How to Find a Responsible Breeder
by Lisa Frankland, 2001 Update
Starting the Search:
- [ ] [Go to the Breeder Directory
on this site.]
- Attend a local dog show or breed match.
Show catalogs list the names and addresses of the owners of entered dogs.
You can also talk to the owners and handlers of the dogs (though not when
they're about to go into the ring!) and get some leads that way.
- Learn about your breed before you look to buy one. There is no such
thing as the "perfect breed for everyone," as there are as many
different lifestyles and personal preferences as there are breeds of dog.
Read the breed standard, find out about
grooming requirements, typical temperaments,
health problems that are common in the breed, etc. Irresponsible breeders
hate educated buyers!
- Price alone should not be a factor in deciding what breeder to buy from.
While a high price doesn't necessarily guarantee high quality, a very
low price often does not turn out to be a bargain in the long run. Find
out what typical prices are for show and pet quality puppies of your breed
in your area.
- Be patient. You may have to wait a few months (or longer) to find the
right dog from a good breeder. This is a very short time compared with
the ten to fifteen years that a dog will live with you.
Responsible Breeders DO:
- Breed in order to improve the breed and produce the best puppies they
possibly can, and usually plan to keep at least one of them
- Ask as many questions of you as you do of them
- Allow potential owners to visit, meet the dam and other dogs owned by
the breeder, see the conditions that the pups are raised under, and ask
- Show evidence of at least two or three years of serious interest in
their breed, i.e. dog club memberships (the AKC doesn't count!), show
and match ribbons and win photos, and championship and/or performance
(obedience, agility, tracking, field, etc.) titles
- Breed only dogs that closely match the breed standard and are free of
serious health and temperament problems. Championship titles and health
clearances such as OFA and CERF are good indicators of this
- Register their dogs with the accepted registry for their breed and the
country they're in. For Kerry Blue Terriers in the United States, this
would be the American Kennel Club (AKC)
- Tell you if they think you would be better off with another breed of
dog, or no dog at all
- Provide referrals to other breeders if they don't have anything available
- Use a written contract and guarantee ("guarantee" meaning
that they will either replace the dog or refund part or all of your money
if health or temperament problems should arise), or at least an oral agreement
when selling a dog, with clear and reasonable terms that you can live
- Use spay/neuter agreements, co-ownerships, and/or limited registrations
to ensure that dogs going to pet homes are not bred
- Provide a registration slip from a legitimate breed registry, a pedigree,
and up-to-date shots/health records with every puppy they sell
- Honestly discuss any special problems/requirements associated with the
- Offer assistance and advice on grooming, training, etc., for the life
of the dog
- If, for any reason and at any time, you cannot keep the dog, will take
- Normally breed only one or two litters a year, max!
- Have dogs that are clean, healthy, happy, and humanely cared for
Responsible Breeders DO NOT:
- Accept credit cards, or offer financing or easy payment plans
- Appear overly eager to sell/"get rid of" a puppy
- Breed simply to produce puppies to sell
- Breed a bitch on every season, or more than once a year
- Have breeding stock that consists of a "mated pair"
- Claim that all of their puppies are "show/breeding quality"
or makes unsubstantiated claims of their dogs' superiority to those of
- Claim that their breed has no problems (some have fewer than others,
but every breed has at least a couple)
- Sell puppies through pet stores, brokers, auctions, or to anyone that
they have not met/screened personally
- Sell puppies that are less than eight to twelve weeks old (note: the
USKBTC Code of Ethics requires pups to be at least 10 weeks of age, and
preferably 12, before they are sold)
- Sell puppies without papers (registration slip and 3-5 generation pedigree),
provide only a photocopy (a clue that the registration may be forged,
especially if it is a foreign registry), or charge extra for papers
- Have more than one or two litters at any given time, or litters of multiple
- Refuse to guarantee their dogs, or if they do, attach such unreasonable
conditions to the guarantee, i.e., "dog must not be spayed or neutered,
must never have been bred, and the ears must stand correctly," that
it is unlikely that they would ever have to honor it
Phrases to be aware of in breeder's ads:
- "Rare"--This is often because either the breeder is using
the wrong term for a common trait (i.e., "teacup" for toy size)
or the dogs in question have a trait that no responsible breeder would
deliberately produce, either because it is not allowed or is considered
a serious fault in the breed standard, and/or is associated with health
problems in the breed (e.g. white Boxers and Dobermans, parti-colored
Poodles, "king" Labs, lemon spotted Dalmatians, and blue-eyed
Malamutes). Although it can also mean that the breed is not well known
or widely recognized, it does almost always mean that the breeder expects
you to pay top dollar for the privilege and snob appeal of owning one.
