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How to Find a Reputable Breeder (and Avoid Puppy Mills)

How to Find a Reputable Breeder (and Avoid Puppy Mills)

I’m tired of seeing videos in my social media feeds of dogs rescued from unscrupulous breeders and puppy mills. It makes me feel badly and I bet you feel the same. Instead of feeling helpless about the plight of these poor animals, we can educate ourselves about how to find a reputable breeder and become part of the solution.

You don’t have to be an animal advocate to know that puppy mills are abusive. I encourage you to share this article and talk with people about this issue. We really can make a difference by having a conversation.

On a lighter but related note, I also think this guide will help everyone who is about to buy a puppy. It’s good planning to have an understanding going in what you need to know and what you should watch out for.

Pop your inspector hat on and learn how to spot a shady breeder.

Why Finding A Good Breeder Is Important

a bunch of puppies

There are three main reasons it’s important to find a good puppy breeder before you purchase your puppy.

  • You want a healthy, happy friend for years to come.
  • You don’t want to contribute to the puppy-for-profit market that is so often inhumane.
  • You can adopt an animal that needs a home.

I’m not going to scold you about your decision to buy a purebred puppy from a breeder. There is nothing inherently wrong with buying a puppy from a breeder. I’m here to empower you with information to pick the right breeder.

Unfortunately, you can accidentally perpetuate the problem of sick, neglected, or genetically inferior dogs flooding the pet market just through ignorance. You have to know what questions to ask to be a part of the solution.

All that being said, I do encourage everyone to research local rescues and shelters near you before bringing a dog home. You might find a puppy in the very breed you desire. You can literally save a life.

One more reason it’s important to choose a good breeder may sound cold, but it’s true. The more unscrupulous breeders there are, the more puppies come into the world with poor genetics. This ultimately pollutes the very breed you favor. We can vote with our dollars to financially suffocate anyone doing harm to animals under the guise of breeding.

That adorable dog in the pet store that looks so sad and lonely? Please be sure you ask the right questions about where it came from before you ‘rescue’ it. There are consequences to even the best intentioned actions.

Breed Specific Health Problems and Congenital Conditions In Dogs

Certain breeds suffer more frequently from some medical conditions. I recommend that you inform yourself on any known genetic conditions in the breed you want to adopt.

This is in no way a comprehensive list, but it’s a start to your further research.

  • Siberian Husky: Autoimmune Disorders
  • Bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds: Respiratory Issues
  • Pugs and dogs with protruding eyes: Eye Problems
  • German Shepherd: Hip Dysplasia
  • Labrador Retriever: Obesity
  • Beagle: Epilepsy
  • Shih Tzu: Weak Kneecaps
  • Boxer: Cancer

Sadly, you can’t get an eternal health guarantee with your puppy. There is no way to know for sure that your puppy will have a long and healthy life. What you can do, however, is look for known problems and ask questions about any sign of these issues in the breeding line.

How To Find A Reputable Breeder

The first thing you can look for in a dog breeder is their affiliations and certifications. AKC Breeders are in good standing with the American Kennel Club and able to register their dogs. The AKC performs random inspections of known breeders and any serious irregularities can jeopardize the breeder’s standing.

You can research AKC Breeders of Merit near you to find a highly qualified breeder that has met several requirements to be granted the title. These breeders have dogs with event titles in their stock and have to certify that health screens are regularly performed on breeding dogs.

All AKC puppy breeders should happily provide you with proof of your puppy’s pedigree which you’ll need to send to the AKC for true certification. If the breeder you’re dealing with doesn’t act like this is commonplace, your radar should go off.

Look for the words “American Kennel Club” as well as the AKC logo on the papers that come from the breeder. No breeder should ever claim that AKC papers cost more. Do not accept papers from any registry other than the AKC. You should also not agree to accept the papers at a later date through the mail.

It’s very simple: no papers, no puppy.

The AKC puppy finder can help you hook up with breeders in your area. A quick trip to a local dog show is another fantastic way to gather information. This type of gossip is totally acceptable.

Questions To Ask A Breeder

There are other considerations beyond AKC standing, however. You can still find a breeder with good practices even if you aren’t adopting a purebred dog. There are some essential questions you can ask to figure out what a breeder is about.

Most of these questions will apply whether they breed certified Irish Setters or adorable puppies with genetics like chex mix. Remember that it’s ok to ask tough questions even if you aren’t buying a purebred puppy. You’re paying for the dog, after all, and that entitles you to information to ensure you’re getting a well cared for, healthy puppy.

I’m going to format this like a checklist of things to ask a breeder. This way you can use it when you interview breeders in your area. I’ll go into more detail below this list to explain a few things.

  • How did you get started breeding dogs?
  • Have you ever shown your dogs?
  • Are the parents and grandparents of the puppy on the premises? Can I meet them when I visit?
  • Do you have any pictures of your facility and your dogs?
  • Can I see the puppy’s OFA and CERF certificates?
  • Have you ever had a litter with genetic illnesses or conditions?
  • When can I bring my puppy home?
  • Can I visit the puppy more than once before I decide to bring it home?
  • What vet do you use? Can I see the health records of the parents when I visit?
  • How many litters of puppies do your dogs have a year?
  • Where do the dogs stay in your home?
  • Do you have a list of references? Can you connect me to anyone who has purchased a puppy here in the past?
  • How old are the dogs on site? How many puppies are spoken for?

Hit print or feel free to bookmark this page for reference later.

Additional Information About Breeders

When you meet the puppy’s parents, watch how they react to the breeder. You want to see friendly behavior between the dogs and breeder. Also look for health conditions or any indication that the dogs aren’t healthy.

When you see photos of the breeder’s area and when you visit, make sure things are clean and seem orderly. Some mess is understandable, but things shouldn’t be gross.

