It's no secret that Raising Fido advocates for adoption, but we also support the responsible purchase of puppies. Locating an ethical and trustworthy breeder is the most important step to prioritize when trying to find your new best friend, but it's not always easy. This post aims to increase awareness by sharing key information and essential tips to help protect buyers and advocate for dogs. Legally, dogs are still considered owned property. No legislation currently exists to ensure that sound research-supported breeding practices are the standard used by all breeders, nor is there anything in place that protects consumers who buy from them.
Animal cruelty law is all that comes close to any sort of regulation for breeding practices and it's a very low bar since they are outdated and in dire need of an overhaul.
Thus, not every breeder maintains the same knowledge and standards because there aren't any they MUST follow, short of outright animal cruelty. This matters because well meaning people can get easily taken advantage of while the dogs, the buyer, and the public can suffer because of it. It's crucial to thoroughly research a breeder before handing over our hard earned money. Click to access Humane Canada's "Essential Questions to Ask a Breeder".
Commercial Breeder vs. Backyard Breeder vs. Reputable Breeder... what's the actual difference?
Commercial Breeder: often referred to as "puppy mills", these are structured factory-like facilities which usually produce a variety of different breeds in the interest of profit, generally at all costs. Commercial farming operations raise pure breed and/or designer breed (pure breed mixes) dogs in large numbers, often in substandard or poor conditions, and the mission is 100% profit above health and temperament of the puppies, or the welfare of the breeding dogs. These are the ones we'll hear about in the news because they have broken animal cruelty laws, but there are some of these operations who maintain the bare minimum to hover above that legal line to stay in business. Backyard Breeder: the practice of breeding dogs with very little actual knowledge or experience. Sometimes the term gets wrongly used interchangeably with puppy mills, but in actuality refers to the process whereby "I have a dog, you have a dog, let's get them together and then sell the puppies". Another scenario may be someone who's intact dog was not closely managed and accidently gets impregnated. This breeder will not generally take all advanced precautions to ensure sufficient health testing is completed. For example, screening for genetic carriers of serious health conditions. There is very little organization in terms of planning, preparation, and care for the future offspring. With this approach to breeding on a small scale it's not always going to be inherently unethical, but without the education that an ethical credible breeder would be expected to have, they may unintentionally produce dogs who are predisposed to physiological or psychological issues. For example, they may not know that breeding two merle-coated dogs runs a significant risk of producing disabled puppies. Click to read more about the Dangers of Double Merle Breeding. Or they may not know that "socialization activities in the home of the breeder makes a difference to the future behaviour of the puppy" (Companion Animal Psychology). Ethical Reputable Breeders: not all breeders who are referred to as reputable are in fact ethical. If an operation has been in business for many generations of puppies it does not mean that they are doing everything aboveboard in the best interest of their breeding dogs, the offspring, and their future homes. Ethical breeders will always have both the litter and parents' physiological and psychological health as their number one priority over profit. They often specialize in only one breed, maybe two, but certainly no more and breeding is not relied upon as their main source of income. The top priorities for these breeders are to produce the best breed specimen and a quality pet or working dog that will fit in well with the lifestyle they will be provided in their new home without risking the health of the breeding pair. For more on this, check out this post by the Whole Dog Journal - A Field Guide to Ethical Breeders For more information on how to find an ethical reputable breeder click here.
How do you spot the red and green flags?
