What to Look for in a Reputable Dog Breeder

Dog breeding can be a controversial topic. Some animal lovers are hooked on a breed and will shell out big bucks for the perfect purebred. Others are adamantly against breeding with so many dogs available in shelters and rescue groups. This article isn’t meant to sway you one way or another, but rather to provide you with some helpful information should you decide to go with a breeder, and importantly, how to best avoid irresponsible breeders.

Breeding used to be highly functional—a shepherd breeds only the best herding dogs or a hunter breeds the dogs with the best instincts—but with dogs now serving more of a companion role in society, many prospective pet parents are simply looking for specific features in their puppy, whether it’s a purebred or mix.

We know today’s domesticated dogs are descendants of ancient wolves, thought to have been tolerated at first by humans as alarm systems but later welcomed as working dogs on farms and in today’s world as companion animals. The science is unclear—it was thought the first domesticated dogs originated in China or the Middle East about 15,000 years ago, but a new study suggests the first domesticated dogs came from Europe between 19,000 and 32,000 years ago. In 2010, researchers stumbled upon a 35,000-year-old fossil in Siberia, later identified as wolf remains and believed to be the closest link between dogs and wolves, which suggests domestic dogs did originate in Europe. Regardless of origin, dogs were originally bred for function—guarding, herding, or hunting breeds—and that function still exists today for some farmers or hunters.

The American Kennel Club first started in the late 1800s as a “club of clubs”—a combination of 13 different breed clubs whose stated mission is to “advance the study, breeding, exhibiting, running and maintenance of purebred dogs.” To date, 184 dog breeds are recognized by the AKC. Purebred dogs were once considered a status symbol in American society but now, they are more a sign of personal preference. There are regulations in place to prevent such poor practices of these “backyard breeders” or even puppy mills. The internet has made it easier for these irresponsible breeders to continue to operate.

Here are some tips for finding a reputable breeder:

  • Check the AKC breeder referral site or a local breeders club for a reputable breeder. The Quality Breeders Association also rates breeders on a point system.
  • Always get references and follow up by checking them.
  • Be comfortable with the breeder. Ask about their plans for the future.
  • Get a sales contract with a health guarantee.
  • Visit the breeder directly, if possible. Or check if the breeder has been inspected by the AKC or County officers.
  • Look for breeders who focus on one or two breeds only. A lot of internet scammers will advertise a choice of anything from four to 15 different breeds.

We already detailed the most important tips to follow when buying a purebred dog, and for good cause. An estimated 25% of the 20 million purebred dogs in America have a serious genetic problem as looks are trumping function—but more importantly health—in breeding practices. Proper breeding practices are the single most important guarantee for good health. But since looks have become so important, some breeders are inbreeding to produce exaggerated features. Other problems include breeding dogs too young and breeding dogs that show undesirable traits. If you think pedigree papers are a guarantee of health—think again.

Again, follow the breeder-suggested best practices above, and ask if your breeder tests the parents for genetic defects. Meet the puppy and the puppy’s parents before buying to ensure there are no fear or aggression issues. If these issues are ignored, you could end up with a host of medical problems and thousands of dollars in vet bills.

Although there are plenty of wonderful breeders with good intentions, there are also scammers looking to cash in on our puppy love. Take the necessary steps to make sure you aren’t supporting breeding practices that are ending in illness for millions of innocent dogs.

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