When I (Steph) graduated from college and moved to New York City, all I wanted in the world was a dog. Unfortunately, my first job in financial sales didn't leave any room for a puppy. Each morning I would leave my studio apartment at 6:30am. Every evening I'd get off the subway and roll into my apartment building just after 7pm. I had no time to properly care for a dog.
You can imagine my excitement when I finally left my grueling job. With more time on my hands than before, I finally had the opportunity to welcome a beautiful four-legged friend into my life. The only problem? Finding a reputable dog breeder with available puppies and within driving distance of NYC seemed an impossible feat.
The decision to get a new puppy is incredibly exciting. Unfortunately, finding a healthy puppy from a reputable source is not as easy as it should be. Puppy mills, online and offline pet stores, and backyard breeders churn out puppies for quick cash and accept anybody with a check or credit card.
On the other hand, responsible breeders screen new homes, provide guidance after you take your puppy home, and are willing to take back any dog they have produced. In other words, responsible breeders deeply care. But how do you find a responsible breeder, and how do you know that they are honest?
In this DJANGO Dog Blog article, we share how to find a responsible dog breeder and the most important questions you should ask them.
Here are four great ways to find a responsible dog breeder.
Social media is a fantastic way to connect with dog breeders, their network, and their customers. I found Django’s breeder on Facebook and saw that she was friends with other well-known dachshund breeders throughout the New York City metro and broader U.S. The breeder regularly posted photos of her adult dachshunds and past litters, and other dachshund breeders commented amicably on them. The breeder also uploaded pictures of her and her son at dog shows with her dachshunds and provided information on the shows. I was able to quickly verify (1) the breeder is legitimate and well-known in the dachshund community (2) the breeder is small, i.e. she does not overbreed and has no more than 1-2 litters per year (3) the breeder seems have a loving family who, based on the Facebook photos, clearly love and care for their dogs.
In addition to verifying my breeder via Facebook, I also spoke to several breeders who bred their dachshunds with hers. This final step helped me again confirm her standing in the dachshund community and become comfortable with the breeder.
If you are on Instagram and interested in getting a puppy, you have probably scrolled through thousands of adorable puppy photos while dreaming of the dog you'd get one day. Have you come across a few dogs you wish were your own? Consider direct messaging these Instagram accounts! Let them know you're looking for a dog similar to theirs and ask if they'd be comfortable sharing the breeder with you. If you come across as kind and genuine, many people will likely share their information with you. One other tip? Consider making your Instagram account public so anyone you message can view your photos and learn a bit about you. They may be more inclined to share information if they learn something about you first.
The AKC has more than 500 member breed clubs and nearly 5000 affiliated breed clubs. Are you looking for a Chow Chow in Washington state? Search the AKC's National Club directly for "Chow Chow", and go directly to the breed-specific National Club website. The National Club may list dog breeders throughout the U.S. as well as their contact information. If no breeders are located within your state, contact the National Club directly and see if they happen to know anyone within 4-6 hours drive of you.
Breed shows like the Eukanuba National Championship, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and The National Dog Show have “Meet the Breeds” booths. Reputable breeders present 198 dog breeds that are either currently recognized by the AKC or part of its miscellaneous class.
I went to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in early 2020 (right before COVID) and was amazed by the access to reputable dog breeders. Although I was not looking for a dog at the time, I met and spoke to so many breeders and professional handlers who were happy to tell me about their beautiful dogs. If I had been looking for a hard-to-find dog breed, this would have been a wonderful place to start.
Do you have co-workers, family, or friends who have used a dog breeder in the past? If yes, what was their experience with the breeder? Did they visit the breeder's home and see the environment the puppies were cared for in? Do they still have contact with the breeder today? Based on their experiences, ask them if they would recommend their breeder. If the dog breed you are looking into is not common, ask friends and family if they know of anyone else with this type of dog. There is a chance they can refer you to another friend who worked with a reputable breeder.
