you should get your puppy from "a good breeder." But
how can you tell who's a good breeder? Raising good
puppies makes some very specific demands, so there are
signs -- we call them traffic lights -- that the
careful buyer can spot.
A good breeder
will have all or most of the green lights from the
list below, few or no yellow lights, and no
red lights. Some of these may show up in
advertisements, others are things you can check on the
telephone, by email, or during a visit. There
may be exceptions to the rules--you should always ask
questions if in doubt.
Red Lights -- Avoid
1. Breeder advertises "Puppies always
That means lots of litters per year. If a puppy is to
have the best chance to be happy in your home,
he must be hand-raised with lots of attention and love
in a home setting. It's impossible to do that if
you're mass-producing puppies. Many good breeders
limit themselves to one or two litters a year
(depending, of course, on the size of the litters).
2. Any sign that the whole deal
can be completed with one phone call or email.
A good breeder spends plenty of time talking to you,
not only about her puppies, but about the breed in
general, your home, and whether this is the right
breed for you. Most require a written application. If
the conversation consists mostly of "This is how much
they cost, you can pick up your puppy Saturday,"
that's not a breeder who cares where her puppy is
3. Credit cards accepted.
Good breeders are small volume - - they can't afford
to take credit cards, unless they run it through
another business, such as a pet supplies store,
grooming shop, etc. Any breeder, however, can use
Paypal or other online payment methods. If you need to
use a credit card to buy your puppy, ask about those
plans, or get a cash advance.
4. Advertising oddball or
Rare longhaired whippets, Warlock or white Dobermans,
teacup Yorkies, extreme large or big boned dogs.
Purebreds must meet a breed standard. If a breeder
isn't following the standard on size, coat, etc., how
do you know what other oddities there may be? Because
these 'improvements' are often done by mixing in other
breeds, the advertised animals may not even be
contacting any breeder, you should read the breed
standard and know what it says about color, size, and
so on. Many kinds of unintended faults are okay
for a pet. For example, the breeder might say "This
puppy is going to be oversized, so we won't be able to
show him," or "Look at the way he carries his tail --
that's a fault."
Read your breed
standard at the AKC web site and be sure you
understand any breed fault in a puppy you're
considering buying and whether the fault is realted to
Whippet Standard is at the American Whippet Club
site.) For example, light colored eyes are a fault in
whippets but they don't cause any health
problems--it's strictly a cosmetic issue. Floppy ears
in a German Shepherd Dog are also cosmetic. In some
breeds, white coats are simply a color choice -- in
others, a white coat can be associated with severe
5. Offers of stud service to the
public, breeding pairs, or a contract that does not
require spaying/neutering if the puppy is intact when
Good breeders are stewards of their breeds. This means
they are very careful with their bloodlines. They do
not offer service or sell breeding animals to
anyone who has not made an extensive study of and
commitment to the breed. Breeding dogs should not be
undertaken casually; a good breeder will offer to
mentor someone who wants to learn, but will not
encourage everyone who enters the door with cash in
hand to breed.
6. Dogs registered with any
registry other than the American Kennel Club (AKC),
United Kennel Club (UKC) or (for Canadians) the
Canadian Kennel Club. Rare breeds which have not been
recognized by these organizations are exceptions, as
are field/hunting dogs registered with field
Reputable registries maintain the pedigrees
of purebred dogs, so that if you pay for a purebred
you can be sure you actually get a purebred. As
registry standards have been tightened, however,
breeders who breed carelessly or sell mixes as
purebreds have established several registries with no
standards at all. Saying a dog is registered with,
say, the Dog Registry of America means "I mailed in
his name and $15." Many of these registries are happy
to register mixed breeds as well. We know of a cat
registered as a "French Cocker Spaniel" with one of
these registries. Papers from these off-brand
registries do not mean your puppy is a purebred.
registered by itself is meaningless and the same
is true of pedigreed. A pedigree is just a
family tree, and every dog, even a mixed breed, has
one simply because he has parents and grandparents.
7. "Ready for Christmas!"
Holidays usually mean lots of confusion and just going
to a new home is plenty of stress. Good breeders know
that Christmas is the worst time to take a puppy home
if you have children, and most won't even sell you a
puppy as a Christmas gift. Some may allow you
to take a puppy home at that time if you can convince
them that you'll keep things calm, but a breeder using
Christmas as a marketing tool does not have the best
interests of the puppies at heart. Even many shelters
won't allow adoptions during Christmas week.
8. Puppies sold at a public place like
a flea market, shopping mall, or pet store.
The only humane way to sell a puppy is with an
interview and plenty of time to talk about your new
family member, ask questions, and get answers. The
poor little fellows sold at flea markets and other
public places are handed to the first person who shows
up with cash or a credit card, whether or not that
person will provide a suitable home. Never buy from
these places even if you feel sorry for the puppy. For
every one bought, another litter is bred, and the more
clever salespeople encourage you to feel sorry for the
puppies so you will "rescue" them.
The only way to stop the practice is to
boycott flea markets and pet stores where puppies are
sold...and let management know why you're staying
Yellow Lights -- Get
1. "State licensed"
Few localities require any sort of license for a small
scale breeder. Even if a license is required, it has
nothing to do with puppy quality. So why is the
breeder advertising this?
