I wanted to give a bit of an introduction to this page. I am writing this to help you learn how to assess a breeder. Like many things in life, there may not be one "right" answer in choosing the breeder of your next puppy. First of all you need to choose a person you can work with. It goes without saying you have to like their dogs, their philosophies on caring for the dogs (health testing, temperament, lifestyle of the parents, etc.) But you also need to find a breeder that works with you and vice versa.
I see a lot of sites mainly created to promote the sale of puppies, or of a specific breeding program. That's fine if that is the purpose of the site. This page and this site is more educational, so I won't tell you anything silly like I am the only good breeder or you HAVE to buy a puppy from me. (In fact that tends to turn off buyers, according to all the ones who have told me the see that on some sites.) Rather, my goal is to equip you with the knowledge to make informed choices for yourself. Small breeders like me could never fill the demand for well bred, healthy family pets nor do we want to. There is no way I could give my dogs the quality of life if I had a large number of them or bred in volume. Raising puppies the way I do means I have to stay small and focus on quality over quantity. I am not out to just make puppies to sell, rather I want to build my own program and at times will have puppies available, since I can't keep them all.
Some other things to consider is what is important to you? Do you care how the parents of your puppies live (in the house or in a kennel or worse, cramped cages), or what they are like to live with (since that will have a huge bearing on the temperament your puppy will inherit)? I think some people just want to quickly choose a puppy based on sex, color or markings, but this page is for people who know that making a wise choice goes much deeper than that. The more you can find out about the parents of the puppies, as well as how the breeder cares for them, the more you can predict how the puppies themselves will turn out. That is FAR more important than quickly choosing the first cute puppy you see.
The first 4 months in a puppy's life is critical to it's development at that stage and beyond, so a breeder who raises pups just in a kennel or outside setting is not doing their job in getting the pups off to a good start. But since most pups go to new homes at 8 weeks, the new owner has the second two months to start the puppy on the right kind of socializing. Having an Aussie that is stable and well adjusted does not happen by accident but is a combination of genetics, early upbringing and ongoing training and socializing. It takes a village to raise a good dog!
Choosing a breeder is almost more important than choosing the actual puppy. The breeder will have SO much impact on what kind of dog the puppy will become. By that I mean the breeder is the one who decides on the bloodlines, the health testing, the daily care and socializing, and so much more. The information I have provided below should help you in making this big decision!
I just added new information on internet scammers below, in red. Definitely read this if you are buying a puppy long distance!
One thing I like to tell anyone looking for a new puppy, is if it is at all possible, visit the breeder and meet the parents, even before the pups arrive or you decide to buy a pup from that breeder. This can help you be sure of your choice of the breeder and the bloodlines. There is a lot of variation in Aussies and it's a good idea to get a feel for the bloodlines of the family of Aussies you are considering. A lot of how your pup will turn out as an adult will be traits he or she has inherited from the parents, so it pays to do a little research before choosing the first cute face you see. Also, look beyond just color/markings/sex, into the temperaments of the bloodlines. THAT is more important than anything as that is what you live with. A "pretty" looking dog with a bad temperament isn't going to be an ideal companion. If visiting is not possible, asking many detailed questions about the parents, the care of the pups, the policies of the breeder and even asking for references from past buyers, the vet and such can go a long way toward making sure you don't get taken advantage of by a breeder.
If a breeder is reluctant to take the time with you before the sale, they are even less likely to after the sale and should be avoided. A good breeder cares about their pups and the new families they live with, and will make the time to help make the transition smooth and build an open line of communication with any potential puppy buyer. They will be there before and after the sale.
One thing to note about visiting breeders is that some, myself included, ask that people either visit before we have a litter or wait until they are a month old. Young puppies are more susceptible to disease than older pups or adult dogs. So please don't be offended if a breeders won't let you visit to see newborn puppies. It is just one of many things a good breeder will do to protect the precious lives of those little ones. On that same subject, only visit one breeder per day, so you don't carry the risk of disease to a young litter.
What a person will look for in a breeder may vary from situation to situation, but here I want to address some of the common issues. What I look for is one with plenty of experience in the breed, who is able to answer all my many questions. I like ones who keep a smaller number of dogs, who know the individual dogs well (versus larger kennel situations where the dogs aren't worked with one on one so much.) Breeders who keep the dogs inside or at least work with them daily may be able to give you more insight into their dogs' personality traits and talents, and be able to predict more accurately what the pups from such dogs may exhibit. Also, if you are looking for a conformation show dog, it is nice to buy from a breeder with lines who have been successful in that area. Same goes for a stock dog, or a dog who may excel at agility. While Aussies are supposed to be versatile, you will find some lines are more talented in one area or another, and there may be quite a lot of variation among bloodlines or "styles" within the breed. That is where choosing a breeder who has the "style" of Aussie you want is a good idea.
