Top 10 Things To Look For When Selecting A Responsible Breeder

After you have decided on the breed of dog you want, if your heart is set on a purebred puppy, the first step is to find a good breeder.

The photo of our babes from the online site where we found her. Come on - how could you NOT fall in love?!

The photo of our babes from the online site where we found her. Come on – how could you NOT fall in love?!

You can find responsible breeders by asking for referrals from your veterinarian or trusted friends, by contacting local breed clubs, or visiting professional dog shows. The American Kennel Club also offers breeder referrals for all the recognized breeds.

Responsible breeders are well suited to educate and screen potential buyers/adopters and provide follow-up support after purchase or adoption. Responsible breeders take lifetime responsibility for the animals they have bred.

Beware of unscrupulous breeders or brokers or puppy mills that operate purely for profit. Such individuals may sell you puppies that have not been vaccinated, or are unhealthy. A dog that has genetic health problems due to poor breeding practices or who develops significant behavior problems due to a lack of early socialization can cost thousands of dollars to treat—and result in grief and heartache as well.

When screening breeders, here are the top 10 things to ask about.

When we first decided to get a puppy (after 16 loooooong years of patiently waiting – funny story on this one), we knew just from current media that you look for a breeder – not a pet store, for fear of a puppy mill situation. But we also did not have the patience to wait to get our dog either (my girlfriend waited nearly THREE MONTHS to bring home her little babies!).

So we did what most people do – we went to an online buy/sell website to look for puppies (I know, I know – I can hear half of you gasping as I type this… but hear me out…).

We noticed that there were varying types of puppies for sale:

  1. Inexpensive mixed breeds from people who just ended up with extra dogs around the house
  2. Hobby breeders who’s dogs claimed to have all of the right pedigree pieces, but there was nothing to back them up (these were the medium-priced puppies).
  3. And then you had the certified breeders, who’s pups actually were being monitored by a higher governing body. These were by far the most expensive, which is not what we originally wanted at all, but the benefits far out-weighed the price in the end.

How long have they been breeding the dog breed you are looking for?

Responsible breeders are individuals who have focused their efforts on one or a select few breeds and, through breeding, historical research and ongoing study, mentoring relationships, club memberships, showing, raising and training of these breeds, have become knowledgeable about their health, heritable defects, temperament and behavior.

Many small dog breeds have known susceptibilities to hereditary health conditions. Chihuahuas and other mall breed dogs are known to suffer from hypoglycemia. If not carefully bred and cared for in infancy, they can develop a hereditary defect know as molera-a hole in their skull, occurring when bones in the fontanel are not firmly knit together.

You want to look for a breeder that breeds only one or a few types of dogs and is knowledgeable about the breeds and their special requirements and care in infancy. Because some genetic conditions don’t show up until adulthood, a responsible breeder won’t breed dogs until they’re two or three years old.

I have known of puppies coming from new or inexperienced breeders, even if they are registered, but because the breeder does not have enough experience with her breeding parents, they don’t really know what to expect from the puppies.

Are they registered with the Kennel Club?

If a breeder is registered, you are more likely to get a healthy, well-conditioned puppy with pure bloodlines. While the AKC (American Kennel Club) and CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) do not have penal or regulatory authority, they both conduct thousands of its own inspections each year.

Breeders who have major kennel deficiencies may lose AKC or CKC privileges (ability to register dogs or compete in events). In some cases, fines will be imposed, privileges may be suspended indefinitely and appropriate law enforcement authorities are contacted. If you would like to ensure that the breeder you are dealing with is in good standing with the AKC or CKC, contact the AKC at or the CKC at

The other added side effect is that your pup will also be registered with the kennel club. When you take your pup home, your breeder will typically have about 6 months to file the necessary paperwork with the kennel club, registering your pup and yourself in their records.

Note – not all dog breeds are recognized by the kennel club. That does not make the breed less legitimate, it just means that the breed has not met the necessary standard requirements for recognition, which could be because the breed is too new and therefore not enough is known about it’s longevity, health history, origins, or in cases of new breeds that have come out of cross breeding, there are genetic concerns that need time to present so that all information can be documented.

