There are many options for finding the next furry friend to add to your family, and finding the right dog should be a decision that is not taken lightly. The options of rescue, adoption, and purchase can all be considered. If you choose to go with a breeder, you of course want to be sure that they are reputable breeders who do everything they can to give their puppies the best start.
Why a Breeder?
Rescue and adoption are fantastic choices that work for many people, but are not options for everyone. Typically breeders of purebred dogs are chosen when the puppy buyer is looking for a very specific kind of dog. Responsibly bred purebred dogs have an increased level of trait predictability. Breeds were created for a purpose, and their temperament, size, behavior, instinct, and drive/motivation are all hardwired into their backgrounds. When responsible breeders select for these traits, they are increasing the likelihood that the puppies they produce will show similar characteristics. This added predictability is beneficial if you have specific needs, such as lifestyle choices, children, and other pets.
As a puppy buyer, it is your responsibility to research breeds and understand their histories and standard characteristics. You should be looking beyond aesthetics and focusing on what type of dog is best aligned with your lifestyle. It is possible to raise a happy herding dog in an apartment in the city, but it will take a lot of extra effort and time to make sure its mental and physical needs are fulfilled. Set yourself up for a lifetime of success by selecting a breed that matches your activity level, climate, housing situation, and level of training commitment.
10 Tips For Picking a Great Breeder
Allows You To Visit. The best way to get to know someone is typically to meet them in person. While this might not be a possibility during Covid-19, most breeders still offer video-conference tours of their facility and will offer to meet you in person—with social distancing, of course. When you visit a breeder, observe their facilities as well as their dogs and their relationship. Is the premises clean and safe? Is it overcrowded? Do the dogs seem to be in good condition? How do the dogs react to the breeder, and how do they react to strangers? When you meet the parents of your potential puppy, their behavior will give you a good indication of the temperament you can expect from the litter. There’s no better way to get a sense for what your puppy will become than by interacting with its parents!
Passes a “Background Check.” The internet and social media has made it very easy to research breeders. Consider joining breed-specific Facebook groups and searching for the breeder name or kennel name. Read through posts about the breeder and the puppies they’ve produced. Look for them online and be thorough in your research. Are there more negative than positive experiences posted? Are you unable to find anything about the breeder or their kennel outside of their website? Many puppy mills invest a lot into their online presence, and a quality website does not always mean a quality breeder. Look for personal experiences, and personal recommendations from people within the breed.
Most purebred dog breeders will also be members in good standing with the “Parent Club” of their breed. For example, a Golden Retriever breeder will likely be a member of the Golden Retriever Club of America. When in doubt, search for the parent club (Search Breed Name + American Club) and review their website for suggestions on finding a good breeder, breeders of merit, and a breeder directory. Contact the secretary of the club directly with specific questions.
Interviews YOU in Return. A reputable breeder will not allow you to purchase a puppy from them without vetting you as a buyer. Expect to be interviewed in return! A good breeder will want to know the kind of home their puppy will be going to. They’ll want to be sure that you can provide the puppy with everything that it needs, and that you are prepared to give the puppy a forever home. Some breeders will be very specific about the homes they allow their puppies to go to.
Will Not Sell Online. As a reputable breeder will want to get to know you first, they will never allow you to purchase a puppy completely online. If you can add a puppy to your checkout basket and pay for all of it online—sight unseen—it is unlikely you’re supporting a reputable breeder. Good breeders do not always have good websites. Many have been involved in dogs their entire lives and are not particularly tech-savvy. Avoid breeders who treat the purchase of a puppy as a transaction without conversation, questions, and thorough vetting.
Understands Socialization. The primary reason many decide to go with a breeder is to be sure that they’re getting a puppy who has the potential to be their ideal dog. Once you’ve decided on a breed that is aligned with your lifestyle, you want to be sure you’re getting a puppy that is prepared to be the best version of itself. Early socialization is a critical part of the puppy’s development. The critical socialization period occurs roughly between 3 and 16 weeks. During these critical weeks, puppies are constantly gaining information about the world around them and are building associations that can last a lifetime. The puppy’s breeder, as well as the puppy’s mother and littermates, will play an important role in socialization. This socialization is achieved by allowing the puppy to stay with its litter for an appropriate amount of time, and by the breeder working diligently to safely socialize puppies to the experiences they need to get a great foundation.
These experiences include:
- Early Neurological Stimulation.
- Safe Early Socialization.
- Early Basic Crate and Potty Training.
- Enrichment, Problem Solving, and Handler Focus.
