Don’t Shop, Adopt…OR ELSE!

Don’t Shop, Adopt… Or Else!

Images just like this one are shared all over social networking sites like wildfire and these images/slogans are really bothersome for me. Images like this and slogans like “Don’t Shop, Adopt” are problematic on a few different fronts. I truly believe that they guilt people into adopting dogs that either had no intention on adopting a dog (or getting one at all) and can easily guilt people into adopting a dog that has issues the person is not capable of handling. I also think they place the blame on breeders and that’s not entirely accurate–puppy mills and backyard breeders certainly contribute a large number of dogs (or their off-spring, or the off-spring of the off-spring) to the pet overpopulation problem. But this blanket “breeder” blame does more to hurt the pet over population problem than help it in the long run.

In my opinion, there are 2 main ways for people to add a pet to their home responsibly. Either through a reputable and responsible rescue or shelter or through an ethical breeder. I am not including keeping a stray after searching for an owner or helping a pet who would have been taken to the shelter be a friend/neighbor/relative because this isn’t something people can plan on to acquire a pet and they are so situational.

Here’s the truth about getting a dog from an ethical breeder. Ethical breeders are extremely picky who gets one of their dogs, they thoroughly vet their puppy buyers, they take the time to make the best matches of puppy/owner for each litter, they typically spend much more money on each litter than they make back when selling the pups, they will take back any one of their pups (and or find appropriate alternative) if a family can no longer care for a dog, they are often very active in their breed rescues, and I’ve known some to go as far as pulling their dogs from shelters/rescues if they discover one has been dumped–I knew of one driving 600 miles to pick up one of her dogs that had been relinquished to a rescue organization after 10 years in one home. Ethical breeders are not responsible for a very large portion of the pet over population…but they are also a very small percentage of the people out there breeding dogs.

There is actually a bit of a shortage of responsible breeders out there–they are harder to find and waiting lists can be long to get a dog from a quality breeder because they only breed when they find a pairing they like and do not over breed their dogs (plus they are often busy titling their dogs in some sport or activity). I do think this shortage of ethical breeders sometimes causes people to get their dogs from unethical breeders.

But again, I think lack of education is the root cause for people buying their dogs from unethical breeders. Most people who are educated about the connection between pet stores and puppy mills do not buy from pet stores (the exception being the very small population of people who simply don’t care. It’s disgusting to me, but there are people out there who KNOW the connection between puppy mills and pet stores but don’t care about the plight of the breeder dogs and continue to buy from pet stores).

When people learn about the suffering of puppy mill dogs, the frequent health issues of backyard breeder dogs, and the unscrupulous practices of both puppy millers and backyard breeders, they make decisions to get their dogs elsewhere. It goes back to education.

Evaluating breeders is getting harder and harder as puppy millers and backyard breeders are getting smart to the tools people have been given on how to evaluate a breeder. It’s important that prospective puppy buyers are critical of their breeders and ask a lot of questions.

There is no exact science but I’ll write out some of my personal RED FLAGS and some GREEN LIGHTS when evaluating a breeder.  These are things I typically try to evaluate before even contacting a breeder–if there are mostly green lights, I’ll contact for more information and to ask about any concerns I have but if there are a lot of red flags, I take them out of consideration.



These are things I look for in a breeder before contacting them to learn more. If a breeder ticks most of these boxes, I’ll contact them for more information and can then ask questions about any areas of concern (like a breeder who might be focusing on more than 2 breeds, I can ask them their reasoning and I may find out that they have a variety because they participate in a sport that has different types of dogs and so they have a need).
*Focuses on one or two breed/types at a time (if purpose breeding for sports there may be more).
*Titles their dogs in conformation, sports, or field trials.
*Has been breeding for at least a few years (after mentoring).
*Extensive knowledge of their breed(s) (good and bad).
*Knows strengths/weaknesses of their own lines.
*OFA/CERF/DNA certify/test all their breeding dogs with breed appropriate evaluations (willing to provide results)
*Only pairs with other breed appropriate OFA/CERF/DNA tested dogs.
*Has a clear goal for their breeding program.
*Has a clear goal for each individual breeding–what did they love about these two particular dogs
*Dogs live in the home.
*Puppies birthed/whelped in the home.
*Has socialization plan for each litter
*Early Neurological Stimulation plan or similar
*Temperament tests all pups (and can answer questions about their line)
*Sends puppies home at 8-12 weeks old
*Typically has one litter “on the ground” at a time
*Thoroughly interviews potential puppy buyers at least once
*Takes time to match each potential owner with a puppy that appears to best fit their situations and desires
*Spay/Neuter contract of sorts or limited registration
*Co-ownership for show quality dogs
*No strings attached return of dogs, even years down the road (or assists in resolving the issue)
*Guarantee against serious genetic defects and support if things come up but not a “sales pitch”
*A desire to keep in touch long term–acts as a support
*Participates in their breed’s rescue
*Has a wait list often before breeding or a short list once they know the number of pups.



