Before you fall in love with the first adorable Ridgeback face you see…
Take the time in an initial phone call to ask the following questions. You may not find a breeder who fits 100% of the criteria outlined, but don't settle for anything less than a few negative responses. At the end of the list you will find questions to ask yourself. You should be able to answer all of them affirmatively before you begin your search.
Remember you are adding a new member to your family for the next 10, 12, even 15 or more years. Now is not the time to bargain hunt. Prepare to spend at least $1200-$2000 for a well-bred Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy. You may have known someone who has, or you yourself have purchased a "backyard bred”, pet store or puppy mill puppy and had great success. They were lucky. Why take the chance? It can cost you far more in the end (not just monetary expenses but emotional ones, too)!
Before breeding, responsible breeders will do all they can to avoid health and temperament problems by researching pedigrees and screening parents for certain inherent problems. A good breeder lives by the philosophy "it is better to give a puppy to a great home than to sell one (for any amount of money) to a mediocre one". Monetary gain never drives a responsible breeder, improvement and betterment of the breed does.
Questions to ask the breeder...
Feel free to use the link at the bottom to print this checklist to keep by the phone when you make your calls.
____1) Where did you find out about this breeder? Responsible breeders will breed only when they have a waiting list of puppy buyers. They don't ever find it necessary to advertise in newspapers, websites such as CraigsList, or with a sign out in the front yard.
____2) Do both the sire and dam have CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) numbers? A CHIC number requires minimum health screenings: hip, elbow, eye, and thyroid. a)Do both parents (the sire and dam) have either good or excellent hip clearances from the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) or PennHip scores close to or less than 0.30? Ask to see the certificates. "My vet okayed the hips/ x-ray" is not a valid clearance. b)Do both parents have normal OFA Elbow readings? OFA Elbow screening evaluates for elbow dysplasia such as ununited anconeal process, fragmented coronoid process, osteochondrosis, or any combination thereof. c)Do both parents have current eye clearances from CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation)? CERF examinations screen for heritable eye diseases. d)Do both parents have normal OFA Thyroid screenings? OFA Thyroid testing detects autoimmune thyroiditis, as well as idiopathically reduced thyroid function. Autoimmune thyroiditis is known to be a heritable thyroid condition. e) Do both parents have normal OFA Degenerative Myelopathy* (DM) screenings? OFA DM testing is a DNA test that can indicate an increased risk of DM, a debilitating, degernerative spinal disease. f)Additional screenings** that may be reported to the Canine Health Foundation through OFA are: ·BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) which tests for auditory issues (such as deafness) ·Cardiac certification* (Congenital Cardiac Database) through cardiac auscultation, echocardiography with Doppler, or cardiac catheterization with angiocardiography, congenital cardiac issues can be detected. *Recommended for Ridgebacks, as well as other breeds. **Other additional screenings are applicable to other breeds; to find this information, please visit: http://ofa.org/.
____3) Are both parents at least 2 years old? Final OFA hip and elbow clearances cannot be obtained before that age. (Because PennHip evaluations are a different type of evaluation to OFA, they can be done as early as 4 months of age.) Be suspicious of dogs bred before all health clearances can be completed and before the dog's temperament as an adult is known. A scrupulous breeder is not in a hurry to breed, but takes time to evaluate their bitch's strengths and weaknesses, and choose an appropriate sire.
____4) Do all four grandparents, siblings of the parents and any other puppies they may have produced have hip, elbow, CERF (eye), and thyroid evaluations? A responsible breeder will keep track of these statistics and openly discuss any problems that have occurred in the lines and what has been done to prevent them from reoccurring.
____5) How often is the dam bred? If the dam is bred on consecutive estrus cycles and the breeder can give you an educated explanation for this, you needn’t be as skeptical of this breeder. However, if no “good” explanation can be given, it may indicate that profit is the primary motive for the frequency of breeding.
____6) Is the breeder willing to provide you with references and telephone numbers of other people who have purchased puppies from them?
____7) Do all puppies placed as pets registered with limited AKC registration and required to be spayed/neutered? A breeder who cares enough about the breed to insist on these is likely to be a responsible breeder.
____8) On what basis was the sire chosen? If the answer is "because he lives right down the street" or "because he is really sweet", sufficient thought was not put into the breeding.
____9) WILL THE BREEDER TAKE THE DOG BACK AT ANY TIME, FOR ANY REASON, IF YOU CANNOT KEEP IT?! This is the hallmark of responsible breeding (and the quickest way to make rescue obsolete).
