Skip to Content

How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder

Choosing a dog breeder is the single most important decision you will make when buying a puppy. 

This is because when you find a reputable dog breeder they will invest the time and money to ensure that the dogs they breed are healthy.

They will be there for you, to answer your questions and help with any issues.

Quality breeders know how to raise easily trainable dogs that are ready for life in a new home.

But a bad breeder just wants to make a profit.

They don’t care about breeding the best possible dogs. Nor do they care about what issues may arise after you have your new puppy. Once they get your money you will never hear from them again.

But finding a reputable dog breeder is harder than it sounds.  Puppy mills and backyard breeders try to hide their true identity. They know that you will not buy from them if you knew the truth. But they cannot hide the fact that their puppies are often sick or that they treat their dogs poorly.

Join us as we show you how to find a reputable dog breeder. Here we will provide you tips on what to look for in a reputable breeder. Plus show you signs to look for that may indicate that they are not what they seem.

Why Get a Dog from a Breeder?

Although many people choose to adopt rather than shop for a dog, there is still a case for choosing to buy a dog from a reputable breeder.

The main reason to choose a breeder over a rescue is to limit the unknown. When you acquire a puppy from a rescue, even if it is a purebred, you never know what the puppy will be like when they grow up. You won’t know the pedigree of the dog or the medical history of the parent dogs. Rarely is a dog surrendered with both the parents. Typically they don’t even know the health history of the rescue dog. Many times the rescue can only guess at what breed the dog really is.

When you purchase a dog from a reputable breeder you will know exactly what you are getting. They will put great care in choosing the best mating pairs to ensure that they produce a puppy that is healthy and follows the standards of the breed. This includes the look, personality and energy level expected of the breed.

If you don’t need to know everything about your dog then by all means please choose to adopt. You will be rewarded with a lifetime of love and devotion from the life you saved. You could even find a purebred dog at a breed specific rescue, but you may not know its full history. The only way you can guarantee that is to buy from a reputable dog breeder.

Throughout my life I have had both purebred dogs and mixed breed rescue dogs. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. They both have their pros and cons.

How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder

A quality puppy is worth the wait.

It takes time to find a reputable dog breeder. You need to do a lot of research on your desired breed and on the people who breed them.

Once you find a reputable dog breeder you will most likely have to wait for your puppy. Quality breeders tend to have a waiting list for their puppies long before the puppies are born. In rare cases you may find a quality breeder with an available puppy but this is the exception to the rule.

On the other hand puppy mills and backyard breeders breed puppies without having a demand for them in the hope that they can find a buyer.

Plan to start your search for a breeder 6 months to a year in advance of actually getting a puppy. During this time, learn everything you can about the breed you are interested in.

How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder

1. Ask Family and Friends

The best way to find a reputable breeder is to ask people you know what breeder they used. They will be able to give you an honest opinion of the breeder and how healthy their dog is.

2. Ask your Veterinarian

Ask your veterinarian if they could recommend a breeder. A quality breeder will work closely with their veterinarian, which means the vet will know how the dogs are cared for and what health testing they may have done.

3. Go to Dog Shows

You can find quality dog breeders showing off their prized dogs at local dog shows.  There are a variety of dog shows to choose from based on your interests.  Check out the American Kennel Club event calendar to find a dog show near you.

4. Breed Associations

Breed associations are a great way to research your desired breed but it is also a way to find a reputable dog breeder in your area. Most breed clubs will keep a list of members. Not all members will have breeding dogs but at least some of them will still be breeding.

What is a Quality Breeder?

A quality breeder is someone who puts the time, money and love into each litter to produce the best quality of puppies they can. They take pride in their breeding program and their dogs. A true quality breeder does not breed for the money, but for the love and advancement of the breed. It is that love that produces happy, healthy puppies and that prepares them for their life with you.

Signs of a Quality Dog Breeder

1. Knowledgeable about the breed

A good breeder should have extensive knowledge of the breed and be excited to tell you all about it. They should be able to answer any questions you have about their dogs or the breed in general, including the dog’s pedigree, temperament, health issues, exercise needs, etc. If the breeder is hesitate to talk or seems uninformed look elsewhere for a pup.

