One of the hardest parts of breeding is screening potential puppy buyers. It is probably the most disliked task that I have to do as a breeder but it is one of the most important tasks, besides proper care. And I’m not alone. Join any type of breeder group and one of the top discussions is the screening process or what to do when the screening process wasn’t successful.
While I’m not looking at the after effects of a bad choice, which every breeder can say they’ve done at one point in their career or another, I can help you tighten up your screening process so you can learn the puppy buyers out there and how to screen for them.
Understanding What You Want For Your Puppies When Screening Potential Puppy Buyers
Before we look at the screening process and the different puppy buyers out there, you really need to look at your breed, your program and your end goal for your puppies. This should be done well before you even bring a litter into the world
First, breed needs to be considered. Some breeds need to be with families, others do well as a pack dog in a kennel situation, such as hunting breeds. With that in mind, you aren’t going to sell a chihuahua to a hunter looking for a hunter companion. Just like I wouldn’t sell a mastiff to a runner looking for a running partner.
And trust me, you will get people who don’t understand the breed and are mostly purchasing because they love how the breed looks…or, and it happens a lot, they loved the dog in a movie.
Second, you need to look at why you are breeding for. Myself, I primarily breed for my own lines but my goal is to produce pets. While I do show and look for show dogs for my lines, I prefer to sell to families looking for a family pet. I rarely sell to breeders or someone looking for a working dog.
Not that there is no value in those. Some breeders will breed for hunting or working dogs. Others will breed to produce the next champion, whether through their own handling or selling to other breeders. All of those reasons excellent reasons and it will greatly shape your process for screening potential puppy buyers.
For example, a long time ago, I was looking at Australian Shepherds for a family member. The breeder I was interested in only sold to people who worked their dogs and preferred not to sell to pet homes. Her dogs were high energy and drive dogs and really needed work so she screened out any potential owners who just wanted a family pet.
Third, you want to consider your end goal for your puppies. Again, this ties into what your breeding program is about. If your end goal is to produce as many champions as possible, then you are going to want to focus on buyers who show their dogs. Many families are interested in this hobby with their dog.
By knowing your own wants and needs for your puppies, you can screen your potential buyers more effectively. In addition, it has the added bonus of having a breeding goal that you can work towards.
Questions to Ask While Screening Potential Puppy Buyers
Once you know what type of breeding program you are going to have, it is time to have a few questions to ask your buyers. Again, breed will change some of the questions or add additional ones but there are standard questions as well.
When I have my screening, I have a questionnaire that potential puppy buyers fill out. This gives me a snapshot of their home. How big is the family, if they have experience with my breed, where they plan to house the puppy and if they have other pets.
With a questionnaire, you want it thorough enough that you can get a good sense on if they would be a great fit. I have turned down potential buyers from the questionnaire alone but, usually, I take the time to interview them as well.
Now we need to look at the questions you should ask. Always do this over the phone or in some way where you can talk to them instead of relying on texts or emails. You get more truthful answers when they have to answer immediately and not have time to think of the answer over an email.
Questions you should ask when screening your potential puppy buyers are:
- Why do you want a dog? This will help you understand the life your puppy will have with this family. Do they want a dog for companionship or do they want one for working, jogging, hunting, etc?
- What drew you to this breed? This is a great way to see if your puppy buyer has done his homework and knows what he’s getting into with the breed.
- Do you have any children? Some breeds are excellent with children, others are not. Be sure your breed is a child friendly breed if you are selling for families. In addition, ask for the age of the child and discuss the importance of teaching children the proper way to interact with puppies and dogs.
- Are you prepared for the expense of this breed? Every dog breed has a large expense, some have more, some have less. This is an important question for my breed simply because giant dogs often come with giant vet bills in the event of an emergency. Knowing your owners will have the finances to care for the dog is important.
- Does everyone want the dog? This isn’t a question everyone thinks about but I always ask it. Sometimes, one partner is all for the dog, the other isn’t and it can lead to a lot of problems, including the dog being rehomed. I like to make sure everyone is ready and wiling to take on those responsibilities.
- Do you have the time for the dog? This covers a lot and you may want to break it down into multiple questions. Basically, you need to know if they have the time to groom the dog, walk him, train and socialize him and meet all his daily needs. How much is dependent on your breed. For instance, Pomeranian isn’t going to need as much exercise as a Belgian Malinois.
