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How To Find a Responsible Dog Breeder

Written by Anna Hollisey


Tiny cute puppies

Online are thousands of cute puppies waiting to be purchased. But if you inadvertently choose an irresponsible breeder, you could be buying a pup who is unhealthy, overbred, or undersocialized. Not to mention paying to support a person who profits from animal cruelty. How do you avoid the shady back-alleys and select a responsible breeder? We’re here to help. 

Sometimes you’ll get a bad feeling from a breeder right away. But other times they seem perfectly legit… until the money’s been paid. Here’s our list of warning signals to help you steer clear. 

DON’T buy from a breeder who…

  • Asks you to meet them somewhere, like a car park, or offers to deliver
  • Sells puppies in volume to a store
  • Doesn’t have the mother available to show you (or makes an excuse about her whereabouts)
  • Only has a USDA certification (for keeping livestock) – it’s not suitable for pups
  • Has many different litters available at the same time
  • Keeps the dogs in crowded cages
  • Cannot show you where the pups have been living
  • Has no veterinary record for your puppy.

Nobody likes the thought of puppies being reared in dirty cages or neglected in pet stores. The best thing you can do for their puppies is immediately report any breeders who behave in this way. Don’t give them your money; instead, support one of the many responsible dog breeders in the US. 

You may feel you’re doing the noble thing by ‘rescuing’ this puppy from horrible conditions. The reality is you could be signing up for 15+ years of expensive vet bills, behavioral challenges and a dog that isn’t compatible with family life. 

If you’ve got an idea of which breed(s) you’re drawn towards, you’ll probably be able to find dedicated groups online. You’ll find national (and usually State) associations, shows and competitions dedicated to specific breeds or groups. This can be the best place to start, you’ll find breeders so enthusiastic about their breed, they’re active members of that breed's community. They’ll be able to tell you more about these dogs and point you in the direction of reputable breeders. 

You’ll know they’re great from the first call you make. The best dog breeders won’t allow you to purchase a puppy online. They’ll invite you to come and see the puppies and their mother (and sometimes father, too). This way, they can discuss the pups’ needs with you – and make sure you’re going to provide a great home. 

Signs of a responsible dog breeder include:

  • A spacious, clean environment for the puppies to roam (small breeds may be indoors; working breeds might be kept outdoors)
  • A healthy mom who is available to meet (not necessarily with the pups)
  • Clean, confident, happy puppies – and not too many litters at once (most breeders specialize in one or a few breeds)
  • Knowledge and advice about any of your questions
  • Pictures of previous litters and testimonials or stories from other families who have bought puppies
  • A full veterinary record for each puppy
  • Certificates or trophies from competing with their own dogs (not a requirement, but nice if you want to compete too!)
  • Asking you to sign a contract of care, including returning the dog if you change your mind or your circumstances change. 

A responsible dog breeder will want to screen you, too!  They should invite you and your family to spend time with the pups to help you make an informed decision. They might ask questions like:

  • Who will be the main caregiver?
  • How long will the puppy be left alone during the day?
  • Who will exercise the puppy, and where?
  • Have you had a dog before?
  • Do you have permission from your landlord or property owner to keep a dog?

An internet search doesn’t always reveal local knowledge. For that, the best place to start is your local vet, breed clubs, and local owners. Look for shining examples of your favorite breed: a glossy spaniel, elegant Afghan Hound, or a peppy Dachshund. Talking to their owners could reveal a wealth of information. 

If you want to search for a certain breed, begin by checking what health tests should have been carried out on the pups before purchase (just select the breed to see recommended health screening). The AKC advertises pedigree pups online.