How To Choose A Responsible Dog Breeder

Finding a Purebred Puppy

Zoom Pet Photography/Image Source/Getty Images

Have you decided that you are ready to get a new dog? Hopefully, you have also taken the time to determine what type of dog is right for you and your family. If you have decided that the dog you want is a purebred puppy, then it's time to find the right dog breeder.

Before You Look For a Dog Breeder

Take some time first to make sure a purebred puppy is a "must-have" for you. Even if you are set on a specific dog breed, you can still consider adoption.

You may be surprised to learn that purebred dogs can often be found in shelters or through rescue groups. In addition, you can find breed-specific rescue groups for many breeds in most regions. Contact local dog breed rescue groups and local dog breed clubs. You can also contact the national breed club or the AKC Rescue Network. Remember that breed-specific rescue groups sometimes have puppies, not just adult dogs.

Finding a Good Dog Breeder: Where to Begin

When searching for a breeder, it is a good idea to ask friends, family members, and animal care professionals if they have worked with a good dog breeder. However, you should also go through the proper channels to make sure the breeder is legitimate, responsible, reputable, knowledgeable, and ethical. You can start by searching for a breeder through the national breed club for the desired dog breed, or through the AKC's listings. A good dog breeder is associated with both the national and local dog breed clubs, as well as a kennel club like the AKC, CKC or UKC.

Avoid buying a dog through the internet, long-distance or sight-unseen. Instead, make a list of local breeders that seem to meet your needs. Then, try to obtain references from people who have purchased dogs from the breeders. Plan to visit the facilities, meet with the breeders and ask lots of questions.

Choosing the Right Dog Breeder

As you narrow down your list of dog breeders to contact, stick with those who only specialize in one or two dog breeds. The breeder you choose should be highly knowledgeable about the breed(s) he or she handles. When contacting each dog breeder on your list, make sure the breeder is happy to welcome you for a visit to the home or facility where the dogs live. A responsible breeder would never sell dogs online or to pet stores. 

The breeder you choose should have many years of experience in the area of dog breeding, as well as in working with the specific breed in which you are interested. Newer dog breeders will ideally have spent time mentoring under experienced breeders.

Visiting the Breeder and Looking at Puppies

When visiting the breeding facility, take a good look around. It should be clean, odor-free, spacious and not overcrowded. All dogs should appear healthy and well-socialized. The puppies should be energetic and interactive with people.

When looking at puppies, make sure the breeder is willing to discuss the dogs' histories in great detail. He or she should be able to provide you with details about the parents’ histories, both health and behavioral.

Responsible breeders do NOT breed dogs with diseases, birth defects or major behavioral issues that could be passed on to the puppies. You should be able to meet the puppies AND their mother (the father too if possible). Note: breeders sometimes use male "stud" dogs that are owned by other people; it is not necessarily a bad sign if the father is offsite.

Discuss Breed Heath Problems

Breeders should be open and honest about potential genetic traits/health issues in the breed before you commit to buying a puppy. Adhering to the established breed standards is important to responsible dog breeders. The best breeders choose to breed their dogs for good health and temperament, not just appearance. The breeder should routinely screen parents for hereditary/genetic diseases before breeding. In addition, the puppies should be screened before purchase if testing exists.

The types of diseases to screen for will depend upon the breed. It is important to understand that even the most responsible breeding practices will not rule out the possibility of hereditary issues.

Ask About Dog Breed Papers

Before spending good money on a dog, you should ask to see proof of pedigree (AKA “papers”) — ideally through the AKC (may also be CKC, UKC, NKC). The pedigree shows that the dogs have documented parentage, helping to support the status that a breeder is responsible and experienced. Remember, if pedigree is not important to you, then adopting from a breed-specific rescue is a much better idea.

Getting Your New Purebred Puppy

Once you have chosen a puppy, you should expect to sign a contract with the breeder. The breeder may wish to screen you to make sure you will provide a good home to the puppy and that you will spay or neuter the dog. This may include contacting your veterinarian or asking for a reference letter. As part of the contract, the breeder should provide a lifetime health guarantee for hereditary conditions. The breeder should also be willing to take the dog back if for some reason you cannot keep it (for the life of the dog). Make sure the breeder is willing to keep in touch with you in the future, should something come up. Note: Avoid signing an agreement where you are asked not to spay/neuter your dog so that dog can be used for breeding/conformation in the future.

A responsible breeder knows the importance of keeping puppies with the mother for the right amount of time and will not release a puppy to its new owner until the age of 8-12 weeks (sometimes longer). When you take the puppy home, the breeder should provide you with instructions and resources for proper home care, as well as documentation about the puppy's prior health care, vaccines, testing, etc.