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The Need for a Breeder Referral Program

The American Kennel Club and individual clubs have long recognized the responsibility to encourage potential owners to purchase quality dogs from responsible breeders.

With that goal in mind, the American Kennel Club, working closely with the National and local clubs, has developed a nationwide Breeder Referral Program. The success of this program is dependent on participation by all clubs to educate the public and put potential puppy buyers in direct contact with responsible breeders.

All-Breed clubs are required to undertake an educational program in order to be approved to hold events. In 1992, the American Kennel Club developed its nationwide Breeder Referral Program to educate the public to buy responsibly bred dogs. A successful program depends on the assistance of everyone seriously committed to the welfare of purebred dogs. The American Kennel Club's breeder referral effort is a proactive program to help potential dog owners identify reputable breeders who will assure that the owner and the dog are compatible.

I. Getting Started

The first step for every club is to appoint a Breeder Referral Program Coordinator. This is a responsible and important position that requires someone who understands and is committed to an effective program. The coordinator must have experience dealing with the public. Calls from prospective first time dog owners may be unfocused, and it will take tact and good communication skills to help screen the callers to make sure they really understand what is involved with dog ownership, and whether a particular breed is right for them.

The breeder referral contact should be available to volunteer extensive periods of time to deal with inquiries.

Rotate your volunteers to prevent overload and burnout. Remember details, such as having someone available to cover for a volunteer who is on vacation or out of town. Notify the American Kennel Club when there is a change in your breeder referral contact awards@akc.org.

Develop a Website

All-Breed clubs are starting their own websites, listing their members and breeds, along with contact information. Make sure you obtain the members' permission to list information. Most people now prefer to have their e-mail address listed as opposed to phone and/or address. By using e-mail, coordinators can answer when their schedules permit, and not be interrupted by phone calls. Calls coming into the American Kennel Club will be directed to the American Kennel Club website Breeder Referral Search. Most National Breed Clubs have a website that is linked to www.akc.org. These sites give a wealth of information on their particular breed.

Several of the clubs also list their membership by state which makes it possible for a prospective buyer to find a breeder in their area.

To deal with inquiries, it is helpful to develop a checklist of appropriate questions that help screen the caller before giving out names and telephone numbers. The checklist should be kept by the phone. A sample copy of a checklist is printed at the end of this publication for easy reference. Along with the checklist, place a disclaimer in all the printed directories and on the club's website to limit the club's liability. The disclaimer should indicate that the club is providing names of breeders as a service to the prospective puppy buyer, but this in no way serves as an endorsement. Develop a list of breeders in your area that wish to have prospective buyers referred to them. Create guidelines that need to be met in order for them to be listed in your directory.

Phone Messaging System

As an alternative to giving out private numbers, some clubs report success with a voice messaging system. This is a separate phone line that serves as an answering machine. A message is recorded requesting information about the caller and assures them that a club member will call them back. A computerized voice lets callers, using touch-tone phones, choose from a "menu" of information, such as questions about a breed, breeding practices, registration or information about local sources. Dialing an access code retrieves messages. This system allows a number of club volunteers to access the system, so one club member is not responsible for answering all the calls or having their private lines tied up.

II. Advertise Your Program

First and foremost, make it as easy as possible for the public to find you. Individual clubs can help spread the word. List the Breeder Referral Service in telephone directories, local papers, veterinary offices, publications, and trade publications.

When advertising your program in telephone directories, consider using bold print, so that your ad will stand out more.

Approach your local newspaper about running a feature article on your service and on buying a puppy from a reputable source.

Time your ads around the holidays and Westminster; encourage people to do research, make an informed choice, and wait until after the holidays to bring home a new puppy.

Make veterinarians your partners in supporting responsible dog ownership and buying from responsible breeders. Ask if you can place breeder directories in the office; see if there is room on the veterinarian's bulletin board for a brief announcement. The American Kennel Club's Veterinary Outreach Program can supply a packet of materials for veterinary practitioners to facilitate your conversation. Finally, talk regularly with your veterinarian about the situation.

List your program in newsstand dog publications, subscription only publications and show catalogs. Another avenue to explore is local TV and radio talk shows. This is not only a good way to promote your program but great PR for your club.

Set up a table at club events to promote the Breeder Referral Program.

Provide fliers to local libraries, grocery store bulletin boards, pet supply stores, etc.

III. Network With Clubs And Organizations

Consult with other clubs in your area and find out what they are doing. Sharing information about what works and doesn't work will help your club avoid mistakes. If you have questions you may call the American Kennel Club at 919-233-9767, or contact us by e-mail at awards@akc.org.

IV. Evaluate And Refine Your Program

Is your program working? The best way to find out is to ask. Check back with callers and find out how they fared. Did they buy a puppy from a recommended source? Why or why not? Find out about their experience buying from the recommended source or why they went elsewhere. Ask if they would refer others to the service. Check with breeders who have been referred for their feedback on how the program is working and for suggestions to improve the program. Recruit new volunteers to help manage the program and bring in new ideas.

Remember as you set up your Breeder Referral Program, that you are taking positive steps to support responsible dog breeding and ownership. Your club can make an important difference in protecting the welfare of purebred dogs.

Checklist of Questions to Ask Callers

Are you purchasing the dog for yourself or as a gift for someone else?

Have you ever owned a dog? Specifically the breed you are looking for?

Is anyone in your family allergic to pets/dogs?

Will your landlord allow you to keep a dog?

Who will care for the dog; feed, housebreak, exercise, groom, train and take to the vet?

Where will you keep the dog?

Do you have a fenced yard (if caller lives in a house)?

Do you have children? How old are they?

Are you familiar with microchipping or tattooing and AKC Reunite?

Explain the importance of obtaining the American Kennel Club registration papers when buying a puppy. If a caller expresses doubts about dog ownership or has little knowledge about responsible dog ownership, offer to send the brochure "Before You Buy a Dog".

Urge callers to ask themselves: "Before I buy a dog………..

1. Do I really want a dog?
2. Can I afford to keep a dog?
3. Do I have time to spend training, grooming, and exercising a dog?
4. Will a dog fit into my lifestyle and my home?"