Questions to Ask Boxer Breeders
Don't miss the companion piece, "Interpreting Breeders' Website Claims"
So how do I find a good breeder?
Start by calling the American Boxer Club or a local member club and ask for the names of Boxer breeders. If you're interested in an adult Boxer, some breeders may have an individual available, or you can visit Boxer Rescue USA for a list of rescue organizations near you.
"I got your name from (such and such). I'm looking for a Boxer male about four months old. We're an active family and we enjoy long walks, so we want to find a sturdy Boxer who's going to mature and weigh in at about 60 to 75 lbs., athletic, with a very outgoing temperament."
What should the breeder say to that?
Will this be your first Boxer? If not, tell me about the others. Have you had other breeds? What happened to them? Do you have pets now? What kind? How old? How do they act toward other dogs? What made you choose a Boxer? What research have you done on the breed? Do you have children? How old? What are their personalities like? Do you have a yard? What type of fencing does it have? Would I be able to come see your home, or have a friend do so? How much time during the day will the Boxer be alone? Where will she stay? Is anyone in your family allergic to dogs? What books have your read on raising and training? What type of socialization are you planning to do? How are you planning to housebreak the puppy? Are you interested in showing or breeding? Are you willing to accept a Limited Registration or neutering contract? Do you rent? Will your landlord OK a dog in writing? Could I have the phone number of your vet as a reference?
Wow! It's like adopting a baby!
Puppies available now?
"Yes." (Or litter coming and you can get on a waiting list.)
"We had three litters last week. Lots of cute pups to pick from."
Males or females?
The gender you're looking for.
"We have both, but a good match in temperament is more important than gender."
"Gee, I'm not sure. Let me go see what we have left."
Color and Markings?
Colors that appeal to you.
But it's best to be color-blind and more interested in good temperament, healthy long-lived lines, and sound structure, rather than color. Remember the old saying: A good horse cannot be a bad color.
"Some are brownish, some are black, some are solid tan."
These are not correct color names for Boxers and may be an indication that the breeder knows nothing about the breed.
"We have fawn (or brindle or white) puppies."
Boxers only carry the genes for a fawn or brindle coat, with or without white markings that may cover as much as the entire body; a litter may have any combination of these colors/markings, depending on the parents. The important point is that a breeder knows the correct terms for the colors, and doesn't try to pass off a "black" or "sealed brindle" or "black-and-tan" dog as a purebred Boxer puppy.
The temperament you're looking for.
"Temperament...does that mean, like, personality?"
Where are they being raised, and what kind of socialization have they had?
Socialization means accustoming the puppies to people and handling and all the sights and sounds of a normal home. Here's an excellent example of a socialization program done by responsible breeders.
"They're in an exercise pen in our kitchen (or living room or family room), and we've been handling them since they were born. I take them out one at a time to get them used to grooming and having their nails clipped. We get them used to sounds like the TV and pots falling in the kitchen, and the phone ringing, normal house sounds."
"They're in our garage, but it's warm out there."
(And isolated from what goes on inside the house.)
"What does socialization mean?"
Will they be vet-checked for heart murmurs and parasites before you place them?
"Yes, our puppies are evaluated by a board-certified cardiologist just before they go to their new homes."
"No, you can tell they're healthy just by watching them play."
At what age will you be placing them, and how many shots will they have had?
"At eight weeks old (or 10 weeks or 12 weeks)."
"As soon as they're weaned, 5 or 6 weeks."
A puppy at 6 weeks of age has not learned proper dog-dog socialization skills from its mother and littermates, nor has it learned bite inhibition. This type of learning is vital for a well-adjusted adult dog. At 6 weeks the immune system has also not fully developed, and the simple stress of going to a new home can cause problems such as demodectic mange. By buying such a pup you are supporting and rewarding exactly the kind of people who should not breeding Boxers. Additonally, many states now have laws mandating puppies may not be sold prior to 7 or 8 weeks of age.
Reasonable price range for pet quality is $800.00 to $2,000.00 -- however prices do vary by region. Many breeders, especially those who follow the American Boxer Club Code of Ethics, charge a lower price for a white puppy. Some breeders object to this and consider white puppies as equal to their fawn and brindle littermates, and charge the same price for all pet puppies. Either stance is fine with us -- but at no point should a white puppy cost more than a colored puppy.
