Finding a trusted, reputable breeder is of the utmost importance.
Choose a bad breeder, and your puppy could grow into a very sick dog!
Good breeders, on the other hand, will provide you with a pup that’s healthy, well-adjusted, and sure to bring you years of happy companionship.Today we’re talking about what you need to know before selecting a breeder, and how to make sure you’re working with responsible breeders that know their stuff.
About My Background
So before we get started, full disclosure: I work at a shelter and rescued my first dog. I’m all for adopting shelter dogs - in most cases.
However, my next dog is coming from a breeder because I want to compete in Search and Rescue with a dog that is set up for success in every way (in many cases that means a dog with the breed background that will give them an advantage in this area). There’s no shame in wanting a well-bred, well raised purebred puppy!
There are many reasons why selecting a trusted breeder is important. For one, it’s the best and easiest way to end up with a healthy purebred pup.
That isn’t to say that a breeder is the only way to get a purebreed - you can find purebred dogs at shelters as well, you just may need to be patient.
Still, when you have a specific set of criteria you’re looking for in a purebred dog, going with a breeder is often the fastest and easiest route.
Placing a value on good breeders is also how you can support responsible breeding and avoid funding the cruel puppy mill industry. Good breeders are not the reason that unwanted dogs are euthanized in shelters across the country - so don’t feel bad about giving them your money.
As we noted above, it’s absolutely possible to adopt a purebred, protection K9, service dog, or Treibball star out of a shelter.
Some police forces are even starting to rescue and train pit bulls to avoid spending thousands on expensive shepherds for police work.
If you’re not a professional trainer and can’t afford to hire a private one, it might be easier to buy a well-bred puppy than to try to work with an adult shelter dog.
Even shelter puppies aren’t as moldable as well-bred ones because of genetics!
This is particularly important if:
Puppies are more easily socialized to children than adult dogs. And most trainers will tell you - early socialization between puppies and kids is key to making sure you end up with a family-friendly adult dog.
Breeders who aim for even-tempered dogs will more reliably produce calm and patient dogs than a shelter can. Knowing your puppy’s genetic background and socialization history is enormously helpful if you have specific goals or parameters in place for your puppy.
Socializing young puppies is incredibly important for training service or protection dog - and as mentioned above, socializing a young, well-bred pup is going to be much easier than working with an adult shelter dog (or even a shelter pup depending on their genetic background).
Working dogs also need to be in impeccable health and have even temperaments. These things largely come from genetics, not how you raise a dog, and it’s much easier to find these criteria if you go through a breeder.
When going through a breeder, you can meet the parents, older siblings, and other relatives of the puppies to get a good idea of what your pup will be like as an adult.
For reasons similar to above, it’s often easier to go through a breeder if you want a dog for a specific sport.
Not every purebred border collie is going to be an agility star, but genetics are the foundation of things like musculature, health, drive, focus, and personality/temperament.
Paired with socialization and training, genetics are a key component for success. Good breeders produce dogs with good genetics.
My boyfriend is dying for a Shiba Inu. The breed is known for being aloof, tricky to train, and generally “catlike” in demeanor.
I plan on going through a breeder if we decide to get a Shiba. They’re hard to find in the shelter, since they’re a rather uncommon breed. The ones that I’ve seen in my time at the shelter tend to be very fearful or have other behavioral issues.
I’d much rather go through a breeder and find the most outgoing and food-motivated puppy in the litter, so that the dog is a better fit for our household.
Not all breeders are created equal. If you think choosing a purebred puppy from any old breeder will result your dream dog, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Unfortunately there are many lousy breeder out there. They aren’t all bad, but it’s safe to say (sadly) that there are more bad breeders than good ones.
Just google “labrador puppy for sale in (your city)” and you’re sure to find pages upon pages of puppies. Many will come from backyard breeders who thought having puppies would be fun or be a good way to make money. Others come from accidental litters. Others come from puppy mills. You’ll even get advertisements for mail delivered puppies. Avoid them at all costs.