Also watch out for claims that are too good to be true. No breed is perfect. A breeder should be willing to tell you all the good and bad points of the breed. Stay away from anyone that tries to “sell” you a dog.

2. Specialize in One Breed

A quality breeder will only work with one breed. Breeders who deal in multiple breeds may not know as much about the breed. Plus dealing in multiple breeds means having more dogs. More than a handful of dogs mean the dogs and their puppies will not get individual attention.

Tip: Get the breeders name and address and do an online google search. You may find that they sell many breeds under different names.

3. Considers Dogs as Family

Breeding dogs should live inside the home as pets. It is important to a puppy’s social development that they live inside the home with all the normal sights and sounds of a family.

4. Will Ask Questions

A good breeder will ask you a wide range of questions. This is to determine if you meet the breeder’s standard of care for their dogs. It also helps them decide if the breed is a good fit for you. They will ask you questions about your prior experience with caring for dogs, where they will sleep, how they will be exercised, if you have a veterinarian, etc. They may even ask you for a reference from your veterinarian. Stay away from a breeder that does not ask you questions.

5. Honest

A quality breeder understands that no breed is perfect. They should be willing and able to tell you all about the good and the bad of the breed. If you feel like they are finding something, they probably are.

6. Does Genetic Health Testing on Dogs

One of the keys to breeding healthy dogs is to confirm that the parents are healthy and free from health conditions that can be passed down to future generations. This is done by ensuring the dogs receive annual check-ups and by conducting genetic health screenings.

To learn which health screening should be done for your desired breed, check out the American Kennel Clubs Health Requirements page

7. Doesn’t Have Continuous Litters

Although an adult female dog can have litters twice a year it is not healthy a practice. Breeding dogs need a break from breeding to regain their strength and health.

8. Starts Puppy Training Early

A good breeder will ensure that you have the best possible experience with your new puppy. They can accomplish this by starting to crate train and potty train the week before you take them home.

9. Uses a Contract

A reputable breeder will want to ensure that both parties understand their rights and obligations. Therefore a formal binding contract should be used for the sale of the puppy.

The contract should note the following:

  • Cost of the puppy
  • Health Guarantees
    • Including what will be done if the puppy becomes sick
    • Health Guarantees should be for at least two years since many genetic health issues don’t show up until after two years old.
  • Return policy
    • A good breeder will insist that the dog be returned to them if for any reason you are unable to keep them
  • Have a spay/neuter clause
    • A responsible breeder will want to ensure that the puppy is not used as a breeding dog.
    • Some breeders will require an Early Spay/Neuter (ESN) before releasing the puppies.

Early Spay/Neuter (ESN) is a controversial procedure that deserves a closer look before you agree to it. To learn more about the controversy on ESN you can read Golden Retriever Study Suggests Neutering Affects Dog Health

Signs of a Bad Dog Breeder

1. Uses a Middle Man

Breeders who don’t care about the welfare of their puppies will use a middleman to broker a sale. By selling through a middleman puppy mills can hide their true identity.

Two types of middlemen:

Online broker

It is common for puppy mills to use online brokers to sell their puppies. These sites provide very little information on the breeders. Plus they take care of shipping them across the country so you never know where they are coming from.

Pet Store

Some puppy stores claim that the puppies are from a local breeder. But in order to sell a puppy to a retailer you must have a USDA license. A USDA License indicates they are a commercial breeder.

2. Has Multiple Litters at a Time

Having three or four litters at the same time is a bad sign. There is simply no way the puppies can be socialized properly when you are dealing with 15 or more puppies.

3. Has Multiple Breeds for Sale

It takes a lot of time and money to breed dogs. Breeders who offer more than one breed probably do not have a deep knowledge of any of the breeds. Also multiple breeds mean owning many dogs. This is the sign of a breeder who is just trying to make a buck.

