Investigating Breeders.
How to Find a Great Puppy!

We often run into concerns from families looking for purebred dogs about what to look for in a breeder. How can we know we are getting the straight scoop? How can we know the dog is what the breeder claims? ¯ or I just want a pet, Is it really necessary to approach only breeders that have proven show dogs? ¯

We have all been through these concerns. Sometimes, even we as breeders early on in our careers raising Ridgebacks, were sold animals that weren't t potentially what they were claimed to be. We have heard similar stories from fanciers of other breeds as well.

None of us are exempt from problems when we dont know what to look for, or what to ask. That is what has led us to prepare a simple question and answer test that you can use to assess breeders, and help eliminate potential problems, and even heartache over the purchase of any purebred dog.


What is your frame of reference for the temperament of a potential pet? Is it Lassie? Old Yeller? In fact these are excellent animals, with noble temperaments but as romantic as these dogs are, do you think they became that way on their own? Absolutely not! The breeder is the whole key behind the socialization of any dog. Granted, a dog's temperament is largely dependent on the genetic makeup of the breed, but no dog will socialize to the human factor on its own.

It is very important that breeders begin the socialization process on the pups within a few days of birth. Handling, caressing and giving the puppies the sensory stimulus of touch and smell is extremely important in the socialization process. Handling all of the pups individually for several minutes a day and several times a day is an absolute must to give the potential of trust and appreciation for human beings.

Socialization becomes more and more important as the puppies mature. Its prominence in personality development continues through adolescence, or about 3-4 months of age. So, a good question to the breeder would be: at what point do the puppies need to BEGIN their socialization process, and then what steps do they take to socialize them?

It is rarely understood that a breeder can make a submissive puppy less submissive, and an aggressive puppy less aggressive. It is usually chalked up to just the difference of puppies personalities within the litter¯. In fact, all puppies can learn a particular etiquette, or a socially expected behavior, and this is largely effected by the breeder's involvement in the socialization of the litter. When we get a call from people that state things like "we don't want an alpha dog"¯, it tells us that they have been lead to believe that an alpha dog (Pack Leader) makes a bad pet, when in fact it is more often than not that they make some of the best pets! The whole key is socialization and a good breeder will talk a lot about it.


One of the most heart wrenching sights to be witnessed is a dog suffering from the debilitating effects of hip or elbow dysplasia. It is hard to describe the spectacle of a dog with a heart of appreciation and love for his family, unable to give the fullest expression of itself due to the pain it suffers. Not only is it physically debilitating - it is emotionally debilitating for you and the dog.

There cannot be enough emphasis placed on the need for a potential buyer of any dog to be certain that both Sire and Dam of a prospective puppy have been checked and certified free of hip and elbow problems. Although there is no absolute guarantee to prevent it - the only way to insure the least likelihood of the incidence of hip or elbow Dysplasia is to have the parents of the puppies certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). A breeder should be able to produce individual certificates for each dog so certified, and should be eager to let you examine them.

Hip Dysplasia is surgically reparable with varying success for a few thousand dollars. However, Elbow dysplasia has no successfully implemented surgical procedure at this time. A vet discovering either condition will most likely suggest euthanasia.

Health Check

Any puppy should be carefully checked for potential health problems by a licensed veterinarian before being placed with your family. The health records should be presented to you at the time you pick up your puppy, and you should insist on seeing those records.

Health Warranty

Any puppy you buy should come with at least a 2 year health warranty for Hip and elbow dysplasia, and depending on the predisposition of genetic problems in a particular breed, there should be a warranty against any known genetic defects in that breed for a similar time frame. The reason for a 2 year time frame is that a dog cannot be checked for hip or elbow problems until they are at least 2 years old. This makes any warranty with a term of less than 2 years virtually worthless.

In Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Dermoid Sinus is the only genetic defect inherent in the breed. Note that it is a gene inherent in the breed¯. The good news is that the incidence is minimized in reputable kennels, and as long as a such a kennel is chosen for your puppy, it is a concern that is greatly minimized.