- What is home life like? Again, this covers a lot of information and can be broken down into multiple questions. You will want to know how many hours they are gone for work. Is everyone gone at the same time? How much will the puppy be crated? Will he go to doggy daycare? It also covers what they are like on the weekend. If they enjoy spending their weekends going on two day hiking trips, then the Shih Tzu might not be the right breed for them…the Rhodesian Ridgeback might be a better fit.
- Where will puppy be sleeping? This may not seem like a big question but it’s a round about way to ask if the pup will be sleeping outside or inside. Some breeds do well outdoors, such as guardian breeds, others, like Mastiffs, need to be inside with their families.
By asking these questions, you can really start to get an idea of the people and if your puppies would be a good match. Also, make sure to just chat about personal things with them. What their past history has been with dogs, will they keep in contact with you, and so on. Ideally, this will be a relationship that lasts 12 to 15 years, possibly longer, so you want to make sure that their personality doesn’t clash with yours. You don’t have to be good friends but having a good relationship makes it easier for everyone involved.
While I know that is a ton of information, I also want to look at the different types of puppy buyers you can have.
The New to the Breed Puppy Buyer
I never fault anyone new to the breed or new to dog ownership. We all start somewhere when it comes to our first dog. There are pros and cons to new to the breed puppy buyers.
First, new to the breed puppy buyers can be very excited about the breed and willing to follow your lead. This is great when it comes to educating them. They want to learn and aren’t set in their ways when it comes to dog ownership.
Second, it is often the new to the breed puppy buyers who bring the next wave of enthusiasts to the breed. They are invested in the breed and this is always good.
However, their inexperience can mean more work for you as you teach them and answer every question they have. And they will have a ton of questions if they are good buyers. Personally, I would rather a 1000 questions from a puppy buyer, especially new to the breed ones, than no questions.
Another con is that they can be completely unsure about what they are getting into. This can lead to potential problems later on with the dog, including them rehoming it.
How To Spot Them
Hopefully they are honest about being new to the breed or new to dog ownership. However, some people will blur the truth a bit as some breeds aren’t recommended for new dog owners.
If you aren’t sure, the best thing is to discuss their past dogs and if it was a family pet as a child or one they’ve owned as an adult. Also discuss traits about the breed that someone who wasn’t familiar with them would know. You could set it up as asking them what some of the negative traits they are worried about…such as drooling in mastiffs. Have them identify the trait before you discuss it.
How to Deal with Them
First, you need to decide if you are going to sell to new to the breed or new dog owners. Some breeds are not meant for new dog owners, such as the Fila Brasilea and if you are breeding one of those breeds, I would simply screen them out.
If there are no breed limitations, then the best thing to do to deal with them is to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of the breed. Invite them to meet the breed and encourage them to do homework on the breed while they wait for the litter. Have them get out to meet the breed as much as possible.
Answer questions but don’t sugar coat anything. Some breeds are not for some people. I love Siberian Huskies but I know, without a doubt, that the love has to be from afar due to a few traits, specifically that they tend to be escape artists. I like a dog that sticks close to home.
So for these puppy buyers, be honest and offer mentorship. Remember, they can be amazing puppy owners, especially they are a fresh slate for you to teach.
The Breeder Puppy Buyer
This type of breeder seems pretty obvious…it’s simply a fellow breeder who wants breeding rights to your dog. Simple, right? Unfortunately, the breeder puppy buyer is not always clearly seen so you may have to work a bit to find this out.
How to Spot Them
If they are breeder, you should know that they are simply through talking to them, especially if they are looking for breeding rights. However, some people will hide that they plan to breed the dog from you so you have to do a bit of digging.
Often, one of the dead giveaways is if they discuss breeding rights or if you have a spay/neuter contract. If they ask, then they are thinking about breeding. A lot of the time, they might say, “Oh, I’m asking in case I ever think of doing so but I don’t think I will.” You can usually guarantee that they are planning to when they say that.
Another thing they will ask about is the registration and if they are sold with full registration. They tend to avoid actually saying they want to breed but they ask questions that hint at that option.
Finally, you can often spot them if they have several intact dogs in your breed and looking to add another of the opposite sex. This isn’t always the case but it can be a good indicator that they are going to breed your puppy when it is old enough.
How to Deal with Them
First, decide if you plan to sell breeding rights and have a breeding contract if you do. You don’t need to sell breeding rights. All of my puppies go to their homes under non-breeding contracts and registrations. I have sold exactly 3 puppies with breeding rights to established breeders.
