Why Finding a Dog Breeder Was So Difficult

February 15, 2018

For those who have had a debate with their significant other on the topic of getting a puppy, you may already have an inkling of how challenging the journey to puppy parenthood is. My girlfriend and I both (finally) agreed we were ready to welcome a furry friend into our family last October. It took a few months of deliberating to decide whether we were emotionally, financially and professionally able to support a new puppy in our lives, but we ultimately agreed after petsitting a friend’s dog for a weekend. Our experience was so rewarding and fulfilling that we could not wait to become puppy parents. Oh, and we passed multiple “are you ready for a dog quizzes” that you can find here and here.

We knew from the get-go that we were wanted a Goldendoodle. The city of San Francisco was most likely to blame for our inflexibility seeing as it is impossible to walk 10 feet without seeing one. Either way, we wanted a dog that was under thirty pounds and hypo-allergenic, and the Goldendoodle fit the bill perfectly. We looked at rescue shelters in the area but quickly realized we were not going to have any luck finding our dream dog there. We used three different sites, and I highly recommend them to anyone that is flexible in what type of dog they want: SFSPCA, SF Animal Care and Rocket Dog Rescue. The sites are updated daily, with many resources to help you in your adoption process.

Finding a Breeder

With a rescue being off the table, and not knowing exactly where and how to look for a puppy, we headed straight to Google. The exact search term we started with escapes me, but the results mostly revolved around sites that had puppies for sale. The three that came up the most often were Puppyspot, Puppyfind and Puppyfinder. Much like a pet store, these sites have puppies available to buy immediately. They also allow for shipping, so location does not constrict your selection. In theory, this sounds great- your options of puppies are exponentially higher than if you were only searching locally. However, the reality is that making a decision without first interacting with the puppy in person is very difficult. To make matters worse, there is little to no information regarding the puppy or its parents (pedigree) and no information on the breeder outside of their name. We were highly skeptical that a responsible breeder would list their puppy on one of these sites. Given we were investing in a future member of our family, we did not want to take any unnecessary risks, so we decided against any of the puppy broker sites.

We went back to Google looking for Goldendoodle breeders rather than puppies. The same puppy broker sites came up as before, this time pointing to their dog breeder profiles. These so-called “directories” show a roughly 100 character description, no photos, and then a link to a website for each of the breeders. No reviews, no past puppies section, no testimonials. Filtering the breeders is extremely limited: you can either choose a breed or location, but not both at the same time. Accustomed to websites like Airbnb, Amazon and OpenTable, these sites looked and acted like they were built in the stone age.

Again, Google. We limited our search to San Francisco. Success! Google had proved its worth for the millionth time. The search results were filled with the personal websites of Goldendoodle breeders, which is exactly what we were looking for, or so we thought.

Understanding the Breeders’ Supply

As we fumbled our way through the websites, it became obvious that breeders do not have a standardized way of describing their puppy inventory. For the potential customer, that means you need to spend a significant amount of time navigating poorly made websites in the hopes of understanding what types of puppies each breeder sells. This part will be more or less difficult based on the type of dog you are looking for. Some breeds, especially mixed ones, have the potential for many different “varieties.” Variety refers to the combination of a puppy’s size (standard, medium, mini), generation (F1, F2, etc.) and genetic makeup (what percent poodle or golden retriever it is). This does not take into account the color of the dog, which can create even more possibilities. For those wondering about Goldendoodles, they have a ton of combinations.

Once we got a baseline understanding of what type of puppies each breeder was selling, it was time to figure out when we would be able to welcome one into our home. Most of the sites had not been updated in quite some time, so even if we did see an estimated time, we usually did not trust it. After making our way through multiple pages of Google results (yes, way past the first page), we guessed that the average wait time was going to be between six to twelve months. We even found a Bernedoodle/Goldendoodle breeder that had a waitlist for twenty-four months! With our handy excel sheet as our master list, we then narrowed down our favorite breeders and began the outreach process.

Communicating and Transacting With a Breeder

Every breeder has a different preference as to how they would like to be contacted. The most common ones we saw were:

  • Text
  • Call
  • Email
  • Website Contact Form
  • Website Application

Since we both wanted to be part of the conversation, as well as track which breeders responded to our inquiries in our spreadsheet, we chose to email whenever possible. However, some breeders preferred being contacted via an embedded questionnaire on their site. The questionnaires were not very difficult, but they would often have unique questions, so copy and pasting was not always an option. After doing seven surveys and sending out three emails, we decided that would be enough.

Our excitement the following day was palpable. Neither of us could stop checking our emails in the hopes of getting a response from one of the breeders. The waiting continued for a few days, and we were surprised not to get any responses. Being full puppy-crazed at this point, we resent all of them emails and resubmitted the forms. Ten days passed and we had only gotten responses from three of the ten breeders we reached out to, with the average response time being seven days. Seven days!!! This might not seem like long, but when you want a puppy, it is an eternity. The three breeders that answered were part of our favorites, so we decided to continue the conversation with each of them.

Trusting a Breeder

About two to three weeks after our initial outreach, we had all of the basic information we needed- what varieties they had, what colors, prices and estimated time of arrival. Since they each bred the type of Goldendoodle puppies we were looking for, the next step for us was to make a decision on which breeder to work with. We wanted to work with the most reputable breeder, but we had no way of telling which that was. Being accustomed (see: spoiled) by Amazon’s star ratings, we searched for an equivalent site for dog breeder reviews. No luck. When we asked the breeders if there was a public review site, they all directed us to the testimonial sections of their websites. Naturally, each one had phenomenal quotes from their supposed customers.

We decided to put our trust in Google and chose the breeder that consistently showed up first in the rankings. Surprisingly, they completely stopped responding to our messages, even when we were begging them to take our money. After a week of waiting, we decided to go with our second favorite, who proceeded to text us the contract and asked us to text it back to her signed. Now, I am by no means a legal expert, but I do question the legal binding of a signed document sent via text message. Not to mention the fact that as a customer, the entire interaction made me question whether this was going to be a legitimate transaction. Our deposit was $500, so it made us uneasy to know that we would eventually have to send them $2000 more before getting our puppy.

Still Waiting

Fast forward to present day, and we are hoping to get our puppy sometime this summer. Outside of the few initial interactions we had with the breeder in October, they have yet to communicate with us since sending the deposit. Two emails and two text messages went unanswered in January, and if it were not for them updating their Instagram regularly, we would have no clue whether or not they were still in business. This is not an isolated incident- I have seen potential customers commenting on their posts asking why they were not responding to their emails.

It is hard for me to think of any other industry that does such a poor job of communicating with both potential and active customers. You could maybe expect it from some random store online when you spend a few bucks, but not when making a transaction this large. Our puppy is going to end up costing $2500, which is probably the most significant joint transaction my girlfriend and I have made together thus far.

As most of you probably guessed, this is why I started work on Petigree. The aim is to make the puppy buying journey more enjoyable, stress-free, safe and transparent. I will be dedicating a full blog post to the why’s and how’s of Petigree, so stay tuned!