There are many programs and protocols that breeders follow to achieve these early puppy socialization goals. Puppy Culture is a popular protocol that breeders use to make sure that they address the socialization needs of the puppy at every stage of growth. A good breeder should be able to describe the protocols they follow to you, and simply saying they follow Puppy Culture or a similar program is not enough. Ask your potential breeder for specific examples of their puppy-rearing protocols, and how they address breed-specific traits and concerns. If a breeder follows a program like Puppy Culture, ask for specific examples of how and when it’s applied.
Socialization doesn't end when the puppy comes home. Programs like Dogs in Harmony's Harmony School are vital for continuing your puppy's education throughout its critical socialization period.
Does Not Breed Too Frequently. If a female dog is bred every heat cycle, they could have as many as 4 litters a year. Whelping a litter takes a physical toll on the mother, and most breeders will not breed every heat cycle so that the mothers have a chance to physically recover and rest after weaning. A breeder producing many litters a year, especially multiple litters from the same mother, is frequently a sign of a puppy mill.
Health Tests Their Dogs. Good puppies begin long before the litter is born. Health testing of the parents is a critical part of ensuring that future generations of dogs have the best chances for living happy, healthy lives. Each breed of dog has specific health tests that are suggested by the Parent Club of the breed. A breeds Parent Club has extensive knowledge of the health issues that tend to occur within the breed, and their suggestions for health tests and screening are the minimum health and genetic tests that breeders should be providing.
Common tests include:
- OFA or PennHIP Hip Dysplasia Evaluation
- OFA Elbow Dysplasia Evaluation
- Eye Examination by a boarded ACVO Opthamologist
- Congenital Cardiac Examinations
- Breed-specific genetic tests for common and identified diseases.
- Other breed-specific tests. 
OFA health tests are different than a “health guarantee” or “vet check”. These OFA tests can be verified online through the . Frequently, a dog suffering from a health condition won’t show symptoms until they’re older. For example, if a veterinarian does not notice signs of Hip Dysplasia in a young dog, it does not mean the dog is free of that condition. These OFA tests are specific evaluations of the common diseases, and go beyond a routine health check. Testing breeding animals for health can help puppy owners avoid the heartache of having their puppy grow up to be affected by these common conditions.
If you are purchasing a puppy that is a mix of two breeds, it is important to make sure that the parents have passed the suggested health tests for their breed(s).
Provides Documentation. From pedigree to OFA Health Tests, a good breeder will be able to provide documentation that supports their claims about their dogs. With an AKC Registration Number, you can check the  to make sure that both parents have passed their suggested health tests. You can also use the AKC Registration number to check the pedigree and background of both parents.
A good breeder should unconditionally provide you with the following before purchase:
- Sire and Dam AKC Registration Numbers.
- Copies of all OFA Health Test Reports.
- The specifics of their contract, including any special requirements.
- A guarantee that the puppy will pass a health screening by the buyer's veterinarian. All puppies should be evaluated by your vet once you’re home with them.
Wants the Dog Back Unconditionally. Responsible breeders stand by their puppies no matter what. A major reason that you are unlikely to find a responsibly bred purebred in animal shelters is that the vast majority of quality breeders will put it in their contract that the puppy should be returned to them if you are unable to continue caring for it. It doesn’t matter if the puppy is 9 months old or 9 years old, a reputable breeder will want the dog to come back to them of you are unable to keep it.
Breeds With Purpose. It doesn’t matter if your preferred breed is a couch potato or a full-time herding dog, when breeders produce a litter of puppies they should be breeding with a purpose. Purposeful breeding requires careful selection of breeding stock based on breed conformation, health, and temperament. Breeding with purpose, and following all suggested health tests, is what sets quality breeders apart from those who might be breeding for profit.
Puppy Mill vs Breeder
When selecting a breeder, it is essential that you can spot the differences between a puppy mill and a reputable breeder. A puppy mill is a commercial dog-breeding operation that focuses on making a profit. They typically take the “quantity over quality” approach to dog breeding, and their goal is not the health and welfare of the animals they keep or produce. Their dogs are typically bred frequently and may be kept in poor conditions.
Puppy Mill Red Flags
· Puppies are separated from their mother before 6 weeks old.
· The seller offers many different purebreds or “designer” hybrids.
· The transaction, from purchase to shipping arrangements, can be done completely online without the seller discussing the puppy with you in person or on the phone.
· The seller does not take an interest in you or your home life. Responsible breeders will want to know about the home their puppy is going to!
· The seller does not request “right of first refusal”—they do not want the puppy returned to them unconditionally if you are unable to care for it.
When you decide to purchase from a breeder, do your research and make sure that the person you're supporting is breeding in the best interest of the dogs. If a puppy or purebred dog isn't what you're interested in, consider adopting from a local shelter or breed-specific rescue!