Updated: Oct 25, 2021
When looking for a new puppy or dog, it is important to take a close look at your lifestyle and what you’re looking for in a dog so that you can choose the best puppy for you! [Need help doing that? Check out the first post in this series on Picking the Perfect Puppy!]
Once you’ve decided what type of puppy you’d like to bring home, it’s time to look for your puppy!
How should you choose where to get your puppy?
Depending on your goals for your puppy, getting your puppy from a reputable shelter/rescue may be the best choice for you or it may make the most sense for you to get your puppy from a reputable breeder. No matter where you get your puppy, the most important thing is to find a reputable source that cares about the dog’s long-term well-being.
If you have a very specific goal in mind for your puppy (such as a service dog or dog competitions), a reputable breeder may be the right choice for you! With an extensive knowledge of the puppy’s genetics and relatives, your breeder will be able to make an educated prediction about their size and ability to meet your goals when they are an adult dog.
In a world full of the #adoptdontshop mantra, this may sound a little surprising to you! But did you know that if you get a dog from a reputable breeder, it will never end up in a shelter? No, not because breeders are able to perfectly place every puppy (even the best shelters and breeders sometimes don’t nail a puppy placement), but because a reputable breeder will make you promise to return the puppy to them if things don’t work out. Who better to find a second home for the puppy than the breeder that loves them and is extremely knowledgeable about their breed? Unfortunately, the number of irresponsible breeders far outnumbers the number of reputable breeders, so it is extremely important to ensure that the breeder you choose is reputable. Check out these tips to make sure you're choosing a reputable breeder.
10 Signs You've Found a Reputable Breeder
1. They health test the parents.
Health testing to ensure that the parents aren’t passing on genetic diseases that are known to be prevalent in the breed to their offspring are very important. Not sure what health tests to look for? Check the recommended tests listed on the American Kennel Club  or Orthopedic Foundation for Animals  websites for starters!
Red Flag: They equate health testing to a vet visit and/or breed dogs that have previously produced puppies with health issues.
While the parents and puppies absolutely should all have been examined by a veterinarian, health testing is much more thorough than a simple vet visit. If a breeder doesn’t understand what you mean by health testing, walk away. Additionally, a breeder should not breed dogs that test positive for genetic markers for health issues or that have produced litters with health issues. They are intentionally breeding unhealthy dogs and should not be trusted.
2. They make you wait.
Getting a puppy from a reputable breeder may take a year or more, since they carefully vet all potential adopters, often only have a litter or two each year, and frequently have wait lists. Don’t worry! It will be worth the wait.
Red Flag: They have puppies available for you to take home NOW!
A reputable breeder only breeds a litter if they know they will be able to find a home for each puppy. While they may occasionally have a puppy or two get returned or an older dog that is retiring or returned, a reputable breeder will not regularly have multiple puppies or entire litters immediately available.
3. They care about your puppy for its entire lifetime.
A reputable breeder provides lifelong support to their puppies. This means they will likely ask you to sign a contract and one of the requirements in that contract will be that you return the puppy to them if you ever need to rehome it. They may check in on you periodically to see if you are taking good care of your puppy and if they can help you with any questions or concerns. They will love it if you send them updates!
Red Flag: They don’t require that you return puppies to them if you need to rehome.
Again, the goal of getting a puppy from a reputable breeder is to not only get the best puppy for your needs, but also to keep dogs from winding up in shelters. A breeder that doesn’t require and/or won’t take back their puppies that wind up getting rehomed is not a reputable breeder.
4. They provide veterinary care for the mother and puppies.
A reputable breeder gives both the mother and puppies excellent veterinary care. The bitch (mother) should get a veterinary examination prior to breeding to ensure she is ready to carry a litter, prenatal vitamins throughout her pregnancy, and a post-partum veterinary visit to ensure she stays healthy. The puppies should receive dewormer, the first round of vaccines, at least one veterinary visit, and health certificates. Proper veterinary care is expensive and is one of the factors that drives up the price for a reputably bred puppy.
