Screening Breeders for Service Dog Prospects
When screening a breeder for a service dog prospect there is a list of questions to ask and some answers you want to hear back.
Are your dogs OFA tested for hip, heart, elbows, and thyroid, as well as genetic health screened ? This one you want a definite yes, and to see the results or OFA page itself. Each dog is assigned a number and all their scoring is attached to this number. You want at least a good, not a fair when it comes to hips. A breakdown of the hip scores are here: http://www.offa.org/hd_grades.html there is also a PENN HIP test that clears hips http://info.antechimagingservices.com/pennhip/ it is still fairly new and used to diagnose young dogs But a OFA is done at 2 years of age when the growth plates are solid and musculature is in it’s mature position to see the meeting clearly. A lot can change between 16 weeks and two years. Just because a dog passes preliminaries at one year of Age with OFA does not mean they will pass at two, Keep this in mind!
When looking at Elbows you want a Normal score as anything else is considered dysplastic. http://www.offa.org/ed_grades.html
Heart you are looking for a normal as well, there is only the clearance that the parents are normal , and no deformities found and being used as a tool to eliminate bad hearts from breeding lines. http://www.offa.org/cardiac_about.html
Thyroid is also a normal score http://www.offa.org/thy_class.html
Eyes can be done by OFA http://www.offa.org/pdf/eye_flyer_web.pdf
Or CERF http://www.vmdb.org/cerf.html
Genetic health tests are done by DNA and do not change. Either the dog has it in it’s DNA or it doesn’t. A simple swab or blood draw is done to determine this. http://www.offa.org/dna_alltest.html
Breed registries also keep this information on hand as well and have a registry with this information. When looking at this information you want it on more than one generation, at least three if not five to establish the health of the lines. Skimping on a test does not offer you any protection at all and it is not recommended to go with a breeder that has. You want a dog that is conformationally sound to work as a partner for you, and ensuring the parents and their lines are sound will better your chances of getting a sound dog.
What kind of Health guarantee do you offer? Look for at least a two year health guarantee that covers all genetic and structural health issues and either offers a replacement pup or refund of your money. Most breeders will replace a pup if you have one of these issues arise automatically but having a contract guaranteeing it is your best route. Some will allow you the option to keep the pup if an issue is found in those first two years others will not. The two year window is important as some tests cannot be completed until the dog is two years old. Some breeders offer lifetime support and most will have a return clause that for any reason you can not keep the dog it must come back to them to ensure their pups never end up in a bad place.
Do you have a spay/neuter contract and is it Ok to wait until the growth plates to heal before spaying/neutering? Most will answer yes, and that is great, a responsible breeder does not want a pup of their producing pups just because someone buys it. They have a standard they want to see in their pups and traits that just are not acceptable to pass on in the breed. (Built incorrectly, as in too long a face, body, legs in proportion to body etc.)
Waiting to spay/ neuter until the grow plates heal at 18 months to 2 years has shown to greatly reduce the chances of many joint diseases as well as incidents of cancer. http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2011/02/17/dangers-of-early-pet-spaying-or-neutering.aspx
What does your contract cover? This is the part where all that stuff talked about in guarantees is put into writing. This should cover anything genetic that pops up in that least the first two years. Hip dysplasia, elbow issues, skin issues that are genetic such as Demodex, breed specific issues that are going to show up, as well as heart murmurs and other defects should be covered.
There are some things that are related to nutrition such as HOD, Panosteitis breeders will not replace a pup for as they are environmental and your responsibility to adhere to your breed’s nutritional profile. This also should be covered in your contract, so you understand what to feed and it is in writing.
Returns should also be covered. If for some reason you can’t keep the pup, say it doesn’t make the cut for SD but would make a wonderful pet or therapy dog, you’re covered. Sometimes your pup just isn’t going to make it through reasons beyond your fault and that is ok. Having this umbrella protects you and the dog both. Your breeder usually will have a list of people waiting on older dogs to need homes and they will gladly take them back to fill one of these homes. Most will not reimburse you if it is not an issue that is genetic or structural but their contract will require you bring the pup back to them or clear any homes with them.
Your contract should also cover the bringing the pup home at 8 weeks and being seen within 48 hours by a vet. Most require this, to ensure you are getting a healthy dog and their vet didn’t miss anything.
There is a wide range of stuff covered by contracts and each one will be different. But the goal of all should remain the same, to make sure that the breeder, you and the dog are safe in this exchange.
What vaccination and worming schedule do you use? You want to make sure your pup is coming home parasite free with their first shots already done and the pup protected at least partially from disease.
You need to make sure you have a clean fecal and an exam by a licensed veterinarian before you pup comes home. Within 48 hours of getting your pup to make sure your pup is healthy when they come home.
Have your dogs passed CGC, CGCA, BHA, ATT? This isn’t a necessity, but a great test to have under their collars, and having passed it more than once is a plus. As most temperament issues are genetic and can be passed down.
Are they good with other dogs, people, cats? A dog that is fearful, anxious, aggressive or so drivey it has to chase something may not be the best dog to get a pup from. All of these are things that can be passed down to the pups. And in great probability will be, as most of these issues have been proven to be genetic. http://k9behavioralgenetics.net/resources/Articles/Understanding%20the%20genetic%20basis%20of%20canine%20anxiety.pdf
Can I meet the parents? This is important, you can see all the paperwork in the world but if you don’t meet the parents how will you know the dog on the papers is the same dog? You can tell a if a dog has issues with nervousness or aggression if you see it first hand and are able to evaluate its reactions to you or another dog. If the breeder won’t let you meet the parents, run! There is no reason not to meet your pup’s parents if they are available to meet.
Do you screen your puppies by Volhard or other means? Volhard is a pretty reliable testing method for screening potentials in litters and used by many trainers. You want a breeder willing to test their pups so you can get a predictable temperament in your potential partner. Having a solid base to build their training on can make a huge difference. The Volhard is done on the 49th day of development and you want a score range of 3-4’s the more you get the better for you.
Avidog has came out with a comprehensive test that seems to be up there with Volhard in reliability. It is fairly new but seems to be a good test.
What kind of enrichment do you provide to your pups? Sound training is a great thing to see a breeder providing. Soundproof Puppy training, Sounds for Hounds and similar are wonderful to be introduced at an early age, as it is meal time and helps condition the pups to associate sounds they will encounter with a positive thing.
Textured toys, play centers with common household items are used to add noises and teach cause and effect. Avidog has a free blueprint to their adventure box that is used in several breeders enrichment programs.
Do you have any adult dogs that you may be looking for homes for and may fill what I need as an SD? This is a very good question! Many of us can’t do the whole house breaking and fear period things with pups. That’s ok! You are looking for a dog that can pass the IAADP temperament screening, that doesn’t have issues be them health wise or behaviorally. All the same health questions fall into play only they apply to the adult as well. If the dog is a year old it can have it’s preliminary OFA exams done to check if it has what will look like joint issues. Don’t forget those results can change though between a year and two years old. Make sure to cover if the dog has any behavioral issues as some are small and easy to fix, while others are not. Some things like a nervous or fearful disposition are not something you can change. Take a trainer with you that knows how to read a dog, and run it through the paces of testing. http://www.iaadp.org/temperament.html