Choosing a Breeder

While adoption is a wonderful gift to give yourself and a needy animal, some people have their hearts set on getting a puppy from a breeder. If that is the case for you, please use the information below to carefully evaluate breeders and ensure you are getting a happy, healthy puppy from a sound environment.

First, Research the breed. Be sure you understand the temperament, congenital defects (likely inherited illnesses), grooming requirements, and exercise needs. Animal Planet’s Dogs 101 show does a great job describing different breeds each week, and books and internet resources abound with breed information. If you have an affinity for a specific breed, consider picking up one of Happy Tails Books’ Lost Souls: FOUND! books about that breed to read firsthand accounts from fosters and adopters. Carefully considering the breed you bring into your home can help ensure your new pet fits your lifestyle perfectly.

Second, research breeders through breed clubs and rescues. Most breeds have a club in each state. While their list of breeders is not infallible, it’s probably a good place to start. For most breeds you can also find a local rescue. Call the rescue or visit the rescue’s website to see if any reputable breeders are recommended. You can be sure that if anyone knows the disreputable breeders in the area, rescue groups do! They can at least help steer you away from bad breeders.

To evaluate breeders, ask them the following questions:

  • What is your history with dogs? What made you interested in breeding?
    • The answer should have something to do with loving the breed and wanting to better it. If he or she is involved in dog-related activities, all the better; it’s an indication that he or she is truly into dogs and not just breeding for money.
  • How many dogs do you own? How often do you breed each one?
    • He or she should only have the number of dogs he can support with individual attention, and the dogs should not be bred excessively.
    • What are the congenital defects of the breed? What steps have you taken to decrease those defects?
      • At this point the breeder should rattle off every possible defect and give you an answer that involves screening and testing his breeding dogs. Listen for words like O.F.A.ed, thyroid, CERF certified, or vWD tested.[i] All of these tests should be familiar to a good breeder. Don’t be too impressed with champion bloodlines–they can still carry these genetic defects. Make sure dogs are screened.
    • How close do you breed your dog’s bloodline?
      • Inbreeding is the most obvious cause of congenital defects.
    • Where are the puppies being raised?
      • “In the house” is the best answer; that way the pups are familiar with common household noises.
    • How frequently are the puppies handled by humans?
      • The answer should be frequently. You want a puppy who is comfortable with human contact, of course!
      • What kind of support will you give me throughout the life of my dog? Can I call on you with questions in the future?
    • What is included in your contract?
      • A good contract is meant to protect both the buyer and the breeder. It should include a replacement or refund policy if the dog develops congenital ailments, usually throughout the dog’s first two years. It should also include a requirement to spay/neuter your pet and to return your pet to the breeder should any unforeseen circumstance arise where you need to relinquish your dog.

Expect the breeder to ask YOU the following questions:

Some breeders are stricter than others, but in general you can expect to be asked to provide the following information:

  • Basic personal contact information
  • Information about others living in your household (including pets)
  • How old are your children (if you have them)? How have they been educated about proper pet care?
  • History regarding dogs
    • Have you had dogs of the particular breed?
    • Were they neutered/spayed?
    • Have you ever abandoned a dog?
    • Have you ever put down a dog?
  • Preferences (if any)
    • Male/female
    • Age
    • Willing to adopt old or physically handicapped dogs
    • Willing to adopt dogs with behavioral issues
    • Willing to adopt mixed-breed dogs
    • Potty training preference
  • Do you own/rent your home?
    • If you rent, you normally have to provide a letter from your landlord stating he allows dogs
  • Do you have a fenced yard?
    • This is not necessarily a deal breaker, but you’ll need a greater commitment to dog walking if you don’t have a fenced yard. Many rescues will not consider an invisible fence acceptable; a 6’ fence is ideal for most breeds.
  • Are you willing to provide training for your dog?
  • How long will your dog be left alone?
    • The answer to this question is usually eight hours for working people, which can be hard on a dog. If you need to leave your dog alone for that long, please consider hiring a dog walker or putting your dog in daycare.
  • How much time will you exercise your dog each day?
    • The correct answer to this question really depends on the breed. Some breeds only require a few walks a day while others need to get out and run. Please be sure your breed research includes the exercise requirements of the dog.
  • Will you crate train your dog?
    • There are many different views on crate training, but many people find it to be very helpful.
  • What will you do with your dog when you travel?
    • A good relationship with a kennel or friend who will dog-sit is a must!
  • What are your plans for your dog in case you fall ill or have to take an extended trip?
    • It is imperative to have a plan for where your dog will go if something unexpected happens to you.
  • Are you willing to travel to pick up your dog?
  • How much do you expect to spend on your dog annually?
    • This question is asked of people to ensure their ideas about veterinary and feeding costs are realistic. Over the life of a dog, most people spend $500-$1,000 per year (depending on the size of the dog). Costs can escalate if the dog has health problems. If you are concerned about health care costs, you might consider purchasing pet health insurance or contributing monthly to a savings account set aside for your pet’s care.
  • When can we schedule a home visit?
    • All reputable rescues require home visits. Some do so virtually through photos and video while others require a person to actually visit your home.

