Tips for finding a good dog breeder for your next family pet, what questions to ask, and what price to expect.

With so many puppy mills and irresponsible breeders making the news, it’s difficult to know where to look for a purebred dog that has not only been raised lovingly but is free of health problems. My grandparents have been breeding collies for over 50 years now, and I have grown up at dog shows all over the US. Let me say first that the idea that all breeders are in it for the money, and think of their animals as little more than cattle and profit is ridiculous. Most people at dog shows are in it for their love of the breed and love their dogs like family. That brings me to the first point:

Do Your Research

Before looking to buy a dog, it’s important to know what sort of breed will work in your home. A good place to start is the American Kennel Club. Their website gives the standard of each breed and talks a bit about general temperament, size, and care needs.

If possible, it is a good idea to find a local all-breed dog show as well. All of these exhibitions are free to come to visit, though sometimes there is a nominal fee for parking. Aside from being able to see all of the breeds, if you can catch an owner when he’s not busy, most people are more than willing to tell you about the breed, including things that may not be general knowledge. Breeders are the experts, trust them. Even if you have your heart set on a particular type of dog, if they advise against getting one, listen to them. Many dog breeds are not for the novice owner.

You should never see a responsible breeder put up an ad in the local newspaper, and generally, they don’t put signs on the side of the road saying that there are puppies for sale. When asked, they will be able to provide a registered pedigree for both the parents of the puppies. Don’t be surprised if when you talk to a breeder, you are placed on a waiting list instead of being offered a dog immediately. This is typically a good sign.

Find a Responsible Breeder

Find a Responsible Breeder

Ask the Right Questions

Now that you’ve settled on a breed, it’s time to look for a breeder. Again, the AKC website will send you to registered breeders, and you can find one in your area. If you are at a dog show, it is also good to talk to breeders then, and pick up business cards—most of them will carry one, and you can call or e-mail them to inquire about litters.

Even if a kennel is registered with the AKC, don’t take it for granted that they are responsible breeders. I have visited many kennels before, and they are not all made equal. Ask to see the kennel before you sign off on buying a puppy. If they will not show you the kennel area, take your business elsewhere. This is a good sign of a puppy mill or other irresponsible breeder.

Assuming they allow you to visit the kennel, pay attention to the dogs that are there. Do they appear to be healthy, alert, and happy? If there is a dog that appears to be under the weather, ask about it. Sick or injured dogs can happen even in good kennels, and the breeder should be willing to share what treatments they are taking for that animal.

Everything looks good so far? Wonderful. If getting a puppy, ask for the health records. By the time a puppy is old enough to be sold, it should have had at least one round of booster shots from the veterinarian, and more than likely has had some sort of health check. For example, collie puppies are taken in for eye checks when they are young because eye problems are common in the breed. A puppy with a problem in their eyes will generally be sold with a clause that the puppy must be spayed or neutered so that it cannot pass on the genetic defect, and so protect the breed. If getting an adult dog, you should also ask for the health records, which aside from including all of the puppy shots and exams, should have current rabies shot information, and if they’re on any kind of medication for heartworm or flea and tick prevention.

Ask the Right Questions

Ask the Right Questions

Expect to Pay for Quality

Here’s the part that will make a lot of people balk. If you are getting a puppy from a responsible breeder, expect to pay at least $800. If someone is willing to sell you a puppy for a hundred dollars, it should set off serious alarms. Purebred dogs are expensive in part because of the promise of good health and good temperament. But also, many people use this as their only source of income, and it is expensive to care for animals. Plus, in order to breed the litter they more than likely had to pay a stud fee, and so they have to compensate for that.

If that price tag makes you balk, there are some alternatives. One is rescue groups. Almost every breed has a rescue group in various areas of the country. This can be found via a Google search, or by going to the individual breed websites and looking for listed rescues, such as this one via Collie Club of America. Rescue groups will take dogs that were seized or abandoned, sometimes from irresponsible breeders or local animal shelters. Most of the time, these groups will foster a dog for a while to judge its temperament and any other special needs it may have, treat any diseases or injuries, and then put it up for adoption. These dogs will still cost a few hundred dollars typically ($100-400) to cover costs of fostering. Do not be surprised if the rescue interviews you before allowing you to adopt, and many want to take a look at your home first to make sure it is safe for the dog.

Then there are of course your local animal shelters. Adoption fees here are typically smaller, but there is no knowing what kind of breed you’ll get. This is perfectly fine—almost all animals in shelters have been given temperament tests and medical care, and they are in need of loving homes. Shelter staff should be able to answer questions about the best dog for your home. It is always encouraged that you think adoption first, either from a rescue or a shelter.

Any animal you bring into your home is a big responsibility. Try not to give dogs as a gift or a surprise to anyone. If you think your child is ready for an animal, instead give him the gift of a dog collar or bowl, as an expectation of what is to come. Get him involved in the process of researching and finding the right dog for your home. That way, everyone in your household will know if they are ready and able to bring in the new member of the family.

What Responsible Breeders Really Do