Red Flag: The bitch and/or puppies haven’t been seen by a veterinarian.
If your puppy hasn’t been to a veterinarian, it may have a serious condition such as a heart murmur that you simply won’t know about. Additionally, just like prenatal care can help avoid health and behavioral problems for humans, a healthy bitch will be more likely to produce healthy puppies. Neglecting her care will not set your puppy up for lifelong success.
5. They don’t send the puppies home until they are 8-12 weeks old.
Puppies learn a good deal from their mother and littermates during the first 8 weeks of their life, especially bite inhibition. Breeders that keep puppies past 8 weeks are also responsible for exposing puppies to a variety of new experiences so that they can be stable, well-socialized puppies. It’s also critical for puppies to be separated shortly after 12 weeks to avoid littermate syndrome issues.
Red Flag: They send puppies home together or before 8 weeks.
One of the most common signs of a bad breeder is a breeder that is willing to send two puppies to a pet home. Puppies that grow up together (even if they aren’t from the same litter or are slightly different ages) often suffer from a phenomenon called littermate syndrome. Dogs suffering from the effects of littermate syndrome may experience extreme separation anxiety when separated from each other or sudden and severe aggression towards each other, but the effect of littermate syndrome I have seen the most often is that one puppy grows into a stable, thriving dog and the other suffers from mental deficits that manifest in separation anxiety, aggression, failure to bond with humans, fear, and/or other issues. Reputable breeders don’t send littermates home together, but they also don’t send puppies home before they’ve received the important socialization from their mother and littermates.
6. They socialize their puppies.
A reputable breeder will set your puppy up for lifelong success by providing them with a structured socialization program that begins the day they are born. Some of the more popular programs include Puppy Culture , Early Scent Introduction , Early Neurological Stimulation , but a reputable breeder may have developed their own version of these programs. If your breeder properly exposes your puppy to training tools such as leashes, collars, and crates, your puppy will be much better off!
Red Flag: They make no mention of socialization protocols.
Puppies that aren’t properly socialized often grow up to have behavioral problems. If your breeder doesn’t offer any structured socialization for their puppies, find a different breeder!
7. Their dogs are proven in the area you want your puppy to excel in.
Do you want your puppy to be a hunting dog? Find a breeder that has titled their dog in hunting competitions or has clearly proven their dogs are successful in the field. Looking for a therapy dog? Find a breeder that breeds for temperament and either has a parent dog certified as a therapy dog or has produced certified therapy dogs in previous litters. If a breeder’s dog has titles and/or certifications, it also shows a certain level of care and dedication to their dogs and to the betterment of the breed.
Red Flag: Their dogs have no titles or certifications.
If it isn’t important to you to have a dog with proven lineage, adopt a shelter puppy. Adopting a puppy from a breeder with no titles or certifications on their dogs will simply mean you’re paying extra for an unpredictable puppy. If you’re looking for a reputably bred dog, don’t just take the breeder’s word for it. Titles and/or certifications matter and are an impartial demonstration of what the breeder is telling you.
8. They come highly recommended.
Reach out to the national or local breed club and see if they recommend the breeder you are interested in. Ask for references from their veterinarian and families they have placed puppies with in the past.
Red Flag: They refuse to produce references.
Even if it’s their very first litter, a breeder should be able to provide references from the veterinarian, breed club, or other animal care professionals. If they’ve titled their dogs, they will have interacted with someone else in the dog community that should be able to vouch for them. If they don’t have references or if their references are suspect, go somewhere else!
9. They let you meet at least one parent.
Meeting your puppy’s parents will give you a better idea of the size and temperament your puppy will have as an adult. Bear in mind that a reputable breeder may not have a stud on the premises. This shouldn’t necessarily be a red flag. They should be able to give you details and paperwork on the stud, but if they are breeding their bitch to a proven stud they may breed them with a stud owned by someone else or even via artificial insemination. Ideally, you should be able to meet the bitch and see where the puppies are raised. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will let you into the room with the bitch and her puppies, as some bitches can get upset by a lot of activity around their litters. You should be able to see that the puppies are kept in a clean area with easily removed/cleaned bedding.
