How to tell the difference between a good breeder website and a bad one

As requested, I am putting this blog post here for those looking for new puppies and retired adults:

Most puppy buyers use the Web to look for puppies. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you realize that bad breeders are not sticking to the penny saver or ads on the supermarket wall anymore. They know where their buyers are and they know how to pull them in. It’s up to you as a buyer to do your research, but I know it can be very confusing because bad breeders will claim all the same things that good ones do. Here are some things that help me tell the difference.

1) Good breeders use websites to showcase their dogs and their accomplishments; careless breeders use websites to showcase/sell puppies.

- Good breeders picture their dogs doing whatever it is their dogs do better than anyone else. Show breeders have stacked win pictures; field breeders have dogs on point or holding a duck; flyball breeders have professional pictures of their dogs jumping or coming off the box. There may also be candid pictures or pictures with the family, but it’s clear that the focus of the breeder’s efforts is on something besides pets. Careless breeders just have pictures of the dogs sitting down someplace; in my experience the very worst only picture the bitches pregnant or hanging low obviously nursing.

- It’s a major red flag if the pictures of the dogs show them behind wire, especially if that’s the only way you see them. I’ll take a picture through the fence if I see my dogs doing something crazy, but their formal portraits are win pictures and their casual portraits show them at their best, washed and blown out and stacked nicely. If the breeder is giving you lots of pictures of dirty dogs behind chain link, beware.

- Good breeders never have headings called “Mommies” or “Daddies” or “Dams” or “Sires.” They may have “Males” and “Females,” but the dogs are highlighted in and of themselves (and will, as above, be shown doing whatever it is they’re accomplished at doing), not as producers of puppies.

- Good breeders brag about ABILITY; careless breeders brag about PERSONALITY. Don't get me wrong; I think my dogs are hilarious and have wonderful personalities, but they ALL do. Including the rescues who should never have been produced and will never be bred. ALL dogs are wonderful. ALL puppies are adorable. ALL dogs love kids. ALL dogs wag their tails. That's no reason to breed them. You need to look for what makes this dog different from all other dogs, and that means ability, conformation, temperament, health. Not just being friendly and loving, which is part and parcel of being a dog, not being breeding quality.

This cannot be overemphasized – the website of a good breeder highlights their life with their dogs, and the accomplishments of that life, whether in the show ring or the stock pen or the field or the agility ring. Puppies are an (important) byproduct, not the focus of the site. It's vitally important that dogs have a reason for being produced beyond being pets. Remember that pet puppies are the "failures" of dogs being bred for other reasons. If your breeder is involved in the activities that require sound, healthy bodies and minds, their "failures" will still be great, healthy, happy dogs. If your breeder is not involved in anything beyond letting dogs put Tab A into Slot B, they will not have any reason to keep quality, health, and breed distinctives high.

2) Good breeders use the correct vocabulary for their breed and discipline. Careless breeders will try to appropriate the same type of language but they always do it wrong. Good breeders will describe a bitch as “square and typey, this chocolate bitch has lovely open sidegait and is true down and back.” Careless breeders will say “She has a nice stride” or “He’s big and burly.” Good words = typey, sidegait, down and back, sweep (in Cardigans; refers to a dog who is long, balanced, and put together beautifully), balanced, front, rear, socialized, conformation. Careless breeder words = thick, burly, stride, front legs, back legs, acclimated, confirmation. They’ll use nonsense phrases like “relationship stature” or “domestic breeding” or “trained in socialization.” I recently saw one advertise that they breed from “the largest bloodlines available.” My guess is that they mean that their dogs are oversized, but it made me laugh – “My 64-dog pedigree actually has SIXTY-FIVE, so beat THAT!”

3) Good breeders do not highlight the superficial. They don’t go on and on about how pretty a color is, or talk about how the markings on a puppy are so even and nice and that’s what makes the puppy worth buying. They do NOT breed oversized or undersized dogs; if anything they go out of their way to avoid extremes in size. Many, many health problems in dogs are associated with bizarrely large or small size; if you are looking at a dog under six pounds or over 90 lb. (unless it’s a giant breed and supposed to be that big) you should consider very hard and carefully.

