How do I find a responsible breeder? What questions should I ask?
We receive questions about how to find a responsible breeder, either for Standard Poodles or other breeds. You are about to make a commitment for approximately the next dozen years so become an educated puppy buyer! Ask a lot of questions. Unfortunately there are scam breeders, puppy mills, and dog brokers that will take advantage of puppy buyers with cute photos online. Sometimes those photos are even stolen from reputable breeders. So no matter the breed, here is a general outline of things you should look for and also red flags to avoid during your puppy search.
The very first step is determining the dog breed that fits your lifestyle best. A purebred dog will have predictable temperament, behavior, health, natural instincts, and size typical of the breed. A dog breed has been purposefully bred to perform various tasks. Some breeds were developed to aid the hunter, protect the home, manage livestock on the farm, provide companionship, pull loads, kill vermin, etc. Each breed’s ideal physical traits, movement, and temperament are set down in a written document called a “breed standard.” The AKC currently recognizes almost 200 dog breeds. Consider the general temperament, size, life expectancy, grooming requirements, exercise needs, trainability, coat type, energy level, and health of the breed. The AKC website can be very helpful at https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/.
Once you have selected the best breed for your lifestyle and goals, you can start searching for a responsible breeder. A responsible breeder is passionate about their breed. They do not sway from the breed standard no matter what is trendy or fashionable today. They do not introduce unacceptable colors, health problems, poor structure, or a different breed just to charge more money for a "rare" puppy. Breeders carefully choose the parents of each litter to give every puppy the best chance of being healthy, adjusted, and sociable. Your puppy will receive excellent care from day one including nutrition, medical care, love, training, and lots of playtime. The breeder will be able to match an individual puppy's temperament to your unique lifestyle and goals. The breeder will always be available to answer questions or help with challenges with your puppy. Not only do you get a healthy puppy but also a mentor for life. If you experience serious life changes, your puppy will always be able to return to their original home. The breeder is your dog's advocate for life. A reputable breeder will allow you to be the guardian of one of their precious puppies and will never forget any of their puppies. You can begin your breeder search through the AKC Marketplace athttps://marketplace.akc.org/, breed parent AKC club, word of mouth from friends/veterinarian/dog trainer, various Facebook groups, website searches, GoodDog at https://www.gooddog.com/, etc.
Once you locate a couple breeders to consider, here is a general list of key topics and questions.
1. The absolute top priority is the health of the your puppy. A puppy cannot be a great family companion pet or complete in any dog sports if it is sickly or dies at a young age. No one wants to spend thousands of dollars on vet visits and watch their beloved dog suffer because a "breeder" did not fully health test the parents. You can find a list of minimum CHIC recommended health tests that should be preformed on both parents (and ideally grandparents) for any AKC dog breed at https://www.ofa.org/browse-by-breed. Always verify every health test and each result personally on the OFA website at https://www.ofa.org/. All testing should be publicly available. You can ask the breeder for the weblink for each parent dog or search by each dog's registered name in the search bar at the top of the OFA website. A breeder should always be proud of the health testing completed on their dogs and be forthcoming with this information immediately. You should run away from any breeder that makes excuses for not completing the minimum CHIC health testing on both parents. "Health certified" by a vet is not the same as OFA tested. Be aware there are typically more health tests than a simple genetic test panel will include. Also ask about any written health guarantees the breeder provides with each puppy. The puppy should be fully examined and receive the first puppy vaccines from a licensed veterinarian before pick up. The breeder should provide a written record of all health tests of both parents and veterinary exam of the puppy.
2. Excellent temperament is critical for all companion pets and performance dogs. Ask about titles and accomplishments of each parent and the pedigree. Putting a title on a dog proves the animal is stable, intelligent, sociable, and can work in a stressful environment. To achieve a title, the dog usually has to go to a new place with new people and other dogs. It must focus on the handler and perform in a different environment. Dogs with high anxiety or aggression issues will be unlikely to succeed. You can ask the breeder about titles in performance, conformation, therapy, working, etc. Of course focus on specific achievements based on your own dog sports goals. You can also ask about temperament qualities such as drive, confidence, energy, prey drive, etc depending on your goals and lifestyle.
