Terriers, Labradors, Chihuahuas, Bulldogs—so many breeds to choose from! And once you have selected your breed of choice, our tips below can help you find a reputable breeder so you can find just the right dog. I believe that if all breeding of dogs ceased immediately, in 15 years or so we would not have any dogs as pets. Additionally, having good strong physical and behavioral characteristics infused into the dog population builds solid foundations for healthy, balanced dogs.
As a trainer I have evaluated thousands of dogs. Owners love their dogs no matter where it came from—a stray that just showed up, a rescue, or a dog they purchased from a backyard breeder or a professional breeder. (The difference between a backyard breeder is someone breeds their dog with a friends or has ‘oops litters’ vs. a professional breeder (who is registered and licensed) and who shows their dogs at recognized dog shows.
While there are several places to buy a dog such as newspapers and Craig’s List (which we do not recommend), reputable breeders are usually affiliated with associations such as:
- The American Kennel Club (AKC) www.akc.org
- The United Kennel Club (UKC) www.ukc.org
- Breed Clubs or Associations (specific to the breed of dog you are looking for).
Other good sources for breeders include:
- Dog Fancy Magazine (www.dogfancy.com): Breeders run ads in the back of the magazine and Dog Fancy also puts out an annual breed guide.
- Eukunuba.com – reference the ‘Puppy World’ tab.
The reason for selecting a breeder in the first place is because you as an owner want a particular breed with specific characteristics that the breed is known for. In the words of the Westminster Kennel Club (which is the United States' highest ranking dog show),
“We firmly believe and advocate that the best source for a puppy or adult dog for your family will always be those responsible breeders who produce puppies with the goal of improving the health and physical traits of that breed. To accomplish that, responsible breeders continuously study their pedigrees and breeding stock, do health checks on all of their dogs involved, properly raise and socialize their puppies, and stand behind their puppies. Responsible breeders are proud of their dogs and participate in activities and organizations that further their knowledge of their breed and their dogs. Keep in mind the following quote that Westminster Dog Show (top dog breed show in the United States) televises every year.
"Additionally, the Westminster Kennel Club announces every year, "If you are planning to add a dog to your life and have come to look over the best of the best, please note, no dog you have seen here (yesterday or today) came from a pet shop, or was the 'product', if you will, of a puppy mill. If you want a dog, go to the people who care - the dedicated specialty breeders who have made dogs like those you see here—a lifetime effort. Talk dogs with dog people who care and understand.”
These are good words to live by when looking for a breeder.
Doing Your Homework (no excuse, the dog did not eat it!)
My personal experience: When I went to visit puppies at the breeder’s farm, I wanted a female. All dogs were well kept, the sire of my puppy was very friendly and very ball driven (he licked my hand as he went flying by to chase his ball), There were 2 female puppies in the litter left. I selected the bigger, healthier puppy and the other puppy was shipped to another customer. If I hadn’t been there to pick out the puppy I may not have gotten the most robust puppy. Nikita was a wonderful member of our family for 11 years until she crossed Rainbow Bridge. I am still in touch with her breeder today and eventually plan to get another puppy from her.
I signed a contract not to breed her and sent her spay and neuter certificate when the surgery was completed. My breeder was there for me to help me with end of life issues, clarifying that Beauceron (French Shepherds) life spans are 10-12 years and at 11 years Nikita had lived a good life.
Finding the right breeder for you and your family starts with asking the right questions and then eventually a visit to the breeders’ location(s) before selecting your dog. Keep in mind you are going to have questions for the breeder and the breeder should have questions for you. The conversation should be give and take between you and the breeder. It shouldn’t be an FBI interrogation but a certain amount of personal information needs to be discussed.
Additionally, you need to decide what age, size and color you want within the breed. For example: Labrador Retrievers come in yellow, black and chocolate, Chihuahuas: many colors such as fawn, black, brown and Poodles: chocolate, apricot, white and black and so on. The health and temperament of your dog is the most important so while color may be a factor, always go for a dog or puppy that seems more your speed.
