If you have decided that a dog is the right pet for you and you particularly want to get your new puppy from a breeder, then you have a monumental task ahead of you. You need to figure out which breeders are good and which ones are bad. This is much easier said than done.
If you aren’t set on adopting a puppy then read my “Should You Adopt a Puppy or an Adult Dog?” page. Puppies are hard work and an adult dog is a better choice for many people. Please don’t get a puppy on a whim and consider the possibility of adopting a dog or puppy from a shelter before making your choice.
If You Just Want a Pet Then Why Should You Care to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder?
Before I get into what you should look for in a breeder, I want to explain why you should care. First, you will avoid supporting a breeder who is using their dogs to make money with little regard for the well being of the dogs or the puppies that are produced. It is because of these unethical breeders that we have an overpopulation of dogs and shelters are overflowing. Also, you will greatly decrease your chances of having a dog with health or behavioral issues if you go to an ethical breeder. Okay, so what should you look for?
1. A Good Dog Breeder Only Breeds Dogs Who Are Health Tested
This is one thing that, in my opinion, is not negotiable. When I am looking for a puppy, the first thing I look for is health testing results. If the breeder makes excuses for their dog’s lack of health clearances then I would move on to another breeder.
The good news is that if you know what to look for, health tests are usually easy to verify. However, many good breeders have awful websites so you might have to ask for the health clearances but the breeder should be glad to send them to you.
Find your breed on AKC’s Health Testing Requirements page to find out which health problems you should expect your breeder to test for at a minimum. So, for example, a Golden Retriever like my Flynn should have received a passing score on his hips, elbows, cardiac, and yearly ophthalmologist tests before being bred at a minimum. Next, you should learn about individual clearances. Does the dog need to be retested every year or just once? What do the scores mean?
There are too many health tests for me to cover here but there is a lot of good information about the individual tests online. A good starting place is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and your breed’s breed club website.
2. A Good Dog Breeder Has Titles on at Least Some of Their Dogs in Performance Events and/or Conformation
Titles are not nearly as important as health clearances but it shows that breeder puts time and money into proving that the dogs are good examples of the breed. This is even more important if you want to compete with your new puppy in performance events. For example, if you want to compete in agility then you might want to look for a breeder who has agility titles on their dogs.
3. A Good Breeder Will Welcome a Visit From You to Meet Their Dogs and See Where They Live
This is another one that is nonnegotiable. Many breeders will not allow visitors when their puppies are very young because of contamination which is totally understandable. However, you should be able to visit, see where the adult dogs live, and where the puppies are raised before you make a final decision. Also, you should be able to meet both of the parents of your future puppy unless the dad doesn’t live with the breeder. It is common for great breeders to stud out and unfortunately when they do, they usually will not have the dad on site for you to meet.
4. A Good Breeder Will Ask You Questions
Good breeders really care about the well being of their puppies so they don’t send them to just any home. They will want to know what you are looking for in a dog and what kind of a life will you be able to provide for the dog. Good breeders know their breed and, more specifically, they know their lines so if they don’t feel that your expectations line up with the reality of living with one of their dogs then they might point you towards a different breeder, a different breed, or maybe suggest that an adult dog would better fit with your lifestyle. They are focused on placing their puppies in the right homes instead of just making money. If the breeder that you are talking to just wants to know how you will pay them, then find another breeder.
5. A Good Breeder Will Welcome Your Questions
No matter how informative the breeders website is, you will probably be left with some questions. The breeder should be willing to answer your questions about their breeding program, the parents of their litter, or other question that you might have. Also, like I said before, if the breeder doesn’t have health testing results on their website, then they should be happy to send them to you when you ask.
6. The Puppies and Adult Dogs Should Be Kept in a Clean, Safe Environment
This is pretty self explanatory. If you visit a breeder’s place and feel uneasy about the living conditions then move onto another breeder. Don’t buy a puppy in order to “rescue” him. While you might be able to save one puppy from a dangerous environment, you are supporting an unethical breeder in the process which will only lead him or her to produce more puppies in the same unsafe environment.
If you would like to rescue a puppy then that is absolutely fantastic! However, you should go about it through a reputable rescue organization. That way you will be helping a dog and your money will go towards saving more dogs who are in need instead of into the pocket of a person who is profiting off of unethical breeding.
7. A Good Dog Breeder Should Only Breed One or Two Breeds
I’m sure that there are a very few good breeders who breed more than two breeds but it is extremely rare. Most responsible breeders specialize and pour themselves into one or maybe two breeds. Most breeders who have several breeds aren’t as knowledgable about their breeds because they are splitting their attention in so many ways. If you get on a breeder’s website and see that they seem to have every breed or mix of breeds that a person could ask for, run!
8. A Responsible Breeder Sells Most of Their Puppies with Limited Registration and a Spay/Neuter Contract
In the United States, AKC registered puppies can be registered with “full registration” or “limited registration” and although I don’t know about all other countries, I know that the Canadian Kennel Club has “non-breeding agreement” registration which I think is similar to AKC’s limited registration.
Basically, full registration means that if the dog has puppies then those puppies can be registered with AKC. Limited registration means that the dog’s offspring cannot be registered. However, a dog with limited registration can still compete in all AKC events such as agility and obedience except for conformation shows.
Many fantastic breeders will sell some of their puppies with full registration but only the very best puppies and only to breeders who share their high standards. Many will only sell with full registration to established breeders with a proven track record of excellence. Also, many decide to only sell their puppies with limited registration. All of these are great but if a breeder is willing to sell any of their puppies with full registration to anyone for just an extra fee, then I would find another breeder. Good breeders want to protect their dogs from irresponsible breeders.
9. Willing to Take a Puppy Back
Responsible breeders try their best to place their puppies in permanent families but they know that unforeseen circumstances can happen and they don’t want their puppies to end up in shelters. Because of this, they will take the dog back at any time so that they can find him or her a new home. Most will require that they approve of the new home if you decide to give the dog away.
10. There Will Not Be a “Buy It Now” Option on Their Website
Like I said in my fourth point, responsible breeders will not sell their dogs to just anyone. They want to do their best to place their puppies with responsible owners who are prepared to keep the puppy for his or her entire life. Because of this they will not have an option on their website to buy a puppy or place a deposit before they have approved of the home.
Keep in mind that many great breeders don’t have great websites. So if they don’t, for example, have health testing results on their website, that can be okay as long as they will send the results to you when you ask. Also, this is not an all-encompassing list. There are countless red flags that can drive you away from a breeder. These ten are just some of the most important things to consider.
Talk to several breeders before you decide on one. If you can, go to a dog show and talk to people there who have the breed. Often they can have a wealth of information and can point you towards responsible breeders. Take your time, do your research, and I am sure that you will find the perfect puppy!
Have you had experience with breeders? Was it good or bad? What are some deal breakers for you when you look for a breeder? Let me know in the comments below!