Cheap Prices: when you see "cheap" or "free" puppies, ask them how they can afford to do this when no one else can? Are they cutting back on personal care for the mother or puppies (health screening, shots, vet appointments, food, basic care etc.)? There may be the odd outlier due to an accidental litter where the people don't wish to make money off of their pet, but if this kind of explanation is not front and centre, think twice before proceeding with this breeder. Selling Early: according to the most current research, eight weeks is the appropriate age to separate a puppy from their mother and litter. Doing this before eight weeks can be harmful to a puppy's development and it could contribute to behavioural or even health problems down the road. If the breeder is asking, or worse, forcing you to take the puppy early, think twice before proceeding with this breeder. No Records: when purchasing from a breeder, the puppies should see the vet at least once, if not more often, before you bring them home. The breeder doesn't offer to provide records of vet visits and makes up an excuse why they can't/won't when asked. Vet attention is important and going without it could mean that we're handing over hard earned money without having a real picture of the overall health of our puppy. If we buy a pure bred dog, we are entitled to a copy of their registration papers. A pure bred dog without papers isn't likely to be a pure bred at all (when it comes to established breed standards). If the breeder doesn't have a copy of the records to give us, and refuse when we ask, we must think twice before proceeding with this breeder. Sickness: when visiting a breeder, pay attention to the health of ALL the dogs you encounter, not just your puppy. Certain illnesses like parvo and kennel cough can tear through an operation and cause the breeders' animals to become sick. If their eyes aren't bright and clear, if their coats are dull, if they lack energetic (or aren't at least awake and alert), or if you can see overly loose stools scattered around the property it could indicate the dogs have been exposed to either a contagious illness, or genetic disease, and you should think twice before proceeding with this breeder. Hiding/Excuses: beware if a breeder hides their location or the parents from you. Some breeders will limit tours and daily visitors to prevent diseases, but if we're serious about buying a puppy from them we should be encouraged to visit. You aren't allowed to inspect where the puppies are being raised, to meet the mother, to obtain detailed information about the father including contact information for their owner (father is not always owned by the same breeder). Not allowing you to access the mother can be a sign that the breeder is trying to hide health issues, behavioural problems, or how they are treating her. If you get to meet the mother and she does not come across as a dog you would like to take home, you should think twice before proceeding with this breeder. Deflecting: the breeder doesn't attempt to get an understanding of the qualities you are looking for in a dog so they can be honest if their puppies will not meet those expectations. For example, selling a working/field lineage puppy to a family who lives in the city without disclosing, or vice versa, selling a show lineage puppy to a rural farmer who plans for the dog to do daily work without disclosing. The breeder isn't forthcoming about information you might not think to ask like whether the parents are working line or show line dogs and isn't willing to discuss what each means transparently with you. They won't or don't share the parents' specific health screening results or provide copies of records to show what was tested and the outcome. We should think twice before proceeding with this breeder.
Care: ethical reputable breeders will always want the best quality of life for their litter and the parents. They tend to only specialize in dogs of one or two breeds at most and do not have a larger number of animals for which they can reasonably provide. When visiting the breeder's location you should see that it is clean, spacious, and allowed to interact with the mother. All dogs and puppies on the premises should appear in good health, well socialized, and that the puppies are being weaned amongst normal household activity such as the phone, dishwasher, vacuum, people coming and going etc.. Puppies should appear clean, warm, well-fed and allowed to stay with their mother until they are weaned. This breeder is worth your time to continue to exploring. Interviews: they don't allow the puppies to be purchased by just anybody and will often have an interview process for potential buyers to assess suitability. They also often use the information to determine which puppy of the litter will be best for you personality wise to ensure the best match possible. There are contracts, paperwork and copies of records involved. This breeder is worth your time to continue exploring. Knowledge: they are VERY knowledgeable about the breed they are producing. They have a working knowledge of the history of the breed and openly discuss genetics, any disorders and diseases prevalent in the breed, how they are working to prevent them, and any past lineage health issues. They'll provide details about their breeding program and practices and obtaining contact information for reference checks is a breeze. This breeder is worth your time to continue exploring. Responsibility: they truly care about the health of the dogs they breed and the puppies born into their care. With all the time spent to improve their chosen breed, ethical reputable breeders will offer to provide you with ongoing guidance and support. More and more ethical welfare-focused breeders are requiring a commitment from buyers to using force-free training methods. They take lifetime responsibility for the dogs that they breed and their offspring by guaranteeing to take back any individual that they produced, at any time, for any reason. This breeder is worth your time to continue exploring.
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@reskp