____10) Is there a written guarantee against congenital health or temperament problems? Do they offer another puppy or your money back, not require you to return your puppy or euthanize it? Many unscrupulous breeders will honor a guarantee only after the original puppy has been destroyed or ask for the puppy to be returned to them in order to have it euthanized. Though this may be the humane answer to the current puppy’s issues, it is your puppy and your decision. Your breeder (much like your veterinarian) should only offer suggestions, never require you to make a decision that isn’t right for you or makes you uncomfortable.
____11) Will the breeder be available to answer any question you might have for the life of the dog? Is this someone you would feel comfortable asking any type of question at any hour of the day or night?
____12) Is the breeder knowledgeable about the breed? Is he or she involved in competition with their dogs (agility, rally, obedience, lure coursing, and/ or conformation)? And for how many years have they been involved with the breed?
____13) Are there a majority of titled dogs (the initials: CH, GCH, OTCH, MACH, FC, etc.- before and/ or after the names) in the first three generations of ALL their breeding animals? (The term ‘champion lines’ means nothing if those titles are back three, four, or more generations or there is only one or two in the whole pedigree.)
____14) Are the sire and dam available for you to meet? If the sire is unavailable can you call his owners or people who have other of his offspring to ask about temperament or health problems? (You should be able to request at any time and certainly, be provided at the time of purchase: pictures or videos, a three or more generation pedigree, and health certification numbers of both the sire and dam.)
____15) Have the puppies been raised in the home - not in a barn, kennel, the basement, garage, or the backyard?
____16) Is the breeder knowledgeable about raising puppies, critical neonatal periods, proper socialization techniques, etc.? Puppies that are raised without ample exposure to gentle handling, human contact and a wide variety of noises and experiences OR are removed from their dam before she is ready (usually between 6 and 8 weeks of age) or removed from their littermates before 10 to 12 weeks, may exhibit a wide variety of behavioral problems!
____17) Does the breeder provide you with registration papers, a contract to sign, copies of all clearances and guarantees, health records and material to help you with feeding, socializing, training and housebreaking AT the time of sale?
____18) Have the puppies' temperaments been evaluated and can the breeder guide you to the puppy that will best suit your lifestyle? A very shy puppy will not do well in a noisy household with small children, just as a very dominant puppy won't flourish in a sedate, senior citizen household. A caring breeder will know the puppies and be able to guide you towards the puppy that will best fit your family and lifestyle.
____19) Do the puppies seem healthy, with no discharge from eyes or nose, no loose stools, no foul smelling ears? Are their coats soft and clean? Do they have plenty of energy when awake? Are their nails trimmed (preferably with dewclaws removed and the incision sites well healed by the time you visit with them)?
____20) Are the puppies current and up-to-date with their vaccine series and vet checked? (When a puppy is placed at an ideal 10 to 12 weeks of age, they should have 2 vaccinations on board; over 16 weeks, 3 vaccines. No puppy from a good, clean environment should ever have worms or external parasites (fleas, ticks, ear mites, etc.). Even if a puppy is not sent home with any of these problems, did the breeder need to treat the puppies for any of these issues? If so, things may not be as clean or healthy as you think!
____21) Does the breeder have only 1 or at most 2 breeds of dogs and only 1 litter at a time? If there are several breeds of dogs, chances are the breeder cannot devote the time it takes to become extremely knowledgeable about the breed; and if there is more than one litter at a time it is very difficult to give the puppies the attention they need and may indicate that the primary purpose for breeding is profit, rather than a sincere desire to improve the breed.
____22) Does the breeder belong to their breed's parent club or a regional breed club? For Ridgebacks, the national parent club is the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States (RRCUS). Members of RRCUS are held to a Code of Ethics that protects both the breeder as well as you the puppy purchaser. (Click here to view the current RRCUS Code of Ethics.)
____23) Do you feel comfortable with this person? After all, you are entering into a decade (plus) long relationship. If after talking to a breeder you feel intimidated, pressured or unsure they are being truthful with you… keep looking!
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF...
Are you prepared to...
____1) Take full responsibility for this dog and all its needs for the next 10 to 15+ years? This is NOT a task that can be left to children!
