Choosing a breeder can be a frustrating task. One of the most common requests from the public to Border Collie Rescue is to provide them with a list of qualified and reputable breeders. Though we are hesitant to provide a written evaluation of breeders and try to avoid naming names as much as possible (both good and bad), there are some key features to recognizing a good breeder when you come upon one. We may be able to provide you with a few local names or potential good breeders but we would prefer that you do your own homework and seek out the best breeder that suits your needs and style. We obviously don't like to promote the overbreeding of Border Collies and would love it if everyone decided to adopt a dog from rescue but we also realize that good pups must continue to be produced and some folks would like a puppy or a dog from known working lines.
In looking for a good breeder as a source for your new puppy, there are several points that you must keep in mind. If a breeder meets all of the following requirements, by in large, they are going to be an excellent source. If they meet some but not all of the points outlined, then care should be taken in dealing with them and you should be well aware of their limitations before buying a pup from them. If they don't meet any of the requirements, avoid them like the plague! You're only asking for trouble by dealing with them.
1) The breeder should have each of the parent dogs registered with one of the Border Collie registries. Unknown lineages produce unknown pups. Though a pedigree is not a guarantee of quality (some people think it is the doggie equivalent of the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval"), it is a guaranty of the genetic lineage of that dog. A breeder should know the genetic problems present in their lines, along with the strengths and weaknesses of each dog's ancestors.
2) Each parent dog should be certified as free of eye and hip problems. Demand to see both parents' certification from CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) and OFA (The Orthopedic Foundation For Animals, Inc.) or PennHIP (PennHIP FAQ). (Check their individual web sites for further information). Do not take the breeder's word for it and do not accept the fact that the dogs can "work fine". The "test of the hill" is an old farmer's belief (where only well-built dogs can make it on the farm) and unfortunately, it results in a lot of genetic problems -- due to the simple fact that Border Collies can often work in pain and eye and hip problems may not show up until later in life. Breeding dogs should also be tested free from brucellosis but this may not be a primary concern for you in purchasing a pup.
3) Each parent dog should be well-tempered. Aggression, like other behaviors, is controlled by genes and the environment (the old "nature" vs. "nurture"). Temperament of a dog is founded upon the genetic makeup of a pup, as traits of personality are inherited from the parent lines. This is why it is so important to consider the parents' temperament when choosing a puppy. Some dogs are just genetically predisposed to aggression or other temperament problems. If the parents were aggressive, the odds are much higher that the pups will be aggressive (though not guaranteed). Often this can be overcome through lots of hard work and socialization but the point is - why start from a disadvantage? Some dogs have wonderful genetic temperament lines and no matter how much you screw up their development, they come out of it with wonderful personalities. You'd be amazed at what some of our rescue dogs come from in their background (no socialization with humans or dogs, being beaten, being psychologically tortured, etc.) and yet, through it all, end up as wonderfully tempered dogs in spite of their upbringing, not because of it. Other dogs may have the best upbringing in the world and yet end up aggressive, again in spite of their owner's best intentions. There are even some dogs (though in my opinion it is very rare) that are so genetically predisposed to aggression and violence, that it's not worth the effort to rehabilitate them. So not only should you be asking to see the parents' OFA and CERF certificates but you should also ask to play with the dogs. Even-tempered dogs generally produce even-tempered pups. Don't accept a pup from parents that are aggressive - even slightly aggressive.
4) Expect the Spanish Inquisition from the breeder. If the breeder is asking more questions about you and your environment and family than you are of their dogs and the pups, then it is likely that they are a conscientious and reputable breeder. Good breeders are concerned with the welfare of their pups and are careful to select potential puppy purchasers. Money should not be the deciding factor. If you can plunk down your money and walk away with a puppy, then walk away without ever putting your money down. It's kind of like the old saying "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member." The breeder should be very choosy and you should feel like you've been grilled by the police under the glare of a light or the IRS in an in-depth audit. If you pass muster, you should feel relief that you made it. Anything less is simply that -- less care and concern for the dogs.
5) The puppies should be living around the heels of humans. They should not be out in the barn, isolated from human contact. They should be running around their property underfoot (even inside if the breeder allows it). This shows that the pups have been well socialized to people. If they're out in the barn, they may fear humans (because of their little experience with them) and fearful pups can grow up to display some anti-social behavior (worst case -- fear aggression).
6) The breeder should not allow you to take the puppy before it is 8 weeks old. This improves the pup's doggie socialization (it learns a lot between 6-8 weeks from its siblings and mother) and in most states in the US, it is illegal to sell a pup before they are 8 weeks of age. The pups should also come with a health certificate from a vet but this is not an absolute necessity in all cases. Even without a health certificate, the pup should at least come with a complete medical history and should already have received one or more "puppy shots". If they haven't received any shots, the breeder has tried to cut costs to maximize profits or is ignorant of the medical requirements of a young dog. In either case, it's a situation to avoid.
7) Good breeders pick puppies out for you rather than allowing a buyer to choose their own pup. There's a good reason for this. The breeder should be concerned with matching a pup with your home and family and who knows the pups better than the breeder. See "Picking Puppy" for more details on this.
8) Ask other Border Collie owners about the breeder, as well as rescuers and anyone else associated with the breed. If they are unknown in Border Collie circles, it may be for good reason. Good breeders have good reputations. Rescuers are also a wonderful resource as we know which breeders' dogs are ending up in rescue. If we're getting lots of their dogs in, there's a good reason (actually a bad one) behind it. They might be a puppymill, producing an overabundance of dogs. Or the pups they produce might be ill-tempered. Or their selection process for new owners may simply be "who's money is greenest". Whatever the reason, dogs from their lines ending up in rescue is a bad sign.
9) Expect a lifetime guarantee. Good breeders stand behind the quality of their pups and insist on taking the dog back if it ever must be given up (another reason we don't see good breeders' dogs in rescue) for whatever reason -- for the entire life of the dog. This can be a little misleading, though, as some disreputable breeders still offer guarantees, knowing full well that you're unlikely to return a dog after you've become attached to it emotionally or sue them over several hundred dollars.
10) Ask for references. Good breeders should be more than happy to give you names and numbers of their previous puppy owners, their vet, and training people they work with. Again, good breeders have good reputations and have nothing to hide.
11) Be wary of those that advertise -- particularly in national magazines or newspapers. Good breeders don't need to advertise generally (word of mouth is enough for them). Many have long waiting lists of future puppy buyers. If they are advertising in national magazines, they are probably producing far too many puppies. Most great breeders only breed occasionally and make sure they do it right. Quantity and quality are oftentimes inversely related when it comes to puppies.
12) Finally, use your best judgment and take your time. This is a living being that you will be spending the next decade or more with and you should be careful in your decisions. This is not an item that you can just toss away if it doesn't work out or trade in for a better model. Do your research and learn as much as you can about any individual breeder before purchasing a puppy from them. You'll reap the rewards in the end.