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Dog enthusiasts, pet stores, puppy mills. It's all so confusing but we can explain.
What is a breeder?

Buying a purebred puppy?
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What is a dog breeder?


Thanks to NAIA for providing permission to repost this article. More information about the NAIA can be found at Copyright © 2008 National Animal Interest Alliance


The ancient partnership between dogs and man has changed over the centuries, but the bond remains as strong as ever. Today's dogs seldom ply their ancient trades, but they have amassed an impressive new repertoire of skills. The most common career for dogs these days is "pet," but these remarkable animals also demonstrate an array of skills ranging from finding lost children to ferreting out contraband, tracking criminals, helping physically and mentally impaired people, joining owners in a variety of sports and games, and guarding livestock from endangered predators. The value of well-bred dogs as pets and partners is indisputable.


Responsible breeders maintain the health and integrity of ancient breeds and provide a wonderful variety of dogs so that millions of people worldwide can select a dog of the size, coat type, temperament, appearance, and character that will fit their lifestyle. Purebred dog owners, breeders, exhibitors, and clubs are primary sources for public education about dog care and they are the backbone of dog rescue efforts and advances in canine medicine.


Dog shows provide information on dog care, opportunities to see and compare dozens of breeds, and a venue to support canine education, health, and rescue efforts. Kennel, breed, obedience, and performance clubs provide forums for breeders, trainers, and exhibitors to share knowledge and improve methods of care and training. Such clubs are major contributors to community education about responsible dog ownership. They help local shelters through rescue programs and donations and provide aid to individuals who need help with pet dog training, locating a responsible breeder, or with other dog-related questions or concerns. Breeders work with scientists to reduce the incidence of genetic abnormalities in their breeds, and clubs donate funding for research through the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the Morris Animal Foundation to provide veterinary advances for all dogs - purebred and mixed breed.


NAIA backs the responsible breeding and showing of purebred dogs and opposes coercive legislation aimed at breeders. NAIA also supports participation in dog sports and other recreational activities that depend on canine working partners; the use of dogs in law enforcement and search and rescue missions; dogs as companions and helpers under the Americans with Disabilities Act; the voluntary sterilization and identification of pets, and reasonable efforts to rescue unwanted dogs for placement in new homes.


Dog breeding

People have taken an active role in animal breeding for thousands of years. Maintaining these natural and long-standing associations with animals has become problematic only with the rise of our urban/suburban society and the dilemmas caused by surplus and nuisance pets. Because of these changes, however, today's breeders need to educate themselves about dogs, about specific breeds, and about socializing and training. They also need to plan each breeding decision to ensure positive outcomes for their puppies and must be prepared to take back dogs and offer advice on socializing and training in order to assure success. NAIA believes that those who are unwilling to spend the necessary time and effort to make informed decisions, carefully place puppies, and maintain contact with puppy buyers should leave breeding to those who have the dedication to do so.


A puppy will live with a family for a dozen years or more, so selecting just the right breed and breeder can be critical to initiating and developing a strong bond with the dog. Although any dog may become a valued and well-loved pet, well-bred purebred dogs have an advantage over mixed breed dogs because of their consistency: their size, coat type, exercise needs, energy level, trainability, and temperament can be predicted within a narrow range, thus allowing prospective buyers to purchase a puppy that meets their lifestyle and living conditions. Well-bred purebred dogs are carefully bred to the standard of their breed. Dogs that do not meet the breed standard for these characteristics may not be suitable for individual situations. For example, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are often acquired because they are known for being easily trained, enjoying an active life, and loving children, but a poorly-bred dog of either breed may be hyperactive, bull-headed, and snappish, or have other inherited behavior or health characteristics that make it a poor choice for a family. Thus selecting both the right breed and breeder are crucial for success.


Once the breed is selected, the search for a puppy can begin. To recognize the differences among breeders and other sources that sell or place dogs with the public, the following categories may be useful. Like all attempts at labeling, the categories that are described below represent generalities that won't be true for every case. Puppy buyers are urged to do their homework and use a good measure of common sense.


Generally speaking, breeders can be divided into two general categories: non-commercial and commercial.


Non-commercial breeders fall into two additional categories: 1) breed enthusiasts, also known as breed fanciers or show breeders, including performance dog breeders who select dogs with the ability and temperament to participate in certain sports or to perform particular jobs; and 2) casual breeders who dabble in breeding.