____2) Invest the considerable time, money and patience it takes to train a dog to be a good companion? (This does not happen by itself!!!!) A responsible owner is willing to start a puppy in a Kindergarten class before he/ she reaches 6 months of age and continue in classes until the puppy has reached 24 months of age. This is generally only 3 or 4- 6 to 8 week classes a year but can mean the difference between a lifelong relationship and an impossible puppy who gets dumped at a shelter or returned to the breeder! Look for good local obedience clubs in your area BEFORE getting your new puppy. Not all areas have such facilities, so expect to drive some distance if necessary. Make the commitment NOW to help your puppy be all it can be!
____3) Always keep the dog safe: no running loose, riding in the back of an open pickup truck, being chained outside, etc.?
____4) Make sure the dog gets enough attention and exercise? (Though Ridgebacks are fairly sedate in the house, the do need several hours of exercise every day!)
____5) Live with shedding, excitability, and high activity for the next 10-15 years.
____6) Spend the money it takes to provide proper veterinary care including but certainly not limited to: vaccines, heartworm testing and preventative, spaying or neutering, annual check-ups, daily and annual dental care (some Ridgebacks do have bad teeth), and annual blood screening for your geriatric (6+) Ridgeback?
____7) Become educated about the proper care of a Ridgeback, correct training methods and how to groom? (There are many good books available, invest the time to read a few.)
____8) Keep the breeder informed and up to date on the dog’s accomplishments as well as any problems? (Remember, breeders love the annual pictures and updates throughout the year, not just at Christmas! And problems should be brought to the breeder’s attention as soon as possible, no matter the age of your dog.)
____9) Take your questions to the breeder or other appropriate professional before they become problems that are out of hand?
____10) Have the patience to accept (and enjoy) the trials of puppyhood, which can last for several years, and each stage afterward?
____11) Continue to accept responsibility for the dog despite inevitable life changes such as new babies, kids going off to school, moving, or returning to work?
____12) Resist impulse buying, instead have the patience to make a responsible choice?
If you answered yes to ALL of the above, you are ready to start contacting breeders. Start early because most responsible breeders have a waiting list ranging from a few of months to a couple of years. Remember, the right puppy or adult dog IS worth waiting for!!
Use this link to download a printable copy of our "Questions To Ask The Breeder" checklist. ==>
I am posting this specifically because I do NOT have any puppies here now, and don’t anticipate any for a while. So you know that I’m not singling any real person out. This is because it seems that there’s a lot of confusion about the whole “proper” way to go about things. So, puppy buyers and anyone else thinking about maybe someday approaching a good breeder about a puppy, here you go:
1) STOP LOOKING FOR A PUPPY. The classic mistake puppy buyers make is saying “I need an xx breed puppy at the beginning of the fall” or whatever it may be. So they go out looking for litters due in August.
Puppies are not interchangeable; one is not the same as the others. This is largely because every breeder has their stop-the-presses criteria for breeding or not breeding, and each has preferences for size, personality, working ability, etc. Breeder X’s “perfect puppy” is not the same as Breeder Y’s.
Stop looking for a puppy; look for a BREEDER. Make a personal connection with a breeder you feel shares your top criteria, and then wait for a puppy from them. Maybe they even have a litter on the ground, which is wonderful, but maybe they’re not planning anything for a few months. Or maybe they’re not planning anything for a year; in that case, ask for a referral to another breeder that shares those same priorities and has a similar (or just as good) personality and support ethic. However it works out, screen the breeder first, then ask about a puppy.
1b) EXPECT TO WAIT FOR A PUPPY. It’s VERY rare to wait less than a couple of months; four to six is normal. I’ve waited a year on a couple of occasions; no, even we breeders don’t walk through the field, able to pick puppies like tulips. We ALL have to wait, and we ALL have to get matched up by the puppies’ breeder.
2) INTRODUCE YOURSELF THOROUGHLY. The initial e-mail should be several paragraphs long; block out at least an hour of quiet for the first phone call. When you initiate contact, clearly communicate three things: You are ready for a puppy, you are ready for a puppy of this breed, and you understand what sets this breeder apart from the others and you share that commitment. Specifically describe your plans for this puppy; be truthful. If you are not going to be able to go to four training classes a year, SAY SO. Don’t say “Of course, training is a huge priority around here,” or you’re going to end up with a puppy who’s flushing your toilet sixty times a day because he’s so bored and you’re not challenging him.
The ideal first contact e-mail usually goes something like
“Hi, my name is X and I’m writing to inquire about your dogs. I’ve been doing a lot of research on [breed] and I think they’re the right one for me because of [these four reasons.] I know puppies are a huge commitment, and I am planning to [accommodate that in various ways.] I’m approaching you in particular because of your interest in [whatever,] which is something I feel is very important and plan to encourage in [these three ways.]”
