How do you find a reputable dog breeder? Once you decide to look for a puppy of your own, AKC Marketplace can connect you with a responsible breeder. But you’re also going to have to do some research, mixed with a dollop of good, old-fashioned gut instinct.
Here are some considerations to guide you in your search.
Who Does the Breeder Associate With?
Like-minded individuals who share the same values and goals are drawn to one another. For their part, breeders often belong to their breed’s parent club, which is the organization recognized by the American Kennel Club as the official steward of that breed in the United States. To join a parent club, members often must sign a code of ethics that usually includes mandated health testing and a ban of “fad” breeding: more on that later.
Beyond basic membership, look to see how involved a breeder is. Do they belong to any committees or hold any offices? Does the individual belong to any regional or local clubs for the breed? Do they volunteer to help put on any club activities? Do they attend the national specialty, which is an annual show focused on one breed?
While belonging to a parent club is a good sign, it shouldn’t be the only thing you consider. The underlying question is whether the breeder has done anything to give back to the breed.
For obvious reasons, the longer a breeder has been breeding, the more experience they have, and the easier it will be to research them. Oftentimes, skimming their social media pages or website will give you a good sense of their reputation. Look for comments from other well-established and reputable breeders, as well as testimonials from people who have gotten dogs from them in the past.
Long-time breeders will often have waiting lists of repeat customers who understandably will be given priority over newcomers. Don’t discount a breeder just because they’re new and having their first litter. We all have to start somewhere. If the breeder is doing things right, they will almost always have an established mentor or co-breeder guiding them. Ask about that person, and then do some more research.
While breeders should be very knowledgeable about their breed, no one – no matter what their experience level – knows the answer to every question. What’s most important is having a network of smart and responsive peers to rely on for guidance in situations they haven’t yet encountered.
Tradition Over Trends
Reputable breeders have one goal in mind. That goal is attempting to produce healthy, and physically and behaviorally stable dogs that meet the breed standard. Most try to avoid purposefully breeding for any trait that defies the requirements of the standard at all costs.
Don’t trust breeders who are actively marketing puppies that differ from the breed standard. This includes Toy dog breeders who boast about their “teacups.” These cleverly marketed runts are susceptible to a variety of health problems, starting with the inability to maintain their blood-sugar levels, and are not a recognized size in any breed.
Fad colors should also be a red flag when looking for a breeder. The only reason to intentionally breed them is to cash in on inexperienced dog buyers who are willing to pay top dollar because of their “rarity.”
Healthy Habits Before and After Birth
Dogs are living beings, and as a result, breeders can’t control everything that happens with them. Nature can be cruel, and sometimes unforeseen health issues develop in the most carefully contemplated breedings. What breeders can do is ensure that the dogs in their breeding programs are as healthy as possible.
There are two kinds of tests for breeding stock. Health screenings, such as hip X-rays and blood tests for thyroid levels, can confirm that a dog is free from disease. While that does not guarantee that the dog won’t produce that defect in its offspring, it certainly improves those chances.
DNA or genetic tests can determine if a dog is a carrier for a particular disease or disorder. By knowing the genetic status of their dogs, the breeder can effectively prevent a disease from manifesting. (Paging Gregor Mendel – This doesn’t mean breeders must remove carriers from their programs. Instead, in the case of recessive traits, which require “two to tango,” breeders can simply breed carriers to non-carriers without any chance of disease manifesting.)
Organizations such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, or OFA, maintain databases of the tests that breeders do on their dogs. Be sure to look not just for your potential puppy’s parents, but their siblings and ancestors. Ideally, you’d see evidence of a long-established family of dogs with documented health testing that goes back for many generations. However, there may be exceptions, such as with dogs that are imported and have no health ancestry information, or with regards to relatively new tests (for which there won’t be generations of information) or ones that are newly overseen by the OFA.
Meeting the Litter
Before COVID, many breeders required potential puppy buyers to visit their home or kennel as part of their screening process. Today, these introductions may still take place via Zoom. Pay particular attention to the environment and the dogs themselves. Does the house or kennel look clean? Do the puppies appear to be in good weight, lively, and vigorous?
Keep in mind that the sire of the litter is often not with the puppies, as a breeder’s criteria in planning a mating involve finding the most suitable match, not the most convenient one. But the mother should be there, interacting with her puppies, and appearing comfortable and settled.
The Breeder Should Interview You Back
The breeder should be just as interested in determining if you are a suitable owner. Expect lots of questions about previous dogs you have owned, the number of people in your household and their ages, your work schedule, where the puppy will live, and how it will be trained and socialized. Breeders whose first questions are about how soon you can leave a deposit are giving you a very clear signal of their priorities.
Beware of breeders who place puppies before they are eight weeks old. Maturing puppies need this time with their littermates to learn proper canine manners. Because of slow maturity rates, Toy dog breeders will often hold their puppies back for as long as 12 weeks.
The Puppy Contract
Reputable breeders require buyers to sign a contract, whether they are acquiring a show dog or a family pet, though many dogs are both. The contract will outline the basics about the puppy – including the names of both parents and the puppy’s AKC registration number – and will always include a return-to-breeder clause.
No matter how old the dog, no matter what the reason, reputable breeders require that any dog they bred be returned to them. In this way, they keep track of and take responsibility for all the dogs they have brought into this world.
Can You Count on Them?
Even after completing all your due diligence, choosing the right breeder can still feel overwhelming, and that’s perfectly normal. After all, a puppy is not just a product, and a breeder is more than a salesperson. A breeder is someone who should be a valuable resource and mentor for you throughout your dog’s life.
In such a long-term situation, personalities matter. No matter how well-recommended and well-regarded a breeder is, if you don’t click with one another, that’s as good a reason as any to keep searching.
One tried-and-true approach is to ask yourself a key question – If I had an emergency with my puppy in the middle of the night, would I feel comfortable calling this person? If the answer is yes, then you may have your future breeder.