Identifying and Choosing a Responsible Breeder
Blogs, Planning to Get a Dog, Responsible Dog Ownership Information

Identifying and Choosing a Responsible Breeder

If you have decided that a purebred puppy is the right dog for you, there is still a considerable amount of research to be done to ensure that you find a responsible breeder who is breeding dogs for the right reasons and with a professional level of knowledge. Buying a purebred puppy from a breeder is more than a sales transaction. Buying a puppy from a breeder is the start of a relationship with someone who can and should be a resource for you for all of the dog's life. This article contains sixteen important qualities to look for when finding the perfect breeder for your purebred puppy. 

1. Requires an Extensive Application Process: 

Good breeders will require an extensive application to be submitted by potential puppy buyers to ensure that their puppies are going to forever homes where they will receive the appropriate care, socialization, training, affection, and exercise. Responsible breeders care about each and every puppy that they bring into the world and work hard to ensure that they will be treated with the same love, care, respect and attention that they would have provided themselves.

Our application for Jax was multiple pages long, including questions about our philosophy on dog training, books we had read, our experience with dogs, what had happened to other dogs in our life, and a variety of other questions. Click on the following link to see an excellent example of the type of application that you should expect to be required:

2. Offers a Lifetime Return Policy: 

This means that the breeder will take the dog back at any point in its life and dictates that the owner is not allowed to surrender the dog to a shelter or rescue under any circumstances at any point in the dog's life. Some breeders (including ours) will also ask to be the backup contact on the dog’s microchip for life and ask to be included in the owner's will if something happens to the owner(s) while the dog is alive. When a breeder offers a lifetime return policy, not only does it mean that you will have someone to take your dog if something happens to you, but it also is a sign that the breeder has a lifelong commitment to all of the puppies that he or she produces. This is another indicator that the breeder is breeding for love of the breed and a love of dogs and not simply for financial gain.

3. Only Offers AKC Limited Registration: 

Many show/hobby/professional breeders will only sell dogs with a Limited Registration, meaning that the dog itself is fully registered with the American Kennel Club but any puppies that he or she produces cannot be registered. This protects the bloodline and also means that puppy buyers cannot sell registered puppies from their dog. This is done to deter would-be backyard breeders by taking away some of the monetary value that they could receive for puppies, which is the motivation of unscrupulous puppy farm operators and many backyard breeders.

4. Has a Demand Before Creating the Supply: 

Responsible breeders wait for a demand for their puppies before they create a supply. Many only breed a litter when they want to keep a puppy for themselves, and the chances are high that you will be on a waitlist in order to purchase a puppy from them.

Jax was already in utero when we found out about him and we honestly got lucky. Our breeder was referred to us by one of my husband's co-workers after our Dutch passed away. There was one spot left for a puppy buyer when our application was approved; otherwise, we would have been on a waiting list for the next litter which was planned for the following winter. Jax was born in March, meaning our wait would have been nearly a year.

If you look at the Past Litters page of the German Shorthaired Pointer who won Best in Show at Westminster in 2016, you will see that they average around one litter per year since 2002.  You will also see that most of the females were only bred a few times, which I address further on in this article. This is indicative of a very responsible dog breeder who is committed to not contributing to the pet overpopulation problem as well as one who is not breeding for financial gain. 

5. Includes a Mandatory Spay/Neuter Clause

Many breeders require their puppy buyers to spay/neuter their dogs within a certain time period. This also helps reduce unwanted litters, both intentional and accidental. This is a dual purpose in helping decrease the pet population and potentially reducing the risk of certain cancers for both male and female dogs.

Another common practice is for show/hobby/professional breeders to only allow co-owned dogs to be kept intact and able to reproduce. A co-owned dog typically lives with the puppy buyer full time and is their dog for day-to-day life but is only bred when the original breeder permits a breeding to occur. Tinkerbell's mother is co-owned by her family and our breeder. She has had two litters and spent that time at the breeder's home delivering and tending to her puppies for the first eight or so weeks of their lives, but other than that is a beloved family pet and hunting champion happily living the life every Labrador Retriever deserves.

6. Promotes Rescue and Shelter Adoptions

Of course, purebred puppies from a breeder are not going to be the right option for everyone, and there are plenty of incredible purebred or mixed breed puppies and grown dogs waiting for their forever home in shelters and rescue organizations everywhere.