Dermoid Sinus is detectable at about 6-8 weeks of age, and if a dermoid is absent as a puppy, your puppy will not develop the condition later on. However, it takes a good deal of experience to detect, and it's generally a good practice to have more than one person experienced in detecting the condition to check the entire litter. It is surgically removable in most cases, and nominal cost is anywhere from 90.00 to about 300.00. Once removed, life for the dog is normal, with no side effects. There is extensive information on this web site about Dermoid Sinus.

This is not to say that there are not other genetic defects that can be passed along if a breeder doesn't take steps to eliminate it. This is true for any breed of animal. For instance, we know of one breeder in Texas that breeds a dog known to have epileptic seizures. Not only is this unethical but it is cruel. The dog will ultimately suffer in such a circumstance, as a seizure can cause any number of possible side effects from blindness to spinal damage.

Does the Breeder enlist fellow breeders to assess a litter?

Even the best breeders get second opinions (from reputable breeders, of course) about each of the pups in a given litter. It is no shame, and it doesn't detract from our knowledge as breeders. It helps us stay objective and provide the best possible information to prospective puppy homes.

Bloodlines - Pedigree

The first Dog Show of record was held in 1859, as an endeavor to aid breeders to gather together their best animals in competition to select breeding stock. ( Born to Win, Patricia Craig, Doral Publishing Phoenix AZ, 2002)

Inexperience can lead us to believe that a good pedigree or careful matching of Sire and Dam is only necessary for show dogs. This folly is generally only foisted upon first time puppy buyers. An over anxious purchasing decision can spell disaster, more often than not which is why many animals end up in rescue organizations - or worse. Much of the main thrust of careful analysis of bloodlines has to do with health issues.

"Seasoned"¯ pet owners know the importance of a planned breeding on personality, health, temperament and adherence to breed standards. Just because the dog is termed a "pet"¯ does not mean that any two dogs thrown together will necessarily supply the desired result. Your expectations of the quality of your pet¯ should be very high.

A puppy termed not show potential¯ by a reputable breeder often means very nearly immaterial defects, such as slightly too much white, or not an independent enough personality - very small reasons for determining that a pup is a pet¯, or a companion dog. These definitions ultimately create a wonderful situation for someone seeking a family companion - The finest breeding possible, which ultimately culminates in confidence that a you are obtaining the best possible companion in terms of health, temperament and the breed standard.

"The AKC is too political, That's why I don't show my dogs."

Every individual that you ever meet that makes statements like this, invariably will have dogs that do not meet the standard, regardless of the breed.

There are always stories that these 'would be breeders' were at events where they had a dog that should have won, or they observed another dog win that they felt should not have won, etc. These self stylized breeders believe that because the dog they picked to win didn't, it must have been "because of politics". They rarely stop to consider that it might be their own inability to recognize a well conformed dog that is the crux of the problem. Often, after trying their own hand at showing unsuccessfully, once again politics is blamed.

Whatever the reason, these non-political kennels¯ never produce an AKC champion and yet they continue to advertise their litters as show quality¯. This is an unknowledgeable breeder at best, and might even be a dishonest one, at worst.

Be cautious of anyone telling you that their puppies are from show stock, or are show quality¯. Ask them how many AKC champions they have. Ask if their kennel has EVER produced an AKC champion. No AKC Champions will almost always mean there are no decent animals to be had from that kennel. And if the Sire and Dam can't make the minimum grade what kind of pet¯ will you get? Remember, the reason for a puppy from a show potential litter means a great deal more than a blue ribbon. It means that your puppy will have the surest possible background to meet Rhodesian Ridgeback standards and to have a happy, healthy life.

The AKC and other¯ Registries

Puppies registered with the AKC should never be the only indicator of a breeder you want to get a dog from, but it's a pretty good place to start.

Here's why:

If a breeder recognizes that a dog in his litter doesn't quite make the grade for breeding purposes, he can prevent any litters coming from that line by using a tool called "limited registration"¯. This tool falls back on the intent of breeders wanting to make certain that Ridgeback standards are adhered to.

Oftentimes, a disingenuous person will obtain one of these "limited registration"¯ puppies for breeding purposes, knowing that the animal was not supposed to be bred because of a breeding deficiency in that particular pet. They will find a pair of animals like this in order to breed for the sake of monetary gain. The offspring of this breeding combination cannot be registered with the AKC because of the deficiencies of the parents, and so, the only alternative is to register with other organizations. In some cases, this is how these registries were started - the creation of a registry for animals that cannot be registered with the AKC!

