What should I expect?
When we got our first Ridgeback, we felt the same things as most first time puppy buyers - anxious, excited, and really not sure how to go about getting a dog from a breeder. But because we didn’t approach the process in a way that built confidence, many breeders never responded to our inquiries. It was frustrating but luckily we had a co-worker who had a Ridgeback from a responsible breeder and we were able to get a referral. Since many first time Ridgeback buyers don't have a friend who can provide a referral, to help de-mystify the process we wanted to provide some background and information on what to expect.
When first starting to work with a responsible breeder, it can be intimidating and even confusing if you don’t understand the informal “rules of engagement”. Because working with a breeder to acquire a puppy is VERY different than when making other large, important purchases it can seem confusing and hard to understand why you even have to go through a process at all. You want a dog, and the breeder has puppies, so shouldn't it be a simple transaction? But not so fast...the breeder understands the quirks of their breed and what situations work and what doesn't, has been through the heartache of placing puppies in situations that don't work out, and lived for many years with Ridgebacks themselves. Unfortunately, many people decide they don't want the "hassle" of dealing with a "pushy" breeder so people who would otherwise make an excellent home for a different breed end up with dogs that are not a good fit for them or unintentionally acquire them from less-than-responsible breeders.
When first starting a conversation, it’s understandable that both the breeder and puppy person will be cautious. As a buyer considering a major addition to your family, you’re worried that you're going to get ripped off or are inadvertently contacting a well-marketed puppy mill. On the other side of the equation, breeders always have the worst-case scenarios going through our minds about someone trying to acquire one of our well-bred dogs for nefarious reasons, or alternately that the prospective home will treat our beloved puppies like a piece of furniture. The process will involve a lot of discussion, generally an in-person meeting, and an assessment on the part of the breeder as to whether or not a Ridgeback puppy is the right fit at the right time for the prospective puppy buyers.
For people looking to acquire a puppy from a responsible breeder, some initial perceptions may need to be overcome. If you feel the it’s too much trouble to work with a responsible breeder because the placement process is invasive and inconvenient, and that it’s just easier to buy a puppy from someone who will take a credit card and ship the puppy anywhere in the country without ever meeting the people who will be responsible for that puppy for the rest their lives, then stop now. You're wasting your time trying to purchase a puppy from a responsible breeder. Instead, save the life of a shelter pet by adopting.
But if you’re looking for a puppy of a particular breed for a particular reason, and are willing to make the effort to find a well-bred, healthy dog then take a deep breath and keep reading.
So how do I approach a breeder?
First, keep in mind that our litters are planned sometimes years in advance. Extensive thought, planning, and expense goes into every litter born in our household. Once the litter is born we spend hours, days, and weeks ensuring that our puppies are well cared for and are healthy and well-socialized. With this sort of investment, it's not hard to imagine why a responsible breeder is going to be very careful where we place our puppies. But the most important thing for us is to place our puppies in amazing, loving homes that will take care of our puppies as well or better than we would. With that in mind, prospective puppy buyers should be aware that the initial contact with us, or any breeder, is important. Here are some tips on “puppy buyer etiquette” to help you through the process:
- When contacting a breeder, do your research and review their website. Customize your inquiry to include questions you may have that are NOT already answered on the breeder’s website, or to ask for clarification on information you have found on the site. If the breeder doesn't have a site and only lists a phone number on the breeder directory, have some specific questions prepared about availability of puppies and questions you may have based on your research of the breed.
- The community of responsible breeders is small and we generally talk to each other. We know if someone is sending a mass email to every breeder in the state or region. This is considered a no-no because it implies that you’re just looking for any puppy no matter where it comes from. It can also be perceived that you don't care about the breeder's time spent in crafting a response to you because you're just throwing an inquiry out and seeing what comes back. Mass emailing is one of the quicker ways to find yourself without a puppy. Instead, see the point above and take the time to do your research and send inquiries only to breeders that you want to work with. If the breeder doesn't have a litter planned, it's ok to ask for a referral and we'll be happy to point you to other like-minded breeders.
- If you’re contacting more than one breeder, be honest. Tell us if you’re talking with other breeders or if you’re on their waiting list. We WANT people to get puppies from responsible breeders - not pet stores or the puppy mills that supply them - and being transparent simply helps us plan better. But when we approve a home for placement and put you on our waiting list, it means that someone else may not get a puppy so we take approvals very seriously. And if you back out at the last minute after the litter is born because all of a sudden you’re getting a puppy from somewhere else, see above - the responsible breeder community talks and your name will be mud.