Responsible breeders are usually extremely supportive of dog adoption and rescue and will send potential puppy buyers to these resources if they do not have litters on the way or when they think that a buyer might do better with a grown dog or a different type of dog. Responsible breeders are dog lovers and dog advocates and are just as upset by the rampant dog overpopulation problem and heartbreaking euthanasia of healthy, innocent dogs as other dog lovers.

7. Is an AKC Breeder of Merit

The American Kennel Club Breeder of Merit program identifies breeders who have a history of five or more years of involvement in AKC events, have earned AKC titles in Conformation, Performance or Companion events on at least four dogs from AKC litters that they have bred or co-bred, perform the recommended health tests and obtain certifications that their dogs have passed these tests, and are members of an AKC club. All of this is done to distinguish responsible breeders from puppy factory operators and backyard breeders. 

From the AKC site: AKC Breeder of Merit Participants demonstrate a commitment to the AKC Community, dedication to their breed(s), and actively promote the sport of purebred dogs. The AKC is proud to recognize AKC Breeders who are dedicated to breeding beautiful purebred dogs whose appearance, temperament, and ability are true to their breed. These breeders are the heart of AKC.

Breeders will usually proudly display this designation on their website, or you can search the AKC website:

8. Performs Health Tests for Common Breed-Specific Health Issues

Every dog breed in the American Kennel  Club has a parent club that maintains the breed standard, or the guidelines for correct appearance, temperament and movement of all dogs registered as that breed. These guidelines are more than just ensuring that the dog looks a certain way for aesthetically pleasing reasons; because all dog breeds are bred for specific functions, these guidelines ensure that the dogs are able to perform these functions. For example, the big thick otter tail of the Labrador Retriever is not just because it is visually appealing, it acts as a rudder when the dog is swimming so that the dog can maneuver in the water more easily.

Unfortunately, many breeds also have common health problems and responsible breeders work hard to keep those problems from afflicting their dogs and puppies. Using our example of the German Shorthaired Pointer breed again, if you were looking for a GSP puppy, you would look for a breeder testing parents for hips, elbows, heart and eyes. Of course, this does not guarantee that one of these issues will not be passed onto a puppy by a dog who has received good test results, but it helps decrease the likelihood as well as identify breeders who are considering these issues when choosing which sire and dam to use for a planned litter.

Here is a link to the AKC list of suggested tests: If you look at champion German Shorthaired Pointer CJ, you will see test results listed right at the top of his sire information page:

9. Does Not Overbreed Their Female Dogs

Dams should have active, happy lives as beloved pets, show dogs, or performing the activities for which they were bred. Puppy mill females live a tragic existence in cages their entire lives and give birth to litter after litter after litter. A responsible breeder will sometimes only breed the same female a few times, and when she is not pregnant or tending to her puppies in a whelping pen, she is living a full and happy life. You can sometimes research how often a female is being used for breeding by searching Past Litters and Planned Litters pages on a breeder's website.

Jackson's mother is my breeder's "heart" dog, meaning she is one of the most special dogs that my breeder has ever raised with an extra special dog/human emotional connection. Just like Tinkerbell's mother, she has had a few litters in her life, lives on a large piece of land that I like to call Labrador Retriever Utopia with a pond in which to swim and plenty of acres to explore. Now spayed, she is happily sleeping on the breeder's bed, playing with the other dogs, and generally living a happy, healthy life.

10. The Dogs are an Active Part of the Breeder's Life

Seeing language that is overly sales oriented is a red flag that the breeder is seeking to make a substantial profit by breeding a lot of puppies instead of breeding in order to bring new dogs into their program to keep for themselves. Look for breeder websites that focus less on sales and how much you should want one of their puppies and more on how the dogs are an active part of the breeder's life.

When my husband received a suggestion to check out our breeder, the most notable thing about her website was the detail about each dog listed on her site. She included vivid detail about their successes, their personalities, how they were as puppies and how they are as grown dogs so that it seemed as if we knew them. Each dog has their own page on her website, filled with photos of them competing or just playing with the breeder. Her Brags page was an extension of those individual pages, with more stories of what each dog had done with her over the years, whether they were competing in hunt tests, conformation, or agility. I could see that each dog was a beloved family member and not just "breeding stock" with the purpose of producing puppies.

