A BREED APART: FINDING AN ETHICAL DOG BREEDER
Thinking about getting a puppy? A new furball provides endless entertainment and can bring so much joy into your life! Maybe you’ve picked a breed, looked at ads on Facebook and Kijiji, and researched a few breeders online. Choosing the right breeder is a big decision. Obviously you want to make sure you’re getting a dog that’s physically and mentally healthy, but you also may want to support individuals and organizations with a genuine interest in animal welfare.
It’s a lot to think about, but Globalvet is here with 13 things you should look for. That’s right, 13 things to see through the scammers and backyard breeders to find the best of the breed.
1. THEY DO HEALTH AND GENETIC TESTING ON THE DOGS THEY BREED
Responsible dog breeders want their puppies to be mentally and physically strong. That starts with making sure their breeding dogs (puppy parents) are healthy, to reduce or avoid the risk of passing health problems on to the next generation. Good breeders call in veterinary specialists to perform blood tests, eye exams, X-rays, and other health screenings to detect conditions common to the specific breed of dog they raise. There are even certification programs for parent dogs with certain inherited diseases, like hip dysplasia.
For hybrid breed puppies like the goldendoodle (a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle), it’s important to ask the breeder about their breeding experience.
2. THEY SCREEN POTENTIAL OWNERS
A reputable breeder will put a prospective owner through a vetting process before allowing them to take home a pup. You can expect a breeder to:
- Have you complete an application and answer questions about your experience with dogs; your habits, environment, and expectations; why you want to adopt that specific breed, etc.
- Talk to you over email, videoconference, or the phone so they can get to know you better
- Check your references
You’re likely to have a ton of questions for the breeder, but it should go both ways. A responsible breeder cares what happens to their dogs and wants to make sure they end up with their forever family. Asking you questions allows the breeder to get a better sense of your lifestyle and ensure a good fit.
And keep in mind you may not get the pick of the litter. Many breeders choose your puppy for you because they know their dogs better than anyone and have the most insight into pairing you with a puppy that matches your lifestyle and personality.
- THEY’RE ACCESSIBLE BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER THE PLACEMENT PROCESS
A good breeder won’t disappear once you take your puppy home. They’ll be happy to answer questions before, during, and after the placement process to make sure their puppies are going home with an owner who is well informed and sensitive to the puppy’s needs.
They’re also a great resource, with a wealth of information about their breed in particular, canine health in general, and dog reproduction, grooming, and training. That’s why they’re usually happy to offer guidance when you need it—even once your pup is home. But they should also know their limits. Some breeders are also professional veterinarians, pet nutritionists, or animal behaviourists—but not all of them. Whatever their knowledge level and background experience, a good breeder is humble and works closely with professionals and specialists they can refer you to as needed. Why not take the opportunity to verify the breeder’s qualifications and credentials?
Another sign of good breeding: If they offer you access to an online forum connecting owners of puppies from the same litter. Or they may put you in touch with other buyers in your area so you can meet up. This can be an opportunity to learn more about the breed and about the breeder and their practices.
4. THEY RAISE MENTALLY HEALTHY DOGS
Ethical breeders raise dogs that are mentally balanced. After all, more than half of Quebecers who abandon a dog cite behaviour problems, which have a genetic component. That’s why conscientious breeders try to breed out traits like aggression, anxiety, and separation anxiety.
But as they say, there are no guarantees in life, so it’s important to ask the right questions from the start. Be sure to ask to meet your potential new puppy’s parents. Watching how they behave can give you an idea of what to expect from your new canine companion.
5. THEY HAVE A DETAILED PUPPY SOCIALIZATION PROGRAM
Considering adding a purebred pup to your family? Read on for guidance on what to look for in a responsible dog breeder and how to avoid unscrupulous and uninformed sellers.
Good breeders know that early socialization is hugely important, so they don’t take a puppy away from its mother or siblings. They provide their pups with a stimulating environment and gradually expose them to things they may encounter in their future family.
And they transition their puppies at the developmentally appropriate time: between 8 and 12 weeks.
6. THEIR BREEDING PROGRAM PRIORITIZES MATERNAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
We’ve all heard horror stories of so-called “puppy mills” where breeders churn out puppies with no regard for the mother dog’s health. Ethical breeders are the opposite: They follow responsible practices and are knowledgeable about the canine reproduction cycle. They limit the number of litters based on the specific needs and limitations of each breeding female. Because they’re much more selective, a good breeder usually has a waiting list.
7. THEY HAVE A WAITING LIST
You’re itching to take that adorable puppy home, but it’s rare to find an accountable breeder with puppies available right away. Most have waiting lists of at least a few months, if not years.
Rest assured that it will be well worth the wait! Why not take the time to read up on the breed and get everything ready for the day when you finally take your new friend home?
