Reputable Breeders? PDF Print E-mail

I am often asked, "Where do I find a good breeder?" or "How do I find a reputable breeder?"

There isn't a black and white answer to these questions, unfortunately. For me, the short answer is that a reputable breeder is someone who regularly shows and finishes titles on the majority of their dogs, breeds to better the breed, to the best of her ability tests for and discloses any health problems in their dogs and is someone whose main goal in breeding isn't breeding for profit. However, I have recently met people who don't agree with me, or handle their dogs as I do, but they certainly love and care for the dogs they breed.  I don't feel that these folks constitute the majority of pet "only" breeders, but there are good breeders out there who have never stepped foot in the show ring, just as there are show breeders who really care more about winning than about their dogs.

I've had a hard time putting my thoughts about breeding and breeders to paper.  I had my start in dogs in mixed breed and all breed Rescue and now I show and breed.  I've been on both sides of the fence and I believe that the key to limiting dogs in shelters is education for breeders AND for the general public, not breeder limits and moratoriums.  Limiting breeding will only punish the small hobby breeder who isn't the problem in the first place.

Anyway, in my internet 'travels', I came across an article on breeding that was so much of what I wanted to say and so perfectly what I was trying to explain, well, I just asked the authors if I could reprint it here.  Sharyn & Walt Hutchens of Timbreblue Whippets are people who understand that breeders must band together if we are going to all get to continue to have these wonderful creatures in our lives; breeders *and* pet people!  They also understand that there isn't a clear list of reputable or not when it comes to animals and breeding.  So, that said, please consider Walt and Sharyn's article on finding a good breeder who is the right one for you, reprinted here with their permission.  Please visit them at


Recognizing a Good Breeder:  Traffic Lights!

There is no one way to identify a good breeder. Obviously a lot depends on what kind of puppy you are looking for -- if you want to show, course, race, or participate competitively in other activities, you'll look for a breeder who has a winning record in those things.

But we'll assume that you're looking for a healthy, well-socialized pet who will fit into your household, not cost you a fortune in vet bills the first month, and can be expected to live as long as a whippet ought to live. (The average lifespan is 12-14 years...not nearly long enough!) All the books say to buy from a "reputable" breeder. But what does one look like?

Some people say that all good breeders show their dogs. But we certainly know some show breeders we would not recommend and others who do not show but do produce very nice puppies. So it's not that easy. Lots of trophies and ribbons don't necessarily mean the breeder cares about her dogs. She might just care about winning!

Others say anyone "breeding for profit" is a bad breeder. We believed that too for awhile, till we met some commercial breeders who love their dogs and care just as well for them as any breeder we've met at a show. People have different motivations for breeding and you don't want someone who cuts corners on dog care to make a profit. But, in spite of the animal rights rhetoric, a commercial breeder is not by definition a "puppy mill." As long as the profit is not more important than the dogs' well-being, there's nothing wrong with making a profit.

However, people who concentrate on one breed -- maybe two -- and "do stuff" with their dogs tend to know the breed well and care about its future. They usually belong to dog clubs, understand at least basic genetics, and are up to date on breed health issues. They network with other breeders and have peer pressure to do things right.

So how can you tell a good breeder from a bad one? You can see it's not as simple as going to a dog show and picking a breeder from ringside and certainly not as simple as choosing an ad in the newspaper or from a puppies-for-sale website.

Raising good puppies makes some very specific demands, so there are signs -- we call them traffic lights -- that the careful buyer can spot.

A good breeder will have all or most of the green lights from our list, few or no yellow lights, and no red lights. Some of these may show up in advertisements, others are things you can check on the telephone, by email, or during a visit. There may be exceptions to the rules--you should always ask questions if in doubt.

It's hard to walk away, but if you buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it, you are supporting that breeder and encouraging her to breed well as letting yourself in for possible high veterinary costs. If you think the breeder is truly abusive or neglectful, report her to animal control and keep calling till something is done. But don't buy a puppy!


Red Lights -- Avoid This Breeder!

1. Breeder's kennel/home is dirty. The breeder you visit may not have a House Beautiful home, but it should smell and look reasonably clean. Anyone can have a bad day or just keep a cluttered house, but you will be able to tell if the place hasn't been cleaned in ages. The area where the dogs are kept should be as clean as is possible, but remember that all puppies tend to poop as soon as a guest arrives!

