Being an IPO Newbie – Part 4 – Choosing a Breeder

Welcome back ladies and gents! This is Part 4 in my IPO Newbie series, in which I will be discussing the gargantuan task that is Finding the Right Breeder

Parts 1 – 3 of the series can be found:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Finding the Right Breeder

First, a couple of disclaimers…

  1. Because this is an IPO series, I’m going to speak specifically about finding a breeder for an IPO puppy.
  2. This is going to be a LONG post. I haven’t even written it yet and I can tell already.
  3. Most importantly – this is only my opinion. Don’t take anything I (or others) say as gospel – take it for what it is and create your own journey.
  4. Finally, if you are a breeder and anything I say here pisses you off – don’t e-mail me.


The first thing to keep in mind when looking for a breeder is that you absolutely MUST do your research before you go look at puppies. We have a saying at our club – “You aren’t looking at puppies – you’re buying a puppy.”


Could you really say “no” after seeing this face?

Most people are woefully unable to say “no” to a cute face and fuzzy little paws, so you need to make sure that any breeder that you visit checks all of your boxes BEFORE you go puppy-cuddling.

Trust me on this one. I’m trying to save your life.

“But what boxes should be checked off?” you ask?

Great question! I’m going to go into each more in depth as we go along, but quickly:

  1. Titles – both parents should be titled at least to an IPO1.
  2. Health Testing – both parents should have verifiable health certifications done, including hips, elbows, and whatever else is breed relevant.
  3. Temperament – the breeder should be known for producing the temperament and drive levels you are looking for. The breeder should also be experienced enough to evaluate whether a particular litter or puppy will have the traits you are looking for.
  4. Health guarantees – a good breeder will guarantee the puppies free from heritable (different than congenital, but we’ll get to that) defects.
  5. Willingness to accept returns – a good breeder will take back any of their progeny, no questions asked.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention things like “have both parents on site”. This is because a lot of breeders (particularly the good ones), use outside dogs/bitches in their programs to compliment their existing stock. THIS IS A GOOD THING. A good breeder is always looking for the best genes, whether they own the dogs or not. So you may find a breeder in California with a litter on the ground by a dog in New York or Florida or Germany. This is not a red flag. Far from it, in fact.

On the flip side, I also do not consider it a red flag for a breeder to keep their litters completely in house. I know one breeder that only has 1-2 litters a year, and generally only has one or two breeding bitches. Said bitches were purchased with her stud dog in mind.

There are many ways to skin a cat (or so I hear).

All that said – let’s get down to the nitty gritty.


Shelby Anderson and Ziva

Earning an IPO title is an objective way of proving a dog has the drives, temperament, and health necessary to do the sport

I’ve heard a lot lately that “titles don’t matter” or “titles don’t mean anything”. If you believe this – I’ll just say it – you’re wrong.

Here’s why.

Think of all of the things involved in achieving an IPO1 – tracking, obedience, protection, health, soundness, trainability, reasonable temperament, ability to travel, to be in public, and to be around other dogs. All things based on the dog’s inherent genes and abilities, yes, but also all things you can only definitively PROVE one way – by titling.

Yeah, breeders can claim all day long that their dogs possess all of these qualities, and they may even be right! But the only way to KNOW is for an outside judge to evaluate the dog under trial conditions and agree.

Beware the breeder that claims that their dogs are so good that they don’t need to be titled. This is the trap that starts the slow erosion of temperaments and good health in previously healthy bloodlines.

“Training for IPO1” is not the same as having an IPO1. Do not fall into this trap. Assume that any dog of breeding age that is not titled has some flaw preventing them from being titled. Even if that flaw is bad training or an inept handler, there is not a single dog on this planet that is so superior that it MUST be bred despite whatever excuse there is for it not being titled. There just isn’t.


I know. I know.

Except – dogs that are actually working. Military working dogs, police dogs, seeing-eye dogs, Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs – dogs that have real certifications for doing real jobs in the real world get a pass on the IPO titles. To do their jobs correctly, they have to exhibit all of the same drives, health, and temperament that the IPO title was created to test.


Police, SAR, and Service dogs prove their the health, temperament, and trainability in ways besides traditional titles

(No, your “emotional support animal” doesn’t count – don’t ask).

So, working titles or working certifications. No CGCs. No BHs. IPO1 or higher (or a real life job) or GTFO.

