All kinds of words get thrown around to describe breeders, "good", "responsible", "backyard breeder", "bad", "irresponsible", "puppy mill", "hobby breeder" etc. Sometimes the definitions are unclear and sometimes they send mixed messages.
In today's post I'm going to present a few possible definitions of the common words used to describe the different kinds of breeders, and more importantly, I will talk about what to look for in order to find a "good" and "responsible" breeder to purchase your new puppy from. I will also talk about what to avoid in order to protect yourself, and the animals you love.
I have decided to start my post today with what to look for in a "good" and "responsible" breeder. That way I won't lose readers in the mess of less savoury breeding practices described below. I'm here to help you make a good decision, not just tell you about all the possible bad decisions.
Good breeders come in all shapes.
By shape, I mean, that a breeder who produces pure bred, even registered, puppies can still be a "bad" breeder, and a breeder who produces mix breed dogs can still be a "good" breeder. Shape, or breed, doesn't matter. Rather it is the quality of the individual dogs chosen for a breeding program, and the quality of the puppies produced.
Things to look for in any breeder:
- All stock used for breeding, regardless of pedigree, should have hips x-rayed and rated, and have been tested for all common genetic ailments. These tests should be available for you to see and any dog bred without having had these tests or with having received poor results on these tests should make you walk away from the breeder as a whole. A responsible breeder will not risk breeding a dog with a known health condition or genetic flag.
- You should be buying direct from the breeder. No good breeder will send their puppies to a broker or pet store, they will want to meet the potential new owners in person to ensure their puppies are going somewhere safe.
- Your breeder should ask questions. They should want to know as much about you as possible, after all, their puppies are precious to them and they want them to go to the right home.
- Puppies should be raised in a clean, safe, and stimulating environment. Ideally, for most people, this will be a home where puppies and parents live as part of the family. Paper or pee pads should be clean and changed frequently, water and food dishes should be clean, and adult dogs in the home should appear well groomed and fed. Sometimes working dogs will be raised outside or in barns. This is ok, but they should have shelter, clean bedding, and you need to ensure that they have had the opportunity to interact with people throughout their development.
- You should be able to meet the parents! It is also preferable that the breeder know where previous puppies are and what they are doing, so that you can meet an adult dog from a previous litter whenever possible. The breeder should not feel the need to hide a parent for any reason. They should be healthy, and have a temperament that you find agreeable. Aggressive, overly fearful, or unhealthy parent stock should never be acceptable.
- Parents should be over two years before the first breeding. If a parent dog is under two then it is unlikely that they have fully developed their own personality, and even less likely that they have had the required health testing completed in full as some tests require the dog to be at least 18 months before they can be completed.
- A breeder should not have too many litters down at a time. Breeding is costly and time consuming. While some breeders might have two females breeding at the same time, be wary of a breeder who has several litters available all at once.
- A good breeder shouldn't have packs of dogs. A few males, a few breeding females, and maybe some retired dogs is fine, but when we're hitting numbers like 12+ breeding females we need to start asking whether this is a responsible breeder taking care with every litter and pairing, or whether this is a for profit puppy farming business.
- It's not about the money. A responsible breeder rarely profits from a puppy sale. With all the vet checks, stud fees, and the best possible puppy food breeding dogs responsibly ends up costing more than the puppies bring back in. That's how it should be. Extensive pre-breeding health testing, and health testing and vetting of the litter justifies the hefty prices we see for some puppies, but make sure you compare, and if a puppy is selling for a significant lower or higher price than other local breeders ask yourself why. If they are priced too low were all the expensive health tests completed properly? If they are priced too high, what is the motivation for the price and what, if any, extra thing has the breeder done to justify the price hike? No good breeder should be in it for the money.
- They won't sell you two at once. A good, experienced, and responsible breeder knows that sending home two puppies to the same place at the same time is asking for trouble. They'll encourage you to start with one of their wonderful puppies and will put your name down for a future litter if you like.