"$800.00 with papers, $400.00 without the papers."
(It is against AKC policy to connect money to the registration papers. What is the breeder going to do with those papers? Use them to pass off a mixed breed as a purebred Boxer? Sell them to another breeder who will do the same thing? Don't be shocked -- some breeders actually do this.)
(This could be a big-name show breeder. It's too rich for our blood. It might also be a breeder trying to sucker you with premium prices for "rare white or black Boxers" or some such marketing ploy. Such a breeder may suggest that you can "make all that money back" by breeding your pup when she gets older.)
Who are the sire and dam, and what are their lines?
"The dam is Parker's Lady Starfire, and her lines are Homewood and Deer Run. The sire is Ch Petrosec's Goliath, his lines are Wallon and Deer Run, and both are OFA certified, and heart tested normal."
"John and Sally. Sally's great grandfather was a champion, I think. I haven't seen John's pedigree but he's so beautiful, I'm sure he must have some champions, too."
(How much research do you think went into these litters? How much can the breeder know about the health and temperament of these puppies' ancestors? Nothing.)
Do you own both of them?
(You may think that both parents on premises is a positive sign, and sometimes it is. But sometimes it can mean that the breeder simply bred two dogs together because they were handy, or because he bought them as pups to breed together when they got older. A responsible breeder waits for a Boxer to mature, then evaluates good and bad points, then looks for an equally mature mate who matches the good points and compensates for the weaknesses. If the breeder happens to own the perfect mate at that point, fine. But very often he uses a stud from another breeder.)
"The sire belongs to (such and such), who breeds such and such lines. I have photos of him, a copy of his pedigree, and you're welcome to call his owner or go over and meet him."
"My buddy owns the sire and he moved out of state and we didn't get around to taking any pictures."
What kind of temperament do the parents have?
"Friendly and outgoing."
"Reserved until they get to know you."
The Boxer Standard states: "Deliberate and wary with strangers, he will exhibit curiosity, but, most importantly, fearless courage if threatened. However, he responds promptly to friendly overtures honestly rendered."
"The mom is so sweet but she's scared of strangers. You can see the dad but you won't be able to pet him because he's a very serious watchdog, very protective."
(Good grief. A pair who never should have been bred.)
Do the parents or grandparents have any heart murmurs or VPCs? Have you seen hip dysplasia, DM, or hypothyroidism in the lines? What are their coats and skin like? What are their bites and teeth like?
"The parents and grandparents have all been cleared of murmurs due to Aortic Stenosis and are holtered regularly. Thyroids are normal and we haven't had any diagnosed with hip dysplasia. One of the grandparents had DM and started showing symptoms at 12 years of age; we have DNA tested the parents to try to breed away from DM in the lines. They all have healthy coats and skin, normal bites, good teeth."
The American Boxer Club has a list of Recommended Health Screening on their website.
"Well, the mom does have a hip that pops out of its socket once in a while, but it doesn't cause her any real problems."
(Maybe not, but that doesn't mean it won't in the puppies. A Boxer with bad hips should never be bred.)
"Hip what? I never heard of that. And what do you mean by bite? Our Boxers don't bite."
Why did you decide to breed those two? What were you hoping for from this breeding?
"The dam comes from one of the healthiest lines in the country: all free whelpers (no C-sections), no hip problems, no early deaths, long-lived, stable outgoing temperament. Her head could be better so I bred her to a sire with similarly healthy lines, a magnificent head, very sound structure, and a real showman's personality."
(There are many ways a breeder might answer this question. What is most important at this point is that he had a goal, that he studied individuals and pedigrees, and that he chose these breeding partners for a specific reason, not just to make more puppies.)
"Well, these are the two we have and everyone told us they've never seen Boxers as nice as ours and that we should breed them."
"It was an accident. We had no idea a brother and sister would breed together."
(Accidental breedings can and do happen, even to reputable breeders, and sometimes turn out better than planned breedings. However, the breeder should be forthcoming about the circumstances and the possible outcome of the puppies. If a breeder has "no idea" that a brother and sister (or mother and son, etc.) will breed together, they have a lot more research to do!)
