I recently asked on Facebook what a typical dog purchase contract looks like. I asked from the breeder’s and also from the buyer’s point of view.

The good news is that most people were able to find a breeder with a contract that worked for them and everyone lived happily ever after.  The bad news is that there were exceptions ranging from the very mild to the over the top bizarre.

After reading a few hundred comments, I came up with the following list of possible considerations when you are purchasing or selling a dog with a contract.  Here’s my list:

  1. Be aware that most contracts in the dog world are not legally enforceable, especially the ones that are micromanaging.  Legally, dogs are property.  As a result, do not rely on contracts to “force” the behavior that you want. Instead….
  2.  Do not buy or sell an animal if you are not comfortable with the other person! No contract in the world will make an irresponsible buyer responsible, and no amount of pleading after the fact is going to soften a breeder who does not see things your way. Walk away!
  3.  If you are a buyer, do not put down a deposit until you have seen the written contract.  Verbal discussions are good, but at the end of the day it’s what is in writing that you need to agree to.   First discuss and then write it down.
  4.  If you want to communicate to the buyer how you “hope” they will raise, train, exercise, etc their new puppy,  then consider having two separate documents – A contract that is simple (and more likely legally binding) and a second document that explains your preferences.  Discuss both in depth!  And if you think the buyer isn’t on board with your way of thinking?  See number 2….Are you sure you should be selling this person a dog?
  5. Look for a person to work with who is a good “match” for your temperament.  If you are a highly controlling breeder, look for buyers who welcome this as a sign of support and long-term caring. On the other hand, if you’re an opinionated buyer who is inclined to resent any and all efforts at control, look for a seller who is comfortable with a more hands off approach.  This isn’t a matter of right or wrong!   Some people want a ton of interaction with the breeder and others do not. Match yourself wisely.
  6.  If you are the buyer and there are specific things in the contract that make you uncomfortable, talk to the breeder. They may be more than willing to make changes for you. If they have no flexibility at all, consider if this is someone you can get along with for the next ten or fifteen years.  Conversely, if you are the breeder and the seller is asking for changes that make you uncomfortable, do you really want to rely on your contract if you are not able to find an acceptable resolution? Remember, dog contracts often fail as legally binding documents, so a compatible buyer is much more likely to result in success.
  7.  Be aware that contracts that create long-term relationships such as co-ownership, breeding arrangements, show requirements, etc. can turn sour.   Even the most comfortable friendship can fall apart. Are you willing to take the risk?
  8.    If you smell crazy, RUN RUN AWAY!!!!   Think about it for a second. Is it worth it? You’ve already seen signs that the person you’re working with is irrational, unstable, unpredictable, irritable, or shows some other aspect of unusual behavior that makes you look twice. Are you sure you want to take a chance?

Beyond that, note that while a contract can get you financial compensation for specific issues, it will not take your unhealthy dog and make it well, or your behaviorally unsound dog and make him stable. There is an animal to be considered here, and contracts do not influence that one way or the other.   Do your research!   Personally, I don’t care if an animal that I buy comes with a contract or not; my number one priority is an honest and ethical breeder who tells me what I need to know. At that point, I willingly take my chances and accept full responsibility for the welfare of that dog.  For every “but the contract must have this!” statement that I’ve seen, I have easily come up with reasons why that statement might not be in the best interest of the dog under various circumstances.

Before anyone freaks out, it’s also worth noting that many puppy buyers and breeders end up becoming lifelong friends, so you shouldn’t be afraid to buy a dog! But going in with eyes open, both as the buyer and seller, can make the chances of success much higher for both of you.