Next, does the breeder do the pertinent health screening on her breeding dogs? That would include PennHip or OFA for hips and elbows, and CERF for eyes. In Aussies, MDR1 testing is a good idea. There are other tests many breeders may do, including the HSF4 cataract test, Pelger-Huet anomaly, and they may have a pedigree assessment run by C.A. Sharp at ASHGI. Can the breeder provide you with a pedigree, and an explanation of what she hoped to produce with a particular cross? Can she show or tell you the strengths and weaknesses in each of the parents? Breeding dogs is more than taking two "pretty dogs" and sticking them together. Ideally a breeder will try to maintain the good qualities in her lines, while decreasing the bad ones or faults. Even if you breed two Champion dogs, not all their pups will be "show quality". Beware the breeder that claims otherwise, or seems to just look at color or markings to determine quality. A good show dog is judged more on structure and movement than just color or markings, assuming the markings are within the breed standard. It is judged against the breed standard for AKC or ASCA. Also beware the breeder advertising "rare" white, or mismark Aussies, or Aussies of nonstandard colors like yellow, dilute or sable as being rare or more valuable. While they can make good pets, they do not meet the standard are not "worth" more money. They also should not be bred as their color or markings are a disqualification by the breed standard.
Also beware of the breeder who claims to never have had a single health problem in any dog or pup. Dogs are living creatures and all are prone to carry at least some genetic issues. They may be very minor or more serious. I find that breeders who make that claim either do no health testing, don't keep track of the pups they produce, or aren't very honest. ALL lines have issues, and the truly dedicated breeders will study each line and make informed decisions, rather than burying their heads in the sand and pretending all is perfect. That said, it is possible to breed dogs that are healthy overall, with work and time spent studying pedigrees, keeping track of pups and relatives, and doing as much health screening as possible.
A good breeder will explain how she selects or grades the puppies as far as physical traits, though of course in choosing a good companion, the temperament will even have more impact than color, markings or even structure, though good structure helps ensure a dog will remain sound through it's life.. Along those lines, a good breeder spends enough time with each puppy to have a good feel for it's individual personality. She can help steer you toward a puppy with a personality that may be a good fit for your goals and lifestyle. Don't be too set on one sex or color, if your dream puppy as far as personality is a different sex or color. It's not to say you shouldn't have an ideal, but if you are stuck on it, you may not get the "best" puppy for you. Be open to looking at personality first, and color and markings second. You will get a better dog for it.
After that, another thing you may consider is does the breeder seem open to working with you to help you choose a puppy? Do they ask you a lot of questions about your living situation, to help assess your needs or even ability to really do well with an Aussie? I find a good breeder may ask as many or more questions than the buyer, as they really are committed to making sure any pup they sell has the best home possible. Some breeders are more open that others about having visitors, but it is nice if a buyer can visit and see the living conditions of the parents of a pup they are considering. However, sometimes to prevent the transmission of disease, a breeder may be more cautious about allowing a number of visitors, especially with very young pups. At the least, you should never visit more than one breeder per day, and should disinfect your shoes and clothing between visits. Also, with the increase of anti-breeder animal rights activists, some breeders are understandably a little more cautious in allowing casual visits from strangers.
It is a good idea to avoid a breeder who is reluctant to let you even see the parents solely due to temperament issues, or that they don't want you to see the conditions their dogs live in. Some mother dogs may be less than welcoming of strangers with her young pups, and shouldn't be faulted for that, but you should be able to meet her while she is on leash.
A good breeder may also openly provide references from past buyers or her vet and may ask the same of you, that you provide good references from your vet and others who may know your pet owning past. Some may have contracts, some don't. Either way, a contract is only as good as the integrity of the people signing it, so make sure you feel comfortable and trust the breeder you choose, whether there is a contract or not.
Be courteous too, call ahead and honor your appointment time. Breeders are people too, and need time for their human family, and for other activities. If you can't make your appointment, let her know in time for her to make other plans.
Finding a breeder with which to build a rapport is critical, as she will be your link to good information to properly raise your new puppy. She knows the puppy's bloodlines better than anyone, and can offer valuable insight and advice to help you guide your puppy to be the best dog he or she can be. A good breeder will want to maintain contact with all puppy buyers long after the sale, to ensure everything goes as it should. She would take back a pup or dog at any time, if the owner can no longer care for the dog. If that is not possible, perhaps due to distance, she will do anything in their power to help rehome the dog into an appropriate new home. She will be responsible for any dog she produced, for the life of the dog.
Expect to pay a little more for a puppy from a really good breeder, as it takes a lot of time, money and effort to raise top quality dogs. The money you invest in a truly good puppy now will seem small compared to the joy it will bring you over the years, and the savings in health care the pup may need later, as it will have a much lower chance of developing hereditary health issues, some of which may be costly to treat or maintain. Seeking a bargain with the initial purchase of your pup may not be ideal, as you may spend more later in keeping the dog healthy. Well bred puppies are usually in the $800-$1000 range for companion pups (to be spayed or neutered.) In some areas of the country they may be more or less, as well as at various kennels. Don't expect to pay $300 for a well bred puppy, they cost far more than that just to produce once you consider all the health testing, care of the parents, advertising, vet bills. diet and so on.
These are just a few of the concepts you may want to consider, as you choose the breeder of your next best friend.