4. Breeds the same dogs continuously

A dog can have a litter twice a year. But this is not a healthy option for the dog. The dog’s health should come before profits.

5. Breeds Dogs Before they are Two Years Old

Complete health testing cannot be done until the dog is fully grown at the age of two. A quality breeder will wait until after the dogs are fully health checked.

6. Has Available Puppies

A bad breeder breeds with the hope someone will buy them. A good breeder will have homes for the puppies before they are conceived. A great breeder will have a waiting list.

7. Sells Puppies Under 7 Weeks Old

A breeder should not allow puppies to leave the litter before they are 7 weeks old. If they leave the litter any earlier than 7 weeks old, the puppy will miss out on some very important social learning.

According to the American Kennel Club the optimal age for a puppy to go to their new home is between 7 and 8 weeks.

8. Has a US Department of Agriculture license

Breeders are required to have a US Department of Agriculture license only if they have three or more breeding female dogs and they want to sell dogs to a wholesaler or reseller. 

The USDA license does not guarantee the quality of a puppy or a breeder. In fact the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act are minimal. Inspections are infrequent and violations common.

53 of the puppy mills that are listed on the Humane Society of US The Horrible Hundred are licensed by the USDA to sell to pet stores.

Next: Select a Breeder

Now that you have chosen a few breeders it is time to meet them and their dogs. If possible visit several breeders so you can compare them.

Questions to Ask Breeders

1. How long have they been breeding?

The answer should be at least a few years, but the longer the better. If they just started breeding this particular breed, ask them why they changed. Quality breeders tend to have a love for a breed and it is rare for them to change.

If they have recently started breeding ask what training they have done to prepare them to be breeders. Do they have a mentor to help them make the right decisions?

2. What is the age of the breeding dogs?

Dogs can’t be fully health tested until they are two years old. A responsible breeder will not breed a dog until they are over the age of two.

3. How many litters do they have a year?

A breeder who only has one litter at a time will have the time and resources to properly care for the puppies. Having more than two litters at a time will make it difficult to properly socialize the puppies.

Breeding females need time between litters to recover from the pregnancy. They should not be bred more than once a year.

4. Do they belong to a breed club?

Breed clubs provide support to breeders and owners by keeping them up to date on issues affecting the breed. While belonging to a breed club is not a guarantee of a reputable breeder it can show that the breeder is interested in the breed beyond making money.

American Kennel Club

Just because the breeder has AKC registered dogs that does not mean they are a good breeder. 1/3 of the breeders listed on the Humane Society of US The Horrible Hundred list have a connection to the AKC.

5. Where do the puppies live?

The best answer to this question is “in our home”. Puppy socialization needs to start early. A puppy that is around all the normal sights and sounds of a home will learn that it is just part of life and nothing to be afraid of. Puppies that are kept away from people, like in a kennel or basement, can grow up to be shy or scared of people.

Puppy socialization should continue when your puppy is living with you. To learn more about socializing your puppy please read: How to Socialize A Puppy – Made Easy

6. How are the puppies socialized?

Puppies should be handled in safe way regularly by different people to ensure they grow up to be comfortable and feel safe around people.

7. Can you meet the parents?

If the breeding dogs live in the home then meeting the parents should not be a problem. Meeting the puppy’s parents will give you an idea of what the pup’s personality will be like. The parent dogs should be friendly and happy to see you. Stay away from breeders whose dogs appear scared or aggressive.

8. Can you visit the home?

This one is tricky. When we were looking for a breeder many of the breeders told us they did not allow people to come into their home because of the risk of tracking Pavro (Canine parvovirus) into their homes. While the threat is real there should still be a way for you to visit the home.

If they don’t allow visitors when there are puppies ask if they hold events where you could meet the breeding dogs ahead of time. Some breeders will have puppy reunion days or other events that the public can attend. Some may offer to do a live video conference.

When visiting the home look for signs of cleanliness. The house should not smell. The breeder should show a love of their dogs and the dogs should show it back.

