So you’ve decided it’s time to start thinking about a puppy to join your household – exciting times! Hopefully you have done lots of research regarding an appropriate breed choice and have narrowed down your options, but where do you start in terms of finding a responsible breeder?
What do you even mean by ‘responsible breeder’?
Well, someone who has the medical and behavioural health of the parents and puppies as a priority. Someone who recognises that their puppies are going to pet homes where they will hopefully thrive for the next 10-15+ years. Someone who breeds with the intention of keeping a puppy for themselves, or to improve the breed by eradicating undesirable traits or hereditary disease. Or someone who simply wants to encourage responsible dog ownership – starting with puppies who are fit for purpose.
Unfortunately there are many, many people out there who breed for the sole purpose of making money.
Where do I start looking for a responsible breeder?
In an ideal world, we already know the person who intends to breed and/or the bitch (and/or sire!) – we know that the dogs are medically top notch and behaviourally sound, and that the owner is breeding for all the right reasons (see above) and in the right way (see below). It may even be knowing the breeder or bitch is what caused you to even consider having a puppy. If so, your job may be done.
However, most of us will have to start the research process from scratch, and at this point it is worth highlighting that the process can take a long time. If you want to find the ideal breeder, you might still be months or even years away from bringing home your puppy. Remember that this is a long-term commitment. Whilst we live in a fast-paced world where we can purchase pretty much anything within 24 hours of deciding what we want to buy, puppies are different. Research, preparation and patience are key!
Asking your local vet practice if they have any responsible breeders for your chosen breed would be a good place to start, as well as asking anyone you know who owns a happy, healthy dog of your breed choice who their breeder was. Both points of contact are likely to mean being added to a waiting list.
You can also look online, armed with the below knowledge of where to look and what to look for:
The Kennel Club is an obvious place to start if you are considering a pedigree breed – but it absolutely does not guarantee that the breeder is responsible. Anyone can register a litter of puppies with the Kennel Club. Their Assured Breeders Scheme, however, requires health testing and screening and various other standards for improved welfare – although being an Assured Breeder does still not guarantee your litter is being bred and reared in a way that is optimal for you, and likewise many responsible breeders will not be listed (particularly if they are not breeding a pedigree!). All pedigree puppies should be KC registered with a kennel name, even if the breeder is not.
Champdogs is another website that lists pedigree breeders and litters of puppies, but there are zero standards or checks for a breeder to be listed.
Many responsible breeders won’t even get as far as listing puppies on any of these sites. They will have a waiting list before they even decide to breed, or at least have a long list once the bitch is confirmed to be pregnant. Ideally you want your name on the list prior to the puppies even being born, so search for breeders rather than puppies. That said, there are sometimes situations where an excellent breeder ends up with one or two puppies for sale due to changes in prospective buyer’s circumstances.
It is sensible to be open-minded about your breed, or at least your preferred gender and colour unless you are willing to wait even longer for your ideal choice from a responsible breeder.
For cross-breeds, there are a number of websites that list puppies for sale and finding a responsible breeder here is like finding a needle in a haystack. It is vital that you read between the lines and you are intense in your scrutiny… unscrupulous breeders are becoming very clever in their attempts to appear responsible. Even in cross-breeds, the relevant health tests for the individual breeds are still recommended.
Be aware that popular breeds and cross-breeds are more likely to have puppy farmers cashing in on their popularity. However, popular breeds are also easier to find a local, responsible breeder. If you are interested in a less common breed, you are likely to have to compromise on locality (which means less visits for the puppy to get to know you prior to moving in, and potentially a more stressful first car journey – but neither of those are a dealbreaker!).
How do I check the health of the parents?
You can check the pedigree and health tests of each parent (remember this is also relevant if your dog is a cross between two pedigrees) as well as checking the ‘Coefficient of Inbreeding’ on the Kennel Club website here. It will tell you the average Inbreeding Coefficient for your breed too, so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to risk a higher-than-average inbreeding coefficient.
I would strongly recommend checking that any claimed pedigrees and health tests actually exist, because there are many adverts that state the bitch and sire’s names and claim they are pedigree registered and health tested, both of which transpire to be a big fat lie when you try to search for them on the KC website.
