What’s In Your Puppy Contract?

Matt Matasci Matt Matasci · Updated February 23, 2024

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Breeders frequently (but not universally) require customers to sign a contract when they purchase a puppy. For the buyer, it might seem unnecessary. But at the end of the day, a puppy contract is signed to protect the breeder, the client, and the dog.

What is a puppy contract? Why do you need one? What should the contract include? This guide will answer all of these questions.

Why Do You Need a Puppy Contract?

First-time buyers may balk at the idea of a contract for purchasing a puppy. After all, they’re spending a substantial amount of money – shouldn’t they have complete control over what they do with their new dog? Explain to potential buyers that there are several practical reasons for signing a contract:

  • It sets your expectations of the owner’s responsibility towards the puppy’s medical and financial obligations.
  • It codifies everything you and the buyer discuss before purchasing the puppy. The puppy-buying process can be overwhelming for new buyers. The contract is a helpful reference, outlining the terms discussed prior to purchase.
  • When the buyer follows the terms of the contract, it protects your reputation as a trusted and ethical breeder.
  • It protects the integrity of the breed by barring the buyer from unethical breeding.
  • It’s an opportunity for you to impart advice and share your philosophy and expectations about raising the dog.
  • It reassures the buyer that they’re working with a reputable breeder.
  • The contract serves as a legal guide in case of disputes.

Remember, a puppy contract is not mandatory. For the reasons stated above, a contract is mainly used to protect the health and safety of the dog and your reputation. Be sure the buyer is made aware in advance that there will be a puppy contract. It shouldn’t be a surprise for the buyer when they arrive to purchase the dog.

Some experts recommend that you present the contract along with a puppy kit. The kit can include documents and paperwork, the pedigree certificate, the dog’s registration certificate and identification, health screening results, and other medical-related information. It can also have fun gifts for the puppy and its new owners, like toys, treats, and food samples.

What Should Be in Your Contract?

So now you understand why you’ll have your customer sign the puppy contract. But what exactly should be included in the document? There are a few specific things that should be in every puppy contract.

The Basics

There are a few items that should be in every puppy contract. These include the puppy’s American Kennel Club (AKC) registration number, the name and registration numbers of the sire (male parent) and dam (female parent), and the purchase price of the puppy.

Return to Breeder Clause

Most puppy contracts include a “return to breeder clause” in case of something unforeseen like financial trouble, family issues, or health problems. The buy-back agreement gives you the “right of first refusal” if the buyer can’t keep the puppy. This keeps the puppy from being sent to a shelter or resold – though some breeders allow the owner to transfer the dog to another loving family or close friend of the buyer. What’s important is that you as the breeder always know where the puppy is and who is taking care of it.

Health Guarantees

While it’s not possible to be 100% sure that the puppy you’re selling will be healthy, the best breeders provide a health guarantee. What does a health guarantee mean?

  • You’ll offer a replacement puppy of equal or greater value in the case of some genetic defects up to a certain age.
  • Conditions that are usually protected by this guarantee include severe hip dysplasia and epilepsy.
  • You can also include a clause that requires the owner to limit strenuous exercise on hard surfaces and jumping until the puppy reaches a certain age.
  • Most puppy contracts include a temperament guarantee. This is another protection for the buyer and certifies that the puppy will have the temperament that is characteristic of its breed. This clause should include a time frame during which the puppy may be returned.
  • Include a requirement for the owner to take the puppy to their vet within a few days of purchase. The vet will check everything about the puppy and confirm that it’s healthy.

The contract should also indicate that in the case of any legal dispute, it will be resolved in your jurisdiction – in the unlikely scenario you’re dealing with multiple disputes, it’s important that you can attend to them locally. It should say the buyer and seller have the right to pursue legal action and not just go through arbitration or mediation.

Other Items to Include in a Puppy Contract

Other items that are often included in puppy contracts include naming requirements – new puppies must be individually registered with the AKC. There is a difference between the dog’s registered name and its “call name.” The registered name isn’t what you call the puppy at home. Instead it’s a longer moniker that incorporates the breeder’s kennel name and sometimes even the names of the co-breeder or stud-dog owner. This name is only used at AKC events – the owner can come up with any “call name” they want!

Other less-common requirements found in puppy contracts include requiring a fenced yard, rules about small children in the home, and ensuring the future home doesn’t have decks or steep railing from which the puppy can fall. Another clause found in many puppy contracts indicates that you cannot guarantee the color of the puppy as it ages.