Then there are the gems.
A good, reputable breeder won’t just provide you with the perfect pup. They’ll provide numerous other benefits as well:
Finding a good breeder isn’t easy. It will likely take research, time, and communication.
Don’t write off bad websites or old photos - not all good breeders are skilled in the web design department. However, to be sure to look for these 14 traits we've crafted as indicators of a good and reputable breeder.
While you won't want to totally discount a breeder who doesn’t check off every single box, make sure you end up with far more checkmarks than blanks.
Raising a litter of puppies takes an insane amount of work.
Breeders who have more than one (or two) litter of puppies “on the ground” at once might not be giving the puppies the attention they need in this critically formative time.
While one litter at a time is ideal, In some cases, female dogs may sync when in season, leaving breeders no choice but to manage two litters, and that's absolutely fine and normal.
However, if breeders have multiple litters ( 3,4, or more) going on at once, you may want to take pause.
Ideally, you'll really want your pup's parents to be on site.
It’s not uncommon for the male dog to not be around, but be sure to ask about him. The breeder should be more than willing to let you meet the parents if at all possible.
The parents are the best reflections available of what the puppies will be like as adults if no older siblings are around.
Unless you’re planning on having your dog live outside as a working dog, avoid breeders who raise their puppies in kennel or outdoor environments.
Puppies raised inside are more likely to be exposed to kids, other animals, and normal home activities. As we've already discussed in detail, early puppy socialization is really valuable, and if your pup is spending most of their time isolated outside, they won't be making the most use of those key early months.
Don’t be shy about probing on this! Are the puppies “inside” but raised in the cement basement? That’s a far cry from being raised in or near the living area. Bonus points for breeders that expose the puppies to kids and other animals!
Big words, and big results.
The early canine neurostimulation program was initially developed by the US military to produce sounder working dogs.
It involves introducing young puppies to mild stress and produces adult dogs that are more adaptable and have lower heart rates in stressful situations. Breeders that do ENS are often synonymous with the crème de la crème of breeders who socialize their puppies extremely well from day 3 onwards.
When my family adopted our lab, it was a two-way interview. We wanted to find the right breeder and by extension the right puppy. The breeder wanted to find the right home for every puppy.
She knew each individual pup and helped us pick out a mellow but friendly girl that turned out to be the best dog I’ve ever met (I love my current rescue dog Barley, but Maya was really something else).
The breeder took the time to get to know our needs, and we trusted her to help us pick a puppy. It paid off with a perfect fit.
When you're working with a breeder who insists on meeting the every family member before helping you pick a pup, you know you're working with a breeder who cares and wants their dogs in only the best homes.
Veterinarians don’t recommend breeding dogs until a bit later in life in order to keep the mother healthy, so look for doggy parents who are at least two years old.
It’s also not possible to get realistic health or temperament assessments of the parents until the parents are done growing and maturing.
If you want a happy, healthy adult dog, you need to be sure that her parents are happy and healthy adult dogs. That means waiting until the parents are two years old prior to having puppies.
Waiting until two isn't always a hard and fast rule though - some breeds have a minimum breeding age chart listing minimum ages a purebred dog should be bred at, anywhere between 12 - 48 months. We suggest researching a purebred dog's minimum breeding chart to ensure that a breeder is falling within the recommended breeding age.
Studies show that puppies removed from their parents and litter-mates too young are more likely to exhibit problem behaviors like fear or aggression towards other dogs.
Responsible breeders know this and won’t separate puppies from parents until the appropriate time. Don’t just pay attention to when puppies can eat solids - there are other milestones that are harder to see.
6-week old puppies soon become 8-week old puppies, and it’s just not worth the potential long-term behavior issues to risk it.
MYTH BUSTING TIME
Here's a common myth I can bust - you absolutely do not need to get a puppy at an extremely young age in order to bond with them. I adopted Barley when he was three years old.
