A Home For Life: Screening Puppy Buyers

by Peggy Helming 

Breeders are forced each year to make judgments about their puppy buyers and in many cases, they make these judgments without all the facts. Why? Because prospective puppy buyers are not always honest about their intentions.

I’d like to share some thoughts about screening puppy people that may be of some help. When you make the ultimate decision to become a breeder, take the time to decide what type of environment you are going to expect your puppy buyers to provide for your pup, and then stick to it! This can be difficult, especially if you are sitting with five or six eight-week-old puppies to place, and the calls you are getting do not meet the standards you have set. Stand firm to your commitment and do not breed a litter unless you are willing and able to hold all the pups until suitable homes can be found.

When I first set my standards and began to sell my pups, I had a rather firm approach with everyone I spoke to. “So, you want to buy a Newf? Do you have a fenced-in yard? Is someone home all day to tend to the needs of a new pup? Are you willing to attend a beginners obedience class, etc. Will you accept a limited registration on your pup?” I really fired out the questions and the demands to each and every caller. This particular method worked well, but I did most of the talking and the prospective buyer did the listening. I realized after making some rather poor placements that I did not always get enough information from potential buyers. More recently, I have taken a somewhat different approach. I still have the same standards, but when I get puppy inquiries, I let the callers do the talking about what they are looking for in a dog. I skirt the initial questions about price and puppy availability, and turn the conversation around to their experiences so far in finding a pup. Where they got my name, where they live, what other breeds of dogs have they owned and for how long, how they became interested in the Newfoundland breed, and so on. This type of conversation tends to relax the callers, and they start to open up about their experiences with previous family pets.

I believe I know why this particular screening method has been more successful than my original one. Today, we are dealing with more educated and determined buyers. By the time they call one or two breeders, they have already been grilled to death about fenced-in yards, crates, proper environment and diet, someone being home all day, etc. Breeder number three gets the same callers, and they now have all the right answers. They have an imaginary fence and crate, love to groom, their last St. Bernard got his CD, and of course, the puppy would never be left alone all day. After all, who then would tend to its needs?

After the initial screening, I send the prospective buyer a list of suggested reading material and set up an appointment for them to visit our Newf family. I encourage parents to bring the children. In most cases, if the parents display little or no control of their children, they will probably have the same influence on the young pup. I also try to discourage a young family with two or three pre-school age children from purchasing a pup until the children are a little older and they have more quality time available for the puppy.

When the prospective family arrives at the kennel, I immediately let two or three Newfs out to greet them. I am constantly watching their reaction to the dogs and vice versa. This is where the “gut feeling” enters into the picture. I listen to the side conversations and answer the many questions that are generated when they see 15 Newfs all at one time in one place. I am particularly interested in the wife’s reaction to the idea of owning a Newf. In most cases, she will be the one most involved with the care and well being of the new addition. At the end of the visit, the prospective buyer and I have come to some conclusions as to whether or not a Newf is the right dog for them.

There are people who make numerous phone calls and write many letters who never get as far as a visit to my home. I will not set aside that kind of time for the caller who:
1. Wants to come out only once—to pick up the pup. After all, it’s a 45 minute drive and they just do not have the time.
2. Wants to buy a pet quality Newf for a companion, but refuses to accept the limited registration on a pup.
3. Is having a hard time deciding whether to purchase a Newfoundland or a Toy Poodle. (I sent her the names of several breeders of Toy Poodles in her area.)

There is one type of phone call that always makes a breeder feel very safe and secure. It starts off something like this: “Hello, my name is Jan Wilker. We lost our12-year-old Newfoundland last week to renal failure. He was the best friend I ever had. Do you haveany puppies available? ”Yes . . . a home for life."

reprinted from Newf Tide 3Q 2000