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Why Use a Contract?

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

There was a time when one could purchase a purebred puppy in a simple, transactional manner. Similar to any other retail purchase, the buyer gives the seller the cash, and the seller gives the buyer a product - in this case a puppy - and the transaction was done. That is where the obligation between the two ended.

This is still the case with mixed breed dogs and backyard breeders, but today's responsible breeders want assurances of their puppy's welfare, and buyers want assurances of their new puppy's health. A contract will outline how to handle matters when issues with either arise.

Why should I sign a puppy contract?

Janine always wanted a standard poodle so after she bought her first house, she decided it was time. Janine found a breeder with puppies in her neighboring state, and soon brought home her long-awaited AKC red standard poodle puppy. She wanted to learn to groom and was looking forward to watching that dark red curly coat as it grew out.

To meet other standard poodle owners, Janine decided to bring her new puppy to a nearby match show. It was there that another poodle handler told her there was no way that red puppy could be a purebred standard poodle. Janine insisted that although the breeder hadn't yet sent her his registration papers and there were other dogs on the property, she had met both of the parents and they were definitely poodles.

After a few weeks though, Janine began to agree. She noticed that her puppy's coat was losing its fluffiness and turning more straight, and his face never needed to be shaved. Several months later and a DNA test later, her suspicion was confirmed: Her supposed purebred red standard poodle puppy was more hound than poodle, and it looked more like a mixed irish setter than anything else. Janine contacted the breeder who said that it was possible her poodle bitch had been in contact with another dog on the property but didn't think that was the case. The breeder also told Janine she never said the puppy could be registered with AKC, only that the parents were. Janine disagreed but had nothing to prove otherwise. Heartbroken, she decided to cut her losses and chalk it up to a lesson learned. Janine paid $2500 for her dog.

The overall purpose of a puppy contract should be for the protection of the dog. The seller, who has raised the puppy in its first critical months, wants to be sure the new owner will care for their new puppy in a humane manner. The new owner will want assurances that the puppy is free of genetic and temperamental defects. The contract outlines those expectations and states what remediation can be expected if those promises fail. As one can see in Janine's story, a contract can also serve as proof of sale and what is expected in the transaction. A contract offers some protection to all parties involved.

What should be in a contract?

A good contract provides the basic information: The buyer and seller information, Purchase price, puppy description, applicable registries, whether the dog is to be altered, whether the dog has any health guarantees, and what the consequences are if these agreements are in dispute.

In general, the American Kennel Club recommends the contract at least provide assurances that, among other things, the breeder will:

· Provide a healthy pet with no know genetic or temperamental faults,

· provide any registration papers,

· and provide placement if the buyer can no longer care for the dog.

In return, the buyer will agree to:

· keep the dog healthy,

· provide an acceptable standard of care including adequate nutrition, shelter, and attention,

· not sell the dog without first notifying the breeder, and

· will honor a neuter agreement if required by the breeder.

Requirement, or Recommendation?

There is a difference between requirements and recommendations, but some micromanaging breeders don't accept the distinction. Unreasonable contract requirements like "buyer shall not let the puppy on furniture, or in a room without the owner, or is never allowed to bring their dog to a dog park" are a benefit to no one, and serve only to estrange the seller/buyer relationship. Many good breeders include a separate "Recommendation" sheet that serves as a guide, but is in no way tied to the puppy contract.

When a seller presents a contract to a potential puppy buyer, it's incumbent upon the buyer to thoroughly review the contract before agreeing to the terms. While not binding, it should be understood that a buyer takes a puppy after reviewing the contract, they are agreeing to it.

While worthwhile breeders offer a health guarantee, some breeders include a clause that requires the buyer to purchase expensive dog food or vitamins (like NuVet, which give breeders a kickback) every month, or to only feed a specific diet, or the health guarantee is void. Sometimes a breeder's contract will stipulate unreasonably huge fees (up to $20,000 in one case!) if they find out a stipulation in their contract has been violated, for example the dog has been bred without their permission. These are all things to look at in a contract.

Contracts are not ironclad, despite the forcible language contained in some. It does offer a roadmap to resolve to those "what-if" questions, and it's a starting point should something go wrong. The breeder's reputation is on the line when they don't honor a contract. And they're hoping the puppy's new family will be everything they hoped for when the puppy was handed over. It's to everyone's benefit to have a puppy contract. Read the contract you're presented with. Only take a puppy if you can agree to all the terms. If the terms are firm and you cannot agree to them, find another breeder.

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