Registration. Health testing. Titling. Puppy rearing. Knowledge. Applications. Contracts. Openness and Honesty.
Step One. When searching for a reputable breeder, registration is the first red flag. Remember, while not all registered dogs are exceptional, all exceptional dogs are registered. If the breeder’s dogs are registered, then it’s time to look at health testing. If their dog’s are not registered, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Step Two. All breeding stock should be health tested according to the standard of that breed. In White Shepherds/White Swiss Shepherds, this includes OFA hips and elbows and genetic testing for at minimum DM and MDR1. Not every breeder is honest, so be sure to look at the OFA database for results. To do so, go to OFA.org and use the search function. After you type in the dog’s registered name, you can tap on the dog’s name and view their hip and elbow results. For DNA testing, you’ll need to ask for certificates or the URL to the dog’s page since they could be tested through any of multiple companies, and sometimes dogs are “clear by parentage” meaning both of their parents were clear of the disease meaning all offspring are clear (this does NOT apply to hip or elbow testing!!!). Health testing is not the same as “vet checked,” because it includes taking x-rays of the dog’s joint and testing their actual DNA. This is fundementally different than a vet looking at the outside of a dog and saying they appear healthy, since x-rays and DNA can tell a very different story. If the dogs are not health tested, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Step Three. Not every dog a breeder owns needs to have multiple titles, but titles are important for evaluating the success of a breeding program. Some titles are harder than others, and it depends on what kinds of dog you want. For example, if I want a sporty agility dog, I’d like the dog to come from parents titled in agility or IGP. Now, this isn‘t always possible, particularly in a breed not often used in such sports, at which point I ask about the tug and food drive of the parents and look for titles on grandparents and great grandparents. If the dogs are not titled, ask the breeder why they are not. Sometimes breeders do have legitimate reasons for not being able to title their dogs, though I stand strong in saying that titles are an important part of a reputable breeding program, regardless of what the titles are in. Some focus on shows, some focus on sports, some focus on therapy work. so long as there is a focus on something.
Step Four. The way a breeder raises their puppies will affect the temperament of the puppies for the rest of their lives. Find out where the puppies live, how much interaction they get, and if the breeder is following any sort of program. The most common programs are Puppy Culture and AviDog, but some long time breeders have developed their own system. Find out if they do temperament testing, and if they don’t, find out why. Again, some long time breeders have developed a system that works for them and don’t need these protocols, but you can ask how they determine placements and what they do with the puppies.
Step Five. The breeder should be knowledgable and able to answer questions about their lines and the breed in general. They should have some level of understanding in training, although not every breeder is also a trainer. The breeder should have knowledge of the breed standard and at least very basic structure. In this breed, the breeder should also have knowledge of the history of the breed and the registration situation of the breed.
Step Six. Reputable breeders generally have lengthy applications which ask an array of questions about your home, family, lifestyle, and what you’re seeking in a dog. Reputable breeders do not sell to the first person with cash, but rather carefully match puppies to owner best suited for them.
Step Seven. All dogs coming from reputable breeders will come on contracts stating the dog must be returned to the breeder in case the new owner can no longer care for the dog. The contract will also include some kind of health guarantee, and all dogs sold to pet homes will be sold on a spay/neuter contract at a time deemed appropriate by the breeder.
Step Eight. A reputable breeder is open and honest about the good and bad of their lines. Run from anyone who claims their dogs are perfect as this is the first sign of kennel blindness. No dog is all around perfect. A breeder should be able to explain why they bred a dam to a specific male and what they hope to improve upon in one or both dogs.
Disclaimer: this is aimed to describe reputable breeding in the USA. Most of these issues are different for breeders of other countries. For example, while OFA rates hips as “Excellent,” ”Good,” “Fair,” “Mild,” “Moderate,” and so on, but in Europe they’re given a letter grade from A to E. Additionally, FCI has no public database to search results, although some countries do - such as Finland.