German shorthaired puppies run through a field.

How to Find the Right Dog Breeder

Finding the right dog breeder requires research and the ability to scope out red flags

So you’re getting a new puppy—you’ve done the research and picked the best breed for you. Now what? 

It’s time to pick a breeder.

As with anything else, the amount of effort you put into researching breeders will pay off in the long-run. Dog breeders have a tremendous influence on the dogs that they produce, whether it’s selecting the parents with the right traits and good health history, raising the puppies in an appropriate and healthy manner, or providing you with support over the lifetime of your dog.

Do your homework, look online, and reach out to people who can provide references for the breeders in question. Don’t be fooled by a slick website or a great marketing strategy—talk to real people who have had experience with the breeder.

Reach out to breeders and be ready to introduce yourself and ask questions. In addition to you evaluating whether or not you want to get a puppy from them, they should be evaluating whether or not you appear to be a suitable home for one of their dogs. If possible, travel to meet the breeder and view the puppies in their facility or home. Be understanding if the breeder has young puppies and does not want to introduce germs into the environment with unvaccinated puppies, but pay attention to how the breeder is willing to engage with you (or not) and whether they are willing to answer your questions.

Whether you reach out by email, phone, or in person, here are some important questions to ask a potential breeder.

  1. Why are you breeding this litter? Hopefully, the breeder has a clear answer that can provide insight as to their intentions. Are they looking to improve the overall breed with the superior characteristics of the parents? Perhaps they are looking to keep a puppy from their own dog? Every litter should have a purpose, which should not be money.
  1. What health testing do you perform ahead of breeding? No dog breed is without health issues, so do your homework to learn what issues are most common in the breed you’re considering. Hip x-rays should be a bare minimum to rule out debilitating hip dysplasia, but there are likely other tests whether genetic, blood, or structural. 
  1. What makes these parents suitable for breeding? Look for a breeder who has clear intentions about what they are trying to accomplish with the breeding. Ask about conformation and performance testing. Titles may not be important to you, but they do indicate that the dog has demonstrated skills or soundness in subjects that are appropriate for the breed.
  1. What kind of health guarantee do you offer? While not universal, many breeders are willing to stand behind their puppies with a guarantee against genetic health problems within the first year or two. Understand that this does not cover illness or injury that is unrelated to the genetics of the puppy.
  1. How are the puppies socialized in the first 8-9 weeks? Puppies are born into the world as sponges, ready to soak up knowledge and experience. It’s critical that the breeder provides the puppies with ample opportunity for safe, age-appropriate socialization and exposure to new environments. There’s always a tradeoff between protecting their young immune systems and exposing them to new experiences, so ask about the breeder’s philosophy on the subject.
  1. What commitment, if any, do you require from puppy buyers? Some breeders will want you to test the dog in puppy-level activities or conduct health evaluations such as hip x-rays at a certain age. Be sure you understand what’s expected of you before committing to a puppy.
  1. What kind of support are you willing to provide after the puppy goes home? Good breeders should be willing to entertain questions and provide expertise throughout the life of the dog. Understand that they are likely busy with a full-time job as well as the training of their own dogs, but it’s appropriate to expect a reasonable level of support in the years ahead, should you have questions that arise. This is also a good time to ask about their policy of rehoming the dog—many breeders require that they get the first right of placement should you be unable to keep the dog.

As you do your homework and talk with breeders, watch out for potential red flags that indicate you may want to look elsewhere for your next puppy. Some red flags include:

No effort is made to ensure the parents are healthy and free from genetic defects. Don’t believe any breeder who tells you that a breed is free from any health problems. The breeder should be able to clearly articulate any health concerns and what steps they are taking to ensure that health problems aren’t carried forward with this breeding.

There are many unsold puppies of various ages on the property and “available immediately.” While circumstances can lead to puppy buyers backing out at the last minute, it should be a red flag if a breeder seems to have a lot of unplaced puppies around. Part of responsible breeding means not producing homeless animals, so the breeder should be making every possible effort to place puppies in suitable homes before producing more puppies. If you have concerns, don’t be afraid to ask about the circumstances.

The breeder outright dismisses the value of registration, titles, or other demonstrations of a dog’s abilities. While dog registries and titles aren’t perfect, they do provide a means by which to assess a dog’s soundness or performance abilities. If you intend to hunt or work your dog, you’ll want to know if the puppy comes from parentage that is well-suited for the intended task. It’s not foolproof, but it could be a red flag if the breeder is unwilling or unable to discuss the abilities of the parents and their suitability for your intended purposes.

The puppies are housed in an unsanitary environment. This should go without exception. Do not “rescue” a puppy from a breeder who cannot keep the pups clean and healthy. You put yourself at risk of a lifetime of health problems and expensive veterinary care if you buy a puppy from a breeder who cannot take appropriate care at the start of their life. Do note that raising puppies outdoors is not a red flag, so long as the puppies have a place for warm shelter and the enclosure is clean. If you have questions about the housing for the dogs and puppies, just ask.

A new puppy is the start of a relationship that is (hopefully) going to last 10 to 15 years. Starting off with the right puppy from the right breeder who meets your needs and aligns with your goals is essential for beginning this journey with success on your side.

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