- They should be willing to take your puppy back, at any age if for any reason you can't keep it. A responsible breeder understands that they are responsible forever for the animal that they brought into this world and they will not stand by and let their dogs end up in shelters.
A special note on Pure Bred dogs:
- Registration as a pure bred dog does not guarantee that the dog is healthy, being responsibly bred, or a good example of the breed. There are many people who breed pure bred dogs without getting them health checked and without consideration for their well being. Never accept registration as a guarantee that you are supporting a good ethical breeder.
- If a dog is being advertised as a pure bred, it should, however, still be registered. Even if the dogs in question are being advertised as pet quality puppies, if they really are pure bred dogs then there is no good reason not to register them as such. In Canada, a dog cannot legally be sold as a pure bred unless it is registered as such by a qualifying kennel or breed club. Likewise, a breeder cannot charge you extra for registration papers.
A special note on Mix Breed dogs:
- Breeding mixes does not guarantee a reduction in inherited disease or illness. While I love a well bred mix breed myself I expect a breeder of mix breed dogs to follow the same stringent rules that I expect from pure bred breeders. Require the breeder of your mix breed puppy to have done all the same health testing of their breeding stock and puppies as you would expect from a pure bred breeder. Mix breeding is not the same as sloppy breeding.
Puppy Mills or Puppy Farms
Probably the most common term used to describe irresponsible and abusive breeding practices. As little as 17 years ago many people had not heard of puppy mills or puppy mill puppies, and it was very common to walk into a store and purchase a puppy from behind a glass window, no questions asked. But in the last decade things have been starting to change for the better, and puppy mills are, at least in some places, on the decline. Though not fast enough.
The most important thing to know about a puppy mill is that it's all about the money. Your pet is their product, and they don't care who they hurt while producing that product.
A puppy mill, or puppy farm, is essentially a place where puppies are 'manufactured' as a consumer product. Think factory farming, but for dogs. Generally the number of breeding animals ranges from a few dozen, to hundreds, puppies are produced at as fast a rate as possible and for as little cost as possible, to be sold for as great a cost as possible.
Puppy mills can appear in a few different forms.
The worst are the ones we tend to associate with the term and once seen the problems are obvious. I considered posting a picture, but decided against it. My job is to educate you, not horrify you, and I don't want and ugly terrifying photo to turn you off reading my blog. You'll just have to trust me.
- These extreme cases generally see breeding animals and offspring housed in cramped blocks of filthy cages, or in small gravel runs, or yards.
- Females are bred at every possible heat, and male dogs are kept in small numbers to keep upkeep costs down.
- Often there is inbreeding. Rarely are mates carefully selected, and neither adults or puppies receive adequate vet care, socialization, or feeding.
- This type of puppy mill will generally never allow the public on their property.
- This type of puppy mill distributes puppies to brokers (see below) who then sell the puppies to pet stores or other sale points.
- If they do sell directly to buyers it will be out of parking lots or other public spaces.
Some puppy mills disguise themselves pretty well but are still commercial breeding operations.
- These puppy mills sell direct to buyer and may even be willing to let you visit the property, only you won't get much farther past the front gate.
- Their dogs may be clean and well fed, and they might have extensive lists of testimonials, references, photos of puppies, parents etc, but the scale at which they are breeding prevents their animals from being cherished pets, developing full personalities on which to judge their puppies, and they often still live in kennels somewhere on the property, instead of at home where you'd want your puppy to be raised.
- These operations can be harder to spot, because from the outside they look like fantastic facilities with all the bells and whistles. But here are some things to watch out for:
- Be wary of breeders with high numbers of stock or those offering extensive colour or size variety.
- Having more than 3-4 breeding females can indicate that they are breeding on a commercial scale.
- If they have staff, they're probably breeding too many dogs.
- They don't allow you to see where the breeding dogs and puppies are kept. They may have pictures, but they should allow a serious potential buyer access to the full facility. If they're hiding where the dogs are staying, it means they aren't proud of it.
- These operations are less obvious, and less cruel, however having first hand witnessed the quality of puppies that this type of operation produces I say they are an invitation for heartache just the same. Steer clear of large puppy farming operations, no matter how clean and well run they appear to be puppies should never be produced for profit.