Have they been bred before? What kind of puppies did they produce?
"This is the first time I've used this stud, but he has been bred several times. He throws that great head and soundness and temperament. This is my bitch's second litter. Her first litter had four puppies, excellent temperaments, heads could have been better though. That's why I decided to go with this stud this time. I'd be happy to show you photos of some of their earlier puppies, how they turned out."
"This is the 6th time we've bred them together. Their puppies are always cute."
Why is she available?
A breeder may have kept her for showing or breeding, but that potential did not materialize, i.e. she was too small, had a wry mouth, or did not like showing. Or, she may have been diagnosed with a health condition that would not affect her length or quality of life, but would preclude her from breeding, and the breeder may wish to place her in a home where she can get more individual attention.
How has she been raised?
(If there is some behavioral trait that you and your family cannot tolerate, make it clear to the breeder or rescue person so there will be no surprises or disappointments.)
Do you show your dogs?
"Yes, I've finished three champions."
(Finished is dog show terminology for getting all the points needed to earn a championship title in the conformation ring.)
"We don't enjoy showing. But we attend shows and keep up with what is happening in the breed. We breed to the Standard as best we can -- good structure and movement, correct size, and of course great temperament and health."
Dog shows are not everyone's cup of tea. This breeder is making sure his bitches measure up, then he is choosing stud dogs to improve on weaknesses for the next generation. In other words, he is building a line, not just breeding whoever is handy whenever he feels like having a litter. It is our opinion, however, that in this case the stud dogs should be finished, or at the very least pointed, since the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock to be sure it conforms to the Standard. Breeders often have kennel blindness, and a finished dog means that at least three objective judges agree that the dog does meet the Standard.
"We don't show in conformation, but we are active in obedience/agility/tracking (or some other performance event) and have titled dogs in that area. Some of our puppies have been successful in the show ring, however."
Again, not everyone likes conformation dog shows. A breeder that is competitive and successful in performance events is breeding dogs that are structurally sound and have the proper temperaments.
"No, we don't breed show dogs, just pet quality, so we don't bother with that AKC Standard stuff. Our dogs are healthy and good-tempered and make good pets."
Two pet-quality Boxers bred together DO NOT automatically make pet-quality puppies. They could make a mess of destruction. Who wants to get lucky?
Do you belong to any Boxer clubs?
"Yes, to the (such and such) Boxer Club."
"No, but I have friends who do, and I'd be happy to give you their names as a reference."
(Because of club politics and personality clashes, which are rampant in some clubs, both regional/state and national, many responsible breeders don't maintain memberships. If other club members feel comfortable with them and can vouch for them, that's fine with us.)
"I've never heard of those."
Do you breed any other breed besides Boxers?
"No, just Boxers."
(Good breeders generally limit themselves to one or two breeds and devote all their time and effort to producing excellent representatives of those breeds.)
"Yes, we also have Golden Retreivers, Yorkies, Poms, Shih Tzu, and sometimes Border Collies that we breed."
"Yes, we have Cockapoos, Pekapoos, and Labradoodles."
Are you involved in Boxer rescue?
"Yes, we have several rescue Boxers here right now. We find homes for the ones we can, but we often end up keeping some of them ourselves!"
"We aren't able to be a foster home ourselves (for whatever reason, sometimes fear of spreading illness), but we are always willing to help in transporting rescues to new homes, or helping to match them with foster homes."
"No, other people in the club handle that."
"What does rescue mean?"
What written guarantees do you offer?
"Our health guarantee is for 72 hours. If your puppy gets sick, we'll take her back and replace her or refund your money."
"We don't refund money, but if she's sick we'll give you another puppy."
(A breeder who has given you one sick puppy may give you another. You should always have the right to a refund in the first few days so you can go elsewhere if you choose.)
"This is already a low price and I can't control what happens once she leaves my house. How would I know she didn't get sick because of something YOU did?"