Pet Dog Versus Show Prospect

Whether the dog is considered “pet quality” or “show quality” will significantly affect what is in the pet contract. When you’re negotiating a sale discuss whether or not the buyer is looking to show or breed their new dog or if it will be a family pet.

Puppy Contract for Pet Dogs

If the dog is not considered show quality it’ll be sold with a limited registration – meaning it’s registered, but any litters produced by the dog aren’t eligible for registration. The dog can participate in AKC events with the exception of conformation (the 25 cent word for dog shows).

If you wish, include a clause in the contract that allows you to challenge the dog’s pet status at a certain point when the dog has matured. There are times when a puppy that didn’t seem to be show quality or breeding quality blossoms into a dog that is.

If the puppy is of pet quality, the contract should also include a spay/neuter requirement. The long-held practice is for the dog to undergo the procedure before nine months of age, but more recently there’s been debate about the proper timing to spay/neuter.

Sex hormones play an important role in a dog’s development. Health issues may arise if a puppy is spayed/neutered too young. Smaller breeds (under 45 pounds projected size) can undergo the procedure between 6-9 months but larger breeds should wait between 12-18 months.

Puppy Contract for Show Prospects

If the dog is deemed show quality and will participate in conformation and/or breeding, the contract will look quite different from that of a pet quality puppy.

First, you should find out whether the owner wants to show the dog themselves. If they don’t, you can add a clause to the contract that requires an evaluation of the puppy at a certain age and if they’re show-quality, you can show them yourself. Or you can stipulate that the owner has to hire a professional handler to show the dog. Another option is to only sell the show-quality puppy on a co-ownership basis.

Co-ownership Contract

While co-ownership is a common practice between breeders and owners, the AKC frowns on it because it can get messy. Despite this disapproval, the organization recognizes co-ownership but doesn’t acknowledge one owner as primary. It’s important to make a co-ownership contract as detailed as possible. Of course, it’s impossible to imagine every scenario that could arise.

What are the reasons for co-ownership? Sometimes the new owner needs a mentor for grooming and showing, for breeding a stud dog, or for raising its first litter. You’ll be expected to provide half of the labor/costs of tending to the new litter if the buyer is paying full price.

Pros of Co-Ownership

  • The benefit for the owner is a reduced cost – often with the stipulation that they’ll provide you with stud services and/or a puppy from the new litter.
  • Protects the puppy from being bred in an unethical manner.
  • Can also be beneficial towards furthering a top show dog’s career. You may be required to help the owner pay for dog show expenses or even handle the dog. Grooming instruction, handling instruction, training instruction, etc.
  • Breeding mentorship for the new owner.

Cons of Co-Ownership

  • The owner may not want the input/mentorship of a breeder
  • The owner’s actions have even more impact on your ethical reputation
  • Owners may decide after the fact they don’t like stipulations in the contract, which can be legally messy and expensive
  • The owner has to complete the requirements in the contract in order to get full ownership.
  • If the owner is given a reduced price they’ll likely be required to give puppies back.

Breeding Rights

Before the puppy goes home with its new owner, you’ll need to decide if it will have breeding rights. Some breeders require new owners to show the dog if they wish to breed it. This can result in some lost sales – though high-performing show dogs attached to your kennel can help improve your reputation. The contract should include the following if the show dog is going to be bred:

  • Outline the requirements for breeding approval because owners will need mentorship from an experienced breeder.
  • Indicate if the owner is purchasing the puppy intending to breed it with one of their own dogs.
  • What breed-appropriate health screenings the dog must undergo and the required results.
  • The agreement should designate who will decide on the breeding match.
  • Any puppy-back arrangements.
  • Other financial details around breeding.
  • The contract should indicate that no dog can be bred until they’re at least 18 months old.

How Will You Deliver the Puppy?

Another issue that often pops up during negotiations is the matter of getting the puppy home happy and healthy. As a professional breeder, you do everything to ensure you’re selling the highest-quality puppies; if the owner can’t come to pick up the puppy, you have to trust a third party to get it past the finish line. It’s important to find a professional pet transporter you can trust.

That’s why CitizenShipper is such a beneficial resource for breeders. Its top-rated online marketplace has hundreds of transport professionals. The profiles feature thousands of reviews from previous customers as well as photos of themselves and their vehicle. The instant messaging feature lets you discuss the terms of the trip and feel comfortable with the transporter you select.

Plus, you’ll save money because the drivers on CitizenShipper compete for your business. Post a listing for puppy shipping today and get your puppies through the last mile to their forever homes!