If your dogs are not a part of your federal kennel club, then your prices should also be lower.

Can you speak to their vet to request health history information?

Find out about the health of your puppy and its parents. Breeders should be honest about the breed’s strengths and weaknesses and knowledgeable about the genetic diseases that can affect their breed – including what’s being done to avoid them. Breeders should be willing to share proof of health screenings such as OFA and CERF certificates with potential buyers.

You will want to ask which vaccinations your puppy has had and which ones are still required. A responsible breeder will also start the vaccine series and will fill you in on exactly how it needs to be completed. They will provide you with official and complete medical records for your puppy.

Can you see the mother and father of the pups?

Visit the breeder’s home or kennel and ask to see at least one of the puppy’s parents. Get an idea of what the future holds for your dog in terms of temperament and appearance.

Meeting the father may not be possible, but most people recommend that you meet the mother. A puppy’s parents give you better insight into her future personality than does her breed. A friendly, well-behaved Mamma or Papa dog is a good sign, both that you’ve found a good litter and a good breeder.

Now, here’s the exception: the breeder may not allow you to meet either parent. This can be a sign of neglect or abuse on the breeder’s part (they don’t want you to see what happens behind the scenes). Or, it could simply mean that they do not want to expose the parents, especially the dame, to outside unknown health risks. If you run into this situation, you need to use your judgment as to how you react.

The breeder for our Parti Yorkie did not allow us to visit with the mother or father for health reasons (risk of exposing the parents to unknown factors); however, in place of this, we were provided with full bills of health from their veterinarian as well as welcomed to call and speak to the vet directly regarding the animal history, temperament and health history. Added to all of the other positives, and because these all checked out, we decided to forego meeting the parents.

How many pups were in your puppy’s litter, and how many pups is normal for the breed?

Good breeders take care to select good parents, provide proper health care, take time to raise a litter properly and put in a lot of effort to ensure well-adjusted, healthy puppies. They rarely breed more than 2 or 3 litters a year, sometimes less than that. A breeder with just one or two litters a year will have the time to give them the care and handling they need, and to find them good homes. Each female dog should be bred no more than once a year.

For out Yorkie breed, the normal number of pups per little is 3-5, however the more that a dame has bred, the more pups she will have in a litter. Our litter had 3 pups.

Does the breeder offer insurance for the first 4-6 weeks of your pup’s life with you?

Your Breeder can offer you four weeks free Kennel Club Pet Insurance or six weeks of Pet Secure insurance with your new puppy, which starts from the moment you collect your puppy. Ask them to ensure this is set up so that you have cover, should your new puppy suffer from any illness or injury., and ensure you follow up with the insurance company yourself – don’t wait to find out too late that paperwork wasn’t filed.

No one expects to, or wants to, have to use insurance within the first few weeks of your pup being home, but here’s our story on just how easy that can be to happen.

During these first few weeks, do your homework on the insurance plan you want have for your pet long term. You can speak with your vet about their experience from a customer point of view and decide which one is best for you.

In the end, we went with Trupanion after our 6-week breeder trial was over, which gave us $200 deductible per year but 90% coverage on all other non-preventative services. Our vet is able to direct bill them (versus me paying up front and then submitting claims).

Does the breeder offer a health guarantee?


Our first trip to the vet the morning after bringing her home… She was sooooo tiny!!!

Breeders offer varying guarantees so check out what hereditary health problems may affect your breed and be sure your health guarantee covers it to some extent.

Don’t expect the guarantee to cover such things as accidents, parasites, nonhereditary diseases, etc.

You should also have at least 48 hours after picking the puppy up from the breeder to take your new pup to your vet.

If your vet should find a health problem your breeder should allow you to return the puppy and choose another one, wait until the next litter arrives to choose one, or return your money.

Does the puppy come micro chipped, with dewclaws removed and tail cropped?

Micro chipping
The real reason people microchip their dog is the peace of mind knowing that if he gets lost, he has a higher chance of being reunited with you.  There are definite risks, and no system is fool proof. There are many countries that are now making it law that dogs be micro chipped.   Currently dog are required to be micro chipped in Portugal, Singapore, and Bangkok and dogs in England will be required by 2016. Some states in the U.S. are moving towards a mandatory law as well; some such as El Paso and Los Angeles County, have already passed ordinances stating that dogs residing in their jurisdictions be micro chipped.

