What To Look For In and
How To Find A Bichon Breeder

By Steven P. Williams

You’ve Done Your "Homework"

Hopefully, by the time you have reached this point, you believe the Bichon is the right breed because you have researched the other breeds that are available, you have thoroughly researched the Bichon Frise breed and you have truthfully evaluated the time you have to devout to a Bichon, the home that you can provide, and the financial ability you have to care for a Bichon. If you haven't already, please read: So You Think You Want A Puppy/Dog?--The Right Way To Start and Thinking About Getting A Bichon Frise?

Puppy / Adult / Rescue / Male / Female

If you have done your "homework," you may have already determined your preference as to whether you want a puppy, an adult, or a rescue (see the Bichon ResQ web site) and whether you want a male or female. If you haven’t absolutely made up your mind, that’s ok too because as you start to see what is available, you may change your mind. But, if you really have a preference, then just because the Bichon you think you want is not available, don’t settle for something else (although you still may be happy) and don’t lower your standards concerning from whom you will get a Bichon. Just be prepared to wait until what you want is available !

"Pet" / "Show" Quality

You also may have already determined whether you want a pet for a companion or if you want, in addition to a pet, a Bichon that you will want to show (with the possibility of breeding). In general, breeders refer to some puppies/dogs as "pet quality" as they have determined that the Bichons should not be bred (or shown in conformation), should be spayed/neutered, and placed in homes strictly as a pets/companions. Usually a breeder will determine that a Bichon is pet quality as the dog may have some type of "fault" in relation to the Bichon "Standard" or the Bichon just does not appear to have equal or better qualities to "offer the breed." This could mean that the Bichon may have a "bad bite" (placement of the teeth in the mouth is not in accordance with the standard--a scissor bite), or the Bichon may be too small or too large, or have too long of a back, or the front legs may be "eastie/westie", or maybe the Bichon just does not have that "showmanship" attitude. These types of characteristics should not make any real difference to someone who is looking for a pet/companion. A pet quality dog is the "type" of dog that most of the "educated" general public desires or should desire.   Most people don't have the time, desire, or financial resources to acquire enough knowledge of the Bichon and to properly breed a Bichon.  In no way should a pet quality Bichon be viewed as an "inferior" dog that can not provide all the fun, interaction, and companionship as a "show quality" Bichon.  They just should not be bred as they don’t appear to have a "betterment" quality to offer the breed.  If you think you want a "show quality" Bichon, then for you to even be considered as an potential owner by a reputable breeder, you should have most certainly done all your "homework." This should include attending some conformation shows. You should also be prepared for the breeder to scrutinize you even more than what should be done for a pet quality owner. Any reputable breeder will have to have the utmost comfort and trust in you before they allow you to own or co-own an adult "intact" male or female Bichon. You are going to have to prove yourself and this may take some time. Why is this necessary? It is not only the reputable Breeder’s reputation that is at stake, but it is the Breed itself! If any of this seems a little harsh (or snobbish) it is not. Also, if you are having trouble understanding this, then I can assure you that you should probably not be seeking to obtain a show quality dog at this time. You have not done enough research and learned what dogs and breeding are all about. I promise you that it will make you a better person (whether you think you want a pet or show quality dog) to continue with your research and discussions with breeders until the "revelation" finally occurs.

"Reputable Breeder" According To Steven

First, there are no absolutes! But, in general these are the following criteria that I would look for in a breeder and their breeding and puppy placing practices. If they are not present, I would not buy a Bichon from them !   In general, do not accept any excuses from a breeder as to why they do not follow these practices:

Health Checks On Sire And Dam:
The breeder should have had general and specific health checks performed on both the Sire and Dam (mother and father) prior to the Bichons being bred. It is important that these health checks to have been done on both the Sire and the Dam. If the breeder only owns the Dam, then he/she should have required the owner of the Sire to have had the same health checks performed on him. In addition to more routine general health exams, the following specific health checks should have been performed:

CERF - Eyes
Both the Sire and Dam should have been examined by an eye specialist who determined that as of the time of the exam that both Bichons were free from eye diseases. A "regular" veterinarian can not perform the extensive exam. The breeder should be able to produce CERF certificates indicating that both Bichons passed such eye exams. Since eye diseases can always develop, the CERF certificates are only "good" for one year and additional exams are required to obtain new certificates. You should make sure that the CERF certificates were valid as of the time of the mating of the Sire and Dam.

