Even though there are far more dogs in shelters and rescues than forever homes available, some people still want to get their furry friend from a breeder. Whether it’s the look or personality of a purebred, there are many people willing to shell out big bucks for the perfect dog.
But in this day and age, sometimes it’s buyer beware. With internet sales rising and the ease of shipping dogs cross-country, some breeders aren’t following the best practices to keep their dogs healthy and well-adjusted.
You might be surprised to learn some puppies are kept in filthy conditions, cramped with several other dogs in tiny crates so the so-called breeder can turn a bigger profit. Purebred puppies are a big business, and we’ve got the expert tips to make sure you can recognize the warning signs of bad breeders and find the perfect purebred.
Nice to Meet You
You’ve browsed the internet and found the perfect breeder. The site looks beautiful, the puppies look happy, and they can send the dog directly to you. You think you’ve found the perfect match. Or have you?
“You can’t trust the internet site,” California-based behaviorist and trainer Beverly Ulbrich says. “Don’t be fooled because their website says they’re a home-based, small business. Unless you’re there, you don’t know it’s real. You can’t trust their advertising—nobody is going to say they’re running a puppy mill and show pictures of 100 dogs in one cage.”
Visiting the breeder on-site is the single most important step in choosing your purebred puppy. See where the dog sleeps, plays, and eats, and how he interacts with his dog family as well as people. A reputable breeder will be happy to accommodate your visit and will be willing to show you around. If they are pressuring you to meet somewhere else, it’s a bad sign.
“At no time should you adopt a puppy from anyone who wants to meet you at an offsite location,” Executive Director of the San Diego Animal Support Foundation Darlene White explains. “If they don’t want you to know where they live, or where their dogs are kept, that is a red flag that should never be ignored.”
Not only is it important to visit the site but whenever possible, it’s also important to pick your puppy up in person instead of shipping him cross-country, which can be very traumatic.
“You’re taking a tiny, scared puppy away from its family, putting him in a box and shipping him on a loud plane,” Ulbrich explains. “Think about how traumatic that is.”
Puppy Mill Problems
You might have heard the term “puppy mill,” and may even be vaguely familiar with what goes on at these sites that essentially manufacture dogs.
In the worst scenarios, several dogs are stuffed into cramped quarters and rarely, if ever, let out to play, socialize, or even potty. They live in their own filth, and are not cleaned up or cared for properly. Infection and disease are rampant—some dogs are born blind and left to die.
“The dogs are treated so horribly, it gets me so upset to think about it,” Ulbrich says. “It’s hard to find [puppy mills] because they don’t allow visitors and just ship the dogs off.”
Note: If you do stumble upon or suspect a puppy mill, contact your local animal control immediately and report it.
Apart from the inhumane conditions, these puppy mill dogs often have major medical issues. Some breeders will try to dismiss warning signs.
“Sneezing, runny noses, runny eyes, and lethargy are not normal,” White emphasizes.
Puppy mill dogs will commonly contract parvo and distemper, two potentially deadly diseases. Distemper is almost always fatal; puppies with parvo can survive but it depends on the severity of the illnesses and how quickly it’s treated.
“By the time most people realize the puppy is sick, they have very little time to rush him to the vet to save his life,” White explains. “The bills often run in the thousands—$5,000 is common—and the owners are still responsible for these bills if the puppy dies, which is also common.”
Medical issues are not always obvious from the start, either. Sometimes, the issues show up later in the dog’s life.
“People think because they are spending thousands on a dog, they’re going to get a perfect specimen,” Ulbrich says. “But if you’re not visiting the breeder and you’re ordering the dog online, it’s like shooting craps—you never know what you’re going to get.”
Poor Breeding Practices
A host of medical problems are possible with inhumane or poor breeding practices.
Inbreeding is the breeding of two closely-related dogs. It’s usually done to attract buyers who want exaggerated physical attributes of the breed. From a genetic standpoint, if dogs who are closely related are bred, their puppies are more likely to inherit dominant genes, meaning they are more likely to end up with or pass on genetic disorders.
“Inbreeding can lead to things like hip dysplasia, blindness, heart murmurs—just a myriad of deformities,” White explains. “Some of these inherited weaknesses are obvious from the beginning, but most will not be recognized until the dog starts to mature.”