- Good breeders do not brag about unusual colors, coat lengths, eye colors, ear shape, or use the adjective “rare” in association with anything but a steak. Good breeders have a hard enough time keeping quality going in the standard colors; they find very little attraction to the virtually always lower-quality dogs in the unaccepted colors. This conviction has been so strong in the past that historically puppies of odd colors were euthanized. Thankfully, that era has mostly passed, but if good breeders do get an odd color or coat type or eye color or is born with curly hair or you name it, the puppy is sold as a pet, not advertised like a sideshow.

4) Good breeders very, very rarely sell individual puppies before eight weeks. They very often have the entire litter sold, but they do not match puppies with owners before the puppies are old enough to grade for show/pet and to temperament-test. Breeders who match puppies with owners before the puppies are old enough to be evaluated are selling puppies based only on color, because that’s the only thing you can tell before the age of seven or eight weeks. Do not buy from a breeder who can only see color.

5) Good breeders do not use the phrase “pick of the litter” or “runt.” Those are phrases used exclusively by careless breeders. We may talk about a puppy being “one of the show picks” or “small at birth,” but those particular phrases are never used. It’s a myth that every litter has a runt. Small puppies who grow normally and catch up with the others in the litter are perfectly healthy and may go on to be our top show picks. Puppies who are unhealthy and cannot grow normally should never be sold as pets. As for “pick of the litter,” it’s meaningless if you’re a pet buyer. Breeders who use it are trying to sell you a puppy by telling you that it was the very best puppy in the litter. If someone uses it, ask what they mean. Most will say something about markings, or color, or some other superficial trait. Those things have absolutely nothing to do with what makes a puppy a top show pick. Another red-flag word is “throwback.” Bad breeders will use this to try to excuse an incredibly ugly puppy who looks nothing like a purebred. You got a Basset with foot-long legs? Throwback. A Lab with a collie head? Throwback. Seventy-pound Dane? Throwback. It’s nonsense.

6) Good breeders virtually never list the weights of their dogs except incidentally. Bad breeders put it in bold type under the dog’s name. This is a ploy to impress you with how big or impressively small their dogs are. Good breeders do not need to list their dogs’ weights because they’re breeding to a standard. You already know that their dogs are going to be in a certain range. Bad breeders often try to go appreciably above or below the standard, producing 100-lb Labradors or 2-lb Yorkies, so they concentrate on a certain weight as being evidence of desirability. This is one more way in which they’re selling the superficial and not fundamental soundness.

Imagine buying a puppy with your eyes closed. Do you get the feeling that you have an adequate amount of information to make that decision from this website? Or has the breeder only told you about coat color, eye color, ears, or other superficial qualities? Have they talked about the things that are common to all puppies - how adorable and friendly they are?

7) Good breeders do not reduce the price on older puppies. If anything, the price goes up. Irresponsible breeders have a market that ends when the puppies are no longer cute, because their puppies were never anything but cute; they didn't have the fundamental quality that gives them value. Good breeders are selling a dog whose value increases with more maturity, training, and exposure to things. Good breeders often retire adult dogs for very little money, but you should never see the price on a three-month-old puppy go down in order to get the puppy out the door.

8) Good breeders have a sense of where their dogs fit in an entire breed and group. The dogs in the pedigree are discussed with knowledge, even if they never owned them or saw them. As above, they will not talk about dogs in the pedigree as being nice pets, or pretty colors. You should hear about how great-grandsire so-and-so is a top producer of herding dogs, or how this one or that one has multiple titles and a wonderful work ethic. They’ll have a grasp of health issues in the entire breed, of how their breed relates to other breeds in the same group, and the unique challenges of owning and training the breed.

You should be thrilled with your dog for its entire life, and you should have knowledgeable support from your breeder if anything goes wrong. You should have a sense of value that has nothing to do with cuteness, and you should walk away with the feeling that your puppy represents the best its breed has to offer. If a breeder cannot offer you those things, please go elsewhere. If you don’t care about breed distinctives, please RESCUE and do not buy at all.

One last note: Careless breeders want to sell you a puppy. They'll encourage you to put down a deposit. They'll post prices with each puppy. They'll photograph the puppies in cute poses against satin backgrounds, wearing hats. They'll say things like "If you want to get in on this gorgeous litter, let me know quickly!"

