This is a brief summary of the main topics you'll find in the Breeder Selection Guide available for download below. I recognize what a time and effort commitment it is, but I strongly recommend working your way through the full guide. After all, you're probably seeking a breeder because predictability, getting a dog free of major heritable medical and behavioral problems, is important to you. But going through just any breeder is not enough. You need to know how to assess if they are likely to have a pup who fits your needs, or you may end up with unexpected veterinary bills, a heartache-filled training journey, or worse.
This guide is atypical in that I do not find making black and white judgements about responsible or irresponsible breeders helpful, nor do I agree that popular norms such as purity, titling or using "proper terminology" for colors, are inherently necessary for ethical breeding practices. I encourage focusing on what matters to you, what you want and need from a dog. Find a breeder who consistently delivers on those specific traits.
Learn about the breed or mix of breeds you want. Be realistic about your ability to meet the breed's needs and how much training you can put in, how consistently.
Start your search for breeders using GoodDog.com, Breed Club listings, etc. Expect to go through dozens of listings, to travel to pick up your pup, and that the next litter may not be available for 6 months, to a year or more.
What is health testing?
Health testing parent dogs to decide whether or not they should be bred, is key to producing the healthiest, most physically comfortable dogs we can.
Genetic testing tells us if parent dogs carry genes that have been identified to cause or contribute to a variety of serious diseases.
Physical/phenotypic health testing offers information about the likelihood of parents passing on problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas, heart or eye disease, and more. Check results yourself!
Vet check, vaccination record and health status should be considered bare minimums of ongoing care, not indicative of lifelong health.
"Good temperament" is a meaningless descriptor.
Not only is temperament highly complex, there are no standard definitions for many terms used to describe it. "Aggressive dog" means different things to different people. Furthermore, traits that one person considers desirable or even normal, may not be to a different person. You'll need more detail to predict what a pup from a particular breeder or parent-pairing, may be like.
What body language do you see in a breeder's photos and videos? Are the dogs primarily loose, wiggly, bouncy, or are they displaying tense, careful or cowering postures with ears back, panting and tucked tails? Breeders can only breed and raise emotionally stable dogs if they know how to identify emotional states.
Early life environment and socialization practices should be explicitly described. A puppy's brain is being shaped before they're even born! The socialization period then begins at 3 weeks, prime learning time that will impact a pup for their entire life. Look for programs like Avidog, Puppy Culture, or a description of the textures, sounds, handling, unfamiliar people, unfamiliar dogs and new locations that pups experience and at what ages.
Identify the breeder's goals.
Beyond physical health and emotional wellness, what are these puppies are being bred for?
Are the breeder's dogs primarily living in an outbuilding, or in a home? Are they living in a city setting, or quiet rural area? How much enrichment and exercise do the parents receive? Dogs are fairly resilient to changing lifestyles, but parent dogs who are indoor pets, with pups raised inside as pets, are most likely to thrive as indoor pets.
Do parent dogs require particular traits, motivations or energy levels to do a job, compete in sports or earn particular titles? Are you prepared to handle the traits needed for these accomplishments, in your puppy?
If you cannot identify or contact a breeder directly, if you cannot ascertain detailed information about parents and/or whelping environment, if the breeder sells to pet stores, if the breeder prioritizes volume or frequent/constant availability of puppies, these are red flags. Walk away!
Take your time, do NOT get sucked in by the first cute puppy you see. Additionally, be respectful and kind. Your breeder is evaluating you, too!
I want this resource to be accessible for all, regardless of personal financial status, so I have made it free to download. However, this guide represents a considerable amount of work. If you have the means, I would appreciate you paying what you can for this resource, so I can continue making low or no-cost educational materials.