How to Make Sure Your Puppy Comes from a Responsible Breeder


husky puppies in crate - how to make sure your puppy comes from a responsible breeder

It’s probably never been more difficult to find a puppy. One of the stranger side effects of COVID-19 has been a huge uptick in the numbers of people wanting pets. That’s meant more animals being adopted from shelters, and long wait lists for breeders, who are facing more demand than ever.

Instead of waiting for the breeder of their choice to have a litter ready, more and more people are searching for other places that have puppies ready to go. Not all these places have the puppy’s best interests at heart. Here’s how to tell the difference between a good breeder and one who’s only in it for the money.

Puppy Mills and Backyard Breeders vs. Professional Breeders

There are a few different kinds of breeding businesses that you might run across when you’re searching for a puppy. Puppy mills are large commercial operations that make a profit by breeding and selling puppies. It’s a big industry with a deservedly bad reputation.

Dogs that come from puppy mills typically don’t receive vet care and can be kept in appalling conditions to keep costs down. Females are bred over and over to maximize the number of puppies they produce. When mothers get past breeding age, or when puppies are too sick to sell, these dogs are usually dumped or killed.

Backyard breeders and professional breeders are small operations who are also in the business of making money by breeding and selling puppies. Unlike professional breeders, however, backyard breeders might not be committed to, or even know about, the proper care of breeding parents and puppies.

The profit margins for breeding dogs ethically is actually very low. Responsible professional breeders soak up a lot of costs related to proper veterinary care: they breed fewer times per year to preserve the mother’s health, screen for genetic defects and don’t breed or sell dogs with defects. Those costs are reflected in the high price of a well-bred dog.

Breeders can earn a lot more money by cutting ethical corners, and the places backyard breeders seem to cut corners most are on screening for genetic problems and vet care.

How to Recognize Puppy Mills and Irresponsible Breeders

Be aware that puppy mills often sell to pet stores, so if you purchase a puppy from a store, you might unwittingly be supporting that industry. If a store can’t guarantee the puppies have come from a licensed, professional breeder, it’s safe to assume the store hasn’t sourced them ethically.

If you’re buying a puppy directly from a breeder, however, here are some things to watch out for.

The Facilities

Outdoor kennels that aren’t properly insulated or ventilated are a good indication of a puppy mill, as are cramped living conditions. A low person-to-dog ratio is another sign. When you visit the breeder, be on the lookout for dogs who are injured, sick or underweight.


More subtle red flags are related to how the breeder advertises. If there’s usually a “puppies for sale” sign at the end of their driveway, if they always have ads online or if they advertise in the classifieds, that’s a sign they frequently (if not always) have puppies available, which means they’re probably not a responsible breeder and could be a puppy mill.

Reputable breeders don’t advertise, as a rule—they rely on word of mouth, and have their own websites.

The Dogs

The dogs themselves are more likely to be mixed breeds. If they’re advertised as being a single breed, the puppies and/or the parents might not look exactly like the breed should, according to breed standards. The puppies might be too young to be separated from their mothers (i.e. under 8 weeks). You might not be able to meet the parents at all.

If you do meet the puppy’s parents, watch how they interact with the breeder. If the puppies or parents are indifferent to the breeder’s presence, seem timid, frightened or withdrawn, that’s a red flag. Also watch out for dogs who are lethargic—this is a sign of untreated health issues.

Interactions with You

Finally, if the breeder doesn’t ask questions about you, that’s a huge warning sign. A responsible breeder will care where their dogs go, and will likely ask for references and for your regular veterinarian’s contact info. With a responsible breeder, you might feel like you’re interviewing to be allowed to bring a dog home, which is a good thing.

A backyard breeder or puppy mill is less likely to care—they’ll ask you when you’re picking the puppy up and how you’re paying, but not much more than that. They might offer to bring the puppy to you so you can’t visit their site.

10 Questions to Ask a Breeder

three brindle puppies in a basket - how to make sure your puppy comes from a responsible breeder

Any responsible breeder should be able to answer these questions and give you access to further information about themselves. If they can’t, or if they don’t have good answers, you’re probably not dealing with a reputable breeder.

1. Why did you choose to breed this kind of dog?

2. What’s the breed standard?

3. How old is the mom and how many litters has she produced?

4. What kinds of genetic screening were done on the parents?

5. How have the puppies been socialized?

6. Have the puppies been to the veterinarian’s yet?

7. Can I talk to your veterinarian?

8. Do you offer a health guarantee?

9. If an issue arises, will you take the puppy back?

10. Do you have references I can contact?

What to Do If You Happen on a Puppy Mill

It’s common to feel like you should purchase the puppy anyway because then you can rescue them from a bad situation. The problem is that regardless of your intent, once you give the breeder money, you’re funding their business model.

Instead, photograph whatever you can, document the time and date of your visit, and make a report to your local police and animal control office (or humane society). Follow up on your report and tell as many people as you can about your experience. The more puppy mills are exposed and exposed for what they are, the fewer people will be willing to buy puppies from them. And the sooner the industry can be made unprofitable, the sooner it will stop.

Written by Anne Elliot

Feature image: Kateryna BabaievaImage 1: Helena Lopes