You should know that even if a reputable breeder has ensured that the Sire and Dam has been CERF’d, there is no guarantee that the puppy that you obtain will not develop eye diseases in the future. Currently, there is a concern for juvenile cataracts in the Bichon. The problem is that while these cataracts could show up in a very young Bichon, it appears that the on-set of these cataracts could occur when the dog reaches the ages of 4 to 7 years. The dilemma for breeders and the breed (until DNA tests can be developed which will enable us to determine who is carrying the affected gene) is that you can not wait until the dog is 4 to 7 years old to breed. So what good is the CERF? Well, by performing the CERF, a reputable breeder can at least know at a minimum that the Bichons being bred do not have any eye diseases at the time of breeding. Additionally, the results of CERF exams, over time, can point to potential carriers and affected Bichons which can help determine which lines should not be closely bred. At least by having these exams performed, a reputable breeder is doing everything humanly possible at this time to ensure that the healthiest Bichons are being bred. For more information see CERF.

OFA - Hips
Both the Sire and Dam should have had their hips x-rayed and the x-rays examined to determine if the hips are free from hip dysplasia. A breeder’s veterinarian performs the x-ray and the x-rays are sent into OFA for evaluation by three independent veterinarians. The hips either do not pass (indicating malformed hip sockets and/or heads of femurs or there is not a good "snug fit") or there are three passing grades: Fair, Good, and Excellent. Generally, Bichons with passing grades can be bred, but some breeders may think it a good practice not to breed two Bichons who both have been determined to be Fair. Preliminary OFA determinations can be performed, but a final OFA determination will not be made until a dog reaches the age of 24 months. The breeder should be able to produce OFA certificates indicating that both Bichons passed such hip exams. Do not accept a breeder’s excuse that they have never had any Bichons with hip problems or that they can tell by the way their Bichons move that they don’t have any hip problems in their line as to why they don’t perform the OFA exams. For more information see OFA. {Note: There is another check for hip dysplasia that is called PennHip.  It can be performed on younger dogs and some believe that it may be a better indicator of determining canine hip dysplasia.  If a breeder indicates they have had this type of evaluation performed on the Sire or Dam, then you should be able to view the documentation (just like the OFA certificates) indicating the results of this type of evaluation.  At this time, however, I believe that most Bichon breeders are still using the "standard" OFA determination.}

Patella Exams / OFA
Both the Sire and Dam should have had their patellas (rear knee caps) examined to determine that there is not any luxation (looseness or "bad fit" in the knee cap). The exam is performed by a breeder’s veterinarian. A breeder can subsequently send in to OFA a certification by his veterinarian (on a form from OFA).  OFA will then provide a breeder with a certificate of passing patellas. Unfortunately, currently many Bichon breeders do not get this certificate. I am now getting this certificate and I wish more Bichon breeders would (You hear that Bichon Breeders out there! While it is just a piece of paper, it is proof to a potential new owner that your vet has done this exam.). At a minimum any reputable breeder you are dealing with should be aware of the patella problems in Bichons and you could ask them if they have at least some sort of certification from their vet that they did examine the patellas. Why not go ahead and ask the breeder if they have the OFA certificate for patellas for both the Sire and Dam. Maybe by this being displayed on this web site and by the educated public demanding to see such certificates, it will force more reputable Bichons breeders to go this extra step (I can only hope). If you are dealing with a breeder who does not appear to know about the patella problem or does not think it could be in their line, then I would not obtain a Bichon from that breeder.

It must be emphasized that even when reputable breeders do their best by performing these health checks on the Sire and Dam, there is NO absolute guarantee that you will get a Bichon that will not develop health problems later.  It should hopefully, limit the chances. With inheritable diseases, we are dealing with the complications of genes. Some great strides are being made in genetic studies. This will hopefully allow us in the future to perform more definitive DNA tests that should help limit even further or eliminate from the breeding "stock," Bichons that are affected or which are carriers of health diseases. But until then, at least reputable breeders are doing the best they can with these other health checks and the public should support these efforts by only obtaining dogs from such breeders.