Moving on…

Health Testing


Health Testing is an important step in guaranteeing the health and longevity of your future partner

Here is one that there is no way around – both parents should have verifiable health certifications. (Really, every dog in their pedigree should also have them, but let’s not get too crazy here – you don’t need to pass on a litter because a dog four generations back didn’t have its hips checked.)

Health certifications absolutely should include hips and elbows. Other things may be more breed specific, so check with your (working – NOT AKC) breed association for recommendations.

Verify the health certs yourself – either by looking them up online or by asking to see an original copy from the breeder. You may feel like it’s rude to ask – but it isn’t. Any breeder worth a damn will be happy to produce whatever documentation you request. I got copies of my dog’s parents’ OFAs, CERFs, etc… and I didn’t even have to ask.


Make sure you understand and verify any health testing

Think this might be a little over the top?

I personally know of at least one dog that has dysplastic hips that is being bred under falsified health testing.

Verify. Verify. Verify.



Temperament is key to a happy partnership with your dog

Look for a breeder that produces the temperament you want. And be honest with yourself and your potential breeder about what you can really handle. Having a high-drive, high-intensity dog is all fun and games until it eats your house because you work 100 hours a week and don’t have time to exercise it properly.

Figure out what you honestly want and stick to it. You’re the one that will have to live with this dog, so don’t get talked into more dog than you can handle. Personally, I consider myself more of an “active pet home” than a “working home” – be honest about what you are able to provide.

Additionally, be honest about what temperament trade-offs you are willing to make.

Personally, I can’t live with a dog-reactive or dog-aggressive dog – it drives me absolutely up a wall. It’s a deal breaker for me. It may not be for others. No dog is going to be 100% perfect, so figure out what you can and can’t live with and communicate that any potential breeder.

Have kids? Cats? Livestock? Want a pet to take to the dog park on Saturdays (please say no)? All things that need to be considered and brought up with a potential breeder.

Now, in evaluating potential breeders with regard to temperament, ask how many dogs they have had returned for temperament related issues. One or two? No worries – shit happens. 50% of every litter? Red flag. Somewhere in between? Possibly a yellow flag, definitely worth exploring further.

Ask what, exactly, they are trying to produce with regard to temperament. Listen carefully to the answer, because it will tell you a lot about a breeder. Wishy-washy answer? No answer? Some all-encompassing, pie-in-the-sky, perfect-dogs-for-any-and-all-purposes answer? Red flags. You want an honest breeder, not a delusional one or one that is breeding with no clear purpose.

Look – this is a commitment that you are about to make for the next decade and a half. Do your due diligence now to avoid misery later.

Health Guarantees


I would be heart broken if I lost my hiking partner to a health condition – a health guarantee helped me feel like my breeder had every reason to believe that Brody will live a healthy life

Next up on our list is health guarantees.

A good breeder should guarantee your puppy against any heritable condition, though some restrictions will likely apply.

Heritable means that that the condition is genetic. This is different than congenital (something the puppy is born with, that may or may not be genetic), though most breeders will also guarantee against congenital issues up to a certain age.

There are ways to void your health guarantee (excessively exercising a young puppy or spaying/neutering before a certain age are common ones), so be sure to carefully read an understand your contract.

Return Policy

Look, in an ideal world, no one would ever be in a position to have to give up a dog. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and so it is important to choose a breeder that will accept a puppy or dog back for any and all reasons.

If you find yourself suddenly unable to keep your dog, be it because of finances, health issues, or just an inability to otherwise meet your dog’s needs, you will be very happy to know that your dog will be taken care of.

Good breeders take their dogs back. End of.


Okay, so that was a decent run down of things to consider. Now how do you find a breeder?

Go to your club. Go to other clubs. Go to trials. Go to seminars. Watch. Dogs. Work.

See a dog you like? Ask their handler where they got him/her. Ask about bloodlines. Ask if they have any other breeders they’d recommend.

Then check out the breeders – see if they meet your requirements. If they don’t produce what you’re looking for, ask if they have any recommendations. Network. Network. Network. Eventually, you’ll find the perfect breeder from whom you will buy your perfect partner.

I know this all sounds absurdly time-consuming and tedious, but, seriously, consider the alternative of ending up with a puppy that you hate living with and hate training. Sound like a good way to spend the next 14 years of your life?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.


Lots of great things in the works (no really – so many, I can’t decide what will come first) – so be sure to check back!



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