Certificates don’t tell the whole story, but it is a big vote of confidence. Breeders have to maintain certain conditions or risk losing the ability to register their puppies. OFA stands for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and a CERF certificate comes from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. These entities create registries to fight genetic eye conditions and hereditary bone problems.

When you ask about genetic issues in the line, watch the breeder’s reaction and look for clues that something isn’t right. No one likes to be skeptical of people, but just remember that sketchy breeders will lie to move their puppies into homes.

In fact, be on the lookout for any behavior that communicates the puppies are a paycheck.

Puppies must stay with their mothers for 8 weeks at a minimum. A good breeder won’t rush a puppy out the door. If the breeder you are speaking with tells you that you can take the puppy early, be warey! They should know better than anyone that puppies need their mothers and littermates for social development.

A good breeder will be ok with you visiting the puppy a few times before you bring him or her home.

You have a right to know what vet your breeder uses and to see medical records. When you find out, call the office and ask some questions to the vet about the breeding operation.

AKC rules don’t allow registration of a puppy from a mother under 8 months or over 12 years old. Dogs should breed once a year and not more than twice. If the breeder seems to be pumping out puppies, or frequently sells to local pet stores, beware.

Extra Tips

Familiarize yourself with the breed standard so you can visually assess the dogs you see at the breeder’s home or facility. You won’t become an overnight expert, but you might be able to spot glaring abnormalities. Every little bit of information helps.

Look at the number of pets on the property. Are there way too many? This is a bad sign. Breeders should only have animals they can properly support and care for.

Additionally, responsible breeders only breed one or two types of dogs. If you see many different dog breeds on site, ask some questions.

Watch how the puppies interact with their mother and each other. Learn a little about the developmental stages of dogs so you know what to watch for.

It’s ok to ask to speak with other people who have adopted puppies. It might be fun to make friends and get the dogs together for a play date, too! The most respectful thing is to ask the breeder to let the other family know you’ll be contacting them.

Questions A Breeder Should Ask You

Your breeder should be hard on you, too! Overall, you should feel that the breeder wants the dog to go to the best home and isn’t just concerned about making a sale.

Some breeders will ask you to sign a contract that indicates you can give the puppy a good home. They want to know that you’re allowed to have a dog at your home or apartment, that you’ll call them with questions, and some even want you to bring the dog back if you can’t care for it. Some medical care may be provided for in the contract like an agreement to spay or neuter.

You may need to provide references to the breeder.

The breeder should also freely speak with you about the good and bad traits of the breed. They will screen you to see if your personality is compatible with the quirks and behaviors of their dogs. If you’re found lacking, they’ll send you packing.

If you’re confused when a breeder goes cold on you, ask them why they have reservations. You may not be able to talk them out of it, but you’ll gain insight. It could be that another breed is better for you. You might learn that you need better skills or supplies before you can successfully adopt a puppy.

How To Check A Breeder’s Reputation

In addition to asking all of the questions on your checklist, there are some other things you can do to research breeders in your area.

Call a few local vet offices and ask some questions. If they seem uncomfortable, keep things general and see what you can find out about reputable breeders in the area of the breed you’re looking for. You don’t have to name names but you certainly can if the vet’s office is open to it.

Use social media to search for the breeder and ask your friends and network if they’ve heard any chatter- good or bad. Do you know anyone who adopted a dog from the breeder you’re considering? Try to find out.

Get in touch with breed specific clubs in your area and ask about local breeders. Chances are good someone in the club has or will have puppies in the future.

Professional dog shows are an amazing place to go to suss out information on breeders. Be friendly and talk to everyone. Let them know you’re looking to buy a certain breed and soak in the information.

I think Google is your friend and you should ask her if she’s heard anything bad about the breeder you’re considering. If they’ve ever been in the news, you’ll know why. Hopefully it’s for being such a great breeder!

What To Look For When You Visit

When it’s time for your visit, perform an inspection of the premises and keep your eyes out for anything that seems undesirable or off.

How do the puppy’s parents look? Are they healthy and friendly? You’re looking for both signs of health issues and their temperament and interaction with the breeder.

Is the breeder’s home or kennel clean? Do the dogs seem like part of the family?

How old are the dogs on site? How many puppies are spoken for?

Whip out your handy checklist and don’t be ashamed to ask a lot of questions. This will actually set the breeder at ease if they’re doing the right thing. You’re communicating your earnest interest in becoming a dog owner. That’s what they want to hear.

While that checklist is out, be sure to follow up on questions you asked over the phone. For instance, you want to see those vet records and certificates so you can verify their existence and validity.

A Condensed, Quick Guide To Finding A Responsible Breeder

It’s summary time, puppy fans. Let me give you a little mini timeline of what to do before you adopt a dog from a breeder.

  1. Research the breeder’s name online and through calling vets and dog clubs in your area.
  2. Have a list of things you want to ask, based on this guide. Consult the checklist for easy access.
  3. Ask for certificates and affiliations.
  4. Visit the puppy and look for signs of problems in medical condition or temperament.
  5. Check out the other dogs on site, especially the parents.
  6. Ask how old the puppy has to be before you bring it home. The right answer is no fewer than 8 weeks old and preferably older.

You must resist the urge to buy a puppy in a pet shop unless you follow these same rules. Ask if you can have the breeder’s contact information and where they are located and then follow the steps above with that breeder.

It takes a little commitment on your part to find a responsible breeder but your reward is a healthy, happy puppy. You can also feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve never accidentally funded a puppy mill or breeder with poor practices.

What’s your dog’s gotcha story? Let me know in the comments! I’d also love to hear what you look out for when you pick out a puppy. We’re all here to learn from each other.

Thanks for stopping by and good luck in your search for a great dog breeder near you!