Once you have decided on a Shetland Sheepdog or a "Sheltie" (or at least have begun to seriously consider the breed) you will need to contact some breeders. Here is a list of some of the questions you should ask before you buy a Shetland Sheepdog.
For many of these questions there are no "right" or "wrong" answers, rather what is important is that you are comfortable with the answers the breeder gives you. Buying a puppy is a big decision and one which will require ongoing guidance and direction. It is important that you find a breeder whom you feel you will be able to deal with on an on-going basis, whom you feel is knowledgeable about the breed and honest about the problems in the breed.
Who are the parents of the litter?
A responsible breeder will allow you to meet at least the mother of the litter. Often the father is from another kennel and so will not be on site. However, the breeder should have pictures of the father and pedigrees for you to see.
Do not be surprised if the mother does not seem as pretty as she once did. Pregnancy is a strain on any bitch and this may be reflected in her coat and other ways as well. However, mother and pups should appear well fed and cared for.
Are the parents healthy? What health testing has been performed?
Females should be in good general before they are bred. A responsible breeder will not breed a female who is infirm, too old or too young. In addition, all pure bred dogs are susceptible to certain genetic disorders (see health issues for a more detailed discussion of this). You should inquire about what health tests were performed on the parents and what the results were.
A good breeder will be willing to supply you with copies of all health tests, should you ask for them.
Do both parents have good temperaments?
Although temperament can definitely be influenced by the environment, almost all experts agree it is also influenced by genetics. Parents with temperament problems are likely to pass them down to their offspring. You should ask about the temperament of both parents (especially if the father is not on site and you can not meet him "in person").
Many people mistakenly believe that getting a puppy from "champion stock" ensures a good quality pup that has a good temperament. This is not always the case. Having a champion dog sounds impressive and generally indicates the dog conforms to the standard for the breed (what the CKC or AKC says the breed should look like) and is structurally sound, however, it does not indicate anything about temperament.
Buyers should ask if their potential puppy has any relatives who have been temperament tested or have achieved obedience or agility titles. Once again, these titles do not guarantee the puppy will have a good temperament, however, they indicate some of the puppy's relatives were "trainable" and must have been reasonably intelligent.
What guarantees are offered? What is your policy on returning pups?
It is very important that you discuss with the breeder what aspects (if any) of the dog are guaranteed. What happens if you purchase a "potential show quality" puppy and it develops a major fault? What happens if the puppy develops major health problems that are genetically based? What are the conditions under which the breeder will take a pup back? There are no "right" or "wrong" answers to these questions, but it is important that you understand the breeder's policies and feel comfortable with them.
Breeders should furnish a written sales contract stating that the puppy is purebred, is healthy, has had it's first set of shots and is suitable for the purposes it was bred for. Written guarantees protect both the puppy buyer and the breeder.
What are my obligations when I purchase the puppy?
Many breeders require you agree to spay or neuter your dog (when it gets to the appropriate age) and that you agree not to breed it. If you purchase a dog to show, breeders should allow you to leave the dog intact so you can show it, but may not allow you to breed it or require you champion the dog before you are allowed to breed it. You should discuss this possibility with the breeder. These conditions should all be specified in the written contract.
In addition many breeders require that you agree to providing certain conditions for the puppy through out it's lifetime (e.g. a fenced in backyard, proper socialization, proper nutrition and health care). These obligations should also be specified in the written contract.
How long have you been breeding dogs? How long have you been breeding Shelties?
Although it is not necessarily the case that the best breeders have been "doing it the longest". There are many "newcomers" produce quality puppies and many "oldtimers" who do not, however, this will give you an indication of the individuals experience with the breed.
What dog-related activities are you involved with?
Most responsible breeders are actively involved with their breed. They will actively show their dogs and will likely have championed several of their dogs. In addition to conformation showing, many people also participate in other activities such as agility or obedience.
Do you belong to any dog clubs?
Most responsible breeders are members of at least one kennel club. Every breeder should be a member in good standing of the Canadian Kennel Club. In addition, most are members in good standing of a breed club (such as the American Shetland Sheepdog Association) and may also be involved in their local all-breed kennel club.
Will you supply me with references?
Breeders should be willing to supply references, whether from other breeders or from satisfied puppy buyers, if asked for them.
When will you have puppies available?
Unfortunately, you often can not find a puppy available exactly when you want one. However, before you decide to get a puppy you should ensure that it will be arriving at a time that is convenient for you.
Do you have a waiting list?
Often you will have to place your name on a waiting list in order to get a puppy. Most litters are sold before the litter is even born. Many breeders require a deposit before your name will be placed on the waiting list. You should ask if this is a non-refundable deposit.
At what age are the puppies released?
A good breeder generally will not let a puppy go before 8-9 weeks of age
Have the pups been vet checked, received at least their first set of shots and been wormed when they are released?
All puppies should be vet checked before they leave the breeder. In addition they should have received their first set of inoculations and the breeder provide a record of these shots and should tell you about the remaining shots you will have to provide. The puppies may also be on a worming schedule and the breeder may require you to continue the worming procedures
Have you registered the puppy with the AKC or CKC (or will you be registering the puppy)?