Choosing a Breeder

In my search for my next dog, I have for the first time in my life seriously considered going to a breeder. I’m not 100% convinced yet, but it’s also not an option I’m going to rule out.

Why go to a breeder? A good breeder will greatly decrease your chances of dealing with serious genetic problems (hip dysplasia, cardiomyopathy, progressive retinal atrophy) by health testing their breeding stock. They will provide appropriate socialization and make sure the bitch and pups have the best environment possible for the pups to grow up emotionally and mentally healthy. They will act as a support system should you encounter problems later on with a pup. A breeder will be able to tell you what your dog’s physical characteristics will likely be upon maturity – coat type, size, any conformation issues, etc.

So, why not go to a breeder? Being involved in the rescue world, I get emails daily with desperate pleas to save dogs’ lives. Every four seconds, a homeless dog is killed in the U.S. These dogs are every size, every age, every breed and mix of breeds (and yes, about 25% of them are purebreds). These dogs did not do anything wrong. It’s true that some of them are too damaged to be good pet prospects. However, there’s nothing wrong with the vast majority of them. Many dogs in the South are still killed by gassing, a horrible practice which causes suffering before death (many dogs in the gas chamber scream and try desperately to escape before succumbing). For those with performance goals, an adult shelter dog can begin training immediately rather than waiting for growth plates to close, and what you see is what you get: it is far easier to evaluate an adult dog’s conformation than hope a puppy grows up to look like what you hope he will. Temperament is also more easily evaluated. By evaluating an adult dog’s temperament in a stressful shelter setting, you can determine how that dog will typically act in stressful environments, and if a dog is good with other dogs or children at the shelter she will probably retain those characteristics after adoption.

In the picture below, the German Shorthaired Pointer and English Springer Spaniel, Tori and Ella, both came from reputable breeders. Dexter the English Mastiff likely came from a backyard breeder, and Layla of course came from a shelter.

Where to get a dog?

What do I look for in a breeder?

First of all, I look for a breeder who does not breed very often. The best breeders I know of breed only every 1-5 years, usually because they want to keep a puppy for a specific purpose. A good breeder will work from a waiting list and not bring puppies into the world until she already has homes lined up for them. She will have a solid contract, which you will need to sign. She will interview you and ask a lot of questions, because she wants to know what kind of home her puppy is going into. She will ensure that none of her puppies ever winds up in a shelter or rescue by requiring that any dog she places must be returned to her if the placement doesn’t work out, and microchipping every puppy with her contact info. She will have the puppies altered prior to placement, or place them with a spay/neuter contract, except in very exceptional circumstances.

A good breeder is proud of her dogs, and her dogs have a purpose. That said, her dogs are first and foremost pets. They live indoors with her. The breeder health tests her dogs, and is happy to show you documentation of the tests. Her dogs are titled to prove their working ability. They may also have conformation titles, depending on the breeder’s goals. The breeder is able to tell you all about your puppy’s relatives, and is happy to introduce you to the parent(s) and other relatives who live on site. The sire probably won’t live on site, but she can tell you all about him and his lines. Speaking of knowing her lines, she will be able to not only tell you which good traits she wanted to pass on with your puppy’s specific breeding, but also which bad traits have cropped up on both sides and what potential issues may result from this breeding.

All of the above are absolutes for me, regardless of what kind of dog I want. In an ideal world, my puppy’s breeder will also share many of my ideals. That means that she will do Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) with her puppies, to develop a superior ability to deal with stress later in life. She will feed a raw diet, or at the very least a high-quality commercial diet, and will vaccinate minimally.

Do breeders like this really exist? Yes! But they are few and far between, and my short list mostly contains breeders whose ethics I agree with, but who are involved with breeds that don’t interest me. Finding a breeder takes some time and thought, and when you do find that special breeder, you may still have to wait a year or more for a puppy – maybe substantially longer if there isn’t the right puppy for you in the next litter.

Right now, I am seriously considering going to a breeder for my next dog (which would likely be a Patterdale Terrier in this case, a breed not yet included in – or ruined by – the AKC) . This is mostly motivated by concerns about health. Both of my rescue dogs have dealt with severe health issues, and after paying thousands in vet bills I would like to stack the odds in my favor that my next dog will not have severe allergies, as Layla does, or hip dysplasia, as Duke does. However, buying from a breeder may haunt me, knowing that a homeless dog could have been saved if I went to a shelter instead. I have seen the euthanasia room of a busy open admission shelter, and the image of barrels full of bodies is hard to shake. Statistically, I’m also more likely to get a healthy dog from a random breeding of two mixed breed dogs than from a purebred of any breed – at least according to the pet health insurance companies’ premiums. Next time I’ll talk about how to choose a dog from a shelter, and some of the myths surrounding shelter dogs.

For those of you who got your dog from a breeder, why did you choose the breeder you did? Would you go back to the same breeder again? Do you have a future breeder in mind for your next dog?



