Finding an Ethical Breeder

These days it’s incredibly easy to find someone breeding any type of dog you can think of, but how do you tell if your going to an ethical breeder? In the dog world the term “ethical” refers to more than just the basic health and conditions the dogs are kept in. “Ethical breeding” in the dog world means breeding with a purpose, with the health and longevity of the dogs in mind, and doing it for reasons other then the money a breeder can make from it.

Ethical Breeders will NOT:

Ethical breeders WILL

Ethical breeders do not breed their dogs to make money. In fact, ethical breeders spend an incredible amount of money proving that their dogs are worth breeding and make only a fraction of that money back through their puppy prices. Ethical breeders breed their dogs to produce a dog that they want to continue participating in the activities they do whether that’s conformation, dog sports, or a specific job. They do not breed to cater to the public’s preferences. Ethical breeders do not breed often or have a high volume of litters born in a year, so they often have wait lists for people interested in one of their puppies.

What does “proving” the dog look like? There are several pieces to it. The first is form. Many ethical breeders participate in conformation shows to prove their dog meets the breed standard. Each breed has a breed standard written by their “parent club” which is the governing body for that specific breed. The AKC (or similar kennel clubs) do not dictate what is in the breed standard, the parent clubs do. The breed standard includes structure, color, coat texture, coat length, and temperament. All of the parts of the breed standard are set with the dog’s original function in mind. Every part of the breed standard is designed to allow the dog to exceed in their given role. Check out the Labrador Retriever Breed Standard to get a better idea of what all a standard includes.

The second is function. Ethical breeders do a variety of things with their dogs and in most everything their are titles (awards) to be won. Each time the dog achieves something, that title is recorded under the dog’s registered name through whatever kennel club they’re associated with. Every breed was designed to perform some sort of job, but because of the modern world we live in they aren’t all doing that job anymore. Instead, there are a variety of sports that dogs can participate in that prove they are healthy, functional, and capable of doing hard work. These sports include, but are not limited to, dock diving, lure coursing, nose work, bite sports, herding trials, hunting trials, obedience trials, search and rescue, weight pull, fly ball, and so many more. Dogs that are capable of excelling in these sports are more likely to continue contributing to the overall improvement of their breed.

The third part of “proving” a dog is through health testing. We live in an era of technology that allows us to test for a variety of different things that aren’t visible from the outside of the dog. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, heart abnormalities, eye abnormalities, and all sorts of other health problems that affect dogs. Each breed has different recommended health tests based on their size, structure, and the history of health problems in the breed. In this day and age there is no reason anyone should be breeding dogs that have not been proven to be healthy and structurally sound.

One of the most recently developed health testing is the Respiratory Function Grading (RFG) test that identifies and scores how affected an individual dog is by Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). As short nosed breeds, such as the French Bulldog, grow in popularity it is incredibly important that they are bred ethically. According to an article on this subject from Dog News, of the dogs registered with the AKC in 2022 “less than 2% of French Bulldog and Pug litters and about 4% of Bulldog litters were bred by [parent] club members”. Each breed’s parent clubs requires different health tests be performed before breeding to ensure their members are breeding to preserve and improve the breed. It’s uncertain as to what health testing (if any) non-members are performing on their dogs before choosing to breed them, which raises serious concerns for the health and longevity of the dogs they’ve produced.

You can find out more about what health tests each breed should receive by looking at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website. You will often see health tests referred to as “OFAs” which just means that the tests are done through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and that you can search their database. Health testing goes further than a wellness exam at the vet. To search the OFA website you will need the dog’s registered name, registration number, or the “kennel” name the breeder uses for their dogs. Sometimes the breeder will have each dog’s OFA results available on their website, but sometimes it takes a little digging.

When checking to see if a breeder does any health testing, go to their website and find the page of breeding dogs. Pick which dog you’d like to find the health testing on and see if you can find the dog’s registered name. If you can’t find the registered name of the dog, you can try searching the breeder’s kennel name. I’ll be using Barefoot Kennels in my examples. They have their dog’s OFA results linked on the dog’s page, so I didn’t have to go hunting for the results, but the OFA Advanced Search Tool is easy to use and can even narrow down the results by breed, sex, age, and the year the dog was tested.

Once you’ve picked the dog you want to search, use the dog’s registered name (picture 1) in the OFA search tool to find the OFA results. You can make sure you’re looking at the right dog by matching the name, color, breed, and age of the dog with the OFA results (picture 2). Scroll down to view the dog’s health test, dates, age, and results (picture 3). You can also view the dog’s family if they’re listed to check for consistency in their health results (picture 4).

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

These health tests are incredibly important in improving the health and longevity of dogs overall. These health tests are not restricted to purebred dogs, mixed breed dogs can be tested too. There is no reason that dogs being bred shouldn’t be health tested.

Now we know what an ethical breeder is, but how do you find one? There are several ways to find an ethical breeder. Some parent clubs will have a list of their members that you can search through. You can also go to a local dog show and get to know some of the participants and ask about their dogs. However, if you go to a dog show please be respectful of the fact that they have dedicated lots of time and money into being at that show. There are also several Facebook groups you can find breeders in. Some Facebook groups that I have found helpful are “Purebred Preservation Enthusiasts” and “Purebred Snobs-Breeder Referrals”.

There are benefits to getting an ethically bred purebred dog over an unethically bred purebred or a mixed breed dog. The main benefit is predictability. When you get an ethically bred dog you know the health of that dog’s parents, the temperaments that breeder produces, the expected size of the dog in adulthood, the coat texture, the grooming needs, and so