After two months of living with me, our biggest issue in Nosework class was that the instructor said, “He’s too bonded to you. He won’t look away from you and use his nose instead.” So don’t think that adopting a too-young puppy is necessary to bond with your pup!
Most large-breed dogs should have an OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) hip, elbow, and other orthopedic scores. I always look for eye and ear testing as well.
Look up what health testing is recommended for your chosen breed - the AKC has great recommendations.
Really good breeders will have a scan of these scores for each dog on their website, sometimes even complete with the x-rays. This testing is expensive, but good breeders will do it.
Don’t forget to ask about vaccination records for the puppies! The breeder should absolutely be able to show you documented evidence of vet visits and provide a clean bill of health.
It sounds weird, I know. But I like to see breeders that don’t have puppies available right now.
Since a good breeder only has one litter at a time, they also will likely have more customers than they have puppies.
Because of all of the testing listed above, good puppies are extremely expensive to produce. Do not expect to pay a few hundred dollars for your puppy - think in the thousands. It’s worth it!
Expect to pay a deposit and get on a waiting list once you’ve found your match.
A good breeder should not be afraid to answer any and all of your questions.
Ask breeders how long they’ve been in the business, how often do they feed, clean, and play with the dogs, and if they can provide references from past adopters.
Good breeders won’t have an issue with questions - in fact, they’ll likely be encouraged by your due diligence.
Most authentic breeders specialize in one, maybe two breeds. If your breeder offers dogs of many various breeds and mixed, turn tail and run.
Good breeders recognize that things happen.
A military family unexpectedly goes overseas. A family member falls ill and the family cannot responsibly keep the dog due to financial and time constraints. The dog is not the right fit for the family.
Of course you never want to resort this option, and hopefully you’ll never need to return your puppy. However, a good breeder will be willing to take the puppy back - look for that promise as yet another litmus test of quality.
A knowledgeable breeder will be happy to sit down with you and discuss what you can expect in the breed, including any issues that might crop up later in life (purebred dogs, even well bred ones, have be susceptible to certain diseases or health problems).
If you want a truffle hunting dog, find a breeder who has a line of proven sniffing dogs. If you want a family pet, do not go for that same breeder!
I see this problem all the time in Labradors and German Shepherds. These breeds are extremely popular as family pets and as working dogs, but those are two very different uses. You’ll want a breeder that specializes in producing family or working dogs. The energy levels, focus, and drive of a dog bred for work is too much for most families to handle.
Be realistic with yourself and your breeder about what you’re looking for and what you can provide for your puppy. They in turn should be honest about whether or not their dogs are a good fit for your needs.
Avoid just about any breeder who seems to use methods that are opposite what we’ve listed above. That much should be self-evident. But what else should set off alarm bells in your head?
In many cases, finding a good breeder will require you to contact various breeders advertised in your area and apply our checklist against them. However, there are other shortcuts that may be able to help you find a reliable breeder faster.
Word of Mouth
If you know friends or family members who have used a breeder in the past, ask about their experience and if they would recommend their breeder.
Of course there’s always the possibility that your friends used a bad breeder and didn’t know it, but asking around gives you a place to start from at least.
Local breed clubs can often be valuable resources in finding good breeders. You can even find specific Facebook groups online relevant to your chosen breed and ask for advice there.
The American Kennel Club has their own list of breed clubs you can begin exploring.
Ask a Veterinarian or Dog Trainer
Dog professionals may be able to offer the inside scoop regarding reputable breeders in your area. After all, they’ve watched many local purebred pups grow up, and will know which puppies came from good genetics and which suffered medical issues later as adults.
VISIT A DOG SHOW
Dog shows are where the cream of the crop canines go to strut their stuff, and plenty of amazing breeders will be there to share in the glory. While puppies from show-winning lineages may be exorbitantly pricey, you may be able to get good referrals on other solid breeders in the area.
Kayla Fratt is an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC and works as a professional dog trainer through the use of positive reinforcement methods. She also has experience working as a Behavior Technician at Denver Dumb Friends League rehabilitating fearful and reactive dogs.