What should I ask a breeder when I first enquire?
When you think you have found a good-looking breeder, drop them an email telling them what sort of home you can offer, the research you have done regarding the breed and asking them about the parents and their rearing practice. Here is a template that you might find useful:
We are looking for a [insert breed here] puppy and hoped you might consider us should you have any potential puppies available in your upcoming litter/if you were planning a litter anytime in the next year [delete as appropriate].
We live in [insert city/town] – describe size of home/garden if relevant to breed choice. Describe family members (including any existing pets) and work timetables. Describe your experience with dogs/specifically the breed you have chosen and why you are interested in this breed (show off some of your experience/research).
If you might consider us a suitable home, I wonder whether you wouldn’t mind answering the following questions:
– In what environment will the puppies be born and raised? Can you describe something of your approach to breeding pups?
– Can you tell me more about the temperament of the sire and dam?
– Have you experienced any behavioural or health concerns about either parent, currently or in the past, that it would be helpful for us to know about?
I hope you don’t mind me asking these questions and that you would consider us a suitable home. I would be happy to provide more information about our family and living environment if required.
Exchanging information following this initial enquiry should include confirmation from the breeder that they invite you to visit the puppies once they are 4-5 weeks of age. Visiting as many times as possible between this age and when the pup is due to come home makes the rehoming process much easier for the puppy, but do bear in mind that the breeder may not be able to accommodate frequent visits by every new puppy owner if they have a large litter!
Breeders of a working-line should not be rehoming their puppies to inexperienced, pet homes, and no responsible breeder would encourage you to rehome two puppies from the litter.
What should I be looking for in a responsible breeder when I visit?
If you intend to have the puppy living in your home, they should be bred and reared in a home environment – so they are exposed to the hoover, washing machine, TV etc and so that they learn that humans are busy people whose attention is not always available. After around 4 weeks of age, the puppy’s environment should be enriched with toys and items for them to explore. Ideally their area will have a toileting area sectioned off, so that toilet training is well underway.
Make sure you meet the bitch. You want to ensure she is actually the puppy’s mum (you see the puppies suckling, or her teats are clearly enlarged). Her temperament should be reflective of what you would like in your future dog – that includes her being happy for you to handle her puppies with her still in the room. Do not fall for any excuses as to why this might not be possible.
The puppies should all look happy and healthy, be inquisitive and keen to interact. They should be delighted to meet you and interact confidently with the breeder, each other, and their mum.
On collecting your puppy at no younger than 8 weeks old, the breeder should ask you to sign a contract confirming you have been given all the health documentation and certificates, and stating that you must contact the breeder if you experience any problems with your puppy (at any time in its life). They will take the puppy back so their puppies will never become a rescue statistic.
“Vet checked” – does not mean appropriate health tests have been done.
“Pedigree dog with papers” – this means nothing unless it is Kennel Club registered.
“The bitch is out on her walk” – the bitch should be shown off to anyone interested in a puppy.
Arranging to meet you to transfer the puppy, rather than letting you view them in their ‘home’ environment.
Timidity and withdrawn behaviour in the puppies.
Not being willing to answer your questions and not asking you any questions about your home, lifestyle etc.
Sawdust on the puppy when you visit, smell of urine, no toys or items to explore in their pen.
What if I feel sorry for the puppies when I visit?
Handing over money to “rescue” a puppy is simply contributing to the problem. If the breeder makes money, they are more likely to repeatedly breed and sell puppies and you are contributing to the problem by buying one. Whilst it is an extremely difficult thing to do – walk away, for the sake of future puppies and for your own sake. Instead, if you do have concerns, contact the RSPCA, the local council and Trading Standards and report the breeder.
There is no doubt about it, finding a responsible breeder is time consuming, frustrating and hugely disappointing at times. You may be on a waiting list for some time only to be told the bitch has not had enough puppies for everyone on the list. It can be sensible to have your name down with several breeders, if you can find enough who are breeding responsibly! Just please don’t settle for second best.