Age of the dog is important as breeders often have not only puppies at the age of 6-20 weeks available but also dogs that are adolescents 6-36 months and even adult dogs that are 4 years are older. Dogs that are older puppies, adolescents or even adults are often retired from the show ring or will not be bred any longer for various reasons, and these more mature dogs are often great dogs with much of the chewing, jumping and hyper behavior more tempered. I prefer to see puppies go to owners when they are at least 8-12 weeks old rather than 6 weeks. I believe that the time spent with mom and siblings is important and 6 weeks is very young to wean a puppy off mommy – 8 to 12 weeks is preferable.
Keep in mind that one of the qualities I judge a breeder by is are they breeding to the standard set forth by the breed association. When you hear words like ‘teacup’ or ‘giant’ beware, as these dogs are usually smaller or larger than the breed standard. Big derivations from the breed standard can lead to serious temperament and health problems. Breed characteristics are very specific: height, color, shape of the head etc. Find a picture of puppies bred to the right standard from AKC, UKC or a Breed Association that will help you identify the right puppy the right puppy for you.
Recommended Questions for Dog Owners to Ask Potential Breeders
- Do you have puppies, adolescent and/or adult dogs available for purchase (to see the range of dogs they have) are they male or female? (Expect the dog not to be spayed or neutered since it’s coming from a breeder—but fixing the dog will most likely be part of the contract and your registration papers will be marked for limited registration so that your puppy can never be bred, and have registered offspring. Furthermore, family pets need to be spayed usually by 6 months, unless there is a specific health reason).
- Do you have the parents of the puppy at home with you that I can meet? (At least one parent should be present at the breeder’s location). If no parent is available to meet, don’t bother – you really need to see at least one of the parents and interact with that dog.
- What shows have the parents of the available litter participated in and how did they place (good quality dogs should have some ribbons to their name and/or AKC or UKC titles in confirmation or working dog trials.)
- Do you breed for temperament? (Are your dogs friendly with children or new people – keep in mind some breeds are not friendly with strangers i.e. protection breeds and some breeds are not great with young children i.e. some terrier or herding breeds.) The parent dog(s) should be able to meet new people on leash if properly introduced.
- Do you have references that I may contact (breeders should have 5-6 references of people who own or have owned dogs they bred)?
- Do you have pictures of the dog or puppies and where they currently live (dogs should have access to an clean, bright, open environment – they may be kenneled or in runs for part of the day, and then be exercised/socialized for part of the day. But they shouldn’t be confined in small runs or cages for long periods of time. Additionally, don’t meet a breeder at a public place like a hotel or restaurant – you want to see where the puppies are kept and help ensure you aren’t purchasing a dog from a puppy mill or a facility that is in poor condition.
- How do you socialize new puppies or your dogs? Puppies should be allowed to play with their litter, other nice dogs the breeder owns and meet new people. Older dogs should have experience going places with the breeder.
- How often are their dogs bred? I consulted with breeders about how often a female dog should be bred. Opinions vary, however, all the breeders I consulted agreed that female dogs should always be healthy when they are bred. Additionally, different breeders follow different breeding protocols – some female dogs in good health can be breed each heat cycle for a couple of years, some females need more time off to recuperate because they have larger litters or simply need more time. After each breeding a veterinary checkup may be in order, and both males and females should not be bred until they are at least 2 years old and have reached the appropriate level of maturity.
- What vaccinations have you given the puppies/dogs and what vaccination and worming schedule are they on? Puppies should be vaccinated for Parco, Distemper, Portabella and if over the age of 16 weeks rabies.
- What type of contract guarantees do you provide (puppies from breeders should have health guarantees for at least the first two years of their life) for example, if a puppy develops juvenile hip dysphasia before the age of two, or develops a congenital defect – blindness, heart diseases etc. the breeder should be willing to replace the puppy at no charge and take back the puppy they originally sold you (keep in mind you may not want to give up your puppy because it has a health problem, it’s just something a reputable breeder will write into a contract.)