2. "We ship anywhere."
Many good breeders will ship your puppy.
But most prefer that you pick him up if at all
possible. That's much less stressful and dangerous for
him and most breeders want to meet you face to face.
Advertising shipping usually indicates more
interest in making sales than in finding good homes.
3. "We'll meet you at the rest stop."
Some kennels really are hard to find, but
anyone can take directions. Often this just means
"We'd rather you not see our kennel." A puppy from a
dirty or overcrowded kennel is very likely to have
parasites and/or other communicable illness. Corners
probably have been cut on other breeding practices.
4. "I'm sorry but the mother is
(at the groomer, at a dog show, at the vet...) so you
won't be able to meet her."
Offer to come back when she's available and if you
can't make arrangements, look elsewhere for a puppy.
Mom's influence makes up for about 75% of your puppy's
temperament, and if you don't like her, you don't want
5. Offers to sell puppies that
are less than eight weeks old.
Puppies need to be with mom and their siblings for
eight weeks or more in order to learn skills that are
near impossible for humans to teach. You can consider
buying a puppy from this breeder (if other lights are
okay) but do not take your puppy home before he's
eight weeks old. Some breeds mature more slowly so
these puppies should stay with mom at least another
week or two.
Puppies must be
exposed to humans regularly before 12 weeks of age,
and that's a big part of the breeder's job. A puppy
that has this contact but has stayed with his litter
at least eight weeks will easily bond to your family
at any age.
6. 'Easy payment plans.'
Payments are usually way too much trouble and risk for
the small breeder. She's already sunk a lot of her own
money into this litter, and most breeders are not
wealthy. A good breeder doesn't want you to buy a dog
you can't afford. If you can't pay for the dog, how
will you pay for vet care?
7. Special deals that require
you to allow the breeding of a litter from your pet.
A good breeder sometimes will sell a male
puppy and ask that you not neuter him without
permission, in case she needs him as backup to her
bloodline. A breeder with a rare bloodline (or a rare
breed) may have a good reason for not wanting to lose
a certain female, but usually that breeder simply
won't sell the dog. Whelping a litter of puppies is
emotionally and physically draining for the owner as
well as the bitch and there's a lot that can go wrong.
Ask why the breeder wants a litter from your
pet -- if it's just to collect more money from the
sale, look elsewhere.
8. Signs that the breeder has more dogs
than she can properly care for.
Everyone has a bad day sometimes and a lot of dogs can
mean a lot of confusion and noise! A breeder's home
doesn't have to be something out of House Beautiful,
but if conditions that don't look right to you, ask
questions. Maybe the dog with the infected eye has an
appointment this afternoon; perhaps most of the dogs
are crated when company comes to simplify the visit.
But dogs in dirty pens, matted or smelly dogs, those
who appear to need medical care and have not gotten
it, or dogs stacked in crates for most of every day
cannot be healthy, well-adjusted dogs. You don't want
a puppy from this environment.
Green Lights -- This
looks like a good breeder!
1. A list of specific health
checks done before breeding and/or on puppies before
Examples might be CERF (eye), OFA (hips, heart),
thyroid tests, von Willebrands Disease (blood
clotting) and BAER (hearing) as appropriate to the
breed. You must know which problems are likely
to occur in your breed and what checks should be done.
'Vet checked' is too general -- that statement is a
yellow light, particularly if given as the answer to
"What health checks do you do?"
2. A lifetime takeback guarantee with a
requirement that you return the dog or get approval
for a new home if you cannot keep him.
Good breeders do everything in their power to prevent
their puppies from winding up in an animal shelter or
a pen in some friend of a friend's backyard.
3. A detailed written (or
on-line) application required.
Good breeders put too much work into their puppies to
sell them to just anyone, and they have learned by
experience what kinds of home are likely to work out
and which ones probably will not. Most, but not all,
require a written application.
4. The breeder makes sure you
know the breed's drawbacks and any special breed
All breeds have some drawbacks. If the
breed you're considering drools a lot, is hard to
housebreak, does not live long, or may instinctively
chase and kill small animals, or (fill in the blank!)
a good breeder makes sure you understand those
characteristics. If your dog must be kept as an indoor
dog, must always be leashed or fenced, requires lots
of grooming, or is subject to heatstroke, a
responsible breeder tells you these things upfront. If
a breeder starts to sound like a used-car salesman,
telling you only the good things and she refuses to
talk about the bad ones, find another breeder.
5. A written contract with
specific requirements and guarantees.
But watch out for extremely restrictive
contracts -- for example, specific feeding
instructions or you forfeit the dog, no vaccinations
regardless of veterinary advice, etc. This may be a
very dedicated breeder but is likely to be way more
trouble than you want. In special situations good
breeders may offer a special deal for retaining
control of the puppy. You get a cheaper price, but the
breeder's name stays on the puppy's registration
papers as "co-owner." We advise against doing this
unless you're very experienced. Though a breeder who
cares about her puppies will encourage you to keep in
touch, a breeder who cannot let go of control can be
6. A written health record for
This should include the date of whelping, any health
problems he had, the date and kind of each shot he
got, and the dates of worming and drug that was used.
Your vet will want this information and having it in
writing makes it much more likely that your puppy has
gotten the care he needs.