That’s the kind of e-mail that gets a response, and usually pretty quickly. If I get something that says “I hear you have puppies on the way; how much?” it goes in the recyle bin before you can blink.
2a) Bring up price either at the end of the first contact (if it’s been successful and you feel a connection to this person) or in a follow-up contact. It’s nice to say “If you don’t mind me asking, about how much are [breed]s in this area, if there is a typical price? I just want to be prepared.” The breeder will usually give you two pieces of useful information: Her price, and the median prices around you. That way, if you decide to go a different way, you know about what to expect. If the second person you contact names a price that’s double the median, try to discreetly find out why. A very difficult pregnancy, nationally ranked parents, a surgical AI, c-section resulting in very few live puppies, those are some reasons a breeder could be asking more and it’s reasonable. If there’s no real difference from the other breeders except price, think carefully.
3) BE WILLING TO BE TOLD NO. Not every person is the right match for every breed. That’s just fact. There is no way on earth I could make our home appropriate for a Malamute puppy, and I’d have to lie through my teeth to get approved for one. And I have my entire life devoted to keeping dogs happy. I don’t expect you to have anywhere close to the obsession I have, so that means there will be some dogs that are just plain wrong for you. If a breeder says no, ask why. If the answers make sense, don’t keep calling people until you finally get one who will sell you a puppy of that breed. Go back to the drawing board and be very humble and honest with yourself about what kind of dog really would be right for you and your family.
4) PLEASE DO NOT GET ON MORE THAN ONE WAITING LIST unless you are VERY honest about it. This goes back to rule 1. You need to understand that we think our puppy buyers are just as in love with the puppies as we are. We’re posting pictures, writing up instructions, burning CDs, researching everything from pedigrees to nail grinding, all so we can hand off this puppy, this supreme glorious creature of wonderfulness, with the absolute maximum chance that it will lead a fabulous life with you, and we’ve built all kinds of air castles in our heads about how happy this puppy will be, and what it will do in its life with you, and so on. Finding out that you had your name on four lists shows that you don’t realize that puppies are not packages of lunch meat, where getting one from Shaws is basically the same as getting one from Stop and Shop.
Also, as soon as your name is on one of our lists, we’re turning away puppy buyers. If we’ve sent ten people elsewhere because our list is full, and then suddenly you say “Oh, yeah, I got a puppy from someone else,” it really toasts our bread. So just BE HONEST. If someone came to me and said “I’m on a list with So and So, but she’s pretty sure she won’t have a puppy for me, and I’d love to be considered for one of your dogs and I’ll let you know just as soon as I know,” I’m FINE with that. I understand how this goes. It’s not a disaster for me to have a puppy “left over” at eight weeks because you ended up getting that So and So puppy; it’s just frustrating to have the rug yanked out from under me.
5. PLEASE DO NOT EXPECT TO CHOOSE YOUR PUPPY. This one drives puppy buyers CRAZY. I know this, trust me. I have a lot of sympathy because I’ve been there. But the fact is that when you come into my house and look at the eight-week-old puppies and one comes up and tugs on your pant leg and you look at me, enraptured, and say “THIS IS IT! He chose ME,” I’ve been looking at people coming into the house all week, and every single time this same puppy has come up and tugged at them and every single one of them have said to me “THIS IS IT!”
What you are seeing is not reality. You are seeing the most outgoing puppy, or you’ve fallen in love with the one that has the most white, or the one that has a different look from the rest of the litter (when I had one blue girl puppy in a litter of black boys, every human that came in the house wanted her; when I had one black girl puppy in a litter of blue boys everyone kept talking about how much they loved HER), or the one that’s been (accidentally) featured the most in the pictures I’ve posted. Or, sometimes, you have a very good instinctive eye and you’re picking the puppy that’s the best put together of the litter. And that puppy, of course, is mine, and you’re going to have to pry him out of my cold dead hands.
My responsibility is not to make you happy. And that, dear friends, is why I am posting this now, and not when I have a bunch of actual puppy buyers around :D. But it’s the truth. My responsibility is to the BREED first. That’s why my first priority in placing puppies is the show owners, because they are the ones that will (if all goes well) use this dog to keep the breed going. It’s not that I like them better than I like you; it’s that I have to be extremely careful who I place with them so that they can make breeding decisions with the very best genetic material I can hand them. My second responsibility is to the PUPPY. I will place each puppy where I feel that it has the best chance of success and the optimal environment to thrive.