ONE FINAL NOTE: Currently, I believe that most, if not all of the health problems are being carried around in the genes of MOST Bichons. I believe there are numerous Bichons that are carrying the genes that may cause patellar luxation, juvenile cataracts, liver defects/diseases, heart problems, epilepsies, autoimmune diseases, and cancers.  If a reputable breeder is honest enough to discuss that they have discovered some health problems in their lines, then you should not necessarily turn and run the other way or justify that you will just go ahead and pay less and take your chances with a puppy from a pet store, backyard breeder, or broker.  A reputable breeder should not knowingly continue breeding Bichons that are significantly affected (dogs that exhibit and physically manifest the defect/disease). But, just because a Bichon has turned up in their line with a problem, it does not necessarily mean that a Bichon that you obtain will have the problem. Yes, it could mean that it does increase the chances. But also remember that a breeder may have never had a problem that they are aware of and you could get a puppy and those darn genes could come together in such a way that you may have the first problem that the breeder has discovered. If you don’t feel comfortable with getting a Bichon out of some lines that may have "carriers" or "affected" dogs, that’s ok. You can tell a reputable breeder and they should be willing to accept your concerns. With Full Disclosure by a reputable breeder, however, you may be willing to take a chance. You, of course, should be willing to live with whatever the genes may produce. In my opinion, with Full Disclosure, I believe you are still much better off obtaining a Bichon from a reputable breeder who may have some "known" problems lurking out there and is doing his/her best to "breed away" from such problems, instead of obtaining a Bichon from a backyard breeder, broker, or pet store.  There is no knowledge of, or concern for, any health problems from these latter sources.  Without such knowledge, dogs that are carriers (or even worse, affected) are being bred over and over again. Be wary of any "breeder" who thinks their Bichons could not potentially have any health problems.

Knowledgeable Breeder Who Shows / Active With Clubs:
Read Carefully: Just because a breeder shows his/her Bichons (or has them shown) or he/she is a member of a national breed club or local breed or all breed club, that does not necessarily mean that he/she is reputable and that you should obtain a Bichon from them. However, if I were looking for a Bichon, I would not obtain a Bichon from a breeder, unless they were somehow actively involved with showing and/or with breed clubs.

In my opinion, a reputable breeder has to be somewhat active in showing and/or with the clubs, to stay abreast of new developments in the breed and to obtain and maintain knowledge of the breed. It is only through this constant involvement that one can continue to learn how Bichons are being bred within the "standard," to learn how one's Bichons and breeding practices are staying within and moving toward that standard--including the weaknesses within one's lines, and to determine Bichons to which a breeder will breed their Bichons in hopes of improving the breed. Even after years of experience there is not a point in time where a breeder will know all there is to know about Bichons and it will no longer be necessary for them to be actively involved with showing and clubs. Learning about Bichons is not, and never will be, a static process!

Although not always, the Sire and Dam of the puppies from reputable breeders in the United States will generally be finished champions.  In some other countries, obtaining champions is much more difficult than in the United States and therefore non-champions will be bred. Reputable breeders try to ensure that their dogs are finished, as this is a further confirmation that their Bichons generally are within the standard.  But, just because a breeder does not finish one here or there and they breed an unfinished Bichon, do not take that as a sign that they are not reputable.  Maybe at that time, the breeder did not have the financial resources to finish the Bichon.   As a rule of thumb, however,  many of a reputable breeders dogs will be finished champions and they will breed to finished champions.  Be careful, many backyard breeders love to promote that there are some champions in the puppies pedigrees.  Ask to look at the pedigrees of the Bichon puppies.  After looking at one from a backyard breeder and one from a reputable breeder you should begin to see a difference.  For an example of a pedigree, you can look at the pedigree of a previous litter: Pedigree of Bestla's Litter. {Note: If you don't know how to read a pedigree, the sire is on "top" and the dam is on the "bottom." Ch before a name means the Bichon obtained the conformation Champion title.}  

Advertisement Of Puppies For Sale:
Reputable breeders do not advertise that they have puppies for sale in the local newspapers. Also, they generally will not have advertisements in the "classified ads" of general dog magazines nor on general "pets for sale" or "breeder" web pages. In most instances, in my opinion, the people who advertise in the aforementioned places are backyard breeders, brokers, puppy mills, etc.  Reputable breeders also do not sell their puppies on the side of the road.  Reputable breeders usually have more than enough people wanting their puppies and they are found by the public doing their "homework." Yes, that means that it will be "tougher" for you and that you will most likely have to wait for your puppy. But, isn’t that the way it should be. If breeding was only left up to knowledgeable reputable breeders: Yes, there would even be fewer dogs to place and people in general would always have to wait even longer for puppies, but then there would not be the hundreds of thousands of unwanted dogs that are abandoned and destroyed in the shelters every year!