11. Readily Displays the Sire's and Dam's Pedigrees

Look for breeders who willingly offer the pedigree of all of their breeding stock. Not only should the pedigree be something of which the breeder is proud to display, but it also offers you the ability to research and Google the dogs whose DNA has contributed to your future puppy. Responsible breeders often know each other from dog shows and from using each other's stud dogs with their own females to prevent inbreeding. Here is a great example of a Labrador Retriever breeder that displays several generations of their dogs' pedigrees:

12. Does Not Breed for Odd Colors or Markings

Coat color is part of a breed's standard, and responsible breeders typically breed for standard coats. Breeders who encourage new colors or unique coat markings raise a red flag that they are breeding specifically for color rather than other qualities like temperament, intelligence, and adherence to the breed standard. This can have a negative impact on the puppies in the form of health problems, diminished intellectual ability and a different temperament than puppy buyers might expect.

A good example of this is the Labrador Retriever. Labrador Retrievers come in three colors: yellow, black and chocolate. Yellows can range from so light that they appear white and so dark that they appear almost red. However, they are all still yellow. Some breeders will focus on breeding specific hues of yellow and advertise "white" or "fox red" Labrador Retrievers. Additionally, there is a controversial "silver" color that is the subject of much debate, with advocates claiming that it is a version of chocolate and opponents claiming that this color comes from breeding Labrador Retrievers with Weimaraners.

13. Does Not Sell Puppies Through Online Puppy Brokers or Pet Stores 

Top dog breeders do not sell through online puppy brokers or pet stores. As mentioned above, it is common for a breeder to have a waitlist for their puppies because of the infrequency of their litters. They do not need to advertise to sell puppies, and they will not be willing to give up control over who purchases their puppies.

14. Will Not Ship Puppies

Look for breeders who will not ship puppies to their future homes. You can purchase puppies from breeders who do not live near you, but you will need to travel to pick up the puppy in person. This is dual purpose so that not only does the breeder get to meet you in person and see how you interact with the other dogs on the property and your new puppy, but to also ensure that the puppy is transported home safely and never in the cargo area of an airplane.

If you fly to pick up your new dog, make sure that the puppy will be small enough to comfortably fit in a travel crate that can go under your seat in the main cabin. Otherwise make arrangements to drive to pick up the puppy, as relegating puppies to the cargo area is unacceptable and cruel. 

15. Discusses Socialization and Training on Their Website

Look for breeders who stress the importance of socialization and training on their website. Responsible breeders will introduce puppies to new experiences in a positive way before they are ready to go home to you. Some will also start to train the puppies on very basic commands. Jackson and Tinkerbell, along with their littermates, were both trained to sit and wait for their food before they came to us at eight weeks old. We also received extensive documentation on various puppy rearing topics to help us navigate puppyhood and prepare them to fulfill their potential as incredible dogs.

16. Is Someone You Like

I mentioned in the first paragraph that buying a puppy from a purebred dog breeder is far more than just a sales transaction. Your breeder should be a resource to whom you can turn for questions and guidance at any point in the dog's life. I am friends on social media with our breeder and I truly feel like she is part of my family. I love reading stories about Jackson's mother, I cry when some of the older dogs at the breeder's house pass on to the rainbow bridge, I fall in love when she breeds a new litter and shares photos of the puppies that she keeps for herself. I worry about her and all of the dogs when I see storm warnings in the summer in her area.

As the human dog mom to two of her puppies, I feel a connection to her. By facilitating the breeding of my two dogs, she has changed and improved my life forever. It is an honor that she felt that I was worthy to raise these magnificent dogs that she helped bring into the world.  It is important to choose someone who you like and who you feel comfortable reaching out to with your own questions as you raise your own puppy into an adult dog and for all the days of your dog's life.

I have provided a PDF file with a checklist that you can use when you are researching particular breeders.  You may also find the attached Excel template useful if you are researching and comparing multiple breeders.

Identifying and Choosing a Responsible Breeder: Checklist.pdf

Breeder Comparision Workbook.xltx