Your Puppy Connect: Discovering the Right Breeder
So your mind is set, your home needs a cute new member. Soon a cheerful set of paws will be exploring away, bouncing around the place and being that extra sweet puppies do so well.
Congratulations, we're so very excited for you! There's nothing quite like that warm fuzzy feeling you get, knowing an adorable puppy will soon be joining you and your family.
But first, a decision …
Do you adopt a puppy or find a reputable breeder?
We always encourage people to strongly consider adopting a puppy wherever possible, but that's not always an option and rescues aren't for everyone.
If your plan is to go through a dog breeder for your new best friend, we're here to help make sure you connect with a happy healthy pup, and aren't unknowingly sucked into supporting an appalling and cruel puppy trade. (That's right, there's a dark side to this whole getting a puppy business.)
Doing your due diligence now and choosing a caring and responsible breeder is the first and most important step along your journey. Not only will the right breeder help you in connecting with the right pup, acting as the bridge between you and your future dog, they will also provide you with meaningful and ongoing support when needed.
On the other hand, untrustworthy breeders that cut corners and deal with overproducing unhealthy litters only have one thing in mind - profit! In the US alone, it's estimated that there are currently 10,000 active puppy mills. These inhumane breeding facilities churn out pups with little or no consideration for their health and well-being.
By doing your homework, and ultimately doing business with a reputable breeder that truly appreciates and has a genuine love for dogs, you'll be doing yourself a favor and also helping to combat a sickening industry.
Psst: Download The Top 10 Breeder Questions Checklist.
Know this first - stay away from pet stores!
Searching for a pup in a pet store is rarely a good idea, in fact, unless the pet store is specifically hosting dogs for adoption from a local rescue group (and of course you'd consider a rescue), it's never a good idea. What you've got to remember is that pet stores are retail. In order to keep up their stock, they deal with suppliers in bulk.
But whenever you're buying a pet, especially a puppy, you aren't dealing with a bulk commodity, you're dealing with one dog, whose health and well-being is important to you. Since you're not buying hundreds of “units” on a regular basis, the breeders supplying the pet stores aren't all too interested in producing the healthiest well looked after pups.
Just think about this …
In order for a puppy to arrive at a pet store at the ideal age of 8 weeks old, the pup must be separated from the dam at 6, possibly even 5 weeks of age. Then the puppy has to be transported to the pet store, when instead, the pup should be socializing, learning vital lessons, building up strength and just being a dog.
If that's not bad enough, the poor puppy is then chucked and kept mostly inside a cage, often left to poop and urinate right there in the pup's eating and sleeping area.
And it gets worse, random people (colleagues, customers) unfortunately don't always handle the puppy with enough care, and when the shop shuts for the night, guess where the little pup gets left - that's right, in the cage, alone, confused and scared.
What a harsh start to life, often causing training problems down the line, or worse, leading to physical and psychological health issues and complications.
For all these reasons and more, responsible breeders that care for their dogs, refuse to deal with pet stores when it comes to selling. The places that do deal with pet stores tend to be puppy mills. These mass breeding facilities don’t pay attention to careful breeding or selection of healthy dogs for mating. As a result, their puppies suffer from eye problems, hip dysplasia, deafness, and many other health issues.
As mentioned before, it's also not uncommon to see puppies in pet stores that have been pulled away from their litter at a very young age, causing socialization problems. There’s also no way to check the health history of such dogs, you won’t be able to get any further information about their bloodlines, genes or if they’ve been crossed with other breeds.
All in all it's safe to say that we do not recommend you buying your future dog from a pet store.
So where are all the good breeders?
Finding ethical and trustworthy breeders isn’t easy.
Unfortunately unscrupulous breeders will often entice people with what seems to be a good deal (persuasively convincing them of a pup's apparent brilliant genes and health, despite a lack of evidence), and then rush them into making a misinformed decision. This coupled with the fact that it's so easy for people to be taken by a pups' appearance, forgetting to check a dog's background or seek medical proof of health, and it's clear to see how bad decisions are easily made.
Some people may not even realize just how much a poorly bred dog can cost them in the long run in medical bills, and all the extra care required as a result of irresponsible breeding practices.
So the first point of call, if you've never bought a dog and have little or no experience with dogs, is to seek guidance and help from a friend, a relative, a neighbor or even a colleague.
Someone close at hand with a good amount of practical knowledge who's been through the process, knows the lay of the land locally and has experience in owning dogs will be a good start and source of information.
Other reliable sources worth visiting and talking to for specific recommendations and references are your local dog clubs, veterinary clinics, dog trainers, behaviorists and registered breeders.
Remember that adopting a puppy is a 10 to 20 year commitment, so it’s well worth investing the time and money now to ensure that your new pup is a welcomed addition to the family.
To help you do just that, we’ve put together some guidelines for choosing a responsible breeder, as well as some pitfalls to avoid, should you find yourself dealing with unscrupulous breeders.
What should you look for in a breeder?
A responsible breeder will require you to fill out an application and provide you with a written contract. The application is to ensure that you are a good fit for the puppy, and likewise to make certain that the puppy is a good fit for you. It may ask you to explain which family member will be primarily responsible for the puppy’s training and daily care, what (if any) “rules” will be implemented, and where the dog will sleep.
The contract, on the other hand, serves as a guarantee from the breeder that your new pup is healthy and ready to be taken to its forever home.
If you are not planning on actively showing your puppy in dog shows, the contract may also require that you spay or neuter your dog within a certain time frame. This contract will also state that if for any reason you are no longer willing or able to care for the puppy, the dog must be returned directly to the breeder.
