How to Avoid a Chihuahua Scammer When Buying a Puppy
By Cara Ryckman of Terlingua Chihuahuas,
I watched my puppy ride away with his new family being loved on by the two kids in the back seat of the Suburban as a beaming mom turned around taking pictures while dad drove home. This family had a home that I long for with each of my pet puppies that I place, and happened to be the perfect home for this particular puppy. What bothered me was that a scammer had taken advantage of this family – an intelligent and nice family who was completely duped with little possibility of recouping their money. They had lost $1000 before they contacted me. What bothers me even more is that this is a very frequent occurrence. Almost every day, in my Chihuahua Facebook groups I see pictures of ads posted with a concerned buyer asking, “Do you think this is a scam?” Yes, it’s as much of a scam as the Nigerian Prince! And, every day, good people fall for it and send hard earned money to bad people.
Some quick ways to recognize a scam…all of these are not always going to be present, but if this is what you’re seeing, beware. Very photoshopped pictures of tinies giving them huge eyes and cartoonish features. None of the pics are anything alike (because they have stolen the pictures from other Chihuahua breeders). If it is a photo of a gorgeous top quality puppy, perhaps they have a really low price on it like $200-500 (this is just not going to happen, you get what you pay for!) Sometimes they do not have a facebook page or a website – if they do, they are very simple. Often, the wording is awkward, as if from someone who does not speak English as their first language. There is not a lot of information about the dogs on the site, no health testing listed, no show photos, no pedigrees. The words “teacup” and “micro” and “mini,” and a focus on the tinier the better (please see my article on tinies for why this is an issue). Different prices for males and females. The word “short coat” – the correct term is “smooth.” Tons of puppies always available, but parents are not shown on their site or facebook, and they don’t offer photos of them. They are going to let you “pick out” a puppy from a group of puppies. “Champion bloodlines” – no indication of quality. The focus of the ad, the facebook page, or the website is money – how much, when, there may even be a paypal button there on the website. The friends on the facebook are overwhelmingly foreign. Often they are expecting you to pick out and pay for a puppy who is an infant – some with their eyes not even open! If they mention a “courier” included in the price, this is odd – many of us will use puppy nannies, but it is not included in the price and that is something you pay directly to the puppy nanny for their services. They will not show you a different picture or a video of the puppy. There may be a “WEIRD” situation…”I accidentally sent you a check for $700 to pay for the shipping since the courier requires that you be the one to pay, can you send me a money order for $200 back since the price was only $500?” There’s a rush – hurry, hurry, hurry or your “perfect” puppy will be gone.
Some of this seems not rocket science, but these folks are slick and they draw people in with pictures of a cute adorable puppy and the prospective buyer is “in love.” Sometimes when we are in love, we don’t think. When we find that puppy of our dreams, we will move heaven and earth to get it. So, how do you avoid being scammed?
I always like to give the “quick advice” of go to the national breed club site at chihuahuaclubofamerica.org and check to see if the person is a national breed club member. If not in the national club, ask if they are in a regional breed club or an all-breed club. I will say that there are a few people I’d recommend for PETS in Chihuahuas who are not members of any of these clubs, and who do not show dogs. For those people who seem great but they are not club members, you are going to want to ask for references. Hopefully you are there on their Facebook, you can see that their puppy buyers are sharing photos of the dogs they bought from them growing up, these are people you can talk to and verify things with. You may also want to ask for references from OTHER Chihuahua breeders. If someone is reputable, they will have NO problem giving you names of other people who breed Chihuahuas who will vouch for them. Ask to speak to their veterinarian for a reference. If you have time (and please take the time! Please do not just grab the first available puppy you see!) you may even be able to go to a show and meet some breeders in person, see their dogs in person – win or lose it doesn’t matter, tomorrow is always another day in the dog show world. But you can see the look and the personalities of the dogs and you can see if the person is someone you feel comfortable with. There is not always a local show and in some places, you are never going to find a local reputable Chihuahua breeder; it is perfectly acceptable and commonplace to meet, get to know, and buy from someone on the internet. That said, please do take the time to get to know them!
You are going to want to use the internet to check them out. If you google my name “Cara Ryckman, chihuahuas” or “Terlingua Chihuahuas” you are going to get a lot of information. You are going to find my website, my Facebook, the Terlingua Chihuahuas Facebook, pictures of my dogs being shown, listings of my dogs in show catalogs, my dogs on other breeder or owner websites where they have bought a dog from me, articles I have written for magazines, my club affiliations, my Pinterest, my Twitter, my Instagram. If you google the scammer, you are not going to find ANYTHING. It’s 2020 – real people are not invisible on the internet. If you find this type of corroboration, it is going to help you feel reasonably sure it is not a scam.
