How to Find a Responsible Dog Breeder

| AKC Pet Insurance

If you're hoping to get a new puppy from a dog breeder, use this guide for tips on how to find a reputable dog breeder and red flags to watch out for.


People have been clamoring for puppies like Labradors chasing tennis balls—all thanks to a push from the pandemic. Unfortunately, this also means there are more irresponsible breeders putting profit before puppy health and happiness, luring people in with big puppy eyes and little wagging tails.

Don’t take the bait.

Follow these tips on how to find a reputable dog breeder. It may seem like a bit of work, but when else do you get the chance to choose a member of your family?

How to Find a Dog Breeder Online

The web’s a great place to start doing your dog breeder due diligence. Google the breed you’re searching for along with your location and start perusing breeder websites. Quality breeders often belong to their breed’s American Kennel Club (AKC) parent club, which they’ll mention on their site. To join, they’re usually required to sign a code of ethics that includes mandated health testing and a disavowal of breeding fads.

Most of these clubs have a member whose volunteer “job” is to talk with people just like you: prospective dog owners searching for puppies. They’re passionate about the type of dog you’re looking for and love connecting people with responsible breeders to help spread their particular breed of wagging joy. You can find the AKC Breeder Referral Contact List here.

While browsing breeder websites, see if they’ve spent time giving back to the breed—it’s a good sign they are committed to producing well-bred, healthy puppies—and are not just out for a buck. Does the breeder hold any offices in the local or national breed club? Do they volunteer with any breed rescues? While breed club membership is a good sign of a responsible breeder, keep in mind that sub-standard breeders may find their way into a club, just as quality breeders may avoid them because of political or personality conflicts. Breed club membership is just one criterion to check.

Get Referrals

Look for comments on the breeder’s website and social media from other families who have purchased puppies from them, as well as comments from veterinarians and trainers. Search for statements about, and photos of, healthy, well-adjusted puppies along with positive words describing the experience of working with the breeder. Responsible breeders will be happy to connect you with happy customers willing to share their puppy journey. Give them a call.

Consider Their Experience

Veteran breeders with generations of happy, healthy dogs—and dog owners who return again and again—are solid bets. However, don’t cross a new breeder off your list just because they’ve only produced a few litters. The good ones typically have a mentor they’re working with. Talk to them. Make sure they vouch for the rookie.

Examine Proof of Vet Care

The breeder should be open to sharing records of the puppy’s vet visits and vaccinations. In addition, you can check some records yourself through the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals database. This organization records scores for hips, elbows, and other common joints. Take a look at records of the pup’s parents, other family members, and ancestors. You can even search by kennel name to get a general picture of the quality of the breeder. Learn which types of scores and tests are recommended specifically for the breed you’re seeking on the AKC website.

Check for a Contract

Reputable breeders will require you to sign a contract that includes a return-to-breeder clause that requires that any puppy who needs to be rehomed be returned to them, regardless of age, health, or other reason. This shows the breeder stands behind their dogs—for life—and are concerned about their well-being. It also demonstrates that they don’t want to contribute to the problem of unwanted pets.  

Visit Breeders

Before COVID, breeders were more likely to welcome potential dog owners to their homes to see things first-hand. These days, many of these visits take place via Zoom or FaceTime. You can still learn a lot about the quality of the operation virtually if you know what to look for. While you’ll certainly be searching for footage of healthy, active puppies, pay close attention to their home environment. Is it clean? Do they have ample safe space to play?

See if you can meet the puppy’s mother and watch her with her litter. Is she interacting with her puppies? Does she seem happy and comfortable? Often, the pups’ sire is not on the premises. See if you can meet him, or view video footage that shows him interacting with other dogs and people in a casual setting. Footage of healthy, well-adjusted parents is further evidence the breeder operates responsibly.

Prepare to Be “Vetted”

Good breeders will ask you lots of questions—and not just about your deposit. Responsible breeders will be just as choosy about you as you are about them. They may ask about previous dogs you have owned, your home and yard, your schedule, people you live with, and plans for training. Their curiosity about you and concern for their puppy’s future shows they’re passionate about finding safe, loving forever homes for their dogs.

How Do You Feel?

As you interact with the prospective breeder, consider how you feel. Do you enjoy talking with them? Your breeder can be an invaluable resource throughout the life of your dog, so you need to feel comfortable with them. Ask yourself: Would you feel comfortable calling this breeder in the future if you had a midnight emergency with your puppy? If the answer is “yes,” and they’ve checked the boxes listed above, you’re one step closer to finding your new best friend.

8 Red Flags

Nearly 10,000 scam reports and complaintshit the Better Business Bureau over the past three years about “businesses” selling puppies and dogs. And, the Federal Trade Commission estimates that only about 10 percent of victims report these crimes. Sixty percent of these reports indicated consumers never received pets they purchased. Others received pets that had health or genetic problems. As you consider a breeder, keep an eye out for these warning signs:

  • They’re willing to sell puppies before they are eight weeks old.

  • A too-good-to-be-true price.

  • The puppy’s parents bred before they turned two years old.

  • They sell their puppies in pet stores.

  • They have multiple litters of different, trendy breeds or fad colors.

  • They refuse to let you see where the puppies live.

  • They display an AKC “breeder badge.” (There’s no such thing.)

  • They “can’t find” any veterinary or breed paperwork.

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