How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder You'll Feel Good About

Published November 13, 2022
Breeder holds 4 bichon havanais puppies at 4 weeks

Finding the right puppy is a big deal. If you're going to bring home a furry friend for life, you want to make sure your pet comes from a responsible breeder who's doing everything they can to ensure their litter of puppies have the best quality of life. But how do you know who's a good breeder and who isn't? That's where we come in.

Where to Find a Reputable Breeder

To find a reputable breeder who really cares about their dogs, you need to do your research. If you ask around, your local dog club members may be able to suggest a good breeder in your area. If they have purchased dogs from a particular breeder, you can likely meet the dogs, and if they're happy, you can take that as a good sign. Being able to visit with dogs from a breeder before you buy is a great way to find out if their dogs are worth it.

You could also look up the breed standards for your desired breed and call or email any owners of the same type of dog that live near you. Finding other owners might require some sleuthing. Try online resources, social media, and above all, check with the national breed club for your chosen breed. Almost all maintain a list of vetted breeders. You still have to look into their operation and puppies, but it can give you a place to start.

Most larger breeders of purebred dogs take out ads for their dogs, either in print (which is increasingly rare), or online, through clubs and media outlets online. You might find an excellent breeder and wonderful dogs this way, but there is something to be said for smaller breeders who limit the amount of puppies they produce in a given year. Smaller breeders may not have the resources or inclination to take out ads, and this alone does not necessarily mean they are better or worse than breeders who operate at a larger scale.

A reputable breeder will usually have their own website with photos and descriptions of their dogs and litter. They should also be willing to provide information about any health problems that have occurred in their lineages, as well as documentation from veterinarians certifying that their dogs are free of genetic defects or illnesses. This is often called a certificate of health.

Additionally, when selecting a breeder, it's important not only that they are reputable but also whether they're local, and more specifically whether they're close enough so that you can visit them in person before committing yourself financially and emotionally.

A Good Reputation

If you're thinking about getting your next dog from a breeder, it's important to make sure they have a good reputation. While there are plenty of breeders out there who are more than happy to sell you a puppy, not all of them will genuinely care about the health and well-being of their dogs. Some breeders are only in it for the money and don't care about the quality of life their puppies are going to have once they leave the breeder's care.

Many breeders will use the phrase, "Raised under foot," in their ads.

Have you ever been to a breeder's home? If so, did it look like a loving environment where dogs were happy? Or did it look like an overcrowded warehouse where dogs were kept in cages and treated poorly? If it was the latter, then that's probably not someone you want to give your money or heartstrings to.

A reputable dog breeder will:

  • Ask you a lot of questions. It's important they understand how you plan to care for your new dog, and they'll want to know if you have children or other pets at home.
  • They will be honest about the process. They should let you know what it takes to raise a healthy puppy, including things like feeding schedules and medical care. They may even offer suggestions about diet, exercise, grooming habits, and other aspects of caring for your new four-legged friend that could affect his health down the road.
  • A reputable breeder will have a clean and healthy environment where their dogs can thrive. This includes making sure all animals are fed good food, have clean water available at all times, and are kept safe from extreme weather conditions such as heat waves or freezing temperatures.
  • They will provide regular veterinary visits for vaccinations and checkups.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Deciding to purchase a dog from a breeder requires that you know what you want. Are you looking for a pure bred show dog? Do you want a working breed, and all the training and high-energy drive that comes with it? Does a mixed breed appeal to you? Are you looking for a pet, a dog who is good with children, or an exercise companion? Ask yourself: What kind of dog do I want, and why do I want a dog? A well-bred canine companion is a wonderful pet to have in your life, but make sure you know what you're asking for.

  • Do I know what I want from a dog? Am I looking for a pet, a show dog, or something else?
  • Can I provide for a dog's physical, emotional, and healthcare needs throughout its whole life?
  • Do I know enough about the breed or mixed breed I'm considering, including any genetic health issues I need to watch out for?
  • Am I prepared to communicate my level of interest and knowledge to a breeder?

Be aware that any good breeder is very likely to ask you numerous questions about your interest in their dogs. This is a telltale sign of a quality breeder, so if you meet someone who doesn't care why you want their dogs and doesn't try to find out if you're ready to buy a dog, take that as a sign you should probably find another breeder.

Interview the Breeder

Once you know why you're looking for a dog, you also need to consider what you want from your breeder. You can usually tell if a breeder is reputable by asking some questions. A face-to-face interview is great, but a phone call or a discussion by email are excellent ways to communicate, too.

Reach out and begin by initiating a conversation about the breeder's dogs. Ask these questions and try to figure out what the breeder's answers tell you about their breeding program and their dogs.