- "Aggressive"--Most dogs are naturally protective, the extent
depending on their breed and individual personalities. Why would anyone
in their right mind deliberately breed dogs with unstable temperaments?
- "Champion"--A dog becomes a breed champion by earning points
defeating a specified number of other dogs of its breed in competition.
A dog can have a whole wall full of blue ribbons, yet still not have earned
a single point, let alone a championship title.
- "Grand Champion"--the AKC does not award a Grand Champion
title. Some other registries do, such as the UKC, but make sure the breeder
explains how and where that title was earned.
- "Champion lines"--Almost all dogs have some champions in their
pedigrees if you go a few generations back. Ideally, at least one parent
and the majority of the dogs listed in the pedigree should have a championship
or other title.
- "Champion puppies"--Dogs cannot be shown towards a championship
before they are six months old. Maybe the breeder means that the parents
are champions. Maybe it means that you'd be better off buying from somebody
- "OFA puppies"--OFA stands for Orthopedic Foundation for Animals,
a registry that screens dogs for hip dysplasia. Dogs must be at least
two years of age to be screened. If a breeder claims that any dog younger
than that has OFA numbers, run!
- "Show quality"--What does the breeder mean by this? Expected
to finish a championship fairly easily? No disqualifying faults? Has "perfect
markings and is really cute?" Make sure you understand exactly what
this means before you buy. By the way, unless you are serious about breeding
and showing, there is nothing wrong with a dog that is "pet quality."
- "AKC registered (or just "AKC')"--the AKC (American Kennel
Club) is a registry that issues registration papers to dogs of the more
than 140 breeds that are currently recognized, whose parents were also
registered. While great to have (essential if you plan to show and breed),
AKC registration is no guarantee of a dog's quality, or of a breeder's
integrity. Other popular registries include the United Kennel Club (UKC)
and the American Rare Breeds Association (ARBA), as well as breed-specific
registries such as the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA). However,
there are some registries, such as the World Wide Kennel Club (WWKC),
the Continental Kennel Club (CKC), the American Kennel Association (AKA),
and the Federation of International Canines (FIC), whose sole purpose
seems to be to provide papers to otherwise unregisterable dogs/"breeds."
Many of these so called "effigy" or "puppymill" registries
are purposely named to sound like their legitimate cousins. If in doubt,
- "Foreign bloodlines" (or "foreign-bred")--Although
this can be a legitimate claim (especially with breeds used for protection
work, such as German Shepherds), there are an increasing number of brokers
who are importing litters of puppies from other countries (or at least
claiming they are) in order to cash in on the implied superiority of these
Irish/German/Russian/etc. dogs. These pups often are sold only with a
photocopy of their foreign registration papers, which strongly implies
that those papers are forged. In any case, the fact that these dogs originate
from outside the country make any claims the seller makes virtually
impossible to verify.
This list is intended to provide general guidelines, so there may be some
valid exceptions to what is listed. For example, some breeders may withhold
papers until a pet quality puppy is spayed or neutered or until full
payment is received, though this should be specified in writing. If a breeder
can give a satisfactory reason for a single discrepancy, and otherwise checks
out as responsible, they may still be okay. Again, if in doubt, ask around.
A Note About Pet Stores
Many people believe that a local pet store
is a great way to obtain a puppy. This couldn't be further from the truth.
For a number of reasons a pet store is probably the worst possible place
to purchase a family pet. Many of these puppies are bred in "puppymills,"
large-scale commercial breeding operations whose sole objective is to turn
out as many puppies as possible, as cheaply as possible. The rest are obtained
from "backyard breeders," people who know and care little about
the breed standard or health and genetics. Whether these pups were bred
solely for money, or so the kids could see the miracle of birth, the end
result is the same--many of the puppies suffer from health, temperament,
and behavioral problems that are the direct result of poor breeding and
Another problem with pet store purchases is that they are very often done
on impulse, without the buyer really knowing or thinking about the requirements
of a particular breed.
Finally, if the new owner has questions or problems, there will be no caring,
knowledgable breeder around to provide help and support. The real irony
is that the pet stores typically charge just as much, if not more than a
reputable breeder would!
Some people buy pet store puppies in spite of knowing all this, believing
that they are "rescuing" them. All this does is encourage the
practice. Please, if you care about dogs, do not purchase one from a pet
store! The same goes for backyard breeders, internet brokers, and other