Breed enthusiasts

Breed enthusiasts (also known as show breeders, purebred dog fanciers, hobbyists and responsible breeders) who follow breed club guidelines and codes of ethics are NAIA's top choice as a source of pet puppies. Breed enthusiasts are motivated by several factors: Love of a breed; a desire to contribute to the improvement of breed health and performance skills; enjoyment of breed competitions and sports; and pleasure in the company of other breed and dog admirers. Breed enthusiasts who join dog clubs breed for health, temperament and breed type; screen their breeding stock for genetic abnormalities; become knowledgeable about breed history and bloodlines; provide appropriate health care and housing for adult dogs and puppies; raise, train, and socialize puppies in their homes; participate in dog shows so their dogs can be evaluated for adherence to specific breed standards of excellence and for performance ability; and help with public education efforts promoted by national and local dog organizations. Breed enthusiasts are sometimes called "responsible dog breeders."


The hallmarks by which these breeders can be recognized are:

  • They breed and raise dogs in their homes, typically keeping one or two (sometimes three) breeds of dogs in the house or in a clean kennel.
  • Their dogs appear healthy and well-socialized.
  • Their breeding stock meets the standard of excellence for the breed and is screened for genetic diseases and structural problems prior to producing a litter.
  • They study their chosen breeds and make decisions with breed structure, health, and temperament in mind.
  • They offer a contract that protects the puppy and the buyer as well as the breeder.
  • They participate in breed activities, including dog shows to assess the quality of potential breeding dogs and tests and trials to assess performance ability, and help puppy buyers get involved in these endeavors.
  • They join dog clubs and participate in club projects ranging from public education programs and dog training classes to dog shows.

Responsible breed enthusiasts producing animals for show, work, or pets as a hobby or an avocation are more than happy to oblige potential clients. Prospective buyers can see where litters are raised, talk to the breeder about health clearances and socialization, and meet the dam of the litter. Responsible breed enthusiasts also help buyers select the best puppy for their circumstances, often decline to place puppies of high-drive dogs in laid-back pet homes, and remain available to help buyers after they take the puppy home.


Passionate about dogs, breed enthusiasts take the time to learn everything they can about their chosen breed. They participate in kennel clubs that hold dog shows and educate the public about dog care in general and breed behavior, health, and dog sports in particular. They take part in breed, obedience, and field events to prove the mettle of their dogs and share the love of dogs with other breeders and owners; attend seminars to expand their knowledge of canine health and training; and serve as mentors to breed newcomers. They register their dogs primarily with the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club or a specific breed registry. They take back dogs if buyers can no longer keep them, and they keep retired breeding and performance dogs if they cannot find a good pet home for them. Many breed enthusiasts also help with rescue of their breed with donations of time, space, or dollars and contribute to research into inherited canine diseases personally and through their local and national clubs. The American Kennel Club, the organization that most responsible breed enthusiasts use to register their dogs, donates more than $1 million annually to promote canine health.


While responsible breed fanciers take pride in producing high-quality show and working dogs, they also desire to place healthy puppies and adult dogs as pets in suitable homes. The relationship doesn't end when the puppy goes to its new family; responsible breed fanciers keep in touch with buyers, answer questions about training and behavior, and enjoy the thriving relationship between the dog and the family.


Prospective buyers can find responsible breeders of show dogs, pets, and working dogs by contacting national or regional breed clubs or local all-breed kennel or obedience clubs. Lists of club contacts can be found on the AKC website. Breed clubs can also be located by browsing the web for breed-specific sites. Prospective buyers should also consider attending area dog shows to see good dogs and meet their breeders. Dog shows can be located by subscribing to the American Kennel Club Gazette or by browsing,,


Performance dog breeders

Performance dog breeders are hobbyists, sportsmen, or service dog organizations that breed dogs primarily to do a job or participate in a sport. They breed dogs for the temperament and ability to serve as working companions for handicapped owners, or produce hunting dogs, herding dogs, guarding dogs, racing dogs, sled dogs, and dogs with the temperament and stamina to participate in schutzhund and other sports. These breeders concentrate on health and ability in producing high-energy, high-drive dogs that are good at their jobs but which may not always be satisfactory as family pets because of their Type A, workaholic personalities. Therefore, responsible performance dog breeders take extra care in placing their puppies as pets.


Performance dog breeders have contributed volumes of information to canine health and training and to an awareness of canine behavior and history. >From the USDA project to determine the value of certain breeds as livestock guard dogs to the in-depth understanding about training and behavior from service dog organizations and the studies of structure and health in sled dogs and racing dogs, these breeders have coordinated efforts with veterinarians and other professionals and thereby greatly enhanced the base of knowledge about dogs.


Performance dogs love to do what they do. They run because they want to run, not because they are forced to run. They herd and guard livestock because they are suited for the work and naturally attracted to it. They help people because they are rewarded for their behavior, not because they are enslaved. They hunt because they are well-adapted to scenting and sighting game and would do so whether domestic or wild.


NAIA appreciates the beauty and splendor of dogs performing according to their nature and applauds those breeders and others who responsibly produce, study, and train these dogs.