  • Why do you breed these dogs, and what are you trying to achieve in your breeding? You are trying to find out if they breed dogs for the right reasons. A reputable breeder will breed only when they have good homes lined up for the puppies, and they won't sell to pet shops or puppy mills.
  • What are your opinions on this breed, and what special care requirements do these dogs have? Are they knowledgeable about the breed and the breed standard? Do they support breeding for show, function, etc.? A good breeder will be an expert on their chosen breed and know everything there is to know about them, from temperament traits to health concerns.
  • How long have you been working with this breed? If you're looking for a specific type of dog, ask your breeder how long they have been breeding that particular type of dog so they can help guide you through finding one that's just right for your family.
  • How many litters do you produce a year? Typically, a smaller, quality breeder will intentionally limit the number of pups they sell in a year.
  • What are your long-term goals in your breeding program? Determine if they care about the future of their breed. Any reputable breeder is aware of genetic conditions and diseases each breed might have, and is actively looking to screen their dogs and prevent these negative traits from being passed down.
  • What are you looking for in potential buyers, and what is the ideal home you envision for your puppies? This is an important question. Any good breeder will care just as much about vetting you and your home situation as they will about making a sale.
  • Are your dogs healthy, and do they have any known conditions? Ask yourself, are they honest with you about the health and temperament of their dogs? Do their dogs have any health issues or concerns with temperament, or do you know of any in your lineage?
  • How are your puppies raised? Ideally, puppies are socialized from a very early age. Are the breeder's dogs "Raised under foot"? Under what conditions? How are they fed?
  • How do you evaluate puppies for sale? A good breeder will be interacting with their puppies from day one, looking at their behavior and trying to figure out what sort of personalities they have.

Followup Questions for Your Breeder

If your conversation has gone well so far, and you think this person might be the right breeder for you, its OK to initiate next steps. You need to find out about the pedigree of the dog you want to buy, if you can meet the puppies, details around costs, and any other considerations that might affect the logistics of your purchase. Many breeders advertise health guarantees, and you need to find out specifically what this means if you purchase a dog from them.

  • What are the parents' names and how old are they? Request information about their pedigree.
  • Are they registered with the American Kennel Club? Mixed breeds and some others may not be, and that's OK, depending on what you want in a dog.
  • Can I meet the parents and puppies before I make a purchase? This isn't always a deal breaker, but be very careful if they don't allow visits, and find out why.
  • Do you have pictures and video of the litter? This can be a great way to evaluate puppies for purchase and see how they're living.
  • Have the puppies been vaccinated? This also is not a deal breaker if the puppies aren't vaccinated yet, but discuss with the breeder what their expectations are for vaccination.
  • What kind of health testing policies do you have for new puppies to be born from this pairing? Any good breeder will be able to tell you a lot about this topic.
  • Do you have certificates of health for these puppies? You would like to see a copy before making a decision.
  • Do you offer a health guarantee for your puppies? Find out the specifics of what this means, and how it's enforced.
  • Do you provide a contract for the purchase? Most good breeders use contracts, so ask to see it and ask questions about terms before purchasing.
  • How much do you charge for your puppies? Get this in writing and understand what you are paying for.
  • If something happens, and the dog needs to be re-homed, will you take the dog back? Almost every reputable breeder will take their dogs back if you are unable to keep them.
  • Are you available to contact with questions about training, health concerns, and advice after the purchase? Find out how to reach them in the future.
  • When are the puppies ready to be picked up? Ask when you can get the puppies, or if they can be shipped, though this needs to be done with great care.
  • Do you require puppies to be registered, and do you have any special stipulations about their registration or future breeding? Some breeders have specific requirements about how dogs are registered.

Keep in mind, puppies are very vulnerable when they are young, up to about the time they can be vaccinated, starting around 6 to 8 weeks old. Diseases like parvo can seriously harm or even kill an entire litter if breeders are not careful. Because of this, many quality breeders will restrict access to their puppies until after they are vaccinated, which means you may not be able to meet the pups in person, at least right away. This isn't necessarily a bad sign, however, and typically indicates the breeder cares for their dogs.

Dog Breeders to Avoid

A responsible breeder will be able to provide you with all the information you need to make a good decision. If they seem sketchy, or not interested in where their puppies go after they leave them with their new families, it's a big red flag. Someone more interested in the money than the puppies is probably not the person you want to buy a dog from.

You should also learn the difference between a good, reputable breeder and a breeder running a puppy mill. Puppy mills are large-scale dog breeding operations that churn out puppies for the sole purpose of making money. They tend to be located in remote areas and are often hidden from public view. The puppies produced in puppy mills are typically kept in small cages with little or no human interaction or socialization.

Spotting a puppy mill takes some investigation:

  • The breeder is unwilling or unable to answer questions about their breeding practices, including where they get their dogs, how many litters they produce each year, and what kind of health care their dogs receive, if any.
  • The breeder makes you pay for the puppy up front without seeing any paperwork or other information about the breed.
  • The breeder refuses to allow you to meet the mother of your potential puppy before purchase, or they won't let you see where she lives, either at all or until after the purchase has been completed. This can be an indication that there may be something fishy going on behind closed doors.
  • The breeder doesn't ask any questions about your home environment or lifestyle, including not asking if you have children.
  • The breeder is unsure of the temperament of each of the puppies. They don't have a description to provide on which puppy is most outgoing versus which is more independent, for example.

Don't Rush the Process

If you're looking for a new dog, it can be tempting to just go online and see what pops up. But if you want to find a reputable breeder, you need to take the time to do some research and find out who they are. A good place to start is with the list of questions above. If they seem like a good fit for your family and vice versa, then go ahead and reach out with an email or call them right away. When you visit the puppy, take a look at their surroundings, how they're being raised, and the temperament and appearance of their mother. Put in the effort and build a rapport with a quality breeder, and you'll be rewarded with an excellent addition to your family.

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How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder You'll Feel Good About