Dog trainers and veterinarians work with all types of dog breeds and may be able to recommend responsible dog breeders in your area. Are you looking for a more unique dog breed, i.e. a Chinese Crested? A popular dog trainer in your town may have worked with a Chinese Crested before and can put you in touch with the owner. Although veterinarians may be unable to share customer/patient information without prior approval, they may still know of the breeders used by their customers—especially if the breeder is local. Remember that veterinarians usually visit reputable dog breeders’ homes to check on new litters, perform parent health screenings, and give initial vaccinations.
Here are the most important questions that you should ask the dog breeder before you agree to purchase a puppy.
1. What dog breeds do you specialize in? How long have you been breeding?
Responsible breeders only work with one or two breeds. They have extensive knowledge and years of experience with their specific breeds. They are able to talk about the breed’s history, temperament, and genetic diseases. You may also want to ask if they are involved in any canine sports or purebred clubs.
2. Do you have any references?
Ask the breeder for the names, phone numbers, and/or email addresses of people they have sold to within the past year. Contact their clients and find out how long they have known the breeder, if they are happy with their puppy, and how any problems were handled.
3. Can I meet the puppy’s parents?
If the breeder co-breeds with other breeders or uses artificial insemination or stud service, you will not be able to meet your puppy’s father. That is why it is critical that you meet his mother. How big is she, and is that the dog size that you want? What does she look like, and is she well groomed? Is she aggressive, shy, or friendly? Has she had any serious health conditions or genetic disorders?
4. How old are the puppy’s parents? How many litters has the female dog had?
Male dogs should be bred between 1-2 years old. Female dogs should be bred after 18 months of age and can produce 3 to 4 liters in their lifetime. After 5 years of age, female dogs have abnormal heats and are less capable of handling the physical demands of pregnancy. They are more likely to have stillborn puppies and premature labor.
5. What health tests have been performed on the puppy’s parents?
Responsible and ethical breeders will have the parents tested for genetic diseases that are common to the breed. They may even put the scores and x-rays for each dog on their website.
6. Can I meet and handle the full litter?
Toy and small dog breeds have three to four puppies in each litter. Large and giant breeds average eight puppies per litter (although the largest litter ever recorded was 24 puppies!). By meeting and/or handling the entire litter, you will be able to see whether the puppies are similar in health, temperament, and size.
7. Are the puppies fully weaned?
Puppies are typically fully weaned between 7-12 weeks of age. According to the Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, later weaning improves weight gain and growth, decreases illness and mortality, and improves dog coat health. Additionally, very early weaning (i.e. at 6 weeks of age) can have a negative affect on the health and wellbeing of puppies.
8. How many veterinarian visits have the puppies had?
Were the puppies examined and declared healthy? If not, what health problems have they had? Have they been on any medications, and did they experience any side effects?
9. Have the puppies been socialized?
Responsible breeders start socializing their puppies at 3 weeks of age. They will introduce them to different people, objects, sounds, surfaces, and smells. They will also handle the puppies in different positions. However, they will only let them play with well-mannered, completely vaccinated dogs. They also will not take their puppies for walks outside without a dog carrier bag or stroller.
10. Are the puppies vaccinated?
By 8 weeks old, puppies should have their shots for distemper and parvovirus. Between 10-12 weeks, they should have a DHPP vaccination. It is a combination vaccine that prevents four different canine viruses: distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. Vaccinations for influenza, leptospirosis, bordetella, and Lyme disease are also given depending on the puppy’s lifestyle.
11. Have the puppies been dewormed?
Most puppies are born with roundworms or hookworms. They are passed in the womb or through the mother’s milk. Puppies should be dewormed for the first time when they are 2-3 weeks old.
12. Do you want the puppies to be spayed/neutered by a certain age?
Many reputable dog breeders are protective of their canine lineage and require via contract that your dog will be spayed or neutered. If you are trying to breed your dog in the future, this will likely be an issue.