Health testing is huge in any breed. Parents of puppies should be health tested before breeding. If someone says their dogs are health tested, it’s very easy to check them out. Go to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website at www.offa.org. What you are going to want to pay most attention to is that little orange box up in the right top corner. It says “Look up health tested dogs.” This little box gives you the ability to type in the name of any dog or its registration number and check to see if they have been tested and the paperwork submitted to OFA. If the breeder has tested the dogs and has not submitted the paperwork yet, they should have the applications fully filled out and signed by the vet who did the testing. They should be able to show you a copy of this. During our current pandemic I have a whole stack to send in, and I will admit I do wait and send in a group together to get a better rate as a rule. But I can prove I did the testing! I have NEVER seen a scammer health test (they don’t usually even have the dogs in the first place but use other people’s pictures). If this checks out, you can feel reasonably comfortable that it’s not a scam.
Reputable breeders don’t sit around with huge amounts of puppies available and set up like a store for you to pick from. They are not money focused. If you approach a reputable breeder with “How much?” as your inquiry, they are probably not even going to answer you. Price will of course come up during the conversation at some point, and nobody wants to waste a lot of time if the price is out of your range. If you are shopping for a car, you have a price point in mind…however, it is going to be very important to you that the car meets your needs. If you are adopting a child, the right match is extremely important. On both sides of the conversation, the focus when you buy a puppy should be finding the right match. You may be saying, “Well I’d like a Lambroghini, but what I can afford is a Kia.” Yes, but you can find a Kia from a reputable dealer who will have that Kia in great condition, with a warranty, or if you just call ads on Craigslist asking “how much?” you will end up with something that won’t be running right in a week or less.
Many reputable breeders are very busy people and they are not going to spend hours on the phone with you unless they have a puppy they feel is the right match. They are going to ask you questions like, are you looking for a lap cuddler or a social butterfly? Boy or girl? Longcoat or smooth? Pet or show? They are going to want to know have you had a Chihuahua or other toy dog before, and what happened to it? What did you love about your previous Chihuahua? Do you have kids – for some breeders they will not sell a Chihuahua to families with small children, but some will (that could be a whole article in itself for me – I have 7 kids with 5 of them being under the age of 12 and the youngest is 6. I grew up with Chihuahuas in the house from age 4. Kids raised correctly with dogs and with hard and fast rules and supervision in families are wonderful Chihuahua families. That said, some Chihuahuas like kids and some don’t. So it is all part of making the right match.) Do you have other dogs and what sizes and personalities are they? This is all very important information and you need a breeder who is going to ask you these questions. If they don’t, they may just not have anything available right now, which they will tell you. They will NOT be trying to sell you a puppy without asking you questions. Some want references. I like to go on gut feelings and I’m usually not wrong. Some have full applications you fill out. I do not, I like to have conversations. Many. I am not shy about telling someone the squeaky wheel gets the grease. When I have a litter, if I keep hearing from you that you LOVE the black longcoat male puppy and we talk about him for 8 weeks on and off in emails, when I evaluate that puppy at 8 weeks as a pet you will be the first one I think of. Why, because you LOVE him! We will then talk about his evaluation. He still may not be the right one and I need to chat with you about his cream brother, who REALLY fits what you have told me you’re looking for. I have had to tell a home no, that they were a GREAT home, but not the right home for THAT puppy. These are the type of conversations and the type of interaction you will have with a reputable breeder.
There are various groups on facebook who are sales groups who have people trying to give advice on identifying a scam. Some of this advice is very detrimental to a prospective puppy buyer as it will eliminate reputable breeders and present you as being wacky. I had a lady last year advised by a sales group who wanted me to take a picture of me, the puppy, a newspaper and a different colored coffee cup every day for a week. That’s crazy. Another breeder was ranting about her because it did just seem way out there, but I saw in the group where it was recommended. I explained to her some of the things I am putting in this article – I did not end up selling her a puppy, but she ended up asking another breeder for a video that mentions the date and that sounded much less “out there.”
You will hear advice that the breeder needs to let you come to their home, inspect their premises, meet the sire and dam, multiple visits through the puppy growing up, you name it. This is not today’s advice. There have been breeders murdered. There have been dogs and puppies stolen. There have been people beaten. Some people use this technique to case the joint, either for burglary or animal rights nutcases. We had a very special dog murdered by an intruder last year. As for seeing both parents, sometimes the breeder does not own both sire and dam – using a sire owned by someone else is certainly not the least expensive way to do things, but sometimes that sire has exactly what your girl needs for your program. I remember as a teenager hearing a horror story where a jealous competitor had a family handle parvo puppies then go to another breeder’s house and handle her dogs; tragedy struck. Now, we have to worry about COVID-19, so there will be yet another reason we aren’t going to have you handle our dogs and hang out at our house. These ways of determining reputability are not valid anymore, or were never valid.
I saw someone the other day that said if someone wants to talk in emails, they are a scam. This is simply not the case. We are in an electronic world. I am extremely busy with tons of kids, my dogs, our horses, our farm – I don’t have time to sit and talk for hours to puppy buyers when I don’t even have puppies available – I also have a lot of anxiety on the phone. Email is the way! Or messenger. Or text. That way when I have time I can get back to you – and I will! I think most reputable breeders prefer first contact be by email or message because we can look back at them; when we DO have something available, we are able to contact you! I do not mind talking on the phone with someone if it is important to them to hear my voice when a puppy is identified, and we are getting down to signing a contract and sending a deposit. Until then, written is best.