Like a puppy mill, brokers are in the business only for the money. Puppies are products to be moved.
A puppy broker or and animal broker is the middle man between the manufacturer (puppy farm) and the retail store (pet store). You are unlikely to ever purchase directly from a puppy broker, but the chances of them selling direct to the consumer are increasing as the number of pet stores that will sell their puppies gradually decrease in response to popular demand.
Basically, the broker buys puppies from the puppy farm, or takes them on consignment. He then sells the puppies to pet stores. They call up saying they're out of fluffy white dogs, and he boxes up a crate full of fluffy white puppies that came in last week and sends them out.
Brokers come in all sizes. Some run their businesses out of their basements and some actually do have warehouses. Most will deal in other pets, not just in dogs, but kittens, birds, hamsters, rabbits, etc. Basically, if you bought it in a petstore, it probably came through a broker.
It's pretty easy to spot a broker if they're trying to sell you a dog. Here's what to watch for:
- They won't have the parents
- They will have a variety of animals for sale at any given time, several breeds of dogs, cats, and different species.
- They'll have animals of different ages. So they may have 10 yorkies, but 5 of them will be 8 weeks and the other five will be 10 weeks and they may or may not be from the same breeder
- They usually want to deal over the internet entirely, ship your puppy to you, or meet in a parking lot. You'll usually pick your puppy based on a photo, but the puppy in the photo might not actually be the one you get.
The definition of a backyard breeder is one that brings some contention.
It is considered a negative title. For some it simply means "small puppy mill" for others it means "anyone who breeds mixes or non-registered dogs" and for the extreme it means "anyone who breeds dogs at all ever".
A backyard breeder is, put simply, someone who breeds their own personal pets. Their intentions are usually good, they don't mind the idea of making a bit of money on the side, and they may love and care for their pet in the best way they know how. They might think that breeding and raising puppies is fun, or is a good thing to show their kids, but generally money isn't the driving factor (though sometimes it is). The puppies are bred on too small a scale to be a financially viable option, once they are bred on a large scale to make money I define it as a puppy mill or puppy farm.
The difference here, between your backyard breeder and that "good and responsible" breeder I talk about above is that the backyard breeder, while perhaps being a perfectly nice person with a perfectly nice dog, will be breeding dogs without understanding what they are doing. They fail to health test their dogs, fail to consider the temperament of both parents, and may be, without intending to, breeding sick, genetically flawed, or poor tempered puppies.
They are less likely to screen homes, provide contracts, and may see nothing wrong what so ever with you breeding your new puppy all you like. They won't have health guarantees and they will not accept complaints when people starting returning to them with sick puppies. They generally don't keep track of where their puppies end up in life and live in this perfect little fantasy world where they don't ever have to worry about the consequences of breeding their beloved little dog.
They may sell a litter or two to a pet store, but usually backyard breeder puppies are found in the classifieds and on online advertisements.
Unlike a puppy mill, the backyard breeder usually has innocent intentions, but that doesn't mean they should be encouraged, and you might want to avoid the risk of the unknowns that come with them.
Too Long? Here it is in a nut shell:
- Never buy a puppy from a petstore. A good breeder would never sell their puppies to someone they haven't met.
- A good breeder will be picky. Even I have been turned down for a puppy that the breeder didn't think was right for me.
- Purebreds or mix breeds, no matter what, should all have health testing done before breeding as well as any possible tests done on the puppies produced.
- If they are selling them as purebreds, they should be registered, but registration alone is not a guarantee of quality.
- Steer clear of breeders selling multiple breeds, sizes, colours, or ages, the more variety the more likely you're looking at a commercial operation
Most importantly, be patient. The puppy for you is out there, it just might not be ready yet. Don't jump on the first litter you find, especially if the breeder doesn't live up to standards. There are more out there. Buying responsibly will help encourage only responsible breeders and will help end the cycle of animal abuse that unethical breeding practices produces.