How to find a reputable dog breeder

Although there are many reasons to adopt a shelter or rescue dog and it is undoubtedly a rewarding and worthwhile thing to do, there are also many reasons why you may choose to buy a dog from a breeder instead. 

You will know much more about the dog’s history, what breed it is and what its parents are like in terms of temperament and appearance. This means it will be much easier to predict what the dog will be like to live with, for example how much training, exercise, and grooming they will need. 

Some breeds can be prone to health problems and buying from a breeder can give you the reassurance that your puppy and/or its parents have passed the necessary tests for these health problems.

Not to mention the sheer joy of bringing a puppy home, a cute bundle of fun and chaos!

Once you have made your choice, the next step is to find your furry buddy. It can be difficult to know exactly how to find a reputable dog breeder, so we’ve put together some hints and tips to help you through this process.

Suggested reading: Adopting vs buying a dog

Table of Contents

Why is it important to find a good dog breeder?

A quick search of dog breeders online and you will come across many adverts for puppies, often claiming to be perfect pets, very well bred and super healthy. Buyer beware- you can’t always believe what puppy sellers tell you! 

There are many dishonest and unscrupulous dog breeders who are only out to make money, often at the expense of the dogs and the people who buy them.

There are an estimated 10,000 so-called ‘puppy farms’ or ‘puppy mills’ in the US and in many cases they operate just within the law, meaning they cannot be shut down despite providing only the very basics the dogs need to survive. 

Puppies from puppy mills are raised in impoverished and stressful environments, meaning they will be prone to fear and anxiety due to lack of socialization. 

Puppies often arrive in their new homes unwell and riddled with parasites. Parent dogs are unlikely to be health tested, so puppy mill dogs are more likely to develop congenital health problems as they grow.

Many unwitting people are taken in by the glossy adverts and when they arrive to meet the puppy they have an overwhelming desire to rescue them from these appalling conditions. 

However, doing so will fund the next generation and keep the puppy mill in business. In addition, you will be left with a pet dog that may have behavioral issues and health problems. 

If you really want to rescue a dog or puppy, do so through a reputable dog rescue shelter or organization.

Even if you manage to avoid the puppy mills, there are often stories of breeders refusing to take sick puppies back, not answering questions or providing support to new puppy owners, and even falsifying parent health tests. 

Experiences like this can cause stress and heartache at a time when you want to be enjoying your new puppy. So you can see, finding the right breeder is incredibly important.

How do I find a reputable breeder in my area?

If you know what breed you are looking for, the first task would be to contact the breed society and ask them for a list of breeders in your area. 

Another good place to search dog breeders is the American Kennel Club website. They have a ‘Find a Puppy’ page where you can select the breed you are looking for. They will give you a list of local dog breeders and whether they have puppies available. 

All breeders listed on the AKC website are subject to regular kennel inspections to ensure they meet the AKC standards for good care, living conditions, identification, and record keeping.

If you are looking at buying a cross-breed puppy that is not registered, then it may be worth contacting AKC registered breeders of the parent breeds to see if they can point you in the right direction. 

For example if you were seeking a Rottweiler Husky Mix you could approach registered breeders of rottweilers and huskies.

Responsible and reputable breeders tend only to deal with other responsible and reputable breeders and so their recommendations can generally be trusted.

You could also ask your veterinarian if they know of any good breeders in the local area. There are many responsible breeders of mixed-breed puppies who aren’t on a breed register and rely on word of mouth to find good homes for their puppies.

Personal recommendations from other dog professionals or dog-owning friends are certainly worth taking note of. If you are able to travel to dog shows, this is a great way to chat with people involved in your breed of choice and ask for breeder recommendations.

Another great place to begin is with breed-specific groups on social media. On most platforms, you’ll find communities dedicated to different breeds and cross-breeds. They are an ideal place to research and identify breeders who come recommended.

When you visit a litter of puppies it is very easy to have your judgment clouded by the cute little puppy faces and it may be difficult to keep a clear head.

For this reason, it is a good idea to chat with the breeder over the phone before visiting the puppies. You can ask them lots of questions and get a good idea of how they operate before you get emotionally involved.

What to check for at the breeder’s premises

When you arrive at the breeders premises, what is your first impression? Is it well kept? Do they take pride in their property? This is likely to be a reflection of how they keep their dogs.

The breeder should be happy to show you the whole litter of puppies and they should be with their mother if they are aged 8 weeks or younger. If the mother is nowhere to be seen or the breeder offers a questionable explanation for her absence, warning bells should be ringing.

If the pups’ father is on the premises, ask to meet him too. There may be other doggy relatives and a good breeder will be happy for you to meet them- in fact, it is a good sign if they want to show off their dogs and are obviously proud of them.

Take note of the living conditions; are the pups and their environment clean and do the puppies look happy and healthy? The breeder should be open and honest.

They should be happy to answer any questions you have and to show you paperwork relating to AKC registration (if relevant), parent and puppy health tests, and their state breeding licence.

A good breeder will care about where the puppies are going and should ask you questions about your home and yard, your dog-owning experience, and your lifestyle.

They should encourage you to have multiple visits with your puppy if possible and when you collect your puppy they will organize a written contract of sale.

A responsible breeder will provide you with support when you take your puppy home and will ask you to return the puppy to them if you are unable to keep it for any reason.

Questions to ask the breeder

  • How long have you been breeding dogs?
  • How many litters a year do you produce?
  • Were the puppies born and raised at your premises? What is their date of birth?
  • What is the temperament of the mother, father, and related dogs?
  • What sort of experiences have the puppies been exposed to? (for example other dogs and animals, children, household noises, etc.).
  • What health tests have the puppies and parents had? (It helps to do your research beforehand so you know what breed-specific tests are applicable).
  • If the dogs are AKC registered, ask to see the registration certifis of both the parents.
  • Have the puppies been wormed, how often, and what wormer did you use?
  • Have the puppies had any vaccinations yet?
  • Have the puppies been microchipped? This is not mandatory in most states but if your puppy is microchipped you will need to take their paperwork with you and register your details with the microchip company.
  • What puppy food do you recommend?

Red flags and warning signs

If you notice any of the following warning signs you really should walk away, however hard it may be!

A breeder who offers to send you a puppy without meeting you.

Dogs and puppies in cramped or dirty conditions.

Dogs and puppies of many different breeds- good breeders specialize in only one or two breeds.
Young puppies (under 8 weeks) without their mother.
Dogs and puppies who look ill or fearful.
If the breeder can’t produce their state breeding licence or any paperwork they claim to have, without good reason.
If the breeder can’t answer your questions about vet visits, parasite control, vaccinations, and health testing of parents and puppies.
If the breeder doesn’t seem interested in what kind of home you can give the puppy and doesn’t ask you any questions.

Final thoughts on choosing a breeder you can trust

You may need to visit a few different breeders before you find one that you trust and feel confident buying a puppy from. You do not need to buy the first puppy you see, if you have any doubts about the breeder or the puppies, put your emotions aside and walk away. 

It might be that you find the right breeder but they don’t have a litter of puppies available. Ask them if they have another litter planned and be prepared to wait for the right puppy, it will be worth it in the long run. 

Similarly, be prepared to travel out of your area if you can’t find a local breeder that you can trust. Dogs can live for 15 years or more so doing your research and making the right decisions from the start is really worth it.

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