Responsible Breeders

Who They Are and How to Find Them

When Sydney the labradoodle was up for adoption on our site, she caused quite a stir. Where we normally see no more than 10 or so families interested in a particular pet, suddenly we had 40 applications for this one dog! We’d love to help them all find rescued dogs to adopt, but some, who are absolutely set on having a labradoodle, will be tempted to head over to a pet store that sells puppies. This is a very bad idea. “But why?” you ask. “I know there are dogs dying in shelters, but there aren’t any labradoodles. Where am I supposed to get a labradoodle from, if not the pet store? And what’s wrong with a pet store puppy, anyway?” Read on…

The biggest problem with a pet store puppy is that the breeder was willing to sell the puppy through a pet store! Responsible breeders place their own puppies in carefully screened homes. They are not willing to turn that responsibility over to a pet store that will sell the puppy to anyone who can pay. Pet store puppies come from mass-market breeders who see puppies as any other livestock:  a “crop” to be sold with the highest profit possible and the lowest costs. Such a breeder doesn’t care where the puppy ends up. That should be a big red flag to you. You’ll have no idea how that puppy was produced, how it was cared for, or what that puppy has been through up to this point. So, in the best interests of all dogs, here’s how to avoid the heartache generated by pet store puppies.

Signs of a Responsible Breeder

First and foremost, know the signs of a responsible breeder, and don’t settle for less. Here are some things to look for:

  • Re-homing Clause. The breeder should care enough about each and every puppy he produces that he is willing to help re-home them, no matter what the age, and he should be willing to put this in writing (note: that does not mean you, the buyer, can expect a refund). This ensures that the breeder is not contributing to the population of homeless dogs—and that, as you can imagine—is very important to those of us who rescue dogs. But it also means you, the buyer, are more likely to be getting a healthy, temperamentally sound dog—equally important.
  • Litter Planning. Ideally the breeder should be advertising the puppies before they are born, i.e. every puppy produced should already have a home waiting!
  • Lifetime Service. The breeder should be available to answer questions about health and training throughout the life of the dog.
  • Required Spay/Neuter. Puppies should be ‘graded’, and those that are of “pet quality” (as opposed to breeding stock) should be sold as such, with spaying/neutering a requirement.
  • Accessible Parents. You should be able to meet the dam, and preferably the sire as well. They should be raised as family dogs, as should the puppies. Steer well clear of anyone who has an operation located in a shed or barn. These dogs are not well socialized. Nor are they well loved. You don’t need to support breeders that are only in it for the profit.
  • Socialization. The puppies should be well socialized, with time spent individually with family members, as well as lots of time spent with their canine family. Additionally, the breeder should not let them leave until they are at least 8 weeks of age, and preferably 9-10 weeks of age.
  • Favorable Bloodline Information. Several generations back (4 generations was recommended on one website), there should be proof of mental and physical soundness of the dogs in the bloodline. There are several registries, such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). The dogs should all have been tested for prevalent genetic diseases and certified free from them. Do your homework! Know the diseases that are likely to crop up in the breed you’ve chosen. For instance, Labradors are prone to Hip Dysplasia. If you are planning to purchase a labradoodle, check that the Labrador line used to produce your labradoodle puppy is free from Hip Dysplasia (registered with OFA).
  • Health Guarantees. Along similar lines, the breeder should be willing to guarantee the health of the puppy for 2 years—in writing! And the puppy should go home de-wormed and up-to-date on shots. One might also question what sort of food the sire and dam are fed, and what the puppies are weaned on. If the food is of low quality (e.g., if corn is one of the top two ingredients), the puppies aren’t going to be as healthy as you would want.
  • Dispute Resolution. And while we’re on the subject of contracts, make sure there is a clause specifying how disputes are to be handled.
  • Well-Timed Litters. The health of the puppy also depends on the health of the parents at the time of mating. That means both parents should be at least 2 years old, and the bitch should not have been bred more than once a year. Additionally, the maximum any bitch should have is 3 to 4 litters. Further, the breeder shouldn’t have more than one litter on hand at a time. Remember, the puppies need to be socialized! There simply isn’t time for enough socialization if there are too many pups to take care of.
  • Careful Home Screening. The breeder should interview you very carefully—at least as carefully as a rescue organization would interview you. The breeder should care a great deal about the type of home the puppy is going to.

Above all, don’t buy the puppy unless you can visit the breeder and view the operation for yourself. In this digital age, it is pretty easy to find puppies advertised on the web, but buying them sight unseen is just asking for trouble.

So how do you find a responsible breeder who cares more about the breed than the money? Ask around. The best breeders don’t need to advertise, certainly not in the classifieds! They work on personal referrals and word of mouth. So ask at local kennel clubs, training clubs, veterinarians and groomers. If you do go shopping the web, start with the above list of points as a guide for what should be on the website, but don’t believe it until you see it!

Breeders Online

Lets compare two labradoodle breeder websites. The first provides pictures of the sires and dams, a little about their history (we would ask for more), mentions of health guarantees, and health certifications. The breeders states that the dogs are all raised as family dogs, and the family has 3 children, so the puppies are exposed to kids (from the start, presumably). They are also pre-advertising the next litter! A very good sign!

Assuming, upon visiting them, you found everything they stated to be true, there are still questions to ask.

  • When was the dam’s first litter?
  • How many she has had since then, and how frequently?
  • What the dogs are fed?
  • Ask to see one before even visiting the breeding operation.
  • What health and temperament history is available for the generations prior to the generation being bred.
  • Ask as much as possible about the health and well being of the puppies that have already been produced.
  • Do they mention willingness to help in re-homing, if necessary?

The second site is very different from the first:  a goldendoodle breeder that advertises  “Puppies available now!” and “Shipping.” This would not be our first choice. It may be that they are perfectly responsible breeders, but a lot more questions are in order here.

And now for that heart-wrenching story: “my neighbor’s dog had a litter and she’s trying to find homes for them.” Well…this is a tough situation. There are puppies being euthanized every day in our animal shelters, so allowing one’s dog to have puppies is just irresponsible. How do you help the puppies without encouraging your neighbor to keep breeding her dog? Well, you could make your acceptance of a puppy contingent on the neighbor getting her dog spayed! You could even suggest she volunteer at the local animal shelter for a while to see animal homelessness firsthand. In fact, you should try to educate everyone you know on the horrors of companion animal overpopulation. You should still ask your neighbor about temperament and health of the parents, food that the parents are fed, and a written contract. You don’t want to be stuck with a dog that has severe health or temperament problems down the road. At a minimum, that would cause some problems between you and your neighbor.

Given that you have read this far, you clearly care deeply about dogs and don’t want to see them used as commodities, so go ahead and get that purebred. Just do it responsibly, please.

Further Reading

On responsible breeding: (Lots of information and links!)

On puppy mills:

What is a Puppy Mill
Best Friend’s Animal Society has a great deal of information of puppy mills, and they are actively working to shut them down.