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The Importance of Finding a Reputable Breeder

By: Cristin Nataro and Christina Dore 

With adopting dogs, many people’s first instinct is to always encourage shelter dogs. Many shelters and rescues have an overflow of animals and desperately are always looking for fosters or owners to take in some of these orphans. Still, there are some dog owners who go to breeders instead. I have many clients that have been using breeders for awhile, or just started. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with taking this route. While I empathize and support the “Adopt, Not Shop” motto, I also understand people see it as a bigger risk with taking in a shelter dog compared to a breeder.


This does NOT mean that there are no risks when going to a breeder! There can be a TON of risks if you go to the wrong person. While going to a shelter may seem like a gamble, many people have been duped by illegitimate breeders. There have been a lot of news reports, especially in rural areas in the country, where police have uncovered puppy mills. Puppy mills, or “puppy farms”, are unethical operations where profits are priority over quality, in regards to both the dog and the conditions the dogs are raised in. If you wish to find your new dog through breeders, it is important to research and make sure your source understands breeding, is not ripping you off in any way, or is spearheading a puppy mill.

Here are a few general tips to keep in mind when searching for a reputable breeder:

  • Make sure they only breed one or two litters a year.
  • Make sure you actually meet the parents, not just see them from afar. Go meet Mom and Dad and see what their personalities are like!
  • If possible, bring another dog to meet the dog’s parents. This will show any signs of aggression.
  • Spend a good amount of time with the litter and talk a lot with the breeder.
  • Go with a breeder has been doing it for years.
  • Make sure you talk to the breeder about what you want in the dog. A legitimate breeder should know the dogs best and should fit you with the right dog.
  • If possible, get references from other people who own dogs that came from the breeder.
  • If you see any sign of aggression, WALK AWAY.
  • If they say one of the parents are from a puppy store, WALK AWAY.
  • Health and temperament are the most important things when it comes to a dog. Any dog will be cute to you, but that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to behavior. Don’t simply go by markings or colors.

I’ve had experience with breeders and I write this because I have dealt with both the good and bad. Dog owners should educate themselves, research the source, and understand what they are getting into. My first Border Collie name Sike! was from a breeder who bred several litters a year. When I reached out to her about concerns I had about my dog, she became so defensive and not helpful or informative. I later found out that several related dogs had serious temperament issues just like my dog developed. She continues to breed related dogs which is completely unfair to the owners, the breed and the dogs! After dealing with this breeder and realizing she was just in it for the money, I became so discouraged and didn’t know where to get my next dog from. Thank goodness I was willing to work through his behavior issues or he could have been just another dog rotting away in a shelter! 

Seven years later I trained a Border Collie named Phineas for a family. I fell in love with this dog’s personality – he was super sweet, smart and LOVED to please. He was so easy to bond with and he hated being wrong, so it didn’t take much to train him what to do and what not to do. I eventually gave him back to the family wishing he could be my own. A year later I get an email from his owner saying the breeder had a repeat breeding (same parents). I could not resist but always kept in mind the important facts about buying a dog. After all, they are a LIFETIME commitment, not like a pair of shoes where you can just return one for a brand new set.

I began a dialogue through email. We exchanged back and forth for a week or so before I made the two hour drive up to meet her, along with the dogs and their puppies. I brought along my dogs and Phineas, and I met with both the parents as did my dogs. They were unbelievably sweet, well-mannered and did not show one sign of aggression, even when we had other dogs near their puppies. I stayed for over an hour and talked to the breeder about everything, trying to get to know the puppy. I asked the breeder if she had ever taken a dog back, if there were any behavior issues the dogs had, etc. It was a great learning experience and gave me a lot of hope that there are breeders out there that don’t treat their dogs as part of a racket. It was so relieving to find a breeder that actually cared for their dogs and the people that take them!

When I went there I had not planned to take one with me, but one little puppy wouldn’t leave my side. It was then that I knew she would have to be mine. It was the greatest decision and I could not be more thrilled with the dog, who I later named Elsa. I’m still in contact with the breeder, sending pictures, updates, etc. Elsa is turning out exactly how I hoped. She is a joy to train, so sweet, and just loves to please me exactly like her brother Phineas. I could not have dreamed of a better dog for myself.

This type of positive experience is something I recommend people aim for when looking for the right breeder. Prior to going to the site, research the breed and the breeders. Ask questions, look for consistency in the breeding site and with what the breeder says. See the dogs and the puppies firsthand, and examine their behavior. They can be the cutest things in the world, but don’t forget that behavior is more important. See how they interact with each other and with outsiders (both human and canine).

Rescuing a dog is great thing, but it is also a tough thing because you have no idea what you are getting into, and ultimately you might taking on someone else’s problem. For experienced dog owners and trainers I believe this is fine, but for those who are not, this can create a world of problems, which could lead to the dog going back to the rescue and/or being euthanized. If anyone is ever in this position, the best thing to do is to call an experienced trainer to help you through these problems.

Behavioral issues can be overcome, whether you get the dog from a shelter or a breeder. However, to prevent possible issues when taking the breeder route, it is best to be informed and to find someone who understands the breed, how to properly to care for them, and to prepare them for their future forever homes.