Requirement of Spay/Neuter of Pets / Contracts for Care:
Reputable breeders will require the spaying/neutering of Bichons that are being placed solely as pets. This is to protect the breed to ensure that a Bichon, which does not have any betterment qualities to offer the breed, is not bred. In addition, it is to ensure that someone (who does not yet have enough knowledge of the breed and proper breeding practices) is not able to breed the Bichon.  Most reputable breeders have contracts that require the spaying/neutering of pets and which require the owner to properly maintain the Bichon. If this does not occur, the breeder has the right to take back the dog. Also, most contracts may allow for the breeder to take back the Bichon should an owner no longer be able to care for the dog. The contract should allow for you to be able to take the Bichon puppy to a Veterinarian within a day or two and if any serious defects are found, you should be able to return the puppy for a full refund (unless a breeder has fully disclosed any congenital defects and you are still agreeing to purchase the puppy under those conditions).  For show/breed quality Bichons, a breeder’s contract will usually require that the breeder retain a co-ownership interest in the Bichon and may require among other things: pre-approval of the breeding of the Bichon, to which dog the Bichon will be bred, and possibly under what conditions the puppies will be placed. Some contracts are very detailed and strict (mine are!). This should not bother you. Everything in the contract should be for the protection of the Bichon, the breed, the breeder and you. You should read a contract thoroughly and if there is something in a breeder’s contract that troubles you, discuss it with the breeder. If you are going to maintain a Bichon properly, you should not have anything to worry about with a contract, but be sure you understand your responsibilities.

Age of Placing Puppies:
Reputable breeders would never allow puppies to be placed in homes at 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 weeks of age. In general, most reputable breeders will place their puppies between 9 and 12 weeks of age.

Registration Certificates / Paperwork:
Reputable Breeders should have all the proper AKC registration paperwork available when you are ready to obtain a Bichon. Some breeders may hold back the papers, and provide them to you when you get the Bichon spayed/ neutered. But, you should be able to examine the original registration papers at their home.  For puppies, look to see if the name of the person you are getting the dog from is the name reflected as Breeder or Owner on the papers.  AKC names the owner(s) of the dam of the puppies as the Breeder.  If the Breeder listed is not the person from whom you are purchasing the Bichon, you could be dealing with a broker.   There should be a reasonable explanation that can be verified if it is not the name of the person with whom you are dealing.  You can also look at the registration papers as an additional check on two of the three health checks mentioned above (You should, however, still look at the certificates from CERF and OFA).   AKC will put CERF numbers and OFA-Hip numbers next to the Sire and Dam's name on the registration papers.  AKC does not currently track the OFA-Patella numbers. In general do not accept the excuse from a "breeder" that they will mail you the papers later. In reality, breeders could have waited too long to mail the paperwork to get the registration papers back from AKC or I have heard the excuse that there is a "delay with the AKC".  While these could be true, I think I would decline obtaining a dog until I saw the original registration papers or had enough proof that the papers were sent. If that means you have to wait or find another breeder so be it.

On the subject of AKC papers, there is a big misconception by the general uneducated public when they hear the word "AKC." When dogs or puppies are eligible for AKC registration that only means that the parents of the dog were registered with AKC. That is it!  "AKC" does NOT give any assurances or indications of the quality of the dog (or unfortunately if the dog is even purebred because of "breeders" fraudulently completing the paperwork). Remember this and tell your friends! If you are buying a purebred, you do want the dog to be AKC registerable or registered, but this alone should not be what you are relying on when you get a Bichon from someone.  Also, be aware that there are some other "Registration Organizations" which will allow a "breeder" to indicate and provide you with some "papers."  If a breeder in the USA can not provide you with certificates/papers from AKC (American Kennel Club), then I would decline to purchase a puppy from them.

Condition Of Puppies / Number Of Breeds:
As a general rule, most reputable breeders do not have 3, 4, 5, or even more different breeds that they are breeding/raising. In my opinion this usually means that such a person/organization is a large backyard breeder, broker, or puppy mill.  Also, the puppies of a reputable breeder should look and act healthy.  There should not be any discharges from the eyes or nose.  The gums should be pink, not white.  Also, they should have been given at least one set of shots and probably two (Remember puppies should not be sent off to a new home until about 10 to 12 weeks).