Red Flag: They don’t allow you to meet either parent and won’t let you see where their dogs and puppies spend most of their time.
A breeder that won’t let you meet a parent or see where the puppies are raised may be hiding something. If the breeder is not keeping your puppy in a clean space, it’s best to find a different breeder. (Remember: Potty training is messy! It should be evident that they clean regularly, but there may still be some puppy messes.)
10. They ask you LOTS of questions (and answer yours).
Breeders are trying to find the home that is the absolute best fit for each and every puppy they produce. Don’t be surprised if they ask you about your lifestyle, your plans for training your puppy, and how often the puppy will be home alone. They may even run a background check on you, ask for references, and look into the medical history of your current and past pets. These questions help them get closer to finding the perfect match for each puppy. Do you have questions about the puppy’s lineage, temperament, socialization, or medical records? Reputable breeders will be willing to openly and honestly answer your questions.
Red Flag: They limit your humane training options to one specific methodology or trainer or make other wacky requirements.
Training is often the only thing that can stand between a puppy staying with its family and returned to the breeder or even euthanized. Different training methods work for different puppies (and owners!). Limiting the ways someone can help or even save their puppy is not setting that person or that puppy up for success. While a reputable breeder may certainly question you about your plans for training if problems arise or even strongly that you take your puppy to a trainer, they shouldn’t limit your training options. If you will have full ownership of the puppy, they also shouldn’t make other wacky requirements for you to follow throughout your puppy’s life. If they chose you to take a puppy home, they should trust you to provide the puppy with excellent care.
Shelter and rescue dogs can make absolutely fabulous pets, but we often don’t know exactly what they will grow up to be. Sometimes you think you are adopting an Australian Cattle Dog puppy, but then she grows up to be a teeny 20 pound dog named Gouda! If you have a specific goal in mind and really want to adopt a rescue/shelter dog, adopting a slightly older puppy or adult dog will likely be a better fit! This will give you a better idea of what the shelter pup’s size and temperament will be. This is how and why I adopted Korra! I knew that she had the perfect temperament to become a therapy dog and that she was the size I was looking for because she was already full grown when I first met her. If your primary goal for your new puppy is to have a pet to share life’s adventures with you, a rescue/shelter puppy can often be the best choice. Shelters and rescues can also be an economical choice as their adoption fees are often less than the cost of a reputably bred puppy, but cover a good deal of veterinary care. If you think a shelter/rescue puppy would be a good fit for you, check out these 10 tips on choosing an ethical rescue or shelter.
These tips on determining whether a breeder, shelter, or rescue is reputable are by no means an exhaustive list, but should certainly be able to help you narrow your search. Making sure you get a puppy that’s a good fit for your lifestyle AND from a reputable source may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! If you’re overwhelmed with all the variables, I can help. Shoot me an email or contact me on Facebook or Instagram. We can work together to find you the perfect puppy!
Once you’ve determined what puppy will be best for you and found a reputable source for your puppy, check back for the next post in this puppy series with training and tips to successfully settle your puppy into your home and set them up for lifelong success!
Dog Breed Health Testing Requirements, American Kennel Club: https://www.akc.org/breeder-programs/akc-bred-with-heart-program/requirements/health-testing-requirements/
What Genetic diseases and/or conditions should my breed be screened for?, Orthopedic Foundation for Animals: https://www.ofa.org/browse-by-breed
Puppy Culture: The Proof is in the Puppies: https://shoppuppyculture.com/
Early Scent Introduction for Neonate Puppies, Avidog: https://www.avidog.com/early-scent-introduction-for-neonate-puppies/
Early Neurological Stimulation, Building Better Breeders: https://breedingbetterdogs.com/article/early-neurological-stimulation
Why is a well bred puppy so expensive?, King's Creatures Animal Training LLC: Well Bred vs Poorly Bred Price Comparison