3. Look for a breeder who requires a contract for their puppies. A written contract protects both you and the breeder. Closely examine the contract for details about spay/neuter requirements, health guarantee, cost, registration requirements, etc. Does the breeder require specific spay/neuter agreement? Responsible breeders want to protect their lines from puppy mills and back-yard-breeding thus requiring spay/neuter and limited AKC registration for pet companion puppies. A breeder selling all puppies with full registration without question is not trying to preserve the breed. Will the breeder always take their puppy back if you are not able to care for the puppy at any time? A responsible breeder never wants any of their puppies to end up in a rescue or shelter. Will the breeder be available in the future to help with any questions or concerns? The written contract should be signed by both you and the breeder with each party receiving their own copy.
4. The first 16 weeks of a puppy's life is the most critical in its development for life. Ask about how the breeder raises their puppies. Are they raised in the breeder's home or outside? What experiences, socialization, grooming, and basic training will the puppies receive? How does the breeder begin potty training? How many litters does the breeder typically have per year to ensure each puppy receives ample love, attention, and training? Does the breeder use Puppy Culture, Avidog, or other puppy raising system? Does the breeder do ENS with neonatal puppies? How long has the breeder been breeding this specific breed? Does the breeder share photos and/or videos as the puppies grow? Experience, individual care, and systems help a breeder successfully raise well adjusted puppies.
5. Be patient for the right puppy. Most people wait a month up to a couple years for their puppy depending on the breed and specific qualities required. Ask the breeder about the expected timelines and matching process for puppies. What are the future litter plans? What is the anticipated wait time? What temperament testing is done to help match puppies with each family? Clearly and openly communicate your goals and lifestyle. Does the breeder allow you to meet some of their dogs before the puppies are born? When will you be able to visit the puppies and parents (or at least the mother) in the breeder's home? (Keep in mind that most breeders outsource the stud dog so he may not live on the premises. Also keep in mind disease prevention protocols during pregnancy and nursing. Many breeders limit new people entering their home when puppies are very young to protect their health.)
6. Be prepared to answer questions about your own goals and lifestyle relating to a new puppy. Responsible breeders want to be sure their breed is a good fit for your lifestyle. A breeder should ask about your living situation, other pets, activities you want to pursue with a puppy, previous dog experience, spay/neutering expectations, training/socialization plans, references, and breed-specific questions (such as grooming).
7. How does the breeder support the future of their breed? Do they actively preserve the heritage of their breed by engaging in dog shows or other sports? Is the breeder involved in supporting and/or contributing to health research? What dog clubs or organizations is the breeder a member? What recognition has the breeder received for their program such as AKC Breeder of Merit?
Breeder Red Flags
- No OFA health testing documentation
- Puppy sold before 8 weeks of age
- Not AKC registered
- Mixed breed "designer" puppies
- Breeder is not willing to meet with you in person
- Breeder only ships puppies
- No written contract
- No exam by a licensed veterinarian (with written proof and health records)
- No provision if you are unable to care for your puppy in the future
- No inquiry about your lifestyle or goals with your puppy
- No quality of life for adult dogs (no regular social outings, trips in nature, human interaction, regular grooming, etc)
- Puppies are not fully weaned and eating solid food at pick up
- Puppies sold at a cheap price
- Only a few photos of parents and/or puppies available
- No spay/neuter requirement
- Multiple different breeds produced by the same breeder
- Puppies sold on Craigslist or eBay
- Always puppies available year-round with no wait
- No performance, conformation, or working titles or certifications of parents
- Promotion of rare colors or sizes that are not accepted by the AKC breed standard
- Parent dogs are bred before the age of 2 years old
- Sells different sex or color puppies at different prices
- Ever mentions a broker
- Full AKC registration without question to all pet companion families
- More than 4 litters every year
- "Champion bloodlines" without proof
- Special holiday sale pricing
- No involvement in any dog clubs or sports
- Forcing families to pick their puppy before 7 weeks of age
- Marketing puppies as the perfect gift
- Breeders that sell to pet stores
- No pedigree provided
- Parent dogs "health certified" by a vet instead of the OFA
- No temperament evaluation of puppies by an independent party
- Breeder cannot answer your questions
- Cute photos and flowery descriptions without useful details about health and temperament