Selecting livestock guardians is a serious investment! First, you have to decide on a breed. If you belong to any FB groups, you will quickly find out that every breed is the best, and also the worst! Before you buy a puppy or two, do your own independent research! Otherwise, you are picking your puppy based solely on the opinions of strangers! The wisest thing you can do is find a breed that sounds like it will best fit your needs. Find multiple sources on the internet and read temperament descriptions carefully. For example, if you have a relatively small property (under 50 acres) and a breed is described as “intense” or “high energy,” keep looking! For a smaller property, you may want a breed that is a bit more laid back. (We all know bored dogs get into trouble!) Once you’ve decided on your breed, it’s time to look for a reputable breeder, that you think you can work with. Make sure the breeder you are considering tests for genetic issues and backs up the pups with a health guarantee. The breeder should also be willing and able to accept puppies back in the event of unforeseen circumstances where you can no longer keep your livestock guardian. The breeder should actually insist on that!
Second, this is a business transaction. Once you have found the breed and breeder, make sure the business deal makes sense. An ethical breeder will only accept refundable deposits when there is a confirmed litter on the way. The breeder will only accept non-refundable deposits after you have agreed on a pup or to take a pup. And let’s face it, things happen. Most ethical breeders will let you out of the situation and refund your money if you have acted in good faith and something has changed. Think about it, a good breeder will probably have more demand then puppies and they will likely have another buyer waiting. I cannot emphasize this enough for people who are buying puppies from a long distance away, because once you give up that money to an unethical breeder, it is nearly impossible to get it back. A planned or even expected litter is no guarantee of a pregnancy or that there will be enough puppies born to provide a puppy to everyone who sent a deposit.
Next, pay attention to how the puppies are started. Are they part of a large pack where the adult dogs naturally socialize the new puppies? Are the puppies exposed to various livestock animals? What about chickens or other fowl? In many cases, your livestock guardian will probably need to be able to interact with small children and other family pets, it’s helpful if they’ve been exposed to those all regularly before you bring them home. Exposure to various situations and species also creates a more confident puppy.
If you’re buying a puppy from a distance and can’t visit, do NOT settle for a few still photos, you need videos to see all the dogs and puppies moving and interacting, both in a pack atmosphere and with the livestock animals and fowl they are advertised to eventually be able to guard. Also, at what age is the breeder sending puppies home? If puppies are offered at 6 weeks, run the other way…. puppies need to be with mom at the very least until 8 weeks, 10 is better. In some states, it is illegal to take a puppy from its mother before 8 weeks of age. Pups should have been wormed several times and have at least two puppy vaccinations if they go home at 8 weeks and 3 rounds of shots at 10 weeks.
Finally, research your breeder! If the only real information you can find on an individual comes from their websites, blogs, etc. this may not be enough. It is so easy these days to make things appear a certain way (almost perfect, right?!) on the internet. Ask for MANY references and contact all of them. Ask for the breeder’s veterinarian. A solid breeder will have a good relationship with a reputable vet. Ask if there is a butcher or a feed shop the breeder frequents. Those who run lots of dogs and breed need lots of feed and usually raw meat bones. Butchers and feed shop operators get to know the breeders (who are likely great customers). See if you can figure out if the breeder has another source of income for the family. A breeder who tries to make a living selling dogs might be tempted (sometimes forced) to compromise. It’s an expensive thing to raise and keep a pack of dogs- with working dogs, pregnant and lactating bitches, and newborns warm, safe and healthy. Breeders who raise dogs properly are making a large and complicated investment (often with steep surprise costs) in the animals. Most breed dogs out of love for the breeds they work with and to make an essential contribution to farms and ranches, large and small.
Breeders ask buyers to fill out applications and put up with questions; my advice to you, as a potential buyer, is to screen your potential breeders and ask questions until you are satisfied. If you do so, and choose wisely after investing some time, I suspect you will end up with many productive and joyous years of running livestock guardians, and maybe even a new human friend in the effort.