Good breeders do NOT want to sell you a puppy. Good-breeders' websites are very reticent to ever advertise puppies for individual sale. Their puppy pages show the puppies, once they are eight weeks old, STACKED just like the adult dogs. Good breeders give you the distinct impression that you're going to have to work hard to get a puppy from them. The typical wording is "Contact us for an application to be placed on our waiting list," or "We may be accepting exceptional companion applications for this litter," not "Buy! Now! Deposits accepted by PayPal!"

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I was just going to post this after the blog, but now it's got its own discussion I may as well post here. :-)

There was some talk in response to your blog post about temperament testing, and I wanted to pass on that when a breeder does a personality match, they are going to listen to everything you tell them and pick accordingly.

When I talked to our breeder on the phone (extensively) I gave my experience level with dogs. I explained I had been raised in a "working dog" household with hunting dogs and my early experience was there, and I'd had my "own" first dog that I trained almost exclusively when I was about 13.

I mentioned that we live near a large busy park and I wanted a dog that would not be intimidated by the constant hubbub of meeting kids in strollers, joggers, strange dogs, entire track teams, etc every day, nor by the same going past our house. But I did mention that my husband is a big softy when it comes to dogs, so while we would want a confident pup who would want to go hiking or camping with us, we couldn't take one who would become a bit of a monster because of my husband's less-than-consistent rules with dogs.

I had in the back of my head that, because of this, I might likely end up with a more submissive dog which wasn't really in line with MY personality, but I wanted a dog that would be right for us. So when the breeder said she had two for us to pick from, both of whom just sort of took everything in stride and both of whom were not really fazed by anything, I somehow interpreted that with my own vague feeling that I would get a submissive pup because of what I'd said about my husband.

Imagine my surprise (pleasant) when we lived with our new little guy for a few days and I slowly realized that he was not that submissive at all. In fact, he was one of those pups who, if he heard something scary, would say "woof woof!" and go right towards it. I'd never had a pup that did anything but hang out by my feet when confronted with scary stuff, so it was all very amusing.

My point is that we have our own interpretations of what we are explaining to the breeder that maybe are not what the breeder is getting from our story. I think it's better to describe yourself, your life, what you expect from the dog and your experience than to say "I want a dominant pup" or "I want a high-energy pup." Also explain who will be doing the training/managing. Of course that caution does not apply as much to very experienced owners who compete with their dogs or hunt or whatever and know how to put what they want into the lingo of the breeder. But clearly the breeder assessed us, saw how we were with the pups and what we wanted, and picked accordingly. Had I said "I need a submissive pup because my husband is easy-going with the dogs" I would not have ended up with as good a match. Had she been matching a pup with the idea that my husband would be the primary trainer (he's not at all), she would have undoubtedly given us a very different pup.

The first step is researching breeders; the second step is to let the breeder research you.
Did you meet the breeder before hand?

It's not that I think the breeders don't know how to pick the right puppy, it's more that I don't know how well the breeder can know the buyer just based on phone or email conversations. All they know then is what you tell them and if you don't give the right information or enough of it that could effect how they view you and in turn the puppy they choose for you.
Before we got Madoc, I had several long phone conversations and we made a total of three trips to the town the breeder lived in four hours away. The first visit she talked at length to my husband and me while we played with puppies and met the adult dogs. I felt like she was sizing us up-- our energy level, knowledge of dogs and particularly corgis, etc.-- and she was interested in our work schedules and household. We were, of course, charmed senseless by the puppies! And delighted by the adult dogs. On our second visit, we had the selection process. She had narrowed down to two puppies for us to choose from. She explained that she was keeping one to go on with, had promised a particular puppy to the owner of the sire, etc. And she felt like the personalities of the two boys were a good match for us. I was glad to have just two to consider as opposed to a wriggling adorable pile of puppies-- but it was still VERY difficult. She did not like to let puppies go before 10 weeks; she actually preferred 12 weeks because she felt like valuable socialization happened with mother and littermates. We came back at 12 weeks to take our Madoc home. We got a wonderful notebook with all kinds of health records, pedigree, information, and of course we signed the contract that we would neuter him at the appropriate time and if for any reason we could not keep him, she would be able to take him back and re-home him. She loves getting pictures and updates about his life with us. I think she was a terrific match-maker. Oh-- one of her "rules" is that she never releases puppies to families at Christmas. She thinks it is a chaotic time to try to bond with a puppy and start training. And for some people, a holiday puppy might be an impulse thing. I really respected her process and felt that it showed her great love for the breed.
Alice,

We had several phone conversations (some before the litter was even born) that lasted more than an hour each, and we just had long talks about dogs once we got past the basic questions. I had another breeder once (one whom I did not use) tell me they like to keep people talking because they get a good feel and once you get into relaxed conversation, the breeder gets to see your real personality and experience.