Guarantees against genetic health problems are a more grey area. These are, after all, living, breathing beings, and it is impossible for anyone to completely control what happens to them. Many breeders offer a guarantee for 24 months. Some offer them for a longer period of time, some for a shorter one. Boxers are prone to some genetic problems that are difficult to breed away from, either because unaffected parents can produce affected puppies, or because dogs often do not develop the problem until later in life, in the prime of or even past breeding age. The important thing with genetic health guarantees is that you are certain that the breeder has done everything they can to assure the genetic health of your puppy (health testing the parents), and then be sure that you are comfortable with the terms of the guarantee, whatever they may be.
Since this will not be a show-quality puppy, are you selling them with Full Registrations or Limited Registrations?
"What does Limited Registration mean?"
(Limited Registration means the Boxer is registered with the AKC, but her papers will specify that she cannot be bred. If you breed her, the AKC won't register her puppies. Unless the breeder knows you, and is sure you are not going to breed, he will always give Limited Registration to puppies who are not show quality. Limited Registration can always be changed to Full Registration later, if the puppy changes.)
"We give full registration with all our pups. You can breed or not breed, whatever you want. If you want to have some puppies, that's your right."
(With rights come responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is not to keep piling mediocre puppies into an over-crowded world. It is most definitely a breeder's responsibility to evaluate his dogs with his experienced eye and determine which are breeding quality. And if he doesn't have such an experienced eye, he has absolutely no business breeding a litter.)
Do you take back your dogs if something did happen where I couldn't keep her?
"Yes, we stand behind our dogs 100%. We'll take her back any time and either keep her or find another home for her."
(Of course, this doesn't mean you get your money back if you bring her back in five years. It does mean that if something unfortunate happens, your dog will have a place to go.)
"I wouldn't have room to take back all my dogs."
"We could take her back as long as she wasn't fixed, so we could still breed her."
That last statement should tell you this person is only out for the money.
Do you use a sales contract? If so, what's in it?
"Yes, our contract says that you're buying a pet quality puppy, not show or breeding quality. That you'll take good care of the puppy and not let her run loose, just common sense things. That you won't sell her or give her to anyone else without contacting us first."
This means that if you need to rehome the dog, you must contact the breeder first and give them the right to take it back. Caring breeders want to be sure their puppies end up in the right home, even if it's a second home.
"No, we don't use a contract."
Some responsible breeders don't use contracts, relying on the relationship they've developed with a buyer prior to an agreement to place a puppy. The important consideration is that any expectations on either side are clear to all parties, and that you are comfortable with not having a contract. A good breeder who doesn't typically use contracts shouldn't mind writing up a simple document to ease a buyer's mind.
"Yes, this would be a co-ownership contract."
(This means you would both own him or her. Co-ownerships are good and bad. They can interfere with how you think things should be done. Bottom line is to have a contract and ask a ton of questions, put it in BLACK AND WHITE. Know your breeder and make sure you want to deal with this person for the life for your Boxer. You may be required to show the dog to its championship, or let the breeder do it. Do not enter into a co-ownership if you think you may change your mind, as the breeder may or may not be understanding of why you have changed your mind about what you agreed to in the beginning. If you can't show him or her you may have to send him or her to the breeder. Do you want to lose the dog for weeks or months?) Think wisely. This breeder thought enough to trust you with the dog, to show them. Everyone has to be fair, so think before you sign.
"Yes, you have to breed her once and give me a puppy, or you have to provide free stud service for my bitches."
This is a common condition of the purchase of a show or breeding quality puppy. But what if he/she develops a health problem or an unsuitable temperament for breeding? What if you want to neuter because her heat periods are a nuisance or because he is lifting his leg all over your house? These questions should be addressed and put in the contract before the dog leaves for his or her new home.
Who is responsible for the medical bills for C-sections or emergency care?
It is impossible to come up with every possible scenario in co-ownership and breeding contracts. They have ruined friendships and caused emotional stress and financial loss.
Could you give me the names of other breeders who I could call for references -- breeders who belong to Boxer Clubs or other kennel clubs?
"I don't know any breeders who belong to clubs."
"Breeders who belong to clubs are all snobs and they hate me."
Assuming everything sounds good to this point (virtually all happy faces, and checked-out references that give the breeder a thumbs-up), it's time to visit the breeder and actually see the Boxers.