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Choosing a Good Cavalier Breeder

How Do I Choose Cavalier Breeder?

It’s easier than you think. Ask the breeder why he or she is breeding Cavaliers.

What answer do you want to hear? I’ll tell you in a minute, but first, I am assuming you can meet the nice folks who bred your new BFF, that is, in person. Zoom does not count. And also: I mean the breeder, not a broker.

What’s a broker?

Here’s a story: When Jackie and I were married in 1991, we lived in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m sure you’ve heard of Milwaukee. It’s the home of Laverne and Shirley, right? Not really: The show was filmed in Los Angeles but for an establishing shot of the Milwaukee city hall during the opening credits—“We’re gonna do it!”

In any case, we wanted a dog, and Jackie’s co-worker had an Akita. I thought Akita’s looked cool. That’s pretty much all I knew. (They do look cool.) We found an ad in the newspaper (remember newspapers?), and we bought an Akita puppy from someone’s basement for, I think, $175. In other words, we had no idea what we were doing, so much so, that it didn’t even strike us as odd that the puppy came from a “kennel” in Nebraska.

He didn’t come from a kennel. He came from a puppy mill by way of a broker’s basement in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee. (It’s where they hold the Wisconsin State Fair, which is the best State Fair ever, by the way.) We’ve learned a great deal since then to say the least, and we’d like you to avoid getting a puppy from a puppy mill. They are bad places. Puppy mills have been operating for decades, but in the wake of the pandemic they proliferated like mushrooms after a rain shower. As bad was the proliferation of websites that were simply, to paraphrase Steve Miller, taking the money and running. In other words, do not adopt a puppy you have never met, and no, Zoom does not count. (By this point you have concluded that we regard working with a kennel that ships puppies as unwise.)

We’d also like you to avoid getting a puppy from a “backyard breeder.” That’s a loaded expression worthy of a whole blog post, but for now, let’s say a backyard breeder is not necessarily a puppy mill, and it may even be a really clean and upscale place, but it is a place where the breeder’s chief motive is to make puppies to sell.

Which takes me to the question I suggest you ask: “Why are you breeding Cavaliers?”

Good Cavalier breeders will tell you that they are breeding because they love the breed and want to produce Cavaliers that conform as close as possible to the standards of the breed. (See my blog post, “What is Conformation?”) Now this next part is very important: The only true way for a breeder to know if he or she is breeding really good Cavaliers is to subject them to the evaluation of a trained and experienced judge by exhibiting them in shows sanctioned by the American Kennel Club and/or the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club-USA. Most good Cavalier breeders show in both. (See my blog post “What Does Purebred Mean?”)

In other words, strange as this may sound, a good breeder’s primary motive in pursuing his or her hobby is not so you can have a little furry companion.

Now, you might not even need to ask the question if you can see from their website that they belong to a local AKC sanctioned breed club and that they are actively showing. It’s no harm to ask when their next show is. We encourage families who want a Cavalier to come to a show. We think they are loads of fun. (Pro tip: wait till the showing is over to talk to a breeder.)

Of course, you will want to confirm the breeder is doing all the health testing, but the likelihood is that if they are showing and belong to a local breed club, they are.

You may ask, “If the breeder I want to work with is breeding to produce show dogs, then where do pets come from?”

Great question. Breeders cannot keep all the puppies from all their litters. They keep the ones they think will be competitive in the show ring. From time to time, they will also keep a female who—although her chances of “finishing” (becoming a champion) may not be great—comes from lines they want in their breeding program: a puppy girl from two heart-healthy parents with very heart-healthy ancestors, for example.

Sometimes families looking to adopt a puppy will say, “we are not looking for a show dog.” The truth is a breeder wants to hang on to (or place with another show kennel) any puppy that has potential for the show ring. Sometimes, two years later, we will see a picture of a boy or girl that we placed as a pet and do the face palm: “Oh! We should have hung on to that one!” But again, you can’t keep everything.

Here is a final consideration: Do you like the person who bred your puppy? I’m not kidding. To be sure, social skills are not critical to good dog breeding. We’ve all met people who are experts in their field (whatever it is), and, well, they make sure to let you know that they are and that you are not. Fair enough. Jackie and I have been showing and breeding for closing on 20 years. (That’s a fair amount of time. It’s not thirty or more, like some of our friends can claim.) Still, Jackie has learned a great deal about the breed, and sometimes a conversation with someone who has read a few articles online can prove a little frustrating if someone looking to adopt a puppy is not prepared to listen. That said, you don’t have to put up with a breeder who behaves as if he or she is doing you a favor or as if you are an inconvenience to him or her. You might think twice about working with someone who runs down other breeders, however obliquely. You are looking for someone you will enjoy being in touch with for the life of your dog. Jackie always tells people: “I’m not a vet and I’m not a dog trainer, but if you ever have questions don’t hesitate to call or text.”

And families in the Top Meadow family do. We just got an email from the very first fellow we ever placed a puppy with. He wants another!


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