Adopting from shelters and rescue agencies has become increasingly popular in recent years but, working with a reputable breeder is still the choice of many first-time and veteran pet owners.
Everyone has their reasons and factors to weigh when selecting the who, how, and where of bringing a new companion into their life, and it’s not fair to say one route is better than another.
Responsible dog breeders are not contributing to the population of dogs in shelters. The large pet population in shelters is mostly due to irresponsible and unchecked breeding from pet owners who either don’t spay and neuter or allow their pets to get pregnant and then don’t properly care for the pups.
Breeders are essential members of the canine world. Usually, people become breeders because they love dogs so much, and they want to take an active role in bettering the breed and creating solid, stable-minded dogs. Without breeders, we wouldn’t have a class of canine professionals who are experts on particular breeds and can provide records to attest to a dog’s genetic heritage.
Simply put, breeders can provide you with a purebred dog that’s healthy and ready to be trained and socialized. Of course, there are purebred dogs in shelters, but you can’t necessarily guarantee they will have any particular breed you are searching for. Not to mention, just because a dog is ‘purebred’ does not mean that a dog is well- bred, and may have underlying health issues..
If you are looking for a dog to fulfill a specific role other than just a beloved family pet, working with a breeder is absolutely the way to go. This goes for all manner of working and service dogs, including police dogs and performance dogs too.
It’s much harder to socialize a dog once they reach maturity, and even if you adopt a puppy from a shelter, they may have some genetic difficulties you won’t become aware of until later on.
A breeder can give you confidence in who your dog will likely grow up to resemble behavior-wise based on knowledge of their parents, grandparents, and older siblings. On the whole, dogs from a breeder are more even-tempered, stable- minded, and patient because they are raised consistently by a professional.
If you are interested in an uncommon breed or one that’s known as difficult to train, such as Shiba Inu’s, then a good breeder is going to be your best bet.
Not all breeders are equal, and some unscrupulous people try to game the system by posing as trusted breeders, but in reality, they are raising dogs in unhealthy ways.
Many of these predatory breeders are breeding their dogs at home and selling the litters off quickly to make some money.
If you do a google search for “puppies for sale” plus your city, you’ll probably find some questionable operations. Other sites that allow for classified postings like Craigslist of or Backpages are definite red flags and should be avoided.
Anyone who is advertising that they can deliver you puppies via the mail is also probably up to no good.
Top breeders have waiting lists of a year or more, so anyone who promises to put a dog in your hands within a couple of hours is almost 100% up to something shady.
One good rule of thumb to separate a lousy breeder from a good one is the ease at which you can gain information. Reputable breeders are honest, transparent, and responsive. They’ll answer your questions and ask plenty of their own. They care more about their dog’s health and safety than they do about making a profit from a sale.
Other red flags are breeders who give guarantees regarding a dog’s future behavior.
Guaranteeing a pedigree is one thing, but there’s no way for a breeder to reliably tell you how a dog will act later in life. This has more to do with how you train and socialize your dog, which’s on you as the owner. Be sure to question any unrealistic promises around a dog’s ability to become a service dog, show dog, or the like.
Be doubtful on offers to double up with a second pup.
It may sound counter-intuitive; two dogs are better than one, especially if they’re litter-siblings, right? Nope, it’s not true. Puppies who are adopted as siblings can develop co-dependent relationships and never gain independence from one another. Whenever they’re separated, they become fearful and unsure of themselves. Unless you are a highly experienced dog owner, most breeders will caution you against adopting two pups from the same litter.
Now that we’ve given the appropriate warnings about unsavory breeders, let’s discuss what separates a decent breeder from a genuinely great one.
A great breeder does more than just sell you a loveable puppy. They’re also your dog fairy-godparents, so to speak. They’ll be there for you in the beginning in case you have any questions about your puppy’s care and condition.
They should be able to provide you their recommendations on food choices, training regimens, and grooming care too.
Sure, you don’t have to take their advice, but you can let them be your starting point if you are just starting with a new breed.
Here’s a rundown of some traits you will find in exemplary breeders. Not every great breeder will meet all these criteria, but if you find a breeder that meets most of these and has no red flags, then you’re probably in good hands.
They Raise One Litter At A Time
Each litter a breeder raises takes an incredible amount of work. Raising one litter at a time is considered ideal, and raising more than two litters at once is a definite red flag. It’s unlikely this breeder can give each pup the attention and care they deserve. This could lead to dogs who are less than healthy and poorly socialized.
You Can Meet The Parents
Being able to meet a puppy’s parents gives you a look into who they might be as an adult. Often the male parent isn’t around, but you should still ask about them and see what information is available. If the parents are not available to meet, ask about other older siblings still in the breeder’s care.