2. Dogs appear unhealthy, extremely shy, or snappy. Your very first requirement for buying a purebred puppy is health. The adult dogs should appear healthy and have the correct temperament for the breed. Puppies should be clean, have bright eyes, no discharges from nose or eyes, and no signs of diarrhea.

3. Breeder advertises "Puppies always available."
That means lots of litters per year. If a puppy is to have the best chance to be happy in your home, he must be raised with lots of attention and love. It's less likely that a "mass-produced" puppy will receive the same socialization as one raised by a breeder who produces just a few litters a year.

4. The breeder asks no questions about your home or your dog experience.
A good breeder spends plenty of time talking to you, not only about her puppies, but about the breed in general, your situation, and whether this is the right breed for you. Most require a written application. If the conversation consists mostly of "This is how much they cost, you can pick up your puppy Saturday," that's not a breeder who cares where her puppy is going.

5. The breeder offers stud service to the public, breeding pairs, and there is no mention of spaying or neutering your puppy.
Good breeders are stewards of their breeds--this means they are very careful with health, quality, and the welfare of their own dogs. They do not offer stud service or sell breeding animals to anyone who has not made a study of and commitment to the breed. Breeding dogs should not be undertaken casually; a good breeder will offer to mentor someone who wants to learn, but will not encourage everyone who enters the door with cash in hand to breed.

6. "I'm sorry but the mother is (at the groomer, at a dog show, at the vet...) so you won't be able to meet her."
Offer to come back when she's available and if you can't make arrangements, look elsewhere for a puppy. Mom's influence makes up for about 75% of your puppy's temperament, and if you don't like her, you don't want her pup. Why 75%? Her genes contribute half, and her attitude while she is raising the puppies accounts for another large percentage. A nervous, fearful mother produces nervous, fearful puppies. The father may or may not be on the premises, as many breeders use "outside studs." If he is there, ask to meet him.

7. Offers to sell puppies that are under eight weeks old.
Puppies need to be with mom and their siblings for eight weeks or more in order to learn skills that are near impossible for humans to teach. You can consider buying a puppy from this breeder (if other traffic lights are okay) but do not take your puppy home before he's eight weeks old, even if she encourages you to. Some breeds mature more slowly, and these puppies should stay with mom at least another week or two. Puppies must be exposed to humans regularly before 12 weeks of age, and that's a big part of the breeder's job. A puppy that has this contact but has stayed with his litter at least eight weeks will easily bond to your family at any age.

8. Advertising 'Easy payment plans.'
Payments are usually way too much trouble and risk for a breeder. She's already sunk a lot of her own money into this litter, and most breeders are not wealthy. A good breeder doesn't want you to buy a dog you can't afford. If you can't pay for the dog, how will you pay for vet care? Figure out how you will pay for the puppy before contacting the breeder and don't ask if she can float you a loan.

9. "Ready for Christmas!"
Holidays usually mean lots of confusion and just going to a new home is plenty of stress. Christmas is the worst time to take a puppy home if you have children, and most breeders won't even sell you a puppy as a Christmas gift. Some may allow you to take a puppy home at that time if you can convince them that you'll keep things calm, but a breeder using Christmas as a marketing tool does not have the best interests of the puppies at heart. Even many shelters don't allow dogs to go home during Christmas week.

10. Puppies are sold at a public place like a flea market or in a parking lot.
The only sure way to sell a puppy humanely is with an interview and plenty of time to talk about your new family member, ask questions, and get answers. The poor little fellows sold at flea markets and other public places are handed to the first person who shows up with cash or a credit card, whether or not that person will provide a suitable home. Never buy from these places even if you feel sorry for the puppy. For every one bought, another litter is bred, and the more clever salespeople encourage you to feel sorry for the puppies so you will "rescue" them. The only way to stop the practice is to boycott flea markets and other venues where puppies are sold...and let management know why you're staying away!

11. The breeder is rude.
It doesn't matter how beautiful the home or the puppies or how famous or successful the breeder. If she is not someone you can imagine calling with a problem about your pup, steer clear. Your relationship with the breeder is as important as your relationship with your puppy's veterinarian. She needs to be someone you can like!


