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Puppy Contracts – What Are They and Why Do Breeders Use Them?

Picture of a German Shepherd Puppy

If you’ve decided to add a new puppy to your family, you’ve likely spent a lot of time researching your perfect canine companion. Many families visit shelters and peruse rescue sites in search of the pooch that’s right for them, and others still visit different breeders to learn about their dogs and personally meet the breeds they are considering.  Whether you opt to purchase your new pooch from a shelter, a rescue, or a breeder, there will be a contract for you to sign. Contracts from rescues and shelters primarily focus on a family’s commitment to properly care for their adopted pet and to keep the dog as a cherished member of their home and lives on a permanent basis. But contracts from breeders are quite different and often vary dramatically from breeder to breeder. What is a puppy contract and why do breeders use them?

What is a Puppy Contract?

Reputable breeders invest a great deal of time in the breeding, whelping, and rearing of their puppies. Most do this without any expectation of personal gain, doing it simply for the love and preservation of their beloved breed. Since breeding and raising puppies is a true labor of love, these breeders care very deeply about where their puppies go and devote endless amounts of time and energy to carefully screening each potential home to find their puppies’ their perfect fit. If you are lucky enough to find yourself being offered a puppy from the breeder of your choice, part of the package deal will be the signing of a puppy contract as proof of your intention to honor the conditions behind the sale of the puppy.

Puppy contracts are essentially a written agreement between a breeder and a buyer. Each contract should clearly outline what the breeder pledges to provide to the buyer as well as what their expectations are. In turn, by signing the contract, the buyer agrees to adhere to all stipulations outlined in the contract and to fulfil all outlined requirements for the life of the dog. Both parties sign and date two copies of the puppy contract, signifying they both understand and agree to the conditions of the sale. One copy is provided to the buyer with the other remaining with the breeder.

Puppy contracts are intended to protect all parties and to prevent misunderstandings. But most of all, these contracts exist to ensure the puppy’s best interests are preserved and to clearly illuminate what is expected should a family no longer want or be able to keep their puppy.

What is in a Puppy Contract?

Since there is no set regulation regarding the breeding industry, each breeder is free to craft a puppy contract that meets their specific desires. However, there are some common elements that most puppy contracts contain. These include:

1Mandatory spaying and neutering

Although some breeders will sell puppies with “breeding rights,” those situations are rare and necessitate a different type of contract between the breeder and the new puppy owner. Most often, breeders are very concerned that their puppies will be spayed or neutered at the time that is most appropriate for their health, and the time frame is often clearly stipulated in the contract.

The primary concern of a breeder in including this clause in a contract is not contributing to the pet overpopulation problem by indiscriminate breeding practices. Most contracts do require proof of spay or neuter before registration papers are furnished to the family, a practice that is supported by the Canadian Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club.

2Recommended foods

Most breeders have requirements regarding the food they would like their puppies to continue on. Food can be breed specific with some breeds excelling on one brand and doing very poorly on another. With this in mind, some breeders will outline their preferred brands of food for their puppy to remain on for the course of their lifetime. Others will provide a list of recommended foods and leave the choice up the new owner, instead just requiring that the owner commit to feeding a high quality food for the life of the dog. 

3Training requirements

With so many different training methods on the market today, many breeders like to include the modes they feel are best suited to their breed in a contract. Since breeders know their breed best, they are an excellent resource for recommendations as to what methods are most effective. Some breeds are extremely soft natured and to use a harsh training tool could irreparably harm the dog’s spirit. With this in mind, many breeders will ask an owner to agree either to use a particular type of training technique or to avoid others for the good of the puppy.

Some breeders also require a new owner commit to taking their puppy to socialization classes or beginner obedience training to assist the puppy with becoming an excellent canine citizen and adapting well to life in his new world.

4Regular veterinary care

You would think it would be a given that all owners would provide the veterinary care a dog requires throughout his lifetime, but when it comes to selling a puppy, nothing can be left to chance. Though most breeders prefer not to micromanage their puppy owners, they do want to ensure that their puppy receives regular wellness examinations, access to proper treatments and medications as necessary, and sees a vet as often as is required to remain healthy and well.

5Housing for the puppy

Though some people believe in the concept of “outdoor” and “indoor” dogs, many breeders feel strongly that their puppies should remain a part of family life, and thus, are only to be housed indoors. This is clearly outlined in puppy contracts, so that puppy owners have a thorough understanding of the expectations placed upon them.

6Fencing requirements

Since some breeds do pose a flight risk, some breeders require owners to commit to having or putting in a fully fenced in yard. This is purely for the safety of the dog and to prevent the owner the heartache of a lost dog or one who succumbs to an early death through an accident with a vehicle.

7Puppy returns

Unfortunately, life is messy, and things happen that make people unable to keep their puppy. When this occurs, it is important for there to be a completely outlined procedure for the buyer to follow. Conditions differ from breeder to breeder. However, every breeder should want and be willing to take a puppy back if the owner is unable to keep the dog…for any reason. Part of responsible breeding is being committed to what is best for each puppy produced for the life of the puppy. Reputable breeders want to know where their puppies are and keep in contact with the owners to ensure the dog is thriving and happy.  A proper puppy contract will outline what steps an owner must take to return a puppy to the breeder and what, if anything, the breeder will provide to the owner.

8Health guarantees

Reputable breeders take great care to only breed dogs who have been health tested of all common illnesses to the breed and that are free from genetic illness and thus suitable for breeding. A proper puppy contract should outline a guarantee against certain types of genetic illness and what measures will be taken should a puppy befall one of these genetic conditions. It is not possible for a breeder to guarantee a puppy will remain free from health problems for life; however, it is more than reasonable to expect a breeder to provide written assurances and provision for puppies who do befall a genetic illness common to the breed. Most contracts stipulate the breeder will replace the puppy free of charge or refund the purchase price in full.

9Penalties for contract violations

The most common contract violations are for rehoming the dog without the breeder’s consent or unauthorized breeding. Penalties are most often financial and quite hefty.

Puppy contracts exist to protect the breeder and the buyer, but they are most important for the puppy himself. Reputable breeders will have a contract that each buyer will be required to review and sign, committing themselves to the terms of the sale. Bear in mind, that contracts can be negotiated. If there are aspects of a contract that you would like to see amended, an open discussion with your breeder may yield the desired response.

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