- What congenital defects or diseases run within the breeder’s bloodlines? (No breeder or line is perfect, problems will show up but at what age i.e. hip problems can often show up at the age of 8-12 years in Shepherds but should not be showing up at the age of 12-24 months. If a breeder says they have never had a problem, ask to see genetic tests – which are helpful but not 100% predictive of health issue), but I would be suspect of a breeder that does not have any problem of any kind within it’s line. At the same time, it should be a small percentage that has defects, which show up at an early age, and the breeder should have adjusted this by not breeding those parents or the one parent dog with the problem.
*Note: review the contract and look for weird clauses—in one client contract I reviewed, the breeder had written in that the owners of the dog purchased from him had to eat a certain food. (Not only did the dog have congenital knee problems but was very temperamental). A Breeder should recommend a good food(s) but requiring that a certain food is ridiculous parameter—what if the dog is allergic to that food, doesn’t like the food or that food is not available where they owner lives?
Note: A breeder should be breeding his or her particular breed because they love the breed and wish to contribute good, strong genetics to that gene pool. Additionally, their role is to facilitate a long-lasting relationship, and educate pet owners. Breeders should have pictures and videos of the puppies or dogs that they have available. A good breeder will make sure you are fully informed and has your best interest, and has the puppies, in mind and will do everything possible to make a good match.
Keep in mind; this should not be a pressure driven sale. You can always thank the breeder and let him or her know that you’ll keep in them in mind. And upon review the breeder just may not be the right one for you-he/she may be inpatient, has not answered your questions or you just aren’t comfortable with their breeding practices or conditions that the dogs live in. It’s okay to say –No- try not to feel sorry for a puppy or dog and purchase it, you really want the dog that is right for you,
What the Breeder May Ask You
- Have you had a dog before? If so, how many, how long did he live?
- Are their other pets in the house? If so, how many and what kind?
- What type of temperament are you looking for (playful, laid back, obedient etc.)? Key Point: Each puppy is an individual, and it is important for the buyer and the breeder to communicate effectively so they can pick the right puppy together.
- Are their young children or elderly people in the house or that regularly visit? If so, how old?
- How busy is your household (doors and gates cannot be left open!)?
- Where will the puppy/dog stay initially? (You will need to have a crate or confined area for the dog in your home ready for the dog.)
- Do you plan on training you dog, if so where? Ask friends for referrals or visit APDT.com (American Pet Dog Trainers Associaation)
- Do you have a groomer or know how to how to wash a dog? (Ask your friends for referrals.
- How often will you exercise the dog and what activities do you plan to do with your dog (agility, hiking, nose work)?
- Do you have a fenced yard, patio or live in an apartment/townhome?
- Do you rent or own? (If you rent, the breeder may require a letter from the management company.)
- Have you made provisions for your dog’s care in the event that you become ill or unable to take care of your dog (e.g. the dog will be returned to the breeder or be cared for by a trusted friend.)?
- Do you have a veterinarian selected or that you’ve used before? (if you don’t have a veterinarian, ask friends for referrals.)
- May I call a couple of references? (The answer should be definitely yes!)
- May I see pictures of where the dog will be staying in your home? (The breeder may make some suggestions.)
- If something happens to you, or you cannot keep the dog, where would the dog stay? Would you be willing to set up an estate or will provision for your dog so he does not end up in the shelter?
- Will you be coming to visit us? (I highly recommend this, even if it’s a long drive or out of state you want to meet the people, see the puppy or dog and experience the place where the dog or puppy has been raised.)
I wish you all the best as you search for the right breeder. Take your time, do your research and expect that your dog will need training for several months. Remember you are signing up for 10-15 years of a commitment so look for a breeder with a good track record of raising good quality dogs with appropriate temperaments. Enjoy your new dog once you have him, your life will never be the same and be filled with sometimes challenging experiences but fun ones too. The joy of having a loving dog is fun and everlasting.