Yellow Lights -- Get more information!

1. Advertising "licensed kennel"
If a license is required by a state or locality, it has nothing to do with puppy quality. So why is the breeder advertising this? There's obviously nothing wrong with being licensed, but it's not a selling point.

2. "We ship anywhere."
Many good breeders will ship your puppy and there is nothing wrong with that. But most prefer that you pick him up if at all possible. That's much less stressful and dangerous for him and most breeders want to meet you face to face. Advertising shipping usually indicates more interest in making sales than in finding good homes.

3. "We'll meet you at the rest stop."
Some kennels really are hard to find, but anyone can take directions. Often this just means "We'd rather you not see our kennel." A puppy from a dirty or overcrowded kennel is very likely to have parasites and/or other communicable illness. Corners probably have been cut on other breeding practices. Insist on coming to the kennel or home of the breeder.

4. Credit cards accepted.
Most of the best breeders are small volume - - they can't afford to take credit cards, unless they run it through another business, such as a pet supplies store, grooming shop, etc. Any breeder, however, can use Paypal or other online payment methods. If you need to use a credit card to buy your puppy, ask about those plans, or get a cash advance. "Credit cards accepted" sounds like the only requirement to get a puppy is a credit card.

5. Dogs registered with unfamiliar registries.
The American Kennel Club (AKC), United Kennel Club (UKC) and (for Canadians) the Canadian Kennel Club are the only general registries that guarantee your puppy is purebred. These registries maintain pedigrees and protect their databases through inspections and DNA testing. Rare breeds which have not been recognized by the organizations above are registered with other organizations, as are many field/hunting dogs and some working dogs. A few breeds may be registered with their specific breed registries. (Border collies and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are two examples.) Though no registry is a guarantee of quality, real registries maintain the pedigrees of purebred dogs: If you pay for a purebred you can be reasonably sure you actually get a purebred. If as the dog matures, you realize it is not purebred, you can file a complaint against the breeder and the registry will investigate.

The term registered by itself is meaningless and the same is true of pedigreed. A pedigree is just a list of ancestors. Every dog, even a mixed breed, has one simply because he has parents and grandparents. Write down those names and your mix is "pedigreed."

6. Special deals require you to allow the breeding of a litter from your pet.
A good breeder sometimes will sell a male puppy and ask that you not neuter him without permission, in case she needs him as backup to her bloodline. A breeder with a rare bloodline (or a rare breed) may have a good reason for not wanting to lose a certain female, but usually that breeder simply won't sell the dog. Whelping a litter of puppies is emotionally and physically draining for the owner as well as the mother and there's a lot that can go wrong. Most of these "puppies back" deals though are simply pyramid schemes. Look elsewhere for a puppy. Pet owners should not be required to breed their dogs.

7. You see signs that the breeder has more dogs than she can properly maintain.
Everyone has a bad day sometimes and a lot of dogs can mean a lot of confusion and noise, but if conditions don't look right to you, ask questions. Maybe the dog with the infected eye has an appointment this afternoon; perhaps most of the dogs are crated when company comes to simplify the visit but actually get plenty of exercise. But dogs in dirty pens, matted or smelly dogs, those who appear to need medical care and have not gotten it, or dogs stacked in crates for most of every day cannot be healthy, well-adjusted dogs. You don't want a puppy from this environment.

8.The breeder advertises oddball or specialized varieties that may have health problems or may not be purebred.
Rare longhaired whippets, Warlock or white Dobermans, teacup Yorkies, extreme large or big boned dogs -- check all these out before you decide you want one. There are breed standards for each breed, and dogs who are bred intentionally not to meet them (colors that are not "recognized" by AKC, etc) may be perfectly fine. But sometimes these 'improvements' are often done by mixing in other breeds; the advertised animals may not even be purebred. If you want, say, a parti-colored dog in a breed that specifies solid colors, just be sure you study before buying. Some qualities are associated with health problems. Tiny-tiny dogs often have trouble with hypoglycemia. Very large dogs may have joint problems.

