We constantly hear warnings from friends, news stories, activists, and veterinarians about “problem” breeders. So I think most of us are aware of the need to look for a “good” breeder when looking for a puppy to add to our family, but what does that really mean?
In my opinion the best place to find a great puppy is a hobby breeder, this is someone who will own a small number of dogs. Live with those dogs in their home, and raise the puppies in their home. They will likely breed a maximum of one or two litters per year, and make their income outside of breeding. These are people who love and care about their dogs, the breed, and spending time competing or training with their dogs. They are an invaluable asset in the dog world volunteering for club positions, establishing breed rescues, researching conformation, breed problems, bloodlines, and trying to improve their breed with every litter.
So how can you tell if you have found one of these good breeders?
Firstly, you can look at their website or speak with them about where they raise the puppies. Ask if you can visit their facility (likely their home in many cases). If you are looking at a rare breed and there are no local breeders it might not be feasible to go visit prior to committing to a puppy so you’ll want to carefully evaluate what they are telling you, and what you see pictures of. How many dogs to do they own and keep on the property? Is this reasonable considering the number of litters they advertise? If you are able to visit, where are the dogs and puppies kept? Is it clean and warm? Do they all have access to clean water, and look well fed? Where will the puppies be raised? In the home is best so they can become accustomed to everyday sights, sounds, smells, and activity. Puppies raised in kennels outside of the home may be more prone to fearfulness of everyday sounds like the dishwasher or vacuum; and are often not started on a house training program, making it much more difficult for you once you bring them home.
Secondly, there are a few things you can consider to make sure you’re comfortable with your choice of breeder. Are they professional and courteous in their dealings with you (either in their website, emails or phone calls)? Do they offer to make available references so you can speak with past clients or their veterinarian? Are they members of their breed club? Registered as an AKC Breeder of Merit, Bred with H.E.A.R.T., or similar breeder listing? If you google them do any lawsuits or worrisome issues show up, do they have multiple reporting’s against them with the better business bureau? How long have they been breeding, are they new to the area? Do they have a puppy contract you can look at or bill of sale? Look for terms outlining spay or neuter requirements, health guarantees, and the right to take back the puppy if you can’t keep it. The terms may vary on all of these, but look for contracts that address these issues, and make sure you are comfortable with them. Do they require you enroll your puppy in training classes, most good breeders will unless they know you are an experienced owner. Some breeds have special dietary concerns, does the contract require you to keep the dog on a certain food or supplement to reduce the likelihood of health concerns? Do they advertise any colours or characteristics that are unregister-able with the national kennel club, this could be size related (i.e. “mini”, “teacup”, “giant”), or unrecognized colours or markings (these are often unregister-able due to serious health concerns). Do the adult dogs on the property look healthy, happy, and enjoy being around the breeder? Do the puppies look healthy and active?
Can they tell you about each puppy in the litter? What their personality is like, what kind of home would be best for them? Do they keep detailed records of their observations? Do they conduct any temperament testing? Can they tell you a lot about the breed, good and bad? Are they willing to help you after you take the puppy home by answering any questions you may have? Do they provide you with information on how to continue with house training, basic obedience, care, and socialization? Not all breeders do things the same way but they should be willing to discuss any of the questions you have about their dogs and their breeding program. Their answers should show thoughtful consideration to the issue at hand, and a reasonable explanation (even to you as a novice owner) as to why they do it one way or another.
At the end of the day, I would say the most important thing is it be someone you feel comfortable dealing with and trust. If they are rude, confrontational, or less than forthcoming walk away. This is a time I would definitely go with your gut feeling.
Thirdly, you should hear a great deal on how they socialize and raise their puppies. This should include a lot of handling, introduction to new objects, sounds, environments, people, and toys. The benefits of early neurological stimulation have been recognized for some time, so you should see some mention of implementation of a program for the puppies. These are often referred to as the “Bio Sensor” or Superdog program, “Puppy Culture”, and the newer “early scent introduction”. They may call it something else, but you should see some of these protocols being used to give your future pup the best chance at health and mental development. You should also expect that they will have started house training, crate training, and some basic obedience commands (coming when called, or sit are fairly common).