Tip: Get the breeder’s address and do a google search to confirm they live there, and then look at the location on google maps. Does it look like they described? Use the satellite feature to view the property. On more than one occasion I have seen large kennels on a breeders property that claimed the dogs lived in the house.

9. Ask for a copy of the parent dog’s medical history

Don’t take a breeders word that they did genetic health testing on the dogs. Make sure you get proof. The breeder should be able to give you a copy of the genetic health clearance reports for the breeding dogs and their parents.

Also the testing should be done by an independent agency, like the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation.

10. Do they offer a health guarantee?

A quality breeder will stand behind their breeding practices and offer a health warranty for at least the first two years. The warranty should clearly state what will happen if the dog develops a genetic health condition.

Look for a breeder that offers to give back all or part of the cost of the puppy to cover some of the expenses.

11. Ask for references

While a good reference is not the end all of finding a quality breeder it is a start. If the breeder cannot provide you with a list of happy customers look elsewhere.

But references do not guarantee a good breeder. Even bad breeders can produce good puppies from time to time.

Once you have found a quality breeder the next step is to pick your puppy from a litter. To help you we have gathered the best tips on how to pick a puppy from a litter.

Final Thoughts on How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder

  • Do your Research
  • Use your best judgement – If something does not feel right it probably isn’t
  • Ask for copies of health records and genetic health testing
  • Select a breeder that treats their dogs the same why you will treat your dog.
  • Expect to wait for a puppy. Getting a puppy should not be an impulse buy. Quality puppies are in high demand.
  • Seeing is believing
    • Meet the breeder in person
    • See the mother (and maybe the father)
    • Look at the conditions the pups are raised in
  • Get everything in writing
  • Know your rights
    • Many states now have puppy lemon laws. Check them out before you buy a puppy.
  • When you do find a reputable dog breeder remember to stay in touch with them

Now sure which type of dog you should get? Check out our post What is the Right Dog for Me?.

Waiting for your puppy

After you have selected a reputable breeder it’s time to get ready for your new puppy. Life with a new puppy is much easier if you have everything you need before bringing them home. Take a look at the 7 essentials you need to care for your puppy in our post What You Need for a New Puppy Plus check out our post on how to make a Dog Potty Area in your yard

Picking your puppy from the litter

Soon it will be time to pick your puppy from the litter. But which puppy is the best puppy for you? It is often hard to decide. It’s better to have a plan on how your are going to pick your puppy before the time arrives. To learn more check out our post on how to pick a puppy from a litter

Selecting a Name for Your Puppy

Once you get your puppy you will need to name them. Rather than waiting until the puppy is home start looking at puppy names now. To help we have put together a few lists of names to help you to choose.

More posts on selecting a puppy:

Jana Rade

Tuesday 16th of June 2020

Such important information; there are bad breeders out there for sure. I read somewhere that one inkling to what kind of breeder you're dealing with is whether or not they allow you to visit the litter including parents.

When they say you can't because the mother is protective of the puppies, it is a bad sign.


Monday 15th of June 2020

Although I often say "rescued is my favorite breed", I'm glad you're sharing these crucial tips to help people find ethical breeders.

Britt K

Monday 15th of June 2020

Knowledge about the breed is so, so important. While there is plenty of general dog knowledge that a breeder should have, each breed has it's own potential challenges and health concerns. Without a knowledge of the breed, the breeder clearly isn't taking the steps to ensure that they are as healthy as possible. Not only does this have an impact on the puppy, but it has an impact on the breed as a whole. I am a German Shepherd LOVER and the breed has a lot of hip issues - many 'breeders' are simply trying to capitalize on the popularity of the breed and as a result, these issues continue to get worse in the breed rather than breeding to help correct the problem over generations.


Monday 15th of June 2020

This is an excellent guide! There are a few red flags here that I didn't really think about before - having multiple litters available and having different breeds available. You are absolutely right! Good breeders do take a lot of time with each dog and they know their particular breed inside and out.

Katie Kensy

Monday 15th of June 2020

This is excellent advice! It is so important to find and support reputable breeders. We’ve met some fantastic breeders through dog sports as well.