If you find yourself struggling to wrangle your flocks, herding dogs can be an invaluable addition to your farm or homestead. Herding dog breeders, though, are just as difficult to choose as the breeds themselves.
Choosing the right herding dog breeder is an important step to getting a herding dog, for both the sake of the quality of your herding dog and for potential ethical concerns with inbreeding.
Rusty Jeffers, board member of the American Herding Breed Association, said that a quality breeder will be as skeptical of you as you are of them.
“A good breeder is going to be somebody who interviews you more than you interview them,” Jeffers said. “They’re not going to be like, ‘Hand me a check, and I’ll give you a dog.’ You want somebody who’s going to be questioning you and finding out what you want and if the dog [they] have is right for you.”
Aside from a litter of the breed you want and a discerning eye for customers, experts recommend weighing a few key considerations when sifting through herding dog breeders before selecting the one that is right for you.
Find herding dog breeders with experience
Jeffers recommended finding a breeder who has professional experience with herding dogs aside from breeding alone.
“Most people who breed are either ranchers or [herding dog] competitors,” Jeffers said. “That’s going to tell you a lot. That’s what they do, and they have some credentials to show they’re good at it.”
Jeffers also said to check if breeders are selling dogs with certain genetic and health certifications from an organizing body like the American Kennel Club or one of the many breed-specific associations.
“There are some health and genetic tests and certifications that are good,” Jeffers said. “Some breeds have a tendency for particular genetic diseases. A lot of them there are tests for. Now when we breed them, we test for that and make sure the dogs aren’t carriers of that.”
Ask your neighbors for recommendations
Jeffers recommended asking local farmers who use herding dogs where they got their herding dogs. That will not only help you choose the breed of herding dog that is best for your purposes, but also potentially find a local breeder that is best equipped to give you a dog.
“You’re probably going to get a dog from somebody reasonably local,” Jeffers said. “You can import dog, but that’s unusual.”
Some breeders, though, will deliver their dogs to the right farms. Fawn “Tarma” Richardson, hobby farmer as well as a breeder and trainer of Turkish Kangal herding dogs at Farei Kennels, is based in Greenfield, Maine, said she has Turkish Kangal puppies all across the country. Richardson also has an Australian cattle dog named Cooper to help manage the flock of sheep on her farm.
Choose breeders raising dogs in similar environments
Richardson said it is important to research breeders thoroughly before choosing your herding dog.
“Concentrate on [finding] a good breeder, one who works their dogs in a similar situation and breeds for traits that work well for them,” Richardson said. “This raises the likelihood of success when you bring that dog into your situation.”
The specific situation of the breeder, Richardson said, matters just as much as the breed.
“I’m not going to buy a border collie from someone with [a thousand] sheep,” Richardson said. “I need something for a smaller scale that’s going to be happy even when we aren’t working. That’s critical because there isn’t as much to do on a small farm, so I need a dog with a good off switch.”
Ultimately, Richardson and Jeffers agreed that the best herding dog breeders are not in it for the money, but for the love of the dogs.
“I have been breeding for [over ten] years, and I never made a dime,” Richardson said. “That’s not what it’s about.”
“You don’t want a breeder who’s a breeder,” Jeffers said. “You don’t want somebody who breeds one litter a year or two litter a year because they’re just putting dogs out to make money. I’ve never made money breeding a litter in my life.”