Across the USA are thousands of animal shelters, and we end up killing millions of dogs and cats every year for lack of suitable homes. You'd think that someone dedicated to reducing shelter deaths might object to breeding. But there are two steps to reducing shelter deaths. One step is to get the dogs out, but the best is to prevent them from getting there in the first place. And looking at why dogs are abandoned in shelters convinces me that one of the critical factors in keeping dogs out is making sure that people can better predict the qualities of the dog they are getting, and get more support with that dog. Those are important aspects of responsible breeding.
I have no problem supporting responsible breeders because I believe that a healthy dog with predictable qualities will not add to the shelter populations. If you want to reduce shelter deaths you improve the chances that the dog will have the qualities expected of it, that it will be healthy, and that the buyer will get support and guidance in raising the puppy. When puppy buyers choose their breeders by who meets those expectations then the breeders change as well. Marketing succeeded in creating demand for purebreds, now we need to do the same with responsible breeding.
Without breeding of some sort there would be no more dogs, and that I certainly don't want. But what I do want is better and more caring breeding For people with very definite and narrow requirements for a dog I recommend a responsible breeder (keep the dogs from getting in). For people with more flexibility and adaptability I recommend rescue or shelters (get the dogs out).
1. Contact the breed registry. If the dog is an AKC breed start with the AKC web site www.akc.org. AKC is a multi-breed registry that maintains stud books (pedigrees). It is made up of many member clubs, one for each breed. The national breed club can send you a list of breeders. The list is not an endorsement. You still have to check everything. It is just a place to start. Virtually all countries have their own kennel clubs, a good many of them are now on the Internet.
There are breed registries other than the AKC. One is the United Kennel Club (UKC). Also look at the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). Others are breed specific. You will usually find these breed specific registries in the process of researching your breed.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell if a registry is legitimate. There are many out there that are not, so be careful. Make sure the breeder gives the actual name of the registry, not just the initials.
2. Contact local breed clubs. You can contact them through the AKC web site, or United Kennel Club or do a search on the Internet or subscribe to some magazines. Make sure you know how to spell your breed's name. You would be amazed at how many people handicap their research because they spell the breed name incorrectly.
3. Talk to other people who have the breed you are interested in. Where did they get their dog? Are they happy with the breeder? If you have never met anyone who has the breed you are interested in, then you really need to take time out to do just that. Before bringing a dog into your household you want to see at least half a dozen living in different households so you get some idea what the dogs are like in real life, with real people just like you.
4. Attend dog events. Good breeders are active in the dog world. That is how they keep in touch with important information. The AKC web site can point you an events calendar. It is important to know that just because one breed club is putting on the show does not mean that your breed won't be there. Use the events search to find ANY event, then contact the secretary of the event and find out if it is likely your breed will be there.
There are also web sites for a variety of dog sports that will also have events calendars. Be sure to check places other than AKC since there are a lot of competitions that don't involve AKC. If you are interested in a dog that does a particular activity, say sledding, then try the sledding web sites for organizations that put on events and have an activities calendar.
5. Go to any place where people with dogs gather - dog parks, grooming shops, training centers, veterinarians, pet supply stores. Talk to people. You can find some shows on http://www.infodog.com/, but don't forget the performance and non-AKC events. To find them explore the activities links looking for web sites that maintain activities calendars.
6. Get involved. Join some of the Internet discussion lists for your breed. See
This can be a wonderful way to meet some really good breeders. If you've done your research it will show in the questions you ask. Since a responsible breeder's main concern is the right home you may well end up with a pup that would otherwise be unavailable. I've known breeders to move people up on the waiting list just because they felt it was a really good placement.
7. What about the newspaper? The newspaper is not a good source. That doesn't mean there is never a responsible breeder advertising in the newspaper. Your chances of finding one there, however, are very small. The sad fact is that if you have done your homework you will know far more about breeding healthy dogs that 99 percent of the people advertising in newspapers.
You can use newspaper listings to polish your interviewing and question asking skills. Be warned, however, that some people will become hostile when you ask them questions, especially about health and temperament. Mostly they get hostile because they don't really understand and they think you are accusing them of being a bad person. If you can stand the possible hostility you will certainly gain an education, and you might end up educating others. Not a bad thing.
Oh, and some of the worst breeders are advertisers in the dog magazines. There may be good breeders too, but flashy does not equal good, and neither do large numbers. Pay attention to what they DO, not how grand they sound. Be skeptical. They write their own praises, remember that.
8. Then again you might decide that you have room in your heart for a dog that was bred by a less than responsible breeder. If everyone were a responsible breeder there would be little need for animal shelters. To do your part in reducing pets in animal shelters don't reward bad or careless breeders by buying from them. Don't make a bad situation worse by rewarding them for what they do no matter how sorry you are for the dog. You will only increase the problem. Unfortunately there are plenty of irresponsibly bred dogs looking for a loving home in shelters and rescues across the USA. You can get some really terrific dogs that way. I should know because that is where my dogs come from.