A note of caution: NAIA recommends that potential puppy buyers use common sense when purchasing a puppy. If a breeder represents himself as being a devoted breed enthusiast but his dogs are ill kept and poorly socialized the buyer should question whether the breeder is truly what he represents himself to be, and he should look elsewhere.


Casual breeders

Casual breeders arethe other non-commercial breeders who raise dogs in their homes and sell directly to the public. Known pejoratively as "backyard breeders," casual breeders breed litters so children or other family members can witness a birth; because they mistakenly believe that a female dog needs a litter to be 'fulfilled,' because they hope to earn a little extra money and haven't yet learned that litters often cost more than they bring in; and because they did not neuter their pets or keep them properly confined.


These breeders produce both purebred dogs and mixes. They also raise their animals in the home where a puppy purchaser can see the dam and the conditions under which the litter was raised, but they generally lack the knowledge and experience necessary to make prudent breeding decisions. They almost certainly lack in-depth knowledge about breed conformation, temperament, and training and are often uneducated about general health and inherited diseases, normal and abnormal puppy and breed behavior, and training techniques for instilling good manners or correcting unacceptable behaviors. They are extremely unlikely to join clubs, participate in dog sports, attend seminars, help with public education efforts, contribute to breed rescue efforts, or take back dogs if placements don't work out. For these reasons they usually cannot offer sound advice to their puppy buyers.


These amateur breeders are often disparaged by both anti-breeding activists and show breeders because they can unwittingly contribute to irresponsible dog ownership. Because producing healthy, well-bred puppies requires in-depth knowledge and a professional attitude, NAIA urges casual breeders to increase their knowledge of breeds and breeding so they can make good decisions or to leave breeding to those who have the desire and understanding to pursue it as an avocation.


Commercial breeders

Commercial breeders sell dogs as a business through large kennels, pet stores, national magazine ads, newspaper ads, and over the Internet. Commercial breeders may be regulated or non-regulated. They may produce a single breed or multiple breeds, including crossbreeds. They may keep as few as three breeding females or as many as several hundred. They may sell to pet stores for resale or they may sell directly to consumers from their kennels or through magazine, newspaper or Internet ads.


Commercial kennels that sell dogs for resale in pet stores are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture under the federal Animal Welfare Act.(Links to the AWA and AWA regulations can be found at the APHIS publications page at These kennels are inspected annually for compliance with a set of housing and care standards, including a plan for veterinary care. They can be fined or lose their operating licenses if they do not abide by these regulations. Further, puppies sold in pet stores possess AWA kennel license numbers that enable consumers to report problems to USDA if they exist.


Commercial kennels that sell directly to consumers from their facilities or through magazine ads or the Internet are not always required to be federally regulated and may avoid oversight altogether.


Commercial breeders seldom participate in dog shows and other events or belong to breed or kennel clubs. However, they may join local, regional, or national trade associations that have a code of ethics and a set of kennel standards and they may work to upgrade the welfare of the animals in their industry. Many commercial breeders and pet stores belong to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, an association that conducts animal care seminars and other events and works for reasonable animal welfare laws at the state and federal levels. 


Commercial breeders register their purebred dogs with several organizations. The American Kennel Club is the best known of these registries and the only one that conducts a large number of in-kennel inspections (approximately 4000) each year. AKC conducts DNA screening to confirm dog identity and checks dog and kennel conditions when they visit. If inspectors find unhealthy dogs kept in substandard conditions, AKC suspends the registration privileges of the breeders involved. AKC also now requires DNA identification of dogs that sire more than three litters in a year or seven litters in a lifetime; some commercial kennels have stopped registering with AKC as a result and choose other registries that do not impose such stringent requirements.


Some people use the term puppy mill and commercial kennel synonymously implying that all commercial breeding is conducted in filthy, substandard facilities where animal health and well-being are neglected and breeding stock is abused. That is not the case. NAIA notes that some commercial kennels are state of the art facilities producing healthy, well-socialized puppies to sell to pet stores or directly to the public.


There are two major animal welfare issues that surround commercial dog breeding. One deals with the need for minimum standards of care and conditions for animals in breeding kennels. The other deals with the question of whether or not it is ever appropriate for animals to be sold in pet stores. Activists and breed enthusiasts alike may oppose the sale of puppies in pet stores, but the myth that all pet store puppies come from puppy mills misdirects energy, attention and resources away from genuine puppy mills that need to be closed and away from gaining improvements at the retail level. The activist tendency to paint the entire industry with the same brush has slowed animal welfare improvements by blurring the issues.


Whenever possible puppy buyers should carefully evaluate the dogs and husbandry practices in a kennel whose dogs they are considering. Buyers should think long and hard before purchasing puppies from large commercial kennels selling over the Internet or through advertisements in national magazines. Buyers who purchase dogs through ads cannot see the kennel, the parent dogs, or the litter and cannot select their own puppies. If these outlets sell exclusively through ads, they are not required to be federally inspected to assure compliance with minimum husbandry standards. If they are not registered with AKC, the only registry with a significant kennel inspection program, these breeders can avoid oversight.


NAIA also cautions buyers to be wary of a variation on pyramid schemes that make novice puppy buyers part of the kennel breeding program through contracts that require a bitch puppy to be bred once or twice to a stud of the kennel's choice and make puppies available for sale to the public. Such contracts allow the breeding kennel to expand its business at the expense of the buyer and his dog. Breeding stock should be carefully evaluated and breedings carefully planned, not required of novices by contract when a puppy is purchased.


Pet stores

Pet stores sell about a half million puppies per year according to Patronek and Rowan’s dog population compilation in Anthrozoos magazine in August 1996. These retailers fill a niche for buyers who cannot find a private breeder with puppies available in their community or surrounding area and those who do not want to wait for a puppy from a responsible in-home breeder.


Consumers who choose to get a puppy from a pet store should carefully assess its health, obtain the AWA license number to make sure the puppy comes from a regulated kennel, and ask to see the registration papers with the OFA hip clearance and CERF eye clearance noted for sire and dam if appropriate for the breed. Consumers should also visit the AKC website for information on the breeds they are considering. Note: AKC national breed clubs set the breed standard for their breeds and maintain useful information about the character, exercise requirements and health issues relevant to each breed. Other registries simply copy AKC's work product, including its breed standards because they lack the knowledge base, breed authorities, infrastructure, traditions and history necessary to create original source materials or make meaningful recommendations. While it is difficult for a novice to compare a puppy with the breed standard for an adult dog, potential buyers can compare pictures from breed books with the puppies and can look for obvious deviations. For example, an Akita puppy should have a thick plush coat, heavy bone, a curled tail and brown eyes, even as a puppy.


Pet stores are not all the same. Some sell only local puppies, provide educational material for pet owners, and help place unwanted puppies in new homes. Some offer space to humane societies for adoptable dogs and cats. Many offer limited warranties and are willing to take back puppies that don't turn out. Some belong to PIJAC and send their employees to the association's animal-handling seminars.
Other pet stores pay little or no attention to social problems that relate to pet breeding and pet population dynamics. They provide few educational resources to their buyers and do not recommend training or neutering the puppies they sell and offer little support to purchasers once the sale is complete.
Regardless of how progressive and socially responsible a given pet store may be, an argument against purchasing pet store puppies is that prospective buyers cannot see the parent dogs or the conditions in which the puppies were produced and reared, the same argument used against purchasing puppies from magazine or Internet ads.


Puppy mills

Puppy mills are substandard breeding operations run by people with little concern for the welfare of their puppies or their breeding stock. Medical care is scarce; socialization and good nutrition are non-existent. Puppy mill dogs are typically in poor condition and live in kennels that are rundown and filthy. Dogs may be confined to small cages like rabbit hutches; puppies may be raised or displayed in shopping carts. When AKC inspectors find such kennels, they suspend registration privileges of the owners and report the conditions to area authorities. When USDA inspectors come across such kennels that sell puppies to pet stores or to other commercial kennels, they use the federal Animal Welfare Act to suspend or revoke licenses and assess fines.


(Links to the AWA and AWA regulations can be found at the APHIS publications page at


The entire commercial dog breeding industry and even hobbyists are tainted by the existence of puppy mills. Anti-breeding zealots find kennels with squalid conditions, get the media interested, and paint all commercial breeders and pet stores that buy from commercial kennels with the same brush in press releases, articles, and fund-raising campaigns. Anti puppy mill campaigns target all commercial breeders regardless of their standards. They use the existence of such kennels to promote mandatory spay and neuter bills and other anti-breeder legislation. They also use these campaigns to promote shelter dogs instead of well-bred and well-socialized puppies.


NAIA joins those who condemn puppy mills and urges that they be reported to the authorities when they are located. If these kennels sell AKC-registered puppies, they should be reported to AKC. If they sell puppies to pet stores, they should be reported to USDA. If they are present in a state that regulates commercial kennels, they should also be reported to state officials. NAIA works for the closure of all puppy mills.


Few states have kennel licensing and inspections programs because few states are home to large numbers of commercial kennels that produce a high volume of animals for sale as pets. NAIA notes that states without such programs can nonetheless protect the well being of animals in large kennels by judicious enforcement of reasonable animal welfare laws and by prohibiting habitual offenders from owning large numbers of animals in the future.