I wanted to add another bit of info here. Beware of internet scammers posing as dog breeders. I have found more and more lately, some even have websites that are full of photos stolen from real breeders. They may almost seem legitimate, but when pressed for more detailed information on their dogs, they will not be able to provide it. Some may get hostile, some may just have some vague excuses. But any REAL and REPUTABLE dog breeder will be able to provide pedigrees, more photos of the dogs or puppies, references from past buyers and also proof of health testing. I have encountered several breeders recently who claim to get their dogs' hips OFA rated and eyes CERF tested, yet when they are pressed to present proof, they won't or can't. When I tried to look up the info on the OFA site, their dogs were not in there so obviously weren't tested. So beware such individuals, since if they lie about that they will probably lie about other things. It is always best to visit a breeder in person before deciding to buy from them, but if you do choose a breeder who lives farther away, following these steps will help you ensure you are dealing with a reputable breeder who really has the dogs they say they do.
CONTRACTS AND GUARANTEES
I wanted to add a bit about contracts. Most good breeders use a written contract to spell out the terms of the sale, health guarantee and other specifics of the transaction. Make sure you read it before agreeing to it. Contracts and terms may vary widely and some are very one sided, protecting the breeder but not being very fair to the buyer. Make sure the contract spells out just what kinds of health problems are covered and what the breeder will do about it. Most good contracts have a clause giving the breeder the first right to buy back a puppy if it can't be kept, or even take it back for free depending on the situation. That ensures the puppy will not end up in a shelter or worse. Often a cash refund may not be issued for the return of a spayed or neutered adult dog as often it will take some time and effort to rehome the dog, and it won't "sell" for the same price as a puppy. Some show breeders buy back a show pup at full price if the dog is still a show prospect. The terms of return should be fair and agreeable to both sides. An example would be an intact dog you paid a lot of money should not have to be returned for free or a low price, but "fair value" for the dog's worth to the breeder's program. The main thing is a responsible breeder wants to know where her puppies are no matter what, and wants to ensure there is a safety net should the dog need to be rehomed.
Also, check to see what kind of terms are spelled out for replacement if the dog does develop health problems covered by the contract. Some breeders demand you return the original dog before getting a refund or replacement. Some allow you to keep it but make sure it was spayed or neutered, if that wasn't already done. Then they may replace the pup or refund part of the purchase price. The downside of the "return only" clause is that some breeders will tell you they will destroy the dog, and count on that to avoid having to replace the puppy, as many buyers will not return their dog under those terms. I think a fair contract will allow the buyer to keep the dog should they choose, but have the option of a refund (full or partial depending on terms) or a replacement should that be warranted. Since not all buyers want a second dog, that full or partial refund may be a good option.
Another big part of a contract may be the length of the health guarantee. Any guarantee under 2 years is basically worthless, as most health issues don't show up before then. Also, if you plan to get the dogs' hips and elbows x-rayed and evaluated by OFA, the dog must be at least 2 years old for the x-rays are taken for the official rating. Even if you do the x-rays shortly after the 2 year birthday, it takes an average of 2-3 weeks from the time the x-rays are sent to OFA to get the rating back. Many good breeders will guarantee for 26-30 months for that reason, giving the owner time to get this done. Some breeders may have guarantees extending beyond this time and that's good too. As long as the guarantee is at least 26 months, you can be covered for the hips and elbows.
What is often covered by health guarantees? The basics would include hips and elbows, eyes, epilepsy and any other major health problem that would seriously impact the quality of life. Epilepsy may not show up until the dogs is at least 5 years old however. For puppies being sold as show or breeding prospects, a guarantee for no disqualifying faults should be given. Besides being able to pass the OFA and eye testing (CERF and HSF4), the dog should have a correct bite, ears and if it's a male, both testicles should be down by 3 months of age, or shortly after. Most of the time if they aren't down by then they don't come down. The dog should have better than average structure and movement, so it has a good chance of being able to finish it's championship.
Usually the buyer is responsible for any vet care costs unless the breeder wants a second opinion. The buyer is also responsible for transport costs if the dog is returned and a replacement offered.
Another thing many health guarantees may include is a shorter guarantee against communicable diseases. The terms may include a few days to get the puppy checked by the buyer's vet. After a week or longer, the puppy could pick up something while in the buyers possession, so most of the guarantees for this sort of thing won't be long.
These are just some general ideas to consider as you assess a contract. Like I said, the terms may vary widely between breeders. I would suggest you don't buy a puppy without at least a basic contract and health guarantee, as it gives you some amount of recourse if there is a problem, and it also lets you know the terms and how the breeder would deal with it.
The biggest thing about these contracts is to make sure you are comfortable and clear on the terms. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the breeder about the terms. If you don't like the contract, it may be best keep looking for the right breeder.
A word about pet stores
This is a GREAT article about temperament and how it works. It is about German Shepherd Dogs but the principles apply to all dogs, and since Aussies are also herding dogs, it's even more close for them. I really encourage anyone wanting to understand temperament and why it is genetic, not "how they are raised" to ready this.
"And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."
1 John 5:14-15