Fourthly, you’ll want to evaluate the parents. As a novice dog owner I wouldn’t expect you to be able to point out physical flaws compared to the breed standard (I sure can’t…yet!). However, some simple things can give you a pretty good idea of their suitability as parents for “pet” puppies. How long did the grandparents and great-grandparents live? Long lives (for that breeds life expectancy) should indicate both physical and mental health in those lines. The parents are likely too young to give any real indication of their long term health. If you can meet the parents (the stud may not live with the breeder) you should be able to get a good feel for their temperament. If the parents show fearfulness or aggression, or appear to be in poor health, walk away. The breeder should also provide information or proof of any health testing done on the parents. The AKC has a listing of recommended tests for each breed, and the breed’s parent club will also likely have a listing of recommended tests. You can look many of these tests up yourself if you want to confirm (some links have been provided below). At a minimum these tests should be done, many breeders will do others as well.
Fifthly, there are some questions about the puppies themselves that should be answered by the breeder. Does the breeder provide any sort of written health guarantee? If your puppy is found to be sick what happens, do you get another puppy from another litter? Is your money returned? Does the puppy have to be sent back to the breeder? Who pays expenses? Are you required to have the puppy registered with the AKC or equivalent national club? What age are puppies allowed to go to your home? Eight weeks is very common, but much earlier should be a warning sign. How often are puppies available? Good breeders put an exceptional amount of time, effort, and money into raising their puppies; so most hobby breeders would struggle to raise more than one or two a year. Breeding more than that might not indicate a “puppy mill”, but you should be satisfied with their explanation as to why they are breeding so frequently. Experienced breeders may raise litters for others, or may have the time and means to do so more often. These breeders are likely to have long wait lists for puppies. Beware of breeders however who often have puppies available, and ready for pick up today! Of course the other factor that’s a pretty important consideration is price. We all have budgets. When looking at the effort, time, and money that good breeders put into raising a successful litter, I would expect to pay $1,500-2,000 (or more) for a pet quality puppy. As much as this might sound like, most breeders are not making money at this price!
Be sure the breeder is sending you home with vaccination information, proof of worming, health certificate if needed for travel, and a listing of any future veterinary care required (vaccination booster and worming schedule, health check for guarantee, spay/neuter “due dates” under the puppy contract).
When it comes to picking which puppy is yours, look for a breeder who will either choose for you, or provide insight as to which puppy is best suited for your home. Great breeders spend hours with the puppies and should have a very good idea of the temperament and aptitudes of each pup; backed up with written observations or testing. This gives them a much better idea of which puppy will fit with your family best. The breeder may pick a puppy for you (with your input) or give you a couple puppies to choose from. If you have more input on your puppy choice be prepared to spend a few hours with the puppies to see the full cycle of activity and sleep to see which will fit best into your family. Otherwise, the lazy sleepy puppy you pick might not be the puppy you get when he arrives awake at his new home!
Lastly, I would expect the breeder to have a lot of questions about you! You should expect to be asked about the number of people in your household, whether any children will be living there, whether you have a fenced yard, and what your experience level is. They may also want to know if the puppy will be enrolled in training classes, what kind of activities you want to do with it, and who will be the primary caregiver to the puppy. Some will ask for veterinary references. Great breeders are very picky about who gets their puppies. They want to ensure that each puppy goes to the best home for that puppy, and they want you to love your puppy and the breed as much as they do. Any breeder who doesn’t ask anything about you isn’t that concerned about the puppies.
There are no perfect breeders, but find one you feel is honest with you, that you will be able to work with for many years, one who cares about the future of the breed and the puppies they raise you will be well set on your puppy journey!
How to Pick a Breeder:
Early Stimulation, Socialization & Training: