Reputable Breeder or Puppy Mill?

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In this day and age, the term “puppy mill” is becoming a blanket term for all dog breeders.  I don’t think that this is very fair. I have met many reputable breeders in my lifetime and they don’t deserve it… But on the same token, I have seen MANY USDA licensed breeding facilities that have brought me to tears because of how they treat their animals.

So if you are coming across this page because you are looking for tips on how to spot a less than reputable breeder, I hope that this information helps…

If you are a breeder and want to leave your thoughts, please do so!

If you are offended by anything in this article, PLEASE let me know… I would consider that a red flag, in itself- but I am open to all suggestions.

Great vs Not-so-great Breeders

Taking time to consider what breed of dog you should get is very important… You need to consider temperament, size, age. But it is equally important to decide from where or whom you will be acquiring the dog. This article describes a few differences between a reputable breeder and breeders that are best avoided. These are just some generalizations and in the end you, as the consumer, have to decide whether or not the person you are acquiring the puppy from has their interests in the right place. If you are left with any questions after you read this, please feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you!

Finding the RIGHT Breeder

Sometimes finding a respectable breeder that specializes in the breed you are interested in may not be all that easy and it may be tempting to settle for the first breeder that you find. Unfortunately there are many ‘breeders’ that care little for the dogs they raise or for the customers they get. These are typically what some might call backyard breeders (BYB) or puppy mills. The term backyard breeder has different definitions to different people; the more inclusive definition might encompass anyone who breeds dogs without the goal of improving the breed and the more exclusive definition is limited to someone that breeds to make a profit. At times puppy mills or other mass breeders might try to sugar coat what they are by giving themselves appealing names such as puppy farm or professional sounding like commercial breeder but don’t let that fool you it’s all the same thing: people that breed and only care for your money.

Remember that a dog is a long term commitment; your canine companion will be with you for 12+ years, getting him should not be something that is decided overnight or in one trip to the pet store. Dogs are not an “until” pet they are a FOREVER pet… If by chance you end up getting a dog that was poorly bred and has genetic problems it will end up costing you not only financially but also emotionally and physically. When talking to the breeder, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for proof of claims, a reputable breeder will happily show you a pedigree when asked about it. Now let’s take a look at some things that distinguish good breeders from the bad ones.

The Reputable Breeder

A responsible or hobby breeder knows full well that breeding is not a business; it’s not a means to get some extra cash. Then one might ask: if they don’t make a profit, why do they do it? Just as the name implies, they do it because it’s a hobby, a passion. They desire to improve the breed they have taken a liking to. To do the best they can they acquire as much knowledge about their breed as is humanely possible, they literally could go on and on about the history of their breed, what it was used for, characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.

A reputable breeder will tend not to breed their dogs that are under 2 years of age; this is most likely due to the fact that one an important genetic test (OFA) cannot be preformed until the age of 2. Many will not continue breeding dogs that are over 8 years of age and usually a dog will not be bred more than 4 times in their life time. A hobby breeder doesn’t breed every time a bitch is in heat because they will only produce the amount of pups they can care, groom and socialize. If asked, these breeders can explain why a specific breeding pair was matched up, what traits they were trying to enhance or what characteristics they were trying to eliminate.

Another thing that distinguishes reputable breeders is that they take very good care of their breeding dogs and litters. They tend to raise the litters in the home to accustom them to family life. Usually the breeding female or male participates in conformation shows and competitive dog sports. While this may seem like ‘fun’ it is a critical part of assessing how well their specific dogs represent the breed and how well they perform as compared to other specimens of their breed. If the breeder doesn’t compare against other then how is she/he to know that they are producing the best? Or what needs to be improved? One will notice that a good breeder’s environment and whelping area is extra clean and that they have truly invested in specialized equipment instead of improvising and using makeshift equipment.

On average a hobby breeder will not release their puppies until the dog has 8 weeks of age and some breeders may not release them until 10 weeks of age. This is to ensure proper socialization of the pooch with the help of his littermates and mother. Because reputable breeders rely more on word of mouth and club or breed organizations, they seldom IF EVER advertise in the newspaper or with flyers. This includes craigslist! Any breeder that is finding a home for their puppies on craigslist is a BYB.  This of course isn’t to say that it’s impossible to find good breeders in the classifieds but the chances of doing so are really low. Also hobby breeders don’t rely on third parties such as pet stores or brokers to place their puppies. Remember that they have worked hard to produce these pups, if anything they’ll want to make sure they go to perfect homes.

When it comes to prospective buyers a truly honest breeder won’t be afraid to discourage you from buying a puppy or from referring you to another breeder. They will openly discuss the advantages of the breed, as well as the disadvantages.  Many also do customer screenings which is usually done through an interview and maybe even a home check. They will provide you with a contract that clearly states that you may be reimbursed for the cost of the puppy should it have genetic defects (without having to return the dog), whether or not you will have to alter the dog, and other things that protects the buyer and breeder. Respectable breeders will not usually show you the litter on the first visit or if the puppies are 5 weeks or younger; the reason being that they want to avoid bringing any illness to the pups, upsetting the mother, and they also want to prevent impulse buying or hasty emotional attachments. In due time, however, they won’t hesitate to show you the whole litter and the parent(s).

Good breeder will always provide proof of claims they make, this might be in the form of a pedigree, test results, contracts, etc. Breeders will provide you with proof of genetic testing on the puppy, the parents or most likely both. Some of the common tests breeder do are the OFA (for hips), CERF (for eyes), PennHIP (for hips), and BAER (for hearing) just to name a few. These will also be up to date, the CERF testing, for example, has to be done every year. Probably the most distinguishable aspect of a good breeder is that they stay in contact with those that they have sold their puppies to. They are more than willing to provide grooming, training, and medical advice if needed. They will also take the dog back no matter how old, if the owner can no longer take care of him.

The above mentioned characteristics are what really set apart the good breeders from the bad ones. One can usually find good breeders through breed organizations with connections with the AKC, UKC, FCI or some other reputable registry. The quickest way to find the official breed club is to Google the breed name (no misspellings) and find the link that say (Breed Name) Club of America, or something to that effect. The AKC website also has some ways to find reputable breeders that specialize in whatever breed you are looking to buy.

The Profit Breeder

Most breeders that are not reputable will tend to fall into two categories: backyard breeders and puppy mills. With exception of puppy mills, bybs aren’t always bad people. Half of the time they are people that don’t know that they are doing wrong and are ignorant as to the proper way to breed dogs. This of course isn’t to say that they are not a factor to the over-crowding in shelters and pounds but some of these, when taught that they are doing wrong, will try their best to become respectable breeders or stop breeding altogether. There are, of course, some that simply won’t listen and are too addicted to the money they bring in; these people are seriously looked down upon by the dog people community. According to the AKC estimates that in 1996 70% of dogs that were registered as purebreds were bred by people that bred their dogs only to later found out how expensive, exhausting and heartbreaking it was and then later decided to fix their dog.

Puppy mills on the other hand are completely greedy and should be avoided at all times. While they may not sell directly to people, they majority of puppy mills will ship their dogs off to pet stores and receive profits from whatever they sell. That is why many advocate never purchasing puppies from pet stores even though they may claim that they get their pups from reputable breeders; remember as mentioned above, good breeders don’t use third parties to place their puppies.

Puppy mills breed for money, there is no reasoning around that; however, backyard breeders produce litters for a myriad of ignorant and illogical reasons. Some of the most common reasons are listed below:

Our dog is great and if we breed him he’ll produce equally great pups.

We want puppies that are going to be just like our dog.

A(n) friend/family/acquaintance wants a dog just like ours.

Selling dogs is an easy way to bring in extra money.

We want to make back the money we spent on our dog.

All female dogs should have at least one litter to be happy/healthy/well behaved.

We can’t afford to spay her.

Our breeder wants us to breed our dog.

We want to breed our dog because he comes from champion lines.

It’s ok to breed our dog because she is AKC registered.

In some cases backyard breeder may indeed love their dogs very much, but even so they do very little to ensure that the dogs that other people are going to end up loving just as much are free of genetic problems. The majority of the time a BYB will breed their dog with any other dog of the same breed (if that) without doing any genetic testing to make sure they are a good match, it is very rare to find a bad breeder that breeds and keeps in mind conformation or improvement of the breed. And even though the chances of acquiring a dog with a health problem is higher if the dog is from an irresponsible breeder, they offer no health guarantee and are unqualified to give medical advice should problems arise. To sum it up, once the money has been exchanged, you are on your own.

The majority of backyard breeders and puppy mills have little to no knowledge on AKC standards, and they don’t make an effort to further any knowledge they may have with participation in breed clubs.  Some will have the audacity to say that AKC conformation doesn’t matter for ‘pet quality’ dogs. Pet quality dogs are usually purebred dogs that have a characteristic that would be considered a fault in a conformation show or have something that makes them unfit for showing. One should wonder why they are breeding ‘pet quality’ dogs when there are plenty of them in shelters and rescues, and also why they continue to bred pet quality dogs and not top quality. Pet quality dogs should also be sold with a “limited registration” and a contract that mandates alteration, but many ignore this and as a result more “pet quality” dogs are born.