Both Sire And Dam On Site "Myth":
I think the general public is told that a reputable breeder should have both the Sire and Dam on site for you to view. If the breeder owns both the Sire and Dam, or they still have the Sire on site, that is great. But, many reputable breeders may just own the Dam and they sent her off to be bred with the Sire. This could be across country. Therefore a reputable breeder may not have the Sire on site. So if there is just the Dam on site, don’t let that alarm you. You should, however, be able to ask questions and get information about the Sire and even be able to contact the owner of the Sire.  You should ask to view the Dam.  The Dam may not look so great (i.e., shaved down or stained) due to having puppies and sometimes a breeder who has pride in his/her Bichons may act a little reluctant or be a little embarrassed, but you should still be able to look at the Dam.

How To Find A Bichon Breeder

If you don’t look in the paper, where do you find a Breeder? The best way is to contact the National Breed Club and/or the Local Breed club (if there is one). Also, you can go to local All Breed conformation dog shows. In So You Think You Want A Puppy/Dog?--The Right Way To Start, I have outlined how to find out where/when All Breed dog shows will be held. The Bichon Frise Club of America has a Breeder’s Directory listed on their web page. This is not a complete list of all the members of the national club, but rather members who have paid a nominal fee to be listed. Do though remember what I indicated above under Knowledgeable Breeder Who Shows / Active With Clubs.

Use these resources as a starting point to contact Bichon breeders. Call them, talk with them, meet them. I would strongly suggest that you contact more than one breeder, maybe at least three. You are probably going to have to talk with several because most breeders will not have puppies on demand. You still need to contact them and talk with them so they begin to learn about you. Also, you should be able to ask reputable breeders for phone numbers of people who have obtained Bichons from them in the past, so that you can talk with these owners. If a breeder does not have any puppies, don’t expect them to put you on a waiting list. They will give you a time when they may breed again or they may know of someone who will be having a litter in the next several months. You should stay in touch and call back about every 8 weeks.  Also, you might want to consider filling out an Application and mailing it to one or more breeders.   This will tell them a lot about you and the breeder can keep it on file.

I have created an Breeder Application that can be printed out. This is .pdf format and you need Acrobat Reader. If you don't have Acrobat Reader:

Click Here to download free Acrobat Reader

{Here is a Microsoft Word (.doc) format:
Breeder Application
or Here is HTML format:
Breeder Application }

Feel free to print, complete, and mail it to a breeder.

This could mean that you will easily wait 6 months to over a year.

Yes, the price will probably be more than what the backyard breeders and brokers are selling them for in the newspaper or on the side of the road. But, you get what you pay for. The additional cost, which may only be $500 to $1000 more (if even that much) than the cost of Bichons listed in the newspaper or found in a pet store, is NOT that much more money when you think that you are obtaining a companion that will hopefully live 12-16 years. With a reputable breeder, you are paying for some of the additional costs that the breeder incurs to perform the health checks. You are also paying for someone who will be there to help mentor you and offer you advice as you raise your Bichon.

I know you are saying that all I want is a pet and not a show dog. Why should I go through all of this trouble and expense?

Again I say, you are hopefully looking for a companion for the next 12-16 years, not something that will be replaced after 5 years.   Also, why not get the benefit of a reputable breeder who is putting in all the knowledge, time, and effort to breed a litter from which he/she may want to keep one of the puppies to continue their line and there happens to be littermates that will be placed in "pet" homes.

Because of the aforementioned waiting time and price, this is where many of you, even after going through all of the trouble to learn the proper way to get a Bichon, will give up and get a Bichon from a "breeder" who does not breed Bichons or place puppies under all the aforementioned criteria. To you, who are more fortunate than 90% of the public that does not have the benefit of this knowledge, I say good luck !  But, I also do not want to later on hear about all of your problems.   Additionally, if you are lucky enough to get a Bichon that may not have any problems, I hope that you can live with yourself knowing that you probably financially supported someone who is part of the problem of the overpopulation of poorly bred and poorly placed Bichons (of which the health and temperament problems other uneducated people are experiencing, or which are being dumped or are having to be euthanized).  As an alternative, if you are not going to wait for a Bichon from a reputable breeder, then why not at least consider again providing a home for a rescue? They will not be puppies and will generally be older dogs with whom you will probably have to do some training.  But you would have to be training a puppy anyway and at least you would be helping provide a home for a dog (most of which are in a rescue situation because of breeders that aren't reputable!)

To those of you who really desire a puppy from a reputable breeder and can "stay the course" and wait and get your Bichon the right way, while there are never any guarantees, I bet if I ever meet you, you will say "You were right!"

Good Luck !
and if you can educate someone else, please try!

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