Poor breeding practices can lead to other disorders, such as higher risk of cancer and tumors, eye and heart disease, joint and bone disorders, skin, immune system, and other neurological diseases—even epilepsy. Younger dogs are also more susceptible to illness.
“Puppies less than two months old, while adorable, have not had the chance to build up the defenses they need to fight diseases,” White explains. “Anyone selling a puppy younger than two months old should be reported to your local animal control immediately.”
If you want to make sure you dog comes from responsible breeding, look for well-known breeders—often involved in the show dog community—and check references. Also, be ready to shell out more money.
“Purebred is not necessarily well-bred,” White says. “Be willing to pay the very high fees that cover the costs of stud services, proper research, quality vet care, quality food, and sanitary kenneling that result in a well-bred dog.”
Behavioral and Emotional Problems
Poor breeding practices can even lead to behavioral problems, too. For instance, if a dog with aggression issues is bred, it’s more likely his offspring will also have aggression issues.
“This is why it’s important to meet the parents and make sure you like the dog’s personalities, that they are not shy or aggressive,” Ulbrich explains. “One of my recent clients couldn’t meet the father of their puppy because he was so shy and aggressive. That was a sign they should not have bought the puppy, who had major issues and sadly, was put down because it attacked as a puppy.”
Don’t pick your puppy based solely on looks. Be familiar with the breed traits and characteristics of the dog you’re choosing to make sure it’s the right fit for your family.
“See how much energy they have and realistically decide if you can handle that,” Ulbrich suggests. “And if the dog isn’t warming up to your or your children, you probably shouldn’t try to force it.”
If you don’t fully understand dog body language or aren’t well versed in dog behavior, hire an expert.
“Have the dog temperament tested,” Ulbrich suggests. “The dog shouldn’t have aggression or fear issues—it should be a confident, happy dog. Make sure he’s emotionally healthy before making a commitment, or be ready to pay for additional rehab training.”
One benefit to purebred dogs: they can be easier to train, in some respects.
“You know their general skill set,” Ulbrich says. “For instance, a purebred Labrador is good at retrieving. You know what’s going to drive them and motivate them.”
Online and Other Scams
We’ve already explained why you can’t trust a breeder’s internet advertising, but you should also be careful when browsing online classified ads.
“Good breeders don’t sell dogs in online ads,” White says. “Good breeders don’t need to look for buyers—they already have a good reputation, and usually have a waiting list.”
White has seen a number of these “breeders” use disposable cell phones and disappear once puppies become sick, or worse. She has also seen them draft fake vet and vaccination records to seem more legitimate.
“The stories from people buying off online ads are only getting worse every year,” White explains. “The scammers are getting more and more clever in their practices, and I see people deceived from all educational levels and economic backgrounds.”
Here are some tips to make sure you won’t be scammed:
- Don’t buy from online classified ads.
- Make sure the breeder’s phone number is listed.
- Call the veterinarian on the records to confirm they know the breeder and all vaccinations have been administered.
- Have a contract and all relevant information about the breeder.
With her organization’s proximity to the border, White says she has also seen dogs being trucked across the border to maximize profits.
“If some crook can smuggle 300 puppies in the back of a truck, or the wheel-well of a big-rig truck, and just half of those disposable puppies make it to the other side alive, and each of those surviving 150 pups sell for $100 each, that’s $15,000 tax-free dollars,” White explains. “By paying for these dogs, it’s encouraging this very profitable, inhumane business.”
The Bottom Line—Buying from a Breeder Checklist
If you decide a purebred dog is the right choice for you and your family, use this checklist to assess the situation and make the best selection:
- Thoroughly research the breed you’re interested in to learn behavioral traits and potential genetic diseases.
- Never buy and ship online or meet somewhere the puppy doesn’t live.
- Visit the breeder on-site to see the conditions in which the puppy is living and meet the parents.
- Visit multiple times to learn the puppy’s personality and see if it’s a match for your needs.
- Obtain reliable contact information for the breeder so they don’t disappear and you can contact them if something goes wrong.
- Verify with the breeder’s veterinarian that all information provided on medical care to date is correct.
- Schedule an appointment with your own veterinarian to evaluate your new puppy’s health.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.