Second, just because they are an established breeder, doesn’t mean you need to sell to them. You want to make sure that the breeder has similar goals and ethics as you do. It doesn’t mean they are unethical, but their goals might completely clash with yours. Remember that your dogs represent your kennel and, by default, their owners do. If you sell to a bad breeder, it can be a reflection on your own business.
With someone new to breeding, I am not against selling them breeding rights, however, it is important to work as a mentor with that breeder. Let the potential buyer know your stipulations for breeding, what they will have to get done for the puppy before they can breed, for example health certificates, and anything else.
One thing I should mention is that I never sell a puppy with full breeding rights unless I coown them. Once they meet my requirements, I sign off on full ownership after the first litter is born.
If they are trying to breed without getting breeding rights, just cut them loose right away. Let them know they aren’t a good fit for your dogs and move on.
The Bargain Shopper Puppy Buyer
Bargain shoppers are sometimes some of the worst when it comes to puppy buyers. They aren’t really invested in the puppy as much as someone who doesn’t bargain shop is. These buyers are more interested in price over anything you actually do with your puppies.
How to Spot Them
Price is often the first thing they ask you about before they ask about health, temperament or any background on the parents. They also tend to not really go over anything about themselves.
In addition, the bargain shopped puppy buyer will usually try negotiating. They’ll ask if there are different prices if the puppies are registered or not registered. Is there a lower price if they do the vaccines themselves and stuff like that.
How to Deal with Them
That is the best thing that I can say to do. With the bargain shopper, give them your price and move on. Don’t engage in negotiations or in explaining. If you want to explain, keep it simple. I charge this amount for x, y and z. Then leave it at that.
They might try to bluff you out and say they’ll look elsewhere or you are more expensive than other breeders out there. The best thing to say is that your price is firm and they are welcome to look for a different breeder. Most times, they leave and never contact you again, although occasionally one will to lament how I didn’t bargain with them.
The Ill-suited Puppy Buyer
These aren’t always easy to spot right at the start. They can say all the right things but then you realize that either they aren’t at a time in their life when a puppy is right or they are completely ill-suited for your breed.
How to Spot Them
Conversations is the best way to spot them, usually around their lifestyles. If they are really busy or are about to go through a big change in their routine, you’ll hear about it in conversation.
In addition, you get a sense of what they are looking for in a puppy. I have a big breed, if someone is so focused on having the biggest and toughest dog on the street, it comes out in the conversation as they focus primarily on the size. In this case, I know that the breed probably isn’t the best for them. Yes, they are big, but they are sweethearts in temperament.
If something doesn’t look like it’s suitable for your breed, trust your instinct because you’ve spotted the ill-suited puppy buyer.
How to Deal with Them
Be honest. Let them know that you don’t think that one of your dogs is the right fit for them. Some may get upset but just ignore any fighting and move along. It is better to say no now than to have them come back later with a dog that wasn’t properly cared for because they weren’t ready for it.
The Tire Kicker Puppy Buyer
These are probably the most common type of puppy buyer you will deal with…and they aren’t even a puppy buyer! Tire kickers don’t usually have any intention of buying a dog and are simply window shopping.
How to Spot Them
These are usually pretty easy to spot. They don’t often reply to emails very quickly and they contact you sporatically.
They also want to meet a lot and will spend a lot of time talking about dogs in general but usually never about your puppies or them buying a puppy specifically. If they do talk about buying a puppy, it is usually in the future tense and not with any real time line.
How to Deal with Them
I don’t have much problem with tire kickers. I answer questions as they ask and will chat. I usually steer them to my social media pages and let them tire kick by liking and commenting on my pictures.
Don’t bother with phone interviews until after they have filled out an application. In addition, avoid having them come to your home. If you are a show breeder, you can invite them to a show to meet you and your dogs. This keeps it on neutral ground and you don’t have to worry about them taking too much of your time.
If they disappear, let them. They may come back in a few years to get a puppy from you but you’ll have plenty of people who want a puppy now.
And those are important points for screening potential puppy buyers as well as some of the more common “problematic” puppy buyers you will see. Having a clear idea of what you want in a puppy buyer will help you avoid some of those more challenging puppy buyers while building both your reputation and relationships with your puppy owners.
Remember, if anything ever feels off about a potential puppy buyer, you have the ability to tell them no.