While I support dog rescue, and some of the very nicest dogs I’ve met have been from shelters and rescues, I understand that some people may prefer to go to a breeder to get their next pet. There is a legitimate need for healthy, friendly pet companions, and there are thousands of breeders out there who claim to produce such. So, how can you be sure that the breeder you choose is responsible?
There are several things I look for when screening breeders. First, and most importantly, I want to find a breeder who cares about the dogs she produces. What steps does the breeder take to make sure her puppies never end up abandoned in a shelter? Does the breeder require that she be notified before you rehome the puppy, or that puppies be returned to her? Does she microchip the puppies before placing them? Can she tell you where every one of the previous puppies she’s placed are right now? Bottom line: if the breeder doesn’t know what’s happened to her puppies after they’ve gone to their new homes, I do not consider her responsible.
If someone is going to bring new lives into a country where 4 million dogs die every year, she needs to make absolutely sure her puppies are not among those filling up our shelters and rescues. In fact, she will likely sell the majority of her puppies on a limited registration (for purebred dogs) or even a spay/neuter contract, to ensure that they are not being indiscriminately bred. Some breeders even have their puppies spayed or neutered at 8 weeks before placing them.
A responsible breeder cares more about health and temperament than about physical appearance. There are genetic issues that affect every breed of dog, and responsible breeders screen for these. Even mixed breeds should be screened for issues common to the parent breeds. Understand that this is not the same as “vet checked,” but rather a more thorough screening of the dog’s hips, elbows, heart, thyroid, vision, hearing, etc. Research your chosen breed or mix to find out which tests your breeder should be doing, and ask to see the results for the parents. Avoid breeders who breed for extremes, such as exceptionally large or small dogs, flat faces, long backs, or wrinkly skin, as these extremes are known to cause multiple health issues down the road.
Temperament is equally important. Many behavioral issues, such as resource guarding, dog- or human-aggression, fear, and noise phobias (to name a few) have a strong genetic basis. A dog’s baseline level of drive (how focused and motivated a dog is) and energy level are also largely determined by genes. If you would not be absolutely thrilled to live with either of your chosen puppy’s parents, strongly reconsider purchasing that puppy. The breeder should be happy to introduce you to the puppy’s mother and to tell you all about the father. Parents who have been shown, whether in conformation (for purebreds) or dog sports such as obedience or agility, are great as that tells you that the breeder is serious about working with and evaluating her breeding stock.
A good breeder socializes her puppies. She handles them all over their bodies. She provides environmental enrichment with different climbing and play surfaces, different toys, and different sounds. She has lots of visitors handle her puppies, and exposes them to crates and car rides. She encourages (or even requires!) puppy classes, and keeps the puppies until they’re at least 8 weeks old so that they don’t miss out on important social development from their mom and littermates.
Finally, a good breeder wants to make sure that you’re going to be a good match for her puppy. To that end, expect her to interview you. She should tell you about the positive and negative aspects of living with your chosen breed or mix. If your potential breeder offers to meet you in a McDonald’s parking lot or lets you order the puppy off a website with your credit card, run away!
So, where can you find this good breeder? Ask around! Ask your vet, your trainer, your groomer, and your dog walker. If you’re interested in a purebred, ask the local breed club and attend shows to meet good breeders and their dogs. Check out email lists and online forums devoted to your chosen breed or mix. Check with rescues who work with the breed or mix you’re interested in: many of the best breeders are also very involved with rescue, and rescues can also tell you who to avoid.
Have you ever purchased a dog from a breeder? If so, do you feel your breeder was responsible? Why or why not? If you breed dogs, how do you ensure that you’re producing the best puppies possible? Please share your thoughts and comments below!