If you are lacking in experience focus on rescues where you will get more support and guidance than government run shelters.
I have a page for Rescue and Shelter dog links. It is a short list of some of the web sites that list shelter, humane societies and rescue dog organizations. There are more of them, but I can't keep up.
9. People used to looking for products are used to looking for lists of suppliers with a good reputation. This doesn't work well for finding a good dog breeder. A responsible breeder spends a lot of time preparing to breed, but may end up breeding only a few times. These are the breeders who have the time and energy to actually care about the future of the puppies they produce. But it makes for an ever changing "list" of good breeders - individuals popping in once then not reappearing for several years. Who is going to be able to do a better job of following up and supporting the puppy buyer - the person who has produced two litters of eight puppies over ten years (16 dogs to track) or the person who has produced five litters of eight every year over ten years (400 dogs to track). This is why the individual breed clubs are a good bet for finding a good breeder. People can be listed or unlisted efficiently because there is more direct involvement and communication.
OK, so now you know where to look. But how will you know when you have found one? Try the Checklist for the Responsible Breeder. And even if you have had a puppy before, you might consider getting this book in preparation: BEFORE You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar
Be wary of mistaking "reputable" for "responsible". Some big show winners love their dogs, and some big show winners love their wins. Just because someone is successful in the show ring does not mean that they produce healthy dogs with good temperaments. Keep in mind that the truly good breeder is likely to have homes for all puppies before they are even born. It is the clueless breeder or the mass breeder that has puppies still in need of homes. So if you honestly want a breeder that breeds for good health and temperament AND who cares about their dogs expect to wait.
When people talk about the breeder are they talking about things important to you? While there is a lot of money involved, getting a dog is more than that. So you should stack your consumer hat and your emotional sensitivity hats together and have both working for you. Neither is any good alone. Watch for red flags that indicate the breeder might not meet your standards for either knowledge or caring.
I don't know what your standards are but the most important things to me are whether the dog will be healthy and whether it will be a good companion. Those are at the top of the list, no negotiations. Titles, show wins, working ability and other qualities have their important place to be sure, but if I want a companion I'd best be looking at breeders who raise and treat their dogs like companions instead of like objects 'd art. How can the breeder possibly know what the qualities of a dog are as a companion unless the breeder is living with the dogs as companions?
I'm really not a person who likes to use the words "never" or "always", so take the following as signs for caution. Yet, in some cases I will just have to use one of those words. Sorry, but keep reading, you will see.
If you see a reference to a "registered breeder" and most especially to a "USDA" licensed or registered breeder just stop right there. The USDA concerns itself only with mass breeders. Mass breeders are breeding for the money. If there is ever a question between profits and the best interests of the dog, the dog loses. Please, don't let mass breeders profit from your money. If you want to check a particular breeder you can try http://www.nopuppymills.com/database.html
"Champion bloodlines" is a term used by those who have no clue. A responsible breeder knows it just isn't a sales point. That doesn't mean that the responsible breeder won't brag about their dog's background. They do, and they should. But if neither the sire nor the dam has their own championship then the responsible breeder is going to be focusing on explaining why not, and how they know that the dogs are of good quality, and merely claiming "Champion bloodlines" is no evidence at all.
"AKC registered" This is just as meaningful and just as important as a car advertisement claiming "DMV" registered. Yes, you want to know that, but no it is not a sales point. For more take a look on my article on
"What does AKC mean?"
A responsible breeder will include the information on the registry, so it's the tone or the focus you are looking at, not the mere inclusion of the information. If they think "AKC" is a selling point, they are clueless. Some breeds have their own registries that may be more careful than AKC, and in those cases listing the registry might be a selling point.
Although there are reputable registries in the USA other than AKC and UKC (and CKC in Canada) there are also a lot that hand out completely meaningless "papers". Be especially cautious with any registry that has initials the same as a well-known registry. Be especially cautious of registries that complain of some imagined difficulty or expense in registering dogs through AKC. Look for excellent centralized record keeping, breed standards, and competitive events to determine degree to which a dog conforms to breed standards, and who controls registration requirements. Could you become an active participant in the process? If not, then doubt the registry.
"Vet checked" is another meaningless term. Duh, it's like saying, "it runs" in a car ad. Not very impressive. Of course you want the puppy to be "vet checked" but if the breeder thinks that's a selling point they probably haven't CERF'd the puppies. Don't know what I mean when I said, "CERF'd" the puppies? Ooops, then you aren't ready to be talking to breeders yet. It's a basic eye check done in many breeds, and its one of the few tests that are actually done on both the puppies and their parents.
Does the advertisement tell you the color of the puppies but not a word on health testing? Then expect someone who is a shallow breeder, breeding for appearance but ignoring health and temperament. This will either be because they don't care, or more likely because they lack the knowledge to do better. If you desire a healthy dog you will do better to get a random bred dog (mutt) over one where the breeder focusses on appearance but ignores genetic health.
Copyright © 1999-2003, Diane Blackman
Created: December 26, 1999
Updated November 12, 2007