Note: "Longhaired whippets" are produced by people who state that theirs is a purebred whippet with a "lost" gene for long hair. The consensus of the American Whippet Club and the decision by AKC is that there is and was no such gene. Most whippet breeders believe that this breed is a mix between the whippet and another breed with long hair, such as the Sheltie. Healthwise, there is nothing wrong with these dogs, but be aware that according to the American Whippet Club anyway, they are not really purebred whippets. Other people are developing new breeds that closely resemble a whippet with long hair, but they state clearly that their breeds began as a mix, not that they are purebred whippets with a rare gene.

Before contacting any breeder, you should read the breed standard and know what it says about color, size, and so on. Cosmetic "faults" are okay for a pet. For example, the breeder might say "This puppy is going to be oversized, so we won't be able to show him," or "Look at the way he carries his tail -- that's a fault." You might like the way your whippet's tail curls over his back, but be aware that in the show ring, that would be counted against him.

Read your breed standard at the AKC web site and be sure you understand any breed fault in a puppy you're considering buying and whether the fault is related to health. (The Whippet Standard is also at the American Whippet Club site.) For example, light colored eyes are a fault in whippets but they don't cause any health problems--it's strictly a cosmetic issue. Floppy ears in a German Shepherd Dog are also cosmetic. And parti-colored poodles and Yorkies should be as healthy as those of the accepted colors. In some breeds, white coats are simply a color choice -- in others, a white coat can be associated with severe health problems. Research these things before starting to look for a puppy.


Green Lights -- This looks like a good breeder!

1. Breeder offers a list of specific health checks done before breeding and/or on puppies before selling.
Examples might be CERF (eye), OFA (hips, heart), thyroid tests, von Willebrands Disease (blood clotting) and BAER (hearing) as appropriate to the breed. You must know which problems are likely to occur in your breed and what checks should be done. 'Vet checked' is too general -- that statement is a yellow light if given as the answer to "What health checks do you do?"

2. A lifetime "takeback guarantee" is offered with a requirement that you contact the breeder before placing your dog in another home.
Good breeders do everything in their power to prevent their puppies from winding up in an animal shelter or a pen in some friend of a friend's backyard, and that includes giving the dogs they've bred a home for life if necessary.

3. A detailed written (or on-line) application is required.
Good breeders put too much work and love into their puppies to sell them to just anyone, and they have learned by experience what kinds of home are likely to work out and which ones probably will not. Most, but not all, require a written application.

4. The breeder makes sure you know the breed's disadvantges and special requirements.
All breeds have some drawbacks. If the breed you're considering drools a lot, is hard to housebreak, does not live long, may instinctively chase and kill small animals, or (fill in the blank!), a good breeder makes sure you understand those characteristics. If your dog must be kept as an indoor dog, must always be leashed or fenced, requires lots of grooming, or is subject to heatstroke, a responsible breeder tells you these things upfront. If a breeder starts to sound like a used-car salesman, telling you only the good things and she refuses to talk about the bad ones, find another breeder.

5. A written contract with specific requirements and guarantees is provided.
But watch out for extremely restrictive contracts -- for example, specific feeding instructions or you forfeit the dog, no vaccinations regardless of veterinary advice, etc. This may be a very dedicated breeder but is likely to be way more trouble than you want. In some situations good breeders may offer a special deal for retaining control of the puppy. You get a cheaper price, but the breeder's name stays on the puppy's registration papers as co-owner. We advise against doing this unless you're very experienced. Though a breeder who cares about her puppies will encourage you to keep in touch, a breeder who cannot let go of control can be very difficult.

Note from Ruger:  We require ALL puppies here go on co-ownerships to pet homes to help protect them from being bred without our permission.  Once a Ruger puppy is old enough and is altered, we sign off on the co-ownership.

6. You receive a written health record for your puppy.
This should include the date of whelping, any health problems, the date and kind of each shot he got, and the dates of deworming and drug that was used. Your vet will want this information and having it in writing makes it more likely that your puppy has gotten the care he needs.

7. You are asked lots and lots of questions about your lifestyle and how the puppy will fit in.
Good breeders care where their puppies are going and what sorts of lives they will have. They want to keep track and will encourage you to send pictures and updates. They are as interested in their "pet quality" puppies lives as much as their show puppies' careers.

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 March 2010 12:00