Speaking of deposits. Do not send deposits to people who have no puppies. Do not send deposits to people with infant puppies with their eyes not even open. I may not have everyone agree with me on this one, but I personally wouldn’t send a deposit until 8 weeks to ANYONE. A puppy could sugar out and die. Mom could lay on him or accidentally injure him. A puppy could have an entirely different temperament than what I’m looking for as a buyer. When I get a deposit and finalize everything with a contract, I’m taking the puppy off my website. We are talking about transportation. I’m still sending you photos and videos for the next few weeks or I may even put them up, but your puppy is YOUR puppy.
But you may be saying, how do I know that you really have the puppies if you are in Tennessee and I am in Washington State? You know because over the course of time, you have become my friend. You have got to know me. We’re emailing, maybe you’re on my personal Facebook even by that time, you are certainly on the Terlingua Chihuahuas Facebook. I have been putting up pictures EVERY WEEK on my litter page. From six weeks on, I have been putting up VIDEOS. You are going to see my family in the photos week to week – I have kids and they are loving on these puppies. When you are dealing with a scammer, they are not going to go to this much trouble – besides, they don’t really have the dogs!
Price…so what is the “right” price for a pet puppy? I have seen pet puppies from reputable breeders generally run $800 to $2000. A tiny may be more than that (please see my article on tinies for more information about that whole subject). If it’s an older puppy, a young adult, or a retiree it may be less. I had a lady this last week tell me someone quoted her $6000 for a baby PET puppy. I have paid that much for a Chihuahua but it was a Champion male proven as a great stud dog who was the quality to go back out and special. This is way out of line for a pet puppy and if it’s not a scam, it’s crazy. You can find a very nice puppy from a reputable breeder for the price range I mentioned above. You are not going to find Craigslist prices with a reputable breeder – yes, you can go on Craigslist and find $200 Chihuahuas but I guarantee you they don’t look like the standard, nor are the parents health tested, nor were the puppies raised like they are at the home of a reputable breeder with shots, worming, health care, socialization, care put into the breeding decision, and most importantly lifetime breeder support.
Payment….we have already discussed no crazy early deposits. I’m going to advise not until 8 weeks, and a Chihuahua puppy should not be leaving its breeder until at least 10 weeks (some much older, they need to be eating well! There needs to be no concerns that the breeder has. The breeder knows that puppy better than anybody – they are going to make the best choice on when.) How should you pay? If you are comfortable with the breeder the way you should be, it shouldn’t matter how you pay. Most reputable breeders are not going to have a PayPal button or a cart on their website, but using PayPal is not a red flag. Using PayPal friends and family so that PayPal does not take out huge fees is not a red flag. Facebook pay seems to work out well. I like there to be a record of what I’m doing. I do not like to send money orders. I do not like to do Walmart pay. This is my personal preference. Bank wire is inconvenient, but some people prefer it. I hear a lot of people talking about Zelle. When you get to the point of payment, just make sure it doesn’t sound crazy…there are no ‘overage’ charges that you will be paying them back, and you know who you are sending it to. I really recommend at least a simple contract (a reputable breeder is generally going to have one!) that states what you are doing. It could be as simple as “Seller is providing an AKC Chihuahua puppy registration number x and Buyer is paying x.” If you ever did have to pursue it, the contract will help a judge to understand the agreement made for you to send money to someone.
A quick word on contracts. Some people use an extremely simple contract, maybe one page. Some people use a longer contract. Some are more explanatory, and have information that will help you as the buyer to know what to do and when to do it. Make sure that there is nothing in the contract that you feel uncomfortable with. For instance, mine says the puppy comes back to me if you ever have to rehome the puppy. I want to know where my puppy is, I want to be the one to place my puppy in the new home. I’m reasonable – if Aunt Cindy wants to take the beloved puppy to keep him in the family, I’m just going to have Aunt Cindy sign the contract with me and let her know I’m always here for questions, problems, and help. As my contract says, you could buy a puppy from any source and you chose to buy one from me – so you agreed to this when you bought the puppy. I have heard of some very shady deals going on with requirements of breeding and other craziness – in my opinion, pets are family pets and they shouldn’t be required to be bred. Puppies back is something a show breeder might agree with another show breeder on, but shouldn’t involve a pet owner. There are many reputable breeders out there who agree. Don’t sign anything you’re not ready to follow, or that seems strange to you. A reputable breeder will thoroughly explain their contract and why something is included in there. A note on scammers – scammers are NOT going to have contracts, although some less than reputable breeders do. Scammers do not want to sign anything saying they’ll take a puppy back, as there is no puppy. They don’t want anything in writing. The contract protects the breeder, the buyer, and most importantly, the puppy.
I have on my website that I am happy to help anyone whether someone buys a Chihuahua from me or not. And I do. I just prefer to do so BEFORE you have been taken advantage of by a scammer. Hope this article helps you in your search…go SLOW, get to KNOW someone, take your time and good luck in finding your next Chi best friend!
Note: Canadian Kennel Club does refer to smooths as "short coats," but American Kennel Club refers to them as "smooth." If you are talking to a Canadian breeder, this is an acceptable term.