Filed under Breeding, Choosing a Dog, Dog Selection, Genetics, Other Dogs, Rescue

6 responses to “Choosing a Breeder

  1. Sam

    Hi! I found your blog through Crystal’s blog, Reactive Champion.

    I agree with all that you said regarding responsible breeders – they are few and far between, but are worth the wait! Patterdales are fascinating little dogs – I know that the Pit Bull people usually like them so I’m sure there’s a lot of dog in those little bodies.

    My first (and current) dog is from a shelter, but I know I will purchase a puppy from a responsible breeder at some point in my life. Best of luck as you continue to search.

    • Nice to “meet” you, Sam! I checked out your blog, and Marge is adorable.

      You’re right that Patterdales are a lot of dog, that’s what I love about them! Plus, they look like little Laylas (I’m not picking a dog based on looks, but since the underlying personality fits the looks are just the cherry on top). I would actually love to get a Pit, but my landlord’s insurance discriminates against certain breeds.

      What breed of dog do you think you’ll wind up with someday?

  2. Professor will be 7 months old on Aug. 3. I got him from a responsible breeder, who breeds few litters, always has waiting lists, and has bred the #1 obedience basenji and the #1 agility basenji. Because I’m relatively well-kn0wn to the local basenji community, I had my choice of responsible breeders who do all the health tests and who breed what I’m looking for. I was on the waiting list for Professor before the bitch was bred.

    Professor was selected for me by the breeder. My only stipulation was that the dog had to be male, to fit into my household. I wanted a brindle, but would have taken any color if the personality was right. If you want a specific breed, I’d advise getting involved with the local breed club if there’s one anywhere near you. Let the breeders know who you are and what you want/need in a dog. The best breeders usually have a waiting list before the bitch is even bred, and if you’re just “walking in off the street” you may not get onto that list.

    Oh, and BTW, the AKC does not set standards for ANY breeds. That’s done by the national breed clubs. I believe that basenjis and Rhodesian Ridgebacks have the highest numbers of dual (field and conformation) champions. These are dogs that have stayed close to their original purposes, unlike some of the retrievers that have split into show and working lines.

    Professor’s blog (and Amelia’s and Joey’s) is at

    • Liza, good to see you here! I’ve got your blog bookmarked now. I love your Basenjis, because they always have the best comments in your signature lines on email lists. 😉

      I know that the breed clubs set standards, however, my problem has to do with the whole culture of dog shows. I specifically dislike the AKC because I believe they perpetuate the problems with puppy mills. I really believe that closed stud books do dogs in general a disservice. Occasional outcrosses are needed to maintain genetic diversity.

      • If you want a mixed breed, go for it. I don’t think, generally, there’s that much advantage. I know of a lot of mixed breed dogs with genetic diseases. I don’t know of many (any?) breeders of intentionally mixed breeds (such as the profusion of …poos) that health test the parents, are aware of genetic predispositions, etc. Responsible breeders of pure-bred dogs are aware of the problems in their breeds, and are contributing money and pedigree info to research to find genetic tests for inherited diseases.

        Basenjis are fortunate that the fancy (the breeders) got AKC to open the stud books to dogs imported from Africa, to widen the gene pool. Of my three, one is half-African, the others are a bit over a quarter African. So they are out-crosses, but not with random dogs whose genetic make-up is unknown. And Professor’s breeder does genetic testing, so we knew before the bitch was bred that pups wouldn’t inherit certain genetic diseases. Of course, we don’t yet have tests for all possible diseases, but again it’s the pure-bred dog world that’s pushing for and funding the research.

        And puppy mills are deserting the AKC. They now “register” their puppies with the CKC, the SKC, etc., etc. So the puppy buyers get papers, and they’re happy. AKC definitely has problems, and does things I’d rather they do differently, but they do inspect kennels, and they do require DNA testing so if you buy a Fluffy x Buffy puppy, that’s what you get. No one can guarantee that a puppy will be healthy, sound, temperamentally sound, or anything else. Stuff happens. My point is, it happens with mixed breeds, too.

      • Liza, the mixed breed issue is an interesting one. Statistically, true mixed breeds (not just crosses from two purebred parents) are healthier than purebreds. Look at any pet health insurance company’s premiums, and you’ll usually find you have to pay less to insure a mutt than a purebred of the same size. Get into really genetically misformed dogs, like Olde English Bulldogs, and you may be paying triple what a mutt would cost, just to insure your dog.

        I do think that there are some purposeful mixes that are also being done well. Take the Border-Jacks or Border-Staffys being bred for flyball. Parents are health tested, the breeders are familiar with both breeds, and the dogs are being created for a specific purpose. These dogs tend to be both healthy and very good at the job they were designed for. Here’s the link to the first breeder who came up when I searched for Border-Staffy pups: Painted Stars Farm. What about this breeder is worse than a purebred breeder?

        One of the reasons I’m seriously considering a Basenji is due to the fact that they have recently expanded their gene pool through the African imports. How familiar are you with Basenji breeders? I know people within a breed talk and may have a question for you…

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