Both the application and the contract are signs that the breeder cares about the pups and their future owners. A responsible breeder wants to know the families who are taking their puppies home, and build a relationship with them that will last throughout the life of that dog. They are there to offer reassurance to potential puppy parents, and to both encourage and support you during the process.
A responsible breeder will readily share information about the puppies and the parents of the litter. For example, the original listing will be stuffed full of thoughtful details, and the breeder will be very forthcoming about the history of the litter as well as that of the parents. They will also gladly put you in touch with other families who have previously purchased puppies from them.
As you can gather, transparency and genuineness are two important qualities of a caring breeder, and it’s very much a two-way street. In other words, these breeders look for transparent and genuine buyers, and will only sell puppies to individuals and families who they’ve met in person. That is to say, they rarely sell their puppies to online buyers, and never to pet stores.
A responsible breeder will welcome you to their home or kennel with open arms, and give you a complete tour of where the puppies were born and raised. These on-site visits are a great chance for you to see the environment in which the puppies have been raised.
If you are at all skeptical about the breeder you have chosen, this visit can also put your mind to rest by showing that the breeder has nothing to hide.
The areas where the puppies and breeding dogs live should be well-maintained and spacious, while the dogs themselves should appear happy, healthy, energetic, clean and friendly. Responsible breeders will not confine their dogs to cages, or allow overcrowding of their facilities.
In fact, having a waiting list for puppies and not always having puppies available is a positive sign, since breeding sparingly demonstrates an interest in healthy puppies over profit.
A responsible breeder will encourage multiple visits with the entire family. These in-person visits are a good time to ask about socialization and housetraining. Meeting the psychological needs of a puppy from an early age is just as important as meeting their physical needs, so inquire about the pup’s exposure to humans, dogs and other animals.
Lack of appropriate early socialization can lead to significant behavioral problems in the long run.
Having a strong relationship with one or more local veterinarians as well as individual records of veterinary visits for each puppy is another way to identify a caring breeder. They will gladly show you the records that correspond to your puppy and its parents, and also provide the contact details of the vet, should you have any further health-related questions.
Though the breeder may recommend that you use a particular veterinarian, they will not require it.
Certain breeds and crossbreeds are more prone to genetic disorders and various health problems than others. Therefore, responsible breeders typically specialize in only one or a few breeds, and are fully knowledgeable of the conditions known to affect their breeding dogs. As such, they should be readily able to provide evidence of DNA testing to rule out these inherited disorders.
Relevant testing is a very important consideration, since dogs with genetic health problems due to poor breeding practices can end up costing you a fortune to treat.
Just as important is microchipping and pet insurance for the first few weeks of ownership. Microchipping is compulsory in many countries, unless a certificate signed by a veterinarian states otherwise, whereas pet insurance is highly recommended since most providers don’t cover you during the first 14 days of a new policy.
A responsible breeder will also not, under any circumstances, send their puppies home before they have reached 8 weeks of age. Early separation of puppies from their mom and littermates can lead to an unwanted mix of behavioral, emotional and psychological issues.
We understand that you are eager to bring your new puppy home as soon as possible, but the risk is simply not worth the short-lived reward.
When all is said and done, supporting a breeder that has the dog’s best interest at heart will benefit both you and your new four-legged family member. That said, there are some unscrupulous breeders that care more about money than they do about the health of their puppies or the happiness of their buyers.
Fortunately, these cruel breeders with only profit in mind can easily be spotted and avoided, as long as you know what to look out for.
What should you avoid?
First and foremost, limited information is a telltale warning sign. If the original listing is only one or two sentences long and no veterinarian contact details are provided, walk away from the seller immediately!
This also applies to situations in which the breeder cannot show proof of relevant genetic testing, health certificates, microchipping, insurance, vaccinations and worming.
A puppy with a pet passport is another red flag, since a passport at such a young age likely means that the puppy was bred abroad and imported for commercial sale. As a result, the puppy may be traumatized and act out in later years. You also have no information about the litter or its parents, and no way of checking where your puppy spent the first few weeks of its life.
Avoid breeders that offer to meet you in any place other than their home or kennel, this includes offering to drop the puppy off at your own house. While it may seem like a nice gesture, wanting to meet off-site often means that the breeder has something to hide.
You should always verify where the puppies have been brought up and what conditions they have been exposed to.
Along those same lines, do not accept excuses for not being able to meet your puppy before you are due to bring him or her home. This applies to meeting the puppy’s parents and littermates as well.
When purchasing a puppy, you should be able to speak with the breeder’s references and assess the health and well-being of the puppy’s family members.
Avoid the term “backyard breeder” at all costs, as it refers to breeders with little to no knowledge of the industry. While their practices are not necessarily unethical, especially compared to those of puppy mills, they fail to meet acceptable standards of “responsible dog breeders”. In other words, these puppies are often carelessly bred without consideration for genetic matching or kennel registration, resulting in unwanted or unhealthy dogs.
For instance, puppies from backyard breeders may be the consequence of accidental litters with another dog in the neighborhood, or a one-time planned litter by a family who selfishly thought it could be a fun experience. The price point for these puppies is usually less than that of a responsible breeder, but more often than not, the dog’s health and behavioral issues will cost you more further down the road.
Last but not least, avoid breeders that seem dishonest or uneducated - and trust your intuition!
One such example is a toy-dog breeder that markets a “teacup” variety, as so-called teacup dogs are bred through runts and don’t belong to an actual size classification. Unfortunately dishonest dog breeding and illegal puppy trade is just part of the business, but going through a breeder doesn’t have to mean supporting these unethical practices.
Explore the options, do your research and don’t rush into something that doesn’t feel 100% right.
We wish you the best of luck!