Just about every knowledgeable canine professional or avid dog lover with echo the same advice: avoid backyard breeders like the plague.
If you’re not quite sure yet why backyard breeding gets such a nasty attitude from professionals and enthusiasts alike, my article, The Real Dangers of Backyard Breeding may be of help.
But when you’re looking for a new dog, armed with only warnings of “better find a reputable breeder!” it’s hard to know how to determine which breeders are deserving of the title and which ones are not.
So, how can you tell if a breeder is reputable or if they are a backyard breeder? These red flags will help identify who is worth your time, and who you should run from on sight.
1. They’re Advertising on Craigslist/Social media
“Ready to go!”
I think we’ve all seen the flyers about town or ads in local listings. If a breeder has puppies and needs to advertise them in spaces like craigslist or facebook, best to avoid them.
A reputable breeder usually has a waitlist, and doesn’t need to advertise even if they didn’t have one, because they’re in no rush to send puppies off anyway. Reputable breeders become reputable because they provide a quality, ethically-produced “product” that has a high demand.
If puppies are available and in need of marketing, that is a red flag. If you can find a breeder with a waitlist, that is usually a great sign and certainly worth the wait.
2. They’re Average Joes
Reputable dog breeders know dogs. They’ve shown dogs, or trained dogs, or boarded dogs, or rescued dogs, or competed with dogs, or fill-in-the-blank with dogs. They’ve also most likely done an apprenticeship with another experienced breeder before setting out on their own. A reputable breeder knows dogs like the back of their hand.
All breeders should know canine developmental periods, socialization, proper whelping, and more. That’s the bare minimum.
If you speak with a breeder and they have little to say about dogs beyond “cute,” “smart,” or “friendly,” time to pack things up. You’re asking for a poorly-bred and usually overpriced dog that may end up with developmental issues and even poor genetic behavioral tendencies and health.
3. They Have No Website or Records
A reputable breeder will typically have a website; at worst, they will have a well-established facebook page or some other online presence where you can easily get in touch.
A reputable breeder will also have references, from other canine professionals to pleased owners of some of the dogs they’ve produced. They will often be members of some organization or certifying body, or have other credentials under their belt.
If you ask for their website or for references and you get hostility, deflection, or refusal, look elsewhere. And if they flat-out tell you they bred their pet dogs “for the experience,” run now.
4. They Have a Box of Puppies
If they’re on a busy sidewalk looking like they’re straight out of a cartoon, that is entirely a backyard breeder. No reputable breeder would ever need to resort to such a measure to find a home for their puppies, and would never send a puppy home same-day with a stranger they met on a busy street.
Backyard breeders will sometimes use this tactic in order to play on human impulse, hoping that you will see an adorable puppy and become so instantly enamored that you can’t resist hopping on Venmo or Paypal and taking one home on the spot.
Avoid people who do this at all costs; a backyard breeder resorting to this method has no regard for the animals they’re sending off to absolute strangers. They’re looking for a big payday by selling all the puppies in one sitting, and you can count on it that they will not provide you with any support once the payment is made and the dog is in your hands.
Unfortunately, this often works. Cha-ching. You’re on your own, kid.
5. They Won’t Let You Meet the Parents
Some reputable breeders don’t do home tours, but those that refuse to allow prospective buyers into their homes will usually provide some other way for people to get to know their operation and answer questions. This might be an in-public meet-and-greet, a library of online videos and other resources, or a video call to show off the parents, puppies, and talk.
A reputable breeder will be thrilled at a prospective buyer being caring and thorough. Typically they will answer any questions you have and make whatever opportunities they can for you to be involved and engaged.
If a breeder gets defensive about you meeting the parents before making a decision or refuses entirely with no alternative, best to place your attention elsewhere.
6. The Dogs are Mixed Breed
In another article, The Real Dangers of Backyard Breeding, I discuss how a mixed-breed litter is not always a sign of a backyard breeder. Sport mixes and purpose-bred mixed-breed dogs are perfectly ethical and there are reputable breeders producing them.
Typically, though, a mixed-breed litter is going to be a clear indicator that you’re dealing with a backyard breeder. Unless the person you’re speaking to specifically mentions the “purpose” in “purpose-bred” (a sport, a task or job, etc.) then they are definitely a backyard breeder.
It’s common for backyard breeders to make litters out of curiosity or sentimentality because they wonder what their two pet dogs would make if combined together. Know that these puppies are going to be the same genetic hodge-podge you can easily find at a shelter or rescue, and it will be unlikely that they are receiving the kind of early development or health testing and care that a reputable breeder would be providing.
When it comes to mixed-breed dogs for companionship, I always recommend checking out the local animal shelters and rescues.
