Questions to Ask to Evaluate a Reputable Breeder
Adding a new member to your family is exciting! Taking the time to do the research on the breed and the breeder will help you set your family and your new dog up for success. You have decided on the breed that is right for your family, and you’ve decided to go with a breeder (rather than breed rescue). Congratulations! Next step: finding a reputable breeder.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) website provides a wealth of information on how to select and interview a breeder. It is a great resource, especially if you are planning on adopting a pure-breed dog or puppy. The AKC website provides a list of registered kennels. This should be the best first place to start the process of finding a registered breeder with a solid reputation. If the parents are registered with AKC and/or breed clubs, this is a key indicator of a reputable breeder.
- Select the Breeder First: Select the breeder before you select the dog. This may mean that you have to wait until a litter is born to get your puppy, and then another 8 – 12 weeks until they are whelped. If you are looking for an adult dog, you might be waiting for a retired champion dog, or a dog who is being retired from breeding, or a dog that is being fostered by an AKC member. In these cases too, select the breeder first, and plan to wait until a puppy or a dog becomes available.
- Networking and Research: A reputable breeder will have more applications than puppies, or adult dogs. If the wait is too long for you, ask them if they can give you the name of another reputable breeder. A great reference for another breeder is awesome, but you should still research the breeder’s kennel online before moving forward.
- Did the Breeder Ask You a lot of Questions? The answer should be a resounding yes! Reputable breeders care about the entire life of the dog they have brought into the world, and they want to know they are handing this precious life into a loving, life-long home. Expect to receive a lot of seemingly invasive questions about how much time you spend at home and away from home, whether or not you have a fenced in yard, how you plan to train him or her… A good breeder is effectively interviewing you for the position of pet-parent. Be honest, they want their puppy to have a long happy life in one home. Their questions will help them to select a dog with a temperament or set of needs to match yours.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. If a breeder isn’t passing the test, you can decide to go back to the beginning and start again.
Questions to ask:
Breeding responsibly requires a deep understanding of genetics, temperament, canine husbandry, breed standards, breed history, medical tests, and more. You should be able to ask questions and you should receive detailed, well-thought out answers.
A reputable breeder will answer your questions and will be willing to help you through the process of adopting and raising your dog. Even if this is not your first dog, remember, you are evaluating the person who will give your new baby the care it needs for the first 2 to 3 months of its life. You want to be sure that person cares about their well-being.
- Ask for the AKC-Registered Kennel Name and Research their Reputation Online: Most pure-bred kennels are registered with the AKC. A reputable breeder should be willing to answer any questions you have about negative reviews (there are always negative reviews), sift through the reviews carefully to evaluate whether the issues resonate as red flags for you, or not. Read the breeder’s responses to decide whether or not he or she is a person you would choose to do business with. Make your decision and reach out to the person to discuss next steps.
- Do you Show? You don’t need to walk away from a breeder that doesn’t show, but those that do have an extra level of knowledge about the breed, breed standard, and usually a big network of other breed enthusiasts.
- Ask to Visit the Kennel: Check out where the puppies were raised. It may seem more convenient to meet someone at a half-way point, or at a public space, and legitimate exchanges do happen in public places, but if you can, visit the kennel. The kennel should be clean and hygenic. Puppies are messy, but despite any recent mess, the area where the puppies are being raised should have the appearance of recent, frequent cleanings. The puppies (and parents) should have both indoor/outdoor access and not be confined strictly to an outdoor kennel.
- Ask to Meet the Parents: Keep in mind the sire (male parent) is not always owned by the breeder. The dam (female parent) is more likely to be available, even though you might not be given access to her. Hopefully you will be allowed to at least see her. Try to evaluate how she responds to the person handling her. They should have a trusting relationship. Seeing the mom (and dad if possible) can give some indicators into the puppy’s eventual size, appearance, and temperament, as these are traits inherited from the parents.
- How Long Have you Been Breeding? First time breeders have to start somewhere; but experience counts and often experienced breeders have a wealth of knowledge that they can share with you and also an understanding about what makes a good pet.
- Food & Care: Ask the breeder about the various aspects of caring for your dog including diet, training tips, breed specific health problems, grooming recommendations, or known issues with his or her line. A reputable breeder will speak knowledgeably on all of these topics. Even if you are not a first time dog-buyer, and even if this is not your first dog in this breed, the answers you receive will show the breeder’s level of experience and knowledge.
- How Many Veterinary Visits have the Puppies Had? Usually pups have had at least one deworming, and depending on age, may or may not have received any vaccinations prior to sale/adoption.
- Ask to see Health and Certification Paperwork for the Parents: Pedigree and registration documents on the parents are important when you are in search of a well-bred, pure-bred dog. You should be able to also receive your own documentation for your dog at the time of purchase. Some breeders will withhold paperwork until you can show proof that your dog has been spayed/neutered, but this will vary, and terms will be defined in the contract you sign.
- What Health Guarantees do you Provide? Breeders should provide some financial assistance for any medical conditions that occur within a few days of adoption. Guarantees should never be invalidated by medical decisions that you make with your veterinarian such as food, neutering choices, and vaccination choices.
- What is your Return Policy? Nobody thinks they will be returning a puppy, but a reputable breeder knows that this does happen, and it can happen for a very wide variety of reasons. Responsible dog breeders take responsibility for their puppies and dogs and will have terms associated with returns in the contract you sign.
- Breed Specific Health Checks: Ask about the relevant health checks needed for your breed and your dog and ask whether these checks have been completed, if so, ask to see the results. If not, ask when you should get those tests for your dog and if the breeder can recommend a veterinarian. The AKC provides a list of health tests for known, breed-specific medical conditions. The Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) manages the database of those results (and more).
- Ask about the dog or puppy’s temperament – Compatibility is key! If you are a runner looking for a running-mate, ask about higher energy dogs, and find out what additional training and care this high energy dog will need in order to become that perfect running mate. Are you looking for a couch potato who loves short walks and long, attentive hours in your lap, let the breeder know, and ask about the best food for a low energy dog. Kids, cats, other dogs, lots of people, very few people, specifically lots of men or lots of women, whatever your family looks like, get the dog with the temperament that will thrive in that family environment. Your breeder should be involved (heavily) in helping to select the right dog for your family.
Will you be Asked to Sign a Contract? If so, good! Responsible breeders understand that bad things can happen to good people, they still want to make sure that the dog will continue to receive care for its lifetime. Read the contract carefully, and make sure that you are comfortable with the language.
Good contract provisions include:
- Stipulations that the dog must be returned to the breeder if you are unable to keep the dog for any reason.
- A stipulation that the puppy must be evaluated by a veterinarian within a certain number of days of adoption (usually 10-14).
- A “must not be bred” clause.
Bad contract provisions include:
- Stipulations for or against any specific vaccinations.
- Requirements to feed only a certain type of food or supplements.
- Requirements to spay/neuter at or before a specific age.
- Any medical statements, recommendations, or requirements. Breeders know their breed very well but their recommendations should never take the place of those recommended by a licensed veterinarian.
Whatever your opinion on pure-bred dogs, on breeders, or on rescues and shelters, one thing is true: reputable breeders elevate the breed they love. If we all remain vigilant, perhaps one day cruel, inhumane, and purely profit-driven breeders will be forced to seek alternative methods of employment for themselves.
Written by Sommer Aweidah and Dr. Krista Vernaleken