The Dogs Are In A Comfortable Environment
This is a crucial one, puppies raised indoors are most likely to be exposed to normal home life versus those raised in outdoor kennels. Unless you plan for your dog to live outside, as many working dogs do, you’ll want your breeder to keep their puppies indoors. When dogs are indoors, it leads to more social interactions with each other and with humans too. The indoor environment matters as well; a cold cement floor isn’t as welcoming as an indoor space integrated into the household.
They Do Two-Way Interviews
As stated above, great breeders want all their dogs to end up in good homes. As you interview them, they’ll also be interviewing you to make sure you’ll be a good fit. They’ll take the time to get to know you and what you’re looking for in a puppy.
If possible, they’ll want to interview each member of your household and then select which specific pup from their litter will be the best match for everyone.
The Parents Are Over Two
It’s not recommended to breed dogs who are under the age of two years old. These dogs are still technically puppies themselves, even if they have reached sexual maturity. It’s not easy to get a proper temperament assessment on dogs that are still growing themselves.
Some breeds can be successfully bred younger than 24 months, so inquire for more information when discussing with a potential breeder.
They Won’t Sell A Puppy Before 8 Weeks
The eight-week rule is a guideline followed by all responsible breeders. Before eight weeks, puppies are too young to leave their mothers and litter-mates. When dogs are taken from their birth family early, studies have shown they are more likely to exhibit problem behaviors later in life, including fear and aggression.
If a breeder is serious about their business, there is no reason why they should ever be in a rush to sell a newly-born pup.
They Always Health Test
One of the reasons people are attracted to breeders is because of their confidence that a dog purchased from them will be healthy until they reach an advanced age. Please do your research on the breeds you’re interested in and ask your breeder about what health testing they perform on their dogs. The American Kennel Club is a great resource to get started here. Also, ask breeders for vaccination records to know what’s been done and what’s left on the list. A reputable breeder will be transparent about a dog’s health records.
Breeding dogs is a business, and supply and demand play a role in determining purchase prices. If a breeder has been successful over many years, they’ll have built a strong reputation for their litters and will have a waiting list that might be full for 2 or 3 litters. This also allows them to command higher prices since their dogs are in demand. Expect to pay a deposit to get your name on their list; this is also a good practice for them to weed out people who aren’t serious about becoming pet owners.
They’re Transparent And Knowledgeable
A breeder spends the bulk of their time dealing with their dogs, raising their litters, and making sure each dog is well cared for. If you have questions about any aspect of their breed or how to care for them, your breeder should know the answer.
If you’re concerned about what health issues the breed is prone to experience later in life, they should be able to provide you with advice and resources.
They should be open and upfront about their business, practices and willingness to provide you with references of customers to talk to if you want an unbiased opinion.
A breeder should specialize in at most two breeds. If they claim to be a serious breeder but have more than two breeds they deal in, this is a major red flag.
They Will Take A Puppy Back
When you purchase from a breeder, you hope it’s going to be a perfect fit, and you’ll be with your puppy for years to come, but there’s always a possibility that life can change rapidly. Your health might change, you might fall upon unexpected hardships, etc., and the best option might be to return your dog to the breeder. A genuinely great breeder will be willing to do this; it’s the last resort measure, of course, but taking a dog back is preferable to seeing them go to a shelter or into another tough situation.
They Can Prove A Dog’s Lineage
This is a crucial aspect, after all, you’re working with a breeder to purchase a dog of a specific breed. But even within a breed, there are variations of traits that can be more prominent. The prominence of particular characteristics is a factor when looking at dogs that serve as family pets but also as working dogs. German Shepherds are a great example. The progeny of a working Shepard versus a family pet Shepard would show higher energy levels, focus, and drive. They might be more than your family is prepared to handle unless you have experience with dogs from working lineages.
Ok, we’ve gone over the red flags to avoid, as well as what to look for in a rockstar breeder, now how do you actually find them?
One way to go about it would be to ask for referrals among owners of the breed you’ve shown interest in. You may not know any of these folks personally, or perhaps their breeder was less than trust-worthy, but they still love their dog. These are the things you have to consider when asking around. Hopefully, you’re part of a trusted community of dog owners, and you receive some promising leads. Dog owners are generally very helpful and friendly, so it can’t hurt to go over to your local dog park and meet some people.
Asking dog professionals may prove to be a better starting point. You can ask local veterinarian offices, trainers, and groomers. Well-known breeders are likely to have relationships with these other professionals, and word gets around about who’s excellent and who to avoid.
That said, there isn’t anything wrong with doing your research online and getting in touch via email or a contact form. You will have to do your due diligence and test them against the criteria we’ve listed here, but that’s part of the process, no matter what route you take.
If they’re legitimate, they’ll hold up to your scrutiny, and you can take the process further from there.
When searching for a breeder, there is no need to rush. Take the time to educate yourself on the breeds you are interested in and which breeders will make the most sense for your budget, timeline, and location.
If you’re having any challenges in making your selection feel free to contact us in the bubble below, we’d be happy to chat and give you some advice. Also, you can sign up for a training evaluation with our team.