So while I do care, and I will try to take your preferences into account, do not expect to walk into my living room and put your hand in the box and pick whatever puppy you want. And do not expect to be given priority pick because you contacted me first; conversely, do not expect that because you came along late you somehow won’t get a good puppy. Sometimes the person who calls me when the puppies are seven and a half weeks old ends up with what I’d consider the “pick” for various reasons (sometimes because somebody called me up and said they’d gotten a puppy from someone else; see rule 4 above). I am going to try to do my absolute best to match puppies to owners as objectively as I can, not according to who called first.
When I was waiting for Clue, I think I initially called Betty Ann six months before she was born. I waited through two other litters, where Betty Ann thought she might have something for me but then in the end told me no. Then I waited until 8 weeks when she thought this one might really be the one, and then another two weeks until she made her final picks and sent me a puppy. I was about ready to vomit with the tension. I UNDERSTAND. But the rewards of waiting and being matched with the right puppy are greater than any frustration with having to sit with an empty couch for a few more months.
6) ONCE YOU GET YOUR PUPPY, THERE WILL ONLY BE THAT PUPPY IN THE WHOLE WORLD. If you’ve been sitting around with your fingers crossed saying “Please, Molly, please, Molly, I only love Molly,” and I say “I really think Moe is the one for you,” you’re probably going to feel disappointed. But take Moe and go sit on the couch, and put your finger in her mouth, and realize that she has a really cool white toe on one foot but none of the other feet have white toes, and let her try to find a treat in your pocket, and I guarantee you by the time you’re five minutes out of my driveway Moe will be YOUR puppy. And a year later you may remember that you thought Molly was so pretty, but Moe… well, Moe could practically run the Pentagon she’s so smart, and her face turned out MUCH more beautiful than Molly’s did. And so on.
7) PLEASE FINISH THE ENCOUNTER WITH ONE BREEDER BEFORE BEGINNING ONE WITH ANOTHER. If you end a conversation with me saying “Well, this just all sounds wonderful, and I’m going to talk it over with my wife and we’ll call you about getting on your waiting list,” and then you hang up and call the next person on your list, that’s not OK. If you don’t feel like you click with me, or you want to keep your options open, a very easy way to say it is to ask for the names and numbers of other breeders I recommend. That way I know we’re not “going steady,” and I won’t pencil you in on my list. If you are on my waiting list, and you decide that you don’t want to be anymore, call me AS SOON AS YOU KNOW and say “Joanna, I’m so sorry, but our life has gotten a little crazy and I need to be taken off the puppy list.” And I make sympathetic noises and take you off. If, then, you decide you want to get a different puppy, be my guest. Just keep me apprised and let me close off my commitment to you before you open it with another breeder.
…Which brings us to something that is super important and most puppy people don’t realize:
8 ) EVERY BREEDER KNOWS EVERY OTHER BREEDER. Now of course I don’t mean the bad breeders, but the show breeding community is VERY small and VERY close-knit. If you’ve been on my list for three months, I’ve kept in contact with you, I think you’re getting a puppy from me, I’m carefully considering which one to sell you, and finally I match you with a puppy when they’re eight weeks old, and THEN you e-mail me and say “Sorry, I got a puppy from Arizona, bye,” my instant reaction isn’t going to be “Oh noes!” My instant reaction is going to be “From Jill?” I probably e-mail Jill several times a year, if not several times a month, and I’m probably going to pick up the phone in the next sixty seconds and say, “Did you just sell a puppy to Horace Green from Topeka? Did you know that he put himself on my waiting list three months ago and has been saying all along how excited he is?” And two minutes after that she’ll get a call from Anne in Oregon and Anne will say “Did you just sell a puppy to Horace Green from Topeka? He’s been feeding me lines for eight weeks! I had a puppy ready to go to him next week!”
And we will take your name in vain, Horace Green from Topeka, and Jill will feel bad that she sold you a puppy, and oh the bad words we will say. And Horace Green from Topeka will be a topic of conversation at the next Nationals, and t-shirts will be made that say “DON’T BE A HORACE,” and someone will name their puppy Horrible Horace and everyone will get the joke and laugh.
In the end, “Be excellent to each other,” as Bill and Ted so correctly ordered us, is pretty much the paradigm to follow. If you err, err on the side of this being a relationship, not a transaction. Try to act the way you would with a good friend, not with an appliance salesman. And the ending will be as happy for you as it is happy for us.