health issues as the dog matures, so avoid anyone sending tiny puppies home.
What ages are the dam and sire of the litter? Responsible Leonberger breeders will not breed their bitches or allow their stud dogs to be used in a breeding program before the age of two. The reasons for this are that the dogs are not fully developed physically or mentally.
Ask to see a pedigree. You should be provided with a 3 generation pedigree for your puppy, and the breeder should know what is behind their own dogs on both the sire and dam’s side. For example, do they know if there are any health issues in the preceding generations? Are there any thyroid problems? Are there any heart problems? Are there any cataracts? Are there any elbow and/or hip problems, etc.?
All of these questions must be addressed by the breeder BEFORE you commit to giving a deposit for a puppy. This cannot be stressed enough. If the breeder seems annoyed by these questions, or doesn’t have the answers and information readily available, you should consider dealing with another breeder who will provide this information readily.
Finally, NEVER buy your Leonberger puppy from a pet store since you have no way of knowing the puppy’s genetic history and whether or not it was socialized and raised in an environment that’s conducive to good mental and physical health. [more information in FAQ section]
If a deposit is requested to secure your consideration for a puppy, you should ask the breeder what their policy is with respect to your deposit in the event no puppies are available (this has been known to happen with false pregnancies, still births, etc.). Some breeders will insist on keeping the deposit until another litter is available, but an ethical breeder should be prepared to offer a full refund in the event you do not wish to wait.
You need to ask the breeder what guarantee they have in place in the event your puppy develops a serious genetic illness within the first two years of life. All puppies should come with health and soundness guarantees against conditions such as crippling hip/elbow dysplasia, knee problems, blindness, heart defects, etc. Most of these diseases will have manifested themselves by then, and if any of these occur, the breeder should offer a replacement puppy or a full refund. Don’t expect the guarantee to cover such things as accidents, parasites, non hereditary diseases, etc.
Unless specifically buying a puppy with the intention of showing and/or breeding, most breeders sell their puppies under what is known as a ‘non breeding contract’, which stipulates that the owner is prohibited from using the dog in a breeding program and must provide proof of spay/neuter when the puppy is old enough for the surgery. If you change your mind and the dog proves to be a good specimen of the breed and a decision is reached in agreement with the breeder to use the dog in a breeding program because it is felt the dog will help improve upon the breed, find out what the breeder will be prepared to do to lift the non breeding restrictions before you agree to buy the dog.
If you are contemplating buying a puppy with the intention of showing or using the dog in a breeding program, the breeder should provide some guarantee as to clearances and quality if the dog doesn’t turn out to be a good dog according to the Leonberger standard (note: it is important to note that this is based according to the Leonberger standard, NOT the breeder’s standard!) So find out what recourse the breeder is prepared to give you in the event the dog doesn’t measure up.
If you are planning to show and/or breed the dog, the contract should indicate that the dog must be given all the testing clearances prior to breeding and not be bred before the age of two.
The contract should require that the dog be given regular veterinary care, be fed premium food and have proper shelter provided, together with obedience training at a recognized training facility. There should be some safeguard in place for the breeder in the event these conditions are not met by the puppy buyer.
There should be a stipulation in the contract that the buyer have the puppy independently checked by a veterinarian within 48-96 hours of purchase. If it is found to have health problems the puppy, accompanied by the vet report, should be returned and the buyer receive a full refund.
There should be a blank area to be filled in with any special agreements or arrangements agreed upon by the breeder and puppy buyer.
The breeder should supply information such as diet, vaccination and worming records, as well as pedigree papers for four generations (minimum).
The contract should stipulate that if, for whatever reason, the puppy owner can no longer keep the dog, it can and should be returned to the breeder at any age instead of being taken to an animal shelter or humane society.
You should be provided with registration papers for your new puppy. This is the law. Whether you have been given the puppy as a gift or have paid for it, federal legislation states that you must be provided with proper papers on all purebred dogs within six months of purchasing the puppy. In addition to this, all purebred puppies should be either micro-chipped or tattooed before they leave the breeder.
All breeders’ contracts will have variations on the above. For this reason consider these as general guidelines only. Moreover, just like breeders should be upfront and honest with their puppy buyers, puppy buyers should be upfront and honest with breeders by providing as much information as possible about their intentions for the dog, especially if they think they may have future aspirations for their Leonberger to be anything other than a family pet.
October 1st, 2013
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Leonberger Club of Ontario