Don't be tricked by statements such as the dog is "registered"¯, or "comes with papers"¯. The real question is: what papers? If the dog is not AKC registered, it invariably means it is probably an instance of one or several of the dogs having "limited registration" as previously discussed. Remember - limited registration is initiated due to a dog not having the ability to meet some standard in the breed, and might even be due to a health problem.

If AKC Registered, are they always "acceptable"?

A consciensious breeder will never let a "pet quality" puppy leave their kennel without limited registration and a Spay/Neuter agreement of some sort. This is a breeder attempting to protect the purebred standard.

Perhaps the most insidious episode, is one in which a breeder sells an inferior pet with open registration, allowing the possibility of breeding the animal to another sub standard dog, both with AKC registration. This particular instance is the most serious because now there is confusion generated in the mind of the public. After all, the dog is AKC registered isn't it? The worst part is that these dogs begin to proliferate, and the foundation of the line is inferior. Continuous breeding practice over time amplifies the faults from generation to generation, so that the general health, look and temperament of the dog becomes increasingly deficient. This is whay a reputable breeder will require a Spay/Neuter contract. The sole purpose is to protect the integrity of the purebred specification.

A variation of this tactic is to state that a dog has "championship lines". It can become quite amusing once you discover that there was perhaps one or two champions several generations back. You may ask, How did this occur?

Well, the "limited registration" capability provided by the AKC is a fairly recent development and as clarified before, is a tool to limit breeding of certain dogs for serious and specific reasons. Several generations back there may have been a few of these sub standard dogs that "slipped through the cracks". Consequently some dogs were registered and bred that shouldn't have been. Because these dogs originally came from championship stock, and even though they were not meant to be bred - they were bred anyway. This would explain why some people will make statements like: "This puppy has championship lines". The test is how far back are these "championship lines" actually go. Usually there may be 1 or 2 or even 3 champions 4 or 5 generations back. This is a very good indication - nearly 100 percent of the time - that some or all of the dogs within that lineage were never meant to be bred. It indicates that somewhere along the line an agreement was struck - and broken - that certain of those dogs should not be bred.

Obviously there are instances when one or the other of the animals is good enough to breed without being a champion. But it is unheard of that a reputable breeder will ever join a pair for breeding if at least one of the animals is not a champion - and its the exception, rather than the rule that both Sire and Dam are not champions.

The opinion of whether or not a non-champion animal should be bred can only be made by someone truly qualified to make that decision. Should an individual that has never produced an AKC Champion be qualified to make such a determination on your behalf?

Just remember - There is always one test that you can apply: Does either the Sire or Dam of any of the puppies the person is selling have AKC championship titles? If not, even though the dog is properly registered, it's probably a fluke.

In Conclusion...

When those first dog shows, probably more correctly termed "breeder shows", began in 1859, it was with an eye toward finding the best possible specimen to carry on the line. Breeders gathered together allowing their peers to determine which animal was best suited to carry on the purebred heritage. Even in today's individualistic society, there still remains a simple fact: Respected breeders know they should do everything possible to find objective opinions concerning the quality of their animal from as many experts as possible. The best place for this to occur is in AKC sanctioned conformation events. If these experts (judges) approve of the dog, it receives the title of champion, and then it is considered suitable for breeding purposes.

The motivating factor of the show ring¯ on the psyche of a reputable breeder ultimately benefits prospective puppy buyers. Obtaining a pet from a breeder that has taken the trouble of producing a champion is just another way of saying that a dog is worth breeding - is the closest we can hope to get to the purebred specification, as well as confidence that specific health concerns were adhered to. What is the use of saying one has a purebred, if the animal doesn't fit these standards?

Try to remember the simple points outlined in this document, and you greatly reduce the risk of a making a poor decision.We hope we have helped shed some light on what it means to obtain a happy, healthy animal. Our best wishes go out to you who are seeking the companionship of the finest dog ever created - The Rhodesian Ridgeback!


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"Breeding Exclusively for Quality Rhodesian Ridgebacks"


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