These are things I don’t really want to see from a breeder.  One of these is not a deal breaker (necessarily) but if there are a bunch of them, I definitely rule that breeder out.  If there are one or two red flags but mostly green lights, I will contact a breeder and ask about my concerns to get more information.

*Breeding quite a few breeds or breed mixes (often lots of toy breeds)
*Breeding “designer dogs” (aka mixed breeds) with cutsie names like “schnoodles” “doodles” “chorkies” “puggles” “boggles” “teacup pomchi” “yorkipoo” “St. Berdoodle”
*Advertising any non-standard color/size (double the red flags for calling their non-standard dogs “RARE.” Triple Red Flag if they are specifically breeding for the non-standard feature).
*Breeding Teacup anything, or ultra teacup, or micro-teacup (it hurts my heart that people actually are breeding teacups let alone micro-teacup dogs, they are so sickly looking).
*Selling males/females for different prices, or different prices for “rare” colors, or different prices for different markings
*Having no titles on the breeding stock–how do they know their dogs are of good quality to be breeding if they don’t show/compete/participate in something?
*Advertises “Show Quality” or “Champion Bloodlines” when they do not show the parents–breeders can advertise “Champion Bloodlines” if just 1 great-great-great-grandparent was a Ch.
*Advertises “Health Tested” puppies–but cannot/will not provide proof of OFA/CERF/DNA–may even say “OFA/CERF tested” but will find excuses not to show you their record or give excuses why you can’t find record on it in OFA database
*Advertises “AKC Puppies” and “USDA License”–puppy mills often have both of these listed as many puppy mill dogs are AKC registered and as a mass breeding facility they are required to have a license, this does not mean it’s a quality facility.
*Advertises “Christmas Puppies are here!” “Ready for Easter” “Great Birthday Present!”
*Advertises all over websites like craigslist, puppyfind, nextdaypuppy, kijiji and advertises in the newspaper–ethical breeders generally don’t advertise at all (there are very few exceptions to this rule)
*Has a cutsie website/kennel name Fur Babies Kennel,, Boutique Teacup Puppies
*Flowery pretty websites with lots of pictures of puppies in front of cute fabric or wearing cute bows/cloths/etc. but a website with little to no important information (health information, information on parents, mission statement). Most of the websites I’ve seen have many reference to religion all over them.
*An online checkout system that allows you to “buy” a puppy just by sending funds via paypal.
*Accepts money before there is any contract, interview, or other paperwork
*Sells puppies without a contract of any kind
*Does not ask the potential puppy owners any questions about the living situation or breed match
*Does not have a lifetime return policy (if the puppy buyer is unable to keep the dog for any reason, the breeder will take him/her back or help find and alternative)
*Will offer to meet you half way “so you don’t have to go too far out of your way” or will not allow you to visit the premises
*Breeds any animal under 2-3 years old (depending on breed), breeds a female back-to-back, breeds a female more than just a few times in her lifetime.
*Has multiple litters “on the ground” simultaneously at any given time–how can they possibly thoroughly socialize 3 litters of dogs that are the same age?
*Sends puppies home before 8-10 weeks old (depending on breed). Just because the puppies are weaned does not make them old enough to leave their littermates/mother.


I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten (as they are long lists) but these are the big green lights and red flags I look for when selecting a breeder or evaluating a breeder for a client (why yes, this is a service I offer). The big thing is to ASK questions–if a breeder has some “red flags” but lots of “green lights” I would contact them to get more information from them. But if there are few green lights and many red-flags, I’d walk away.

One of the biggest things that turns me off of a breeder is if I ever feel like they are trying to sell me a puppy, ESPECIALLY if they know little to nothing about me. Follow your gut, if anything feels wonky, walk away. If you ever question whether or not the breeder has their puppy’s best interest as their main goal, I’d walk away.

  1. Unfortunately, I find that when we make posts about this, it always reaches those people who already know this stuff. The people who don’t know it are not the people who read it. And then there are the people who just don’t care- such as a friend of mine who insists that if he had a dog, he would not spay her, because he wouldn’t want to have to pay to get a puppy in the future, he would want his dog to produce it. Nothing I’ve said or explained in the years we’ve known each other has ever changed his mind about it.

    • There is definitely quite a bit of “preaching to the choir” but I do have hope that it reaches those who need it… maybe a friend of a reader… or a family member.

      There are definitely those people out there who simply “don’t care” but if more people were educated, the “don’t care” population probably wouldn’t be enough to sustain the puppy mills or as many BYBs out there.

  2. Thank you very, very much for this post.

    I hate, absolutely hate, the “which dog do you want to kill?” “you bought a puppy so you sentenced a dog in the shelter to die” mentality. While yes, there are many “perfectly normal” and perfectly healthy dogs in shelters, a person has the right to select the dog that they want (or think that they want) and also VERY importantly, the dog that they’re able to handle.

  3. Very well written! Even if this reaches 2 or 3 people who honestly didnt know this info, it will be well worth your efforts. Hopefully it will reach many more!

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