How to Find a Responsible Dog Breeder

22 November 2021 - 3 min read

This article was written for the United States market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United Kingdom.

If you’re looking to add a new four-legged friend to your family, adoption can be a great choice. Animal shelters and rescues are brimming with wonderful dogs of all shapes and sizes in need of loving homes.

However, some pet parents make the personal choice to purchase a puppy. While there’s nothing shameful about this decision, it’s absolutely crucial that you find a responsible breeder. Unfortunately, this can be difficult, even for well-meaning animal lovers.

“We all want to ensure we’re not supporting puppy farmers or other unethical breeders when we purchase our puppy,” says Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon, and consulting veterinarian at FiveBarks. “However, it is not always easy to know who is a reputable breeder and who is a con artist with a slick online profile.”

Not sure where to start? Here’s everything you need to know about bringing a happy, healthy, well-adjusted puppy home from a responsible breeder.

Dog on bench

Why Finding a Good Breeder Is Important

Puppies bred by so-called “puppy mills” and “backyard breeders” suffer inhumane, unsanitary, and unhealthy conditions. A 2016 report by the Humane Society found that mother dogs at these facilities can spend their entire lives isolated in dog crates.

By contrast, responsible breeders provide high-quality care for their puppies, as well as the puppies’ parents, and are dedicated to placing their dogs in qualified, caring new homes. When you patronize an ethical breeder, you help end the cycle of abuse perpetuated by the puppy mill industry.

Additionally, responsible breeders offer the following important benefits:

  • Healthier puppies. Due to crowded, unsanitary conditions and inadequate veterinary care, puppies from irresponsible breeding operations are at risk of suffering long-term and acute health conditions, including potentially deadly viruses such as parvovirus.

  • Well-socialized dogs. Responsible breeders allow puppies to spend a minimum of 8-10 weeks with their mothers and siblings, resulting in proper development and socialization.

  • Genetic screening. Puppies from responsible breeders come with veterinary records proving age-appropriate care, and the pup's parents will have been screened for breed-related genetic conditions.

Dog running in field

How To Find a Reputable Dog Breeder

Finding a reputable dog breeder can be tricky in the age of online shopping. Anyone can build a website depicting cute puppies frolicking on a bucolic farm — and in reality run a much different business. For this reason, Dr. Simon offers the following tips to get your search started on the right foot:

  • Check with the American Kennel Club (AKC). “If opting for a pedigree dog, the best place to go is to the American Kennel Club, who maintains a list of registered breeders,” says Dr. Simon. Breeders who list their litters on the AKC’s marketplace are required to follow health and wellness regulations, and are subject to routine inspections by AKC field agents.

  • Ask your veterinarian. “It’s always a good idea to discuss your decision to buy a pup with your vet,” says Dr. Simon. Veterinarians know first-hand which breeders provide exemplary care for their dogs, and which don’t. If you’ve already identified a potential breeder, check in with the breeder’s vet to ensure the health records are accurate.

  • Contact local breed clubs. If you have your heart set on a specific breed, connect with local like-minded pet parents and ask for recommendations. The AKC maintains a database of official breed clubs across the country. “Word of mouth means a lot in the dog breeding community, and many respected breeders will be known in the community,” says Dr. Simon.

  • Check online reviews. Before contacting a breeder, do some good old-fashioned Googling and internet sleuthing. “Some breeders have a large presence online, and may have websites and Facebook pages,” says Dr. Simon. “Though there is the potential for online scams, you do have the opportunity to read reviews and to potentially contact previous purchasers.”

Dog lying in field

What To Look for When Visiting the Breeder

So you’ve done your research, and you’re pretty sure you’ve found the right breeder. Great! The next step is paying a visit to their home and inspecting where the puppies are being raised. Here’s what to look for:

  • An open invitation. First things first: a responsible breeder encourages visits and wants your entire family to meet the puppy before making any decisions. “A good breeder will be OK with you visiting the puppy a few times before you take him or her home,” says Dr. Simon.

  • A meet-and-greet with mom. While visiting, you should be able to observe your puppy’s entire family and environment. “You need to ask to see the mother with her puppies in the breeder’s home,” says Dr. Simon. “If you are not able to see the mother, the pups, or their environment, walk away.”

  • Happy, clean, social dogs. Puppies come with a certain amount of mess. But even so, the environment should be clean, and the dogs (mom and puppies included) should seem relaxed, upbeat, and loved. “While there may be a few spots of urine, the bedding and pups should be relatively clean, and there should not be any overpowering smells,” says Dr. Simon. “Mum and pups should be in good health, energetic, and not underweight.”

  • Organized, up-to-date paperwork. Experienced, responsible breeders know the importance of documenting care and certifications. “Ask to see things like AKC papers, proof of parasite prevention, vaccine cards, and microchip numbers,” says Dr. Simon. “Be rigorous while checking them, ensuring they aren’t old copies. If you’re unsure if the paperwork you see is valid, don’t hesitate to contact the vet who supplied them.”

Dog lying in the sand

Red Flags: Signs of a Bad Breeder

Once you know the signs, there are some easy ways to spot unethical breeders. Below are common red flags:

  • Too many dogs. Responsible breeders have a small number of puppies available and often have wait lists of up to a year, says Dr. Simon. If a breeder has dozens of dogs for sale, that’s a telltale sign that the operation isn’t in the animals’ best interest.

  • Multiple breeds. Reputable breeders typically only breed one or two types of dogs. If a breeder advertises Labradors, Yorkies, Frenchies, and Chihuahuas, you’re likely dealing with a puppy mill operation. “Beware of breeders who seem to be pumping out puppies or sell to local pet stores,” says Simon.

  • Unprofessional behavior. Good breeders encourage engaged pet parents and are happy to answer questions. If you experience frustrated, evasive, or pushy behavior, move on. “Oftentimes, a puppy farmer will get frustrated when you ask questions and will shut down conversations, insinuating you are being bothersome,” says Dr. Simon. “This sort of defensiveness is a big red flag, and it’s often best to walk away.”

Dog in car

The Breeder Should Ask You Questions, Too

Responsible breeders won’t sell their puppies to just anyone with the funds. On the contrary, you should be prepared to be interviewed yourself, and be able to prove you’re up to the task of raising the puppy.

“It’s a great sign when the breeder ‘vets’ you and wants to ensure you’ll be giving the pup a great home,” says Dr. Simon.

Below are common things a responsible breeder may require:

  • Knowledge about the breed. A good breeder knows the best and worst traits of the breed and wants to make sure you do, too. For example, a dedicated German Shepherd breeder won’t sell a puppy to a first-time dog owner with a small apartment and demanding work schedule.

  • Veterinary and housing references. Be prepared to provide veterinary references if you have other pets. If you live in an apartment or condominium, you may have to provide proof that you’re able to have the breed on the premises.

  • A care contract. Responsible breeders will have you sign a contract ensuring adequate care, and will often require that the puppy be returned to them if you are no longer able to keep for your pet.

Corgi Puppy Sitting at a Dog-Friendly Restaurant

Finding the Perfect Puppy Is Worth the Wait

Finding a puppy from a reputable breeder can be a time-consuming process. However, by being thorough and patient, you can ensure your new four-legged friend is happy, healthy, and prepared for family life. When you support caring breeders who have their animals’ best interests at heart, everyone benefits.

Congrats on your new pet and from our puppies to yours; thank you for choosing a responsible breeder!

Monica has written for a variety of brands and publications, including Martha Stewart Living, Anthropologie, and pet-friendly outlets including Petco, Chewy, and ManyPets.