The purpose of this extensive inquiry is not only to evaluate you as a potential adopter but also to ensure that you have thoroughly considered your decision to adopt.

Always insist on visiting a breeder’s facility and MEETING THE PUPPY’S PARENTS in their living environment.

When you go see the puppies, the breeder should enthusiastically show you where the puppies are whelped, where they sleep, play, feed and interact with family members. The dogs’ environment should not smell and should have ample space for the dogs to exercise and socialize. When visiting, take note of the breeders other dogs (and children?). They should all be well-socialized, friendly, and reasonably calm. (Note: It is possible that the breeder does not have the puppy’s father onsite. This is not unusual).

Breeder Red Flags:

If you encounter the following, run away with your hands in the air, screaming!

  • The breeder does not answer the aforementioned questions to your liking.
  • The breeder does not have a thorough application process including personal questions.
  • The breeder does not have a contract that obviously is meant to protect him, you, and the puppy.
  • The breeder is breeding multiple breeds of dogs and/or has a very large kennel with hundreds of dogs.
  • The breeder breeds his females every cycle.
  • The breeder breeds close relatives.
  • The breeder is hesitant when you ask to visit.
  • The breeder is willing to ship you a dog without meeting you.
  • The breeder does not have a policy indicating that you must return the dog if you have to relinquish it.
  • The breeder is USDA licensed.
    • The only USDA-licensed breeders are disreputable ones (puppy mills) who sell massive quantities of unfit puppies to pet shops.


Post to Twitter

2 Responses to Choosing a Breeder

  1. Pat Shipley says:

    I love your website. I volunteer for a beagle rescue and have found it very helpful. Regarding your choosing a breeder article, I did everything you mention before I purchased my first dogs ever, two beagle girl litter mates four years ago. The thumbnail version of this cautionary tale is that as they grew, I heard from vets and other beaglers that they didn’t appear purebred. Out of curiosity I did a breed dna analysis test and found that genetically, they were less than than half beagle. The remainder was other hound family breeds. It doesn’t make any difference in how I love them but I wouldn’t have paid $550 each for mixed breed dogs. And like I said, I work in beagle rescue now and can’t believe I didn’t just rescue in the first place. I’m always surprised though when I come across articles likes yours and it make no mention of verifying that the puppies you are purchasing are in fact the breed they are advertised to be. People sometimes want to buy a dog rather than rescue because they seem to presume that akc registration indicates that the dogs are purebred but clearly as I have found it does not. I don’t believe the breeder in my case was attempting to defraud me or anyone else but had always relied on akc paper trails which in the age of dna testing are obsolete in my opinion. I have to wonder that if testing were done, a significant percentage of dogs being sold by reputable breeders are not genetically what they think they are. I do have all the documentation backing up what I’m writing about if you aren’t sure of my credibility.

  2. Pat, you bring up a great point. Thanks for sharing your personal story. I’m sure it will help others to make better decisions. One of the topics in the article is that a person looking to buy a dog from a breeder should absolutely insist on meeting the puppy’s parents, although I know that sometimes the stud isn’t at the breeder’s house, and, let’s face it, a breeder could tell a potential shopper anything, really. Like you said, the only way to be sure is to use genetic testing, although I think that conversation opens up a whole new can of worms because I’ve been told that three different genetic tests often give back three different results…

Leave a Reply