8. THEY FEED THEIR DOGS QUALITY FOOD
A balanced, quality diet delivers all kinds of benefits to an animal. After all, healthy mothers give birth to healthy puppies. And those boundless balls of energy need food formulated to support optimal growth and set them up right for life.
To learn more, check out our section on puppy nutrition.
9. THEY HAVE THEIR PUPPIES EXAMINED BY A VET
Obviously proper medical care is hugely important. Good breeders have a veterinarian do a health checkup and give them their first round of vaccines and deworming treatment. The breeder should give you a folder with your puppy’s vaccine certificate(s), a list of treatments administered, and a schedule of vet-recommended follow-up appointments and booster shots.
10. THEY PERMANENTLY I.D. THEIR PUPPIES
Here’s something you may not know: By law in Canada, all purebred dogs must be uniquely and permanently identified before leaving the breeder’s premises. Usually that means microchipping or tattooing the pup—quick and non-invasive procedures that any veterinarian or trained breeder can do.
11. THEY GIVE YOU A WARM WELCOME
Before adopting a puppy, be sure to visit the breeder. A responsible breeder should be open and excited about showing off their facilities, whether in person or by videoconference (depending on where you both live). But be mindful of the fact that most breeders work out of their home and field a lot of requests for visits. Their number one duty is to protect the health and wellbeing of their dogs. So you may not get an invitation right off the bat, but you can definitely expect to be able to visit once you’ve passed their pre-screening process. When you do visit, take care to follow any health guidelines. And note that you may not have unfettered access to all parts of the facility.
During the visit, you can expect to be able to:
- Meet and interact with the adult females if they haven’t just given birth
- Meet some puppies, following strict hygiene rules so you don’t pose a health risk
- See the maternity ward from a safe proximity, where the mothers spend those first precious moments with their litter. The mother dog should be in near constant contact with her puppies, who rely on her completely for their care and education
- Make sure the puppies are kept in a clean environment, with room to move and a comfortable place to rest
- Make sure the climate control, ventilation, and lighting are adequate
- Look over the dogs. Their skin and coat should look clean and healthy, they shouldn’t have sores or discharge from the eyes or nose, and they shouldn’t be overly aggressive or fearful
12. THEY GIVE YOU A CONTRACT AND A GUARANTEE
A reputable breeder should give you a contract when you reserve your puppy or pay the deposit. It should clearly state:
- The price of the puppy
- Health guarantees (against illnesses, birth defects, etc.)
- Whether you have to spay/neuter the dog or can breed them if you want
- The refund/exchange procedure
- The process for returning the puppy
13. THEY’RE ACTIVE IN THE CANINE COMMUNITY
Responsible breeders are dog lovers in general and particularly enthusiastic about the breeds they raise, so it’s common to see them entrenched in activities in the dog community. Very often they also belong to regional, national, or international breed and performance clubs formed to preserve, protect, and promote specific breeds.
For purebred dogs in Canada, it’s a good sign when the breeder is a member of the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and national breed clubs. It shows they’re committed to best practices. If a dog “has papers,” it means the breeder has registered them with the CKC. That way you know the dog is purebred, but also that the breeder has followed specific regulations, policies, and procedures, a code of ethics, and a breeder’s code of practice that define the standards of care for breeding, raising, and selling dogs.
SNIFFING OUT A BAD BREEDER
The CKC has compiled a list of signs that might indicate you’re dealing with an unethical breeder or a scammer.
The seller’s identity is unclear
- There’s no website, profile, or other publicly available source of information about them or their kennel.
- They don’t give you a receipt for your deposit or purchase showing their name, contact info, and address.
Their methods seem shady
- They breed more than 2 different breeds.
- They don’t ask you (m)any personal questions to make sure the puppy is a good fit for your family.
- You can take a puppy home “immediately” after you pay.
- They’re out of the country so you can’t meet the dog in person. They tell you they’ll use a courier or pet delivery service to get the puppy to you. Some might even require you to pay for shipping in advance, but there’s no guarantee that the puppy will arrive safely (or even exist)!
- They only accept payment through services like Western Union or MoneyGram.
- They make excuses about why you can’t visit their facility, flat out refuse, or offer to deliver the puppy to you at some other location.
Something about the ad is off
- The price seems unusually low (if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!).
- The price seems unusually high. Even though demand for well-bred puppies is high, most ethical breeders haven’t raised their prices. Ask questions if the asking price seems high.
- The description uses terms like “rare.”
- The price of puppies varies depending on their coat colour, eye colour, or body size.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
The best advice we can give you when buying a puppy from a breeder is to take your time, ask lots of questions, and think things through. Shop around and talk to multiple breeders to find one who shares your values and will get to know you and your lifestyle before sending you home with your new best friend.