When I first started wanting to show dogs, I had absolutely no idea where to start. I had the Internet, and the Internet said “find a reputable breeder and a mentor,” but that’s like a mechanic telling you to “just change the flux capacitator” as though you have a clue where to find it.
Lots of puppy-buying articles tell you the same thing: find a reputable breeder. What is a reputable breeder, and where do you find one? Let’s go over the basics, and after following these steps, it should be easy to identify a good breeder.
Attend a few dog events.
Reputable breeders gain a reputation by doing, well, reputable things. Reputable breeders use an outside source to determine the quality of their dogs, training, and breeding program, and they get that outside opinion at dog events. It doesn’t really matter what type of events you attend.
Reputable breeders may stick to one specific sport, like conformation or agility, or may title dogs in multiple fields. Attending multiple types of events will let you see how different sports affect a dog’s personality, and how that focus can change what the breeder looks for. A breeder that only breeds for conformation may have calmer dogs than a breeder that also hunts, but a breeder that hunts may have dogs that learn quickly.
Attend events that your breed will likely do well at. Don’t look for Basset hound breeders at agility matches. While many people do well with Bassets, as a whole Bassets don’t do agility well. Popular breeds, like Labradors, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Poodles, participate in many different types of events regularly.
You will also speak to people who own but do not breed. These people can provide valuable information on their experiences with breeders as well as with training and socializing puppies of the breed.
Contact the National Breed Clubs
National Breed Clubs are foreign to most non-dog breeders. A Breed Club is an organization of breeders, owners, and enthusiasts, that work together to promote and improve a breed.
National clubs oversee rescue operations, maintain the standard of the breed, and host events around the country. Local breed clubs exist in many areas for most breeds, and perform similar functions on a local level. Think of the American Kennel Club as the Federal Government, the Clubs as the Congress, and your Local Breed Clubs as your state legislature.
Breed clubs maintain a list of members. While the clubs are somewhat exclusive, club membership does not necessarily indicate that a breeder is responsible or reputable. As with the government, sometimes club rules are behind the times a bit.
The breed club can also provide information on diseases common in the breed, and what health tests a breeder should be performing on dogs they are breeding. They can also provide an in-depth perspective of the breed’s temperament, and how it differs from similar breeds.
After talking to a few breeders at events, and talking to the breed clubs, develop a list of questions that will help you vet out prospective breeders.
Ask questions about health clearances. Ask to see the certificates available for the parents of prospective litters. Ask about the health issues the breeder has encountered, and how they prevent them from reoccurring. A breeder that claims they have never produced any health issues is either lying or not performing necessary health tests.
Many guides suggest avoiding breeders who own both parents, but most reputable breeders use their in-house studs regularly. If a breeder only owns one female and one male, and repeatedly breeds them together, avoid the breeder. If the breeder has several females and two or three males, breeding to her own studs is not as concerning.
Ask if the breeder is a member of the national breed club, and why or why not. Also ask if the breeder participates in local breed or activity clubs.
Ask the breeder if they will be listed as a co-owner, and if they require that you keep a puppy intact (not spayed or neutered) or for the breeder to be allowed to breed to your puppy. While this type of contract is practically required if you are purchasing a puppy to show or breed, most families will find this difficult to handle. Most breeders do not require this, and you can choose to avoid it. Sometimes this is called a “guardianship” arrangement.
Be Willing to Travel
Sometimes, the top breeders are in your own backyard. Other times, especially with rarer breeds, your family must travel to find a reputable breeder.
Reputable breeders may travel several hours to events, so don’t be dismayed if you find that you are five or six hours away from a breeder you feel a connection with. This is normal and expected. Breeders often import puppies sight unseen from Europe or Australia.
Tell me about your breeder experience.
Please leave out the breeder’s name, especially if your experience was negative, but tell me about your journey to find a breeder and puppy.