7. They Pressure You to Buy on the Spot
I once had a friend ask me for advice while they were looking to buy a puppy. I gave them a few questions to ask people they were meeting with (many of the same tips I’m sharing here!) and asked them to let me know how things went after meeting with a few people.
Later, my friend updated me after meeting in public with someone who had a litter available. After meeting the puppies (mystery mixed-breed dogs and asking $800, at that), they messaged the person to thank them for their time and ask if they could then meet the parents before making a final decision.
From what I’m told, the person blew up at them, because how dare they ask to meet and then not buy a puppy on the spot? According to this backyard breeder, a brief meeting in a local parking lot was “wasting my time!”
This is fairly typical of backyard breeders. They want easy money, not a job that requires them to spend time an energy to ensure that puppies they produce go to good homes.
But breeding dogs is a job, and rarely is reputably doing so a highly profitable venture. If you find a breeder that gives you anything but the utmost patience and understanding as you make your decision going forward, then that is not the kind of breeder you want to be working with.
8. They Don’t Do Any Genetic Testing
Never before has genetic testing been so easily available to all dog breeders. In fact, Embark Vet has a “for breeders” at-home kit for exactly this purpose, and they even offer discounts on purchasing more than one kit. It has never been easier to take the right measures to make sure that prospective litters and pairing combinations are safe and healthy.
I try out Embark DNA test kits for my dogs Milo and Grimm in my articles, We Tried Embark DNA (and it showed even more than we’d hoped) and Embark vs. Wisdom Panel (We Tried Both), respectively.
Backyard breeders are most likely not going to be doing even this easy genetic testing, which consists of a simple at-home cheek swab and a quick walk to the mailbox.
This is because at the end of the day, it means they will do slightly more work and make slightly less profit off selling poorly-bred puppies. Having to invest even a couple hundred dollars in testing the parents to make sure puppies will have the best chances of long-term health is just not a priority to a backyard breeder the way it is to a reputable one.
Because once the puppies are out of sight, they are out of mind; who cares what happens later, if the backyard breeder has their money, right?
When speaking with any breeder, ask what genetic testing they’ve done. If they draw a blank or haven’t done any at all, it’s best to move along.
9. They Don’t Have Any Questions for You
A reputable breeder will always have questions. Many of them have questionnaires and do interviews with prospective buyers. Some ask to do a home visit and some have a lengthy application. A reputable breeder cares about where their puppies are going.
Reputable breeders to this for a number of reasons. They want to minimize puppies getting returned, maximize their client satisfaction, ensure that puppies will be cared for properly, and they want to feel confident that each puppy will receive the kind of nurture that will allow them to grow into positive examples of the breeder’s lines.
Backyard breeders do not care about this, and so they are not thinking about where their puppies are going at all. Usually, the bar is very low for backyard breeders to send a puppy home with someone.
If you meet with a breeder and they have no questions at all for you before handing you a puppy, that is absolutely a red flag.
10. They Always Have Puppies Available
Reputable breeders usually have a waitlist, for good reason. One, of course, is the demand that comes with knowing that the dog you’re bringing home is healthy and that there is a solid future for that dog.
Another is that reputable, ethical dog breeders do not overbreed their dogs. Even breeders that breed dogs full-time and have a whole business built around it will have strict breeding schedules so that their dogs are not overbred and get breaks between pregnancies and litters.
Backyard breeders (especially the worst amongst them, the puppy mills) do not care about their breeder dogs and will be content to allow their females to be bred as often as possible to maximize the number of puppies they can make and sell.
This means that they will always have puppies available, whereas a reputable breeder will instead provide a projected schedule of when you could expect a puppy based on their expected litters and current waitlist.
11. They Have No Backup Plan
Reputable breeders have a support system set up for their buyers, which is detailed in a contract before anyone is allowed to take a puppy home.
Many breeders will have a health guarantee, for example. If your puppy develops some sort of genetic disease within a certain time frame, the reputable breeder will have a plan for it or options if that happens such as an exchange, a refund, or other support, depending on the breeder.
A good, ethical breeder will put it in the contract that puppies going home should be altered by a specific age unless “breeding rights” are purchased to keep the dog intact. They will make this clear before purchase and mark in their papers that they are either for breeding or not.
Reputable breeders will also have language in their contracts to ensure that if you ever find yourself unable to keep your puppy, that it be returned to the breeder rather than abandoned at a shelter or rescue. This is one more thing a reputable breeder will do to keep their puppies from an unsure future and to prevent contributions to pet overpopulation problems
Backyard breeders? Good luck finding one with a contract at all. Find a breeder who has a backup plan, instead.