- Generally, email or a submission via the breeder's website is the easiest way to contact breeders. This also gives prospective puppy buyers the opportunity to craft the message they want to communicate. There are many variations on the placement process, some will use questionaires and others may ask questions throughout the process, but in general all breeders will want to know some key things. Ideally, your inquiry or intial phone call will cover these items:
- Where do you live (city, state,)
- What is your housing situation (single family home, apartment, urban, rural, etc.) and do you have a fenced yard
- How many people live in the household
- What experience, if any, do you have with dogs and what breeds/types
- Why do you want a Ridgeback
- How do you plan to take care of and responsibly raise your new puppy
- It’s ok to ask about the size of the breeder’s waiting list. Transparency works both ways, and it’s perfectly reasonable to ask about the likelihood that a puppy will be available for you.
- Most breeders have day jobs because breeding dogs is our hobby. That means sometimes it may take a while for a breeder to catch up on their email and send a response. It can be really hard to be patient, and sometimes emails get lost in the shuffle, so if you’re worried that the breeder didn’t see your inquiry it’s ok to send a follow up checking in to see if your email was received. And, if we don't have a litter planned or available it's possible email may not be checked regularly so that's why it's imporant to see the first bullet and do your research and find a breeder who is planning a litter in the timeframe that works for you.
Things NOT to do:
- Send an email saying simply “I’m interested in getting a Ridgeback. How much do you charge?”. While the price of a puppy is a very reasonable question for a buyer to ask, when we get two-sentence emails indicating that price is the main consideration it raises a lot of flags. It implies that the purchase of a puppy is likely to be treated a lot like a new couch or kitchen appliance where price-shopping for the lowest cost puppy is the key factor in the decision process. The reason cost of a puppy shouldn’t be the most important consideration is because:
- The purchase price of the puppy is only a small part of what owners will spend for dog ownership. It may be a significant initial outlay of money, but care and feeding over the first 3-5 years of a puppy’s life will easily exceed that amount even without unplanned expenses. Then, if there is an accident and the puppy had to go to the vet for, say, an emergency surgery to remove a sock the puppy ate while the owners weren’t paying attention, that purchase price is eclipsed in a single event.
- If the purchase price is a stretch, do NOT purchase the puppy. Instead, save the life of a shelter pet.
- Do not expect a responsible breeder to have puppies available “on demand” or at a certain time of the year. Generally people with puppies available at any or all times are not responsible breeders. While it’s unfortunately not uncommon to have a situation where a wait-listed home has backed out and a puppy from a current litter has unexpectedly become available, or a litter is larger than we expect, most breeders have the majority of their puppies placed by the time they’re born. That's why it's a good idea to get on a waiting list in advance of when you're looking to add a puppy to your family.
- A pet peeve of many breeders is when we get an inquiry looking for “just a pet”. Every puppy in a litter is the product of careful planning and went through the same process of conception from the same health-screened parents who were considered outstanding examples of the breed. The puppies are all raised in the same environment and are socialized the same way. Some puppies turn out to be exceptional and may be considered to be part of future generations of Ridgebacks, but those are not the majority of any litter. That being said, the vast majority of inquires we receive are for “pets” so waiting lists for ridged non-show puppies are generally fairly long. If you're not interested in working with the breeder to support a show-potential puppy and having a puppy with a ridge is mandatory for you, be prepared to wait for a future litter or look outside your state/region.
- When inquiring about a puppy, do not ask for the needle in a haystack unless the specific characteristics are absolutely mandatory for you. Sending an email requesting “a companion ridged male that will be at least 100 pounds, dark red color, with a black nose and no white on him” will likely result in a “sorry we don’t have a puppy for you” response. We may or may not have certain genders or colors available in a litter, and while it’s absolutely ok to have a preference for gender, color, or size we don’t have a crystal ball to predict what we’ll get and how big or small an individual puppy will be when they grow up. Instead, if you have a preference it’s good to share that information up front with the breeder and have a discussion about what might be available that will work for your family.
It is absolutely worth the time and energy to find a responsible breeder and get the best puppy you can. The rewards of having a supportive breeder who is there to coach you through all the ups and downs of puppyhood, ask questions about health issues or behavior that concern you, having a sound and healthy dog and great family companion, and being part of a community of people who have the same love for their dogs is a wonderful, life-changing experience.