Your breeder should also not tell you to spay/neuter your puppy at too young an age. Some dog breeds have an increased risk of bone and blood vessel cancers if spayed/neutered within their first year of life. According to AVMA, it triples the risk of hypothyroidism, diabetes, and obesity. It also causes urinary incontinence in 20% of female dogs and increases their risk of a recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis.
13. What are you feeding the puppies?
Whether the breeder is feeding your puppy dry dog kibble or fresh dog food, keep him or her on the same diet for the first few days. Responsible breeders usually provide a 7-day supply of your puppy’s current food, a foldable food and water bowl, samples of healthy dog treats, and a breed-specific diet sheet.
14. When can I take the puppy home?
Responsible breeders will not let you take your puppy home until he is 8-12 weeks old. Puppies that are separated from their mothers and siblings too early are more likely to bite and bark. According to the Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, they may also develop separation anxiety, high reactivity, and inter-dog aggression.
15. Can I buy a pair of puppies?
Many breeders will not let you buy two puppies from the same litter. That is because they are at risk for “littermate syndrome”. The siblings may fight constantly or become extremely codependent and terrified of being apart, even briefly. They might also become anxious around unfamiliar dogs, people, or objects.
16. Are your dogs hypoallergenic?
Bad breeders promise their puppies won't trigger your allergies. Hypoallergenic breeds do not exist. Though dogs with low-shed, hair-like single coats produce less dander. Affenpinschers, bichons frises, Chinese crested dogs, miniature schnauzers, poodles, and Yorkshire terriers are best for allergy sufferers.
17. Do you have a waiting list? Do you require a deposit?
Many well known dog breeders have a waiting list and require a non-refundable deposit. That is because breeding a litter of puppies can cost thousands (and thousands) of dollars. The total price tag includes health screenings for the female dog, stud services/artificial insemination, high quality dog food and prenatal vitamins, pre-and post-natal veterinary care, AKC registration for the new litter, and puppy veterinarian checks and vaccinations. Boston terriers, Clumber spaniels, French bulldogs, German wirehaired pointers, and Pekingese are usually delivered via c-section. C-sections cost $500 to $2,000.
18. Do I have to sign a breeder’s contract?
Most responsible breeders will ask you to sign a contract before you bring your puppy home. Read it carefully. Is your puppy pet-quality or show-quality? Does it promise he will not have congenital defects until a certain age? Does it guarantee that he will not develop hip dysplasia? Do you need to fill out the AKC registration papers? Do you have to provide the breeder with yearly updates? Can you return your puppy if he has health problems?
19. Do you provide a bill of sale?
A bill of sale lists the names, addresses, and signatures of the buyer and seller. It also includes the price you paid for your puppy and his description (e.g., breed, color, markings, sex, and age). Some states (e.g., Arizona, California, Florida, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia) have “puppy lemon laws”. They require your breeder to take back your puppy and refund your money if he gets sick within 1 to 2 weeks of sale.
20. Will you keep in touch after I take the puppy home?
Good dog breeders will give you their phone number and/or email address. They care deeply about their dogs and will ask you to contact them if you have any concerns or questions. They will also use what you tell them about your puppy’s personality and health to make future breeding decisions.
21. Will you ship my puppy?
Responsible dog breeders will not ship puppies as cargo. Some do not allow them to fly in the cabin either. Because puppies younger than 12 weeks cannot hold their pee for more than an hour, the breeder may prefer you to drive the puppy home.
22. Do you have any questions for me?
Good breeders want to know their dogs will be well cared for and safe. They may ask you questions like: Why did you choose this breed? Are you a new dog owner? Do you have any children under age 10? Do you have any other pets? Do you work from home or in an office? What is your activity level? Do you live in an apartment, condo, mobile home, or house? Responsible breeders will ask you A LOT of questions by email, over the phone, or during a face-to-face visit. They may also ask for references, run a background check on you, or look into your past or current dog’s medical history.
Have you ever used a dog breeder before? Are you having trouble finding one? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments. We would love to hear from you!
p.s. Here is baby Django a few weeks after bringing him home
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