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14 Red Flags You Can’t Trust A Dog Breeder

Updated: Jan. 25, 2024

A reputable dog breeder is an expert in the breed they're selling and cares for their dogs in the same way you will. Here's how you can tell a real breeder from a wannabe, or even worse, a "puppy mill."

golden retriever dog with puppies indoors

They don’t “vet” you

Puppy mills are all about profit, so it doesn’t matter to them where their puppies end up. A legitimate, responsible dog breeder will always check out your credentials before allowing you to take a dog home, according to the Humane Society. Questions will include:

  • Why do you want a dog?
  • Why do you want this breed?
  • Who in your household will be responsible for the dog’s care and training?
  • Do you have other pets? How will this dog fit into the family?

A reputable dog breeder might go so far as to require you to provide “references” to vouch for your fitness as a dog owner.

Money on the hands

All they require from you is payment

A responsible dog breeder recognizes that dog breeding is an art and a science, and the average dog owner is not in any position to be breeding dogs on their own, says the Humane Society. Accordingly, in most cases, a responsible dog breeder will require you to agree—in writing—that you will spay or neuter your dog. An exception would be if you are purchasing a “show” dog for the purpose of showing him or her.

lonely dog in cage

They won’t show you where they keep their dogs

“You should be able to visit the breeder’s home or kennel,” advises the American Kennel Club (AKC). And you should take them up on it, rather than meeting with them in another location, no matter how convenient it might be for you. Once there, feel free to be judgemental about the conditions. Consider it a red flag if the answer to any of the following questions isn’t yes:

  • Are the premises clean?
  • Do the premises smell clean?
  • Do the other animals on the premises appear happy and well-fed?
Brown dog stood and wait over the cage

Their “premises” consist of an industrial site

Legitimate breeders breed their dogs at home. If the address you’re given is a warehouse in an industrial estate, “don’t bother,” advises Off Leash K9 Training, a dog training school located in Virginia. Can you guess the most popular dog breed in your home state?

Labrador dog feeding her puppies at home
5 second Studio/Shutterstock

No dog-parent is available for you to meet

If the parents aren’t available, it’s a sure sign that something is “off,” according to Off Leash K9 Training. No parent-dog most likely means the pups have already been separated from the mother, and usually too early. This can interfere with your new puppy’s ability to thrive. Or it could mean that the mother is sick, malnourished, or ill-tempered. And it certainly points to a lack of a relationship between the breeder and the parent-dog (more on that below).

Adorable newborn Corgi Puppies. Mother is a CARDIGAN WELSH CORGI and the father is a PEMBROKE WELSH CORGI.
ResolutionOne Imaging/Shutterstock

The litter is less than six weeks old

Ask what age the puppy is. Puppies shouldn’t be taken away from their mothers until “at least six weeks,” but eight weeks is recommended (and in some cases, it’s state law). If the puppy is younger than that and the parent is nowhere in sight then alarm bells should be ringing. This isn’t an issue with a rescue dog that you adopt from a shelter, particularly if the shelter is operated on a not-for-profit basis. Plus, adopting a rescue pup has these surprising benefits.

White swiss shepherd dog with its puppies
Grigorita Ko/Shutterstock

The breeder doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with the parent-dog

Sure, breeding dogs is a business, but it’s a business that requires a genuine love and appreciation for dogs. Therefore, you should consider it a red flag if the breeder does not appear to treat the parent-dog like a member of his or her own family. Would you trust a babysitter who didn’t seem to treat her own children win a caring manner?

Many different breeds of dogs on the grass
Irina Kozorog/Shutterstock

The breeder doesn’t “specialize” in any particular breed

Every breed of dog has its own unique characteristics and needs, and some even have their own unique health problems. Whatever breed you choose, you’ll want to be dealing with a breeder who is an expert and can provide expert advice, about the breed, the Humane Society advises.

five purebred puppies boxer on the wood

The breeder always has puppies “in stock”

Dogs are not puppy-machines, and those who treat them as such aren’t legitimate breeders, notes Off-Leash K9 Training. “Ask how many pups are for sale. A normal litter is between five and eight puppies (with exceptions).” Any more than that, and it’s a sign you’re dealing with a puppy mill.

Cute, charming puppy, lying on the lap of a young and caring couple. Close-up. Pet Care Concept
Sviatlana Barchan/Shutterstock

The breeder pushes you to close the deal

In any situation where you’re a potential buyer, nothing says “run in the opposite direction” like a pushy seller. In the context of making a purchase that will bring a new family member into your home, the stakes are particularly high. A reputable breeder will respect the weight of your decision.

Puppy dog border collie and stethoscope isolated on white background. Little dog on reception at veterinary doctor in vet clinic. Pet health care and animals concept
Julia Zavalishina/Shutterstock

The breeder can’t provide vet records

A good breeder maintains relationships with one or more local veterinarians. A good breeder should be able to produce accurate and reliable health and vaccination records for their puppies points out the ASPCA. If a breeder doesn’t have vet records on hand for your pup, you should assume there are no records. Or worse, it might be a sign there is something physically wrong with your pup.

Young, charming puppy at the reception at the vet doctor. Close-up, isolated background. Studio photo. Concept of care, education, training and raising of animals
Sviatlana Barchan/Shutterstock

The breeder requires you to use a particular veterinarian

Even if your breeder has vet records for your new pup, you should be suspicious if the breeder in any way pushes you to take your new pup to the same veterinarian they’ve been using. A good breeder will have no issue with letting you choose your own veterinarian. A shady breeder might even be working in cahoots with a shady veterinarian to conceal health problems in your new pup.

Two labrador dogs on the meadow

An absence of documentation

If you’ve made the decision to purchase a dog of a particular breed, you should feel confident that your dog is, in fact, legitimately a member of such breed. So when purchasing a pedigree pup, you should never leave the premises without the appropriate documentation of the dog’s pedigree” warns the AKC. Refusal or even hesitation to present such documentation is a red flag. So too is a promise to “mail them” at a later date.

Cute puppy lying on the bed

There’s no post-purchase planning

A good breeder wants to know their dog has gone to a good home and will make room for the unfortunate possibility that you’ll realize that you can’t provide that good home to your new pup. A good breeder will, at the very least, advise you of what you should do in the event it doesn’t “work out,” and preferably provide you with written instructions. And while you can’t know this until you walk out the breeder’s door, a reputable breeder will be in touch with you in the first days and weeks to make sure all is well. Ready to name your new pup? Start with these adorable ideas based on your dog’s particular breed.