We also went down to meet pups once before we picked up hours. We spent about an hour and a half or more there, playing with pups, meeting the moms (she had two litters), etc. She got to see how we handled the squirming pile of shoe-lace tugging pups.

I think it partly depends on the breeder as well; someone who has one litter every two years, most of whom go to show homes, obviously won't have as much experience matching as someone who has 2 to 4 litters a year for the past 25 years!

Our breeder seems to have quite a few occasions where she has told people "I know you really like that pup, but I don't think it's the one for you. This one over here...." She said she's had people who seemed disappointed on the day they picked, only to call her back a week or so later to tell her how thrilled they were with her choice.

Still, there is no sure thing and personalities can change as pups mature. She had one (one of Maddie's, in fact) that she kept to run on with, and at one year she put her into an agility home, in a co-ownership situation with someone she deals with regularly, because she said the pup's energy level was just so high she felt she needed the extra level of activity.
Great article! And very true Beth. If you find a good breeder and you're honest about your lifestyle and what you're looking for, your breeder can do a better job of picking which pup is right for you.
Great advise. When we were looking for a new family member we consulted the Cardigan Welsh Club of America web site and they listed breeders that were members and of good standing with the orgainization. Some of those breeders were indeed not online at all....but let me assure you our breeder ask to meet us and they had alot of questions. We have remained in contact with the breeders for ongoing 9 years now. I guess my point is the a official breed orgainization might be a good place to start as well....I am sure that it is not fool proof but at least the breeders and members, at least of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America, must have sponsors in order to become members so its not just a pay your fees and your in deal.
We found our breeder through the CWCCA as well. We narrowed it down to breeders who produced blues since we knew we wanted a blue, then looked at who was planning litters for the time we were looking to get a puppy and looked at the males and females in residence and if they had parents picked out we looked at the health and appearance of the parents. We then narrowed it by location (we wanted to be able to drive to get our pup) and ended up choosing a breeder 8 hours away. I spoke to other breeders to do a bit of a background check on the breeder we chose then spoke to the breeder before putting down a deposit. The breeder first asked about us and after deciding we would be a good home for one of his Cardis he went on to answer the questions we had. All of our communication was over the computer though. I'm not a phone person and preferred not to call him. It was not until the day we were going to pick up our pup that we spoke to him on the phone.

I think the websites are very helpful. They allow you too read about the breeder and what they do, view past and present dogs and offspring and get a better feel for the breeder. many breeders also have a lot of information on their sites such as recommended reading, potty training, ear taping, health topics etc.
Wow! I'm so glad I saw this. It's been on my mind for yrs. I just didn't know exactly where to begin. Going through the net is a bit tough. You don't know if the breeder is a good one or just selling puppies etc. I would look and look but was never confident.
I was actually going to post here to ask if anyone knew of a good breeder. Preferably a place close to me so I too could meet the breeder. I do want someone very knowledgeable and interested in what how I'll be taking care of his/her corgi. It's great to know there are breeders that keep their dogs long just so they can place them with the right kind of folk.
I was thinking of the clubs here in Southern California would be the best start.
Can anyone point me into good breeders, beginning show dog info, herding, agility info.?
(I'm not sure if part of this post should go somewhere else and or stay here?)
Those are quite diverse information, you can join the regional groups for a referral, there's also a show group as well, use the general search function, then click on forum to search the forum.
Joanna, this is the single best thing I have ever read on this subject. I don't oflten post here but gosh, you get the Nobel award for nailing the byb's!
I think this should be written as an article and submitted to Dog Fancy, etc. I would put it on my blog but my blog is more "fun stuff" for people along with the Watching story that I do each year for Christmas.
Congratulations on a well thought out and accurate assessment of the differences in breeders!
Since some of the more notorious breeders advertise in the back of Dog Fancy, I am not sure it would be received too well ;). But thanks so much for your kind words.
Might the need to advertise in the first place be a black mark?

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