All dogs are born with dewclaws, which is similar to a thumb, but grows higher up on the paw. Dogs with dewclaws do fine without having the dewclaws removed. Dewclaw removal involves removing the entire toe, not just the claw.

Many breeders choose to remove the dewclaws on puppies in the first week of life, because soon after birth the dewclaws are more like fingernails than appendages.  Why remove the dewclaw? It gives the leg a smoother look, and dewclaws can be a source of injury to the dog-snag on carpets etc.

Not all breeders automatically remove the dewclaw. Ours did, and we certainly have appreciated that as it makes groomers our Yorkie’s legs much easier with no fear of hooking her little toe through all that hair!

Tail docking
Tail docking is the intentional removal of a portion of a dog’s tail. When a dog is 2 to 10 days old, a breeder can put a rubber band-type ligature around the base or amputate, which cuts off the blood supply and causes the tail to fall off in a matter of days. Many breeders believe that tail docking reduces the risk of tail injuries from hunting and herding activities, collecting burrs and foxtails, which can cause infection, and to maintain kennel club breed standards. Unless you plan to show your dog competitively, or use your dog as a hunting or work dog, there is no need to dock the tail.

Since our pup was registered with the CKC, her tail was docked to maintain the breed standard our breeder had so often been recognized and awarded for. I have also heard sad stories of dog tails becoming broken, which can cause months of agony for everything from sitting, sleeping, potty breaks and more.

Does your breeder require that you sign a contract?

It is recommended that the breeder provide you with a Contract of Sale. Among other things, this should detail both the breeders’ and your responsibility to the puppy. The contract should also list any official Kennel Club endorsements (restrictions) that the breeder has placed on the puppy’s records, and in particular on what basis the breeder may be prepared to remove the endorsement.

Endorsements the breeder may place on your puppy include not for breeding and not for export. Before or at the time of sale, you must give a signed acknowledgement of any endorsement placed. If you’re buying a dog who’s not going to be bred, the breeder should ask you to sign a contract promising to spay or neuter your pup, to avoid contributing to pet overpopulation.

Often times the contract will allow you to return the dog to the breeder should you be unable to keep the dog at any point in the dog’s life. 

When can you bring your new puppy home?

Don’t expect to bring home the puppy until its eight to 12 weeks of age. Puppies need ample time to mature and socialize with its mother and litter-mates. We lucked out with our little one – she was ready to go when we found her… I am not a patient woman and I don’t think I could have done without her just one more day!! <3 Our Yorkie was 8 weeks old when we brought her home with us.

The long car ride home. We drove 2.5 hours to get her. So teeny! I had waited a lifetime for this one...

The long car ride home. We drove 2.5 hours to get her. So teeny! I had waited a lifetime for this one…

Final thoughts.

Your dog can live as long as 10 to 20 years, so invest some time now to be sure you’re working with a responsible breeder who breeds healthy, happy dogs and keeps them in clean and humane conditions.

And while we certainly were not looking for a high-priced puppy ($2000), when we looked at the big picture, it was definitely worth it to us:

  • registered Parti Yorkie with the Canadian Kennel Club
  • microchipped
  • dewclaws removed
  • first set of shots
  • 6 weeks pet insurance
  • 1 year health guarantee
  • Food and toys

And what convinced us of our breeder:

  • accredited breeder with 40 years breeding recognition and awards from the CKC
  • breeder had been breeding Parti Yorkies for nearly 40 years (so we got a good background on the breed)
  • provided us with the lineage of our pup going back 4 generations on both sides – all dogs registered with the CKC
  • required extensive info on myself and my husband, our home, our work, our schedule, who was going to be home with the puppy, who was going to be the primary guardian, etc
  • warned us that she had the right to refuse us sale if she decided last minute that it was not a good deal (I liked this about her feisty Scottish ways)
  • provided us full permission and access to her vet for all records on the parents


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