Remember that the correct maintenance of a dog doesn’t allow for much profit, the only way that backyard breeders and puppy mills (more so the latter) is to keep dogs in poor conditions and only spend the minimum on them, simply to keep them alive until they sell. Unfortunately this poor care results in a dog with poor socialization and most likely one that will have behavioral problems or fears in the future.

In the end, it could cost you a lot more to buy from a backyard breeder or puppy mill seeing how they don’t care for health screening, you may end up with expensive vet bills and because of the poor conditions they are kept in, any behavior problems will usually need to be corrected with the help of a behaviorist which of course isn’t free. As with anything in the dog world, you get what you pay for.

Red Flags

If a breeder you know does some of the things below or holds some of those views, it may be that they are profit breeders. If you are bold enough, you can question them about why they do that or why they think that way and see if they give you a logical answer, however half the time they are most likely to get irritated with you. However you as the buyer have a right to ask as many questions as you’d like.

*The breeder insists that you two meet offsite. This is usually a sign that they don’t want you to see their kennels or whelping area. Always a good idea to ask why they want to meet offsite.

*Has no papers for purebred dogs. This is usually a sign that the litter was an accident or that they simply don’t care whatsoever about the betterment of the breed as a whole. Remember that papers are required, they are not a ‘bonus’ or an ‘extra‘.

*Use incorrect terminology such (e.g. full-blooded or teacup). The incorrect terminology should signal that either the breeder doesn’t know a thing about breeding or they are using misleading terms to make you get erroneous conclusions.

*Promotes abnormalities such as extra small (teacup) or extra big. The reason to avoid breeders that advertise extra small or extra big dogs is because the majority of the time the pups have health issues and will tend not to conform to the breed standards.

*So called breeders of designer breeds. Designer breeder are simply mixed breeds, they aren’t truly breeds. These breeders are simply breeding that which there are plenty of in shelters and rescues: mutts.

*Beware if dog is registered in anything other than the AKC, UKC, CKC (Canadian kennel club), FCI, or ANKC. There are many other mimic registries that will offer papers for just about any dog, sometimes even mixed breeds or designer breeds. These registries don’t care much for conformation and are worth very little. The above mentioned registries are non-profit, hold shows dogs sports, and fun dog health research.

*Only guarantee they provide is having been checked by the vet. Having been checked by the vet is a good thing; however a cursory check doesn’t reveal genetic problems. Never allow a ‘vet check’ to be a substitute for health testing, and make sure they have proof of the test results.

*The breeder looks down on genetic testing and says his/her dogs are problem free. This type of breeder is usually in it for the money, as they don’t want to waste money on the testing. They can’t really guarantee problem free dogs if they don’t do health tests.

*Breeders that charge more for females or males, or those that are registered or have a pedigree. Why should a breeder be charging you more for different gender or for papers that are required to be there? That’s right, they shouldn’t. Ask and see if they give a good reason but for the most part they won’t. Once again, remember papers are requirements not a bonus. Also remember that the AKC doesn’t screen the dogs they register, so papers are not a proof of quality.

*Beware of breeders whose contract requires you to breed. Good breeders know that breeding is a serious commitments and one that requires money, they wouldn’t impose this responsibility on you unless you really wanted it.

*Breeders who constantly switch from one breed to another depending on which is popular. These are very likely to be in it for the money. They want to produce whatever there is a demand for; these breeders are treating breeding as if it were a profit business which it is not. A good breeder will have one or two breeds which they truly desire to improve.

*Red flag breeders with a USDA license. Those with this license are most likely mass breeders and produce too many dogs to provide care for either when they are in their care and when they’ve been placed.

*Use makeshift accommodations. Makeshift accommodations show that they most likely don’t want to spend their precious profits on the purchase of quality equipment.

*Unwilling to show entire litter or parent(s). This shows that there might be something to hide, such as an illness in other littermates or behavior problems in the parent. If the breeder doesn’t want to show you the parents and yet claims that the pups are purebred it might be that they might not be pure bred.

While I am a strong advocate for adopting instead of shopping for pets, I know that some people insist on buying. If that is the case, PLEASE do your research and remember: There are breed rescues all over that are dedicated to rescuing animals from bad homes or bad situations. You can find them all on . You can search for any breed, age, or size of dog- and only rescues and shelters are allowed to use it. 

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