How to evaluate a breeder

Questions to ask and things to look for when searching for a humane breeder

Mastiff dog with puppy laying in grass

Over the last decade, there's been a significant rise in families looking to adopt or "rescue" their pets. You may be familiar with the increasingly popular phrases like "Adopt don't shop" or "My favorite breed is rescued." While we believe there are countless reasons to adopt from a rescue organization, Animal Humane Society also supports reputable breeders who are dedicated to the responsible breeding and care of companion animals. Responsible breeding operations play a role in preserving and enhancing the very best characteristics of a particular breed, and there are plenty of breeders committed to the humane care of their animals.

However, some breeding operations practice inhumane or inadequate breeding practices. And while commercial breeders must meet minimum standards required by local, state, and sometime federal law, the interpretation of these laws can differ considerably from breeder to breeder, and may not meet the expectations of consumers.

We strongly encourage anyone interested in purchasing a pet from a breeder to do their homework.

Five questions to ask every breeder

At AHS, we always encourage adoption first, but we also know that families in search of specific traits may turn to breeders. The choice is yours, but make sure you're looking for signs the animals are treated well, researching breeder history, and asking all the right questions — starting with these five.

  1. How long have you been breeding dogs?
    The answer should be be several years, and the breeder will have ideally worked with someone else who had worked with the breed for a long time.
  2. Do you sell your dogs to pet stores, puppy brokers, wholesalers, or online?
    If the answer is "yes," walk away immediately.
  3. Can I visit the facilities where you breed and house your dogs?
    If the answer is "no," its likely they have something to hide. This would be a good reason to look elsewhere.
  4. Can I meet the litter of puppies and their mother?
    If the answer is "no," walk away. (Note that it is normal for the father to be in another area or even offsite.)
  5. Can I see the veterinary records of the puppies and their parents?
    If the breeder cannot produce these, that's another reason to walk away. If the breeder has the records, but the puppies haven't been vaccinated or dewormed (and there are no plans to do so), look elsewhere!

What to expect of responsible breeders

To ensure you're not supporting inhumane breeding practices or commercial puppy mills, it's critical that you thoroughly research any of your potential breeders. At minimum, ensure the breeder is licensed, request to tour their breeding facility, and be sure to ask questions (like the ones above) to ensure they comply with expectations of responsible breeders.

Responsible breeders should:

  • Be inspected and/or licensed by the USDA and/or state regulators — such as the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) — and adhere to the regulations for breeders and breeding facilities (Please note that licensure in Minnesota is determined by regulations defined in specific statutes, which require minimal standards of care. This regularly updated list of licensed commercial breeders in Minnesota is provided for your research, however not endorsed by AHS.)
  • Allow tours of the premises where the breeding operation takes place and to meet the mother of animals being bred
  • Sell their animals only to individuals (never to pet shops), often selecting pet owners in advance of pet’s birth
  • Specialize in one or two breeds
  • Demonstrate extensive knowledge of the breed’s history, traits, temperament, etc.
  • Breed their animals only a limited number of times — not every year or multiple times each year
  • Consistently evaluate the health of their breeding animals and their offspring to ensure the well-being and optimal health of all animals in their care
  • Do not separate offspring from their mother before 6-8 weeks of age
  • Provide registration paperwork and/or health certificates related to the animal prior to purchase
  • Accept check or credit card payment and provide a receipt at the time of sale

Beware of breeders who are unwilling or unable to comply with any of the above expectations. Keep in mind that there are many breeders, shelters, and even breed-specific rescues — don't let your desire for a specific breed prevent you from making an informed decision.


If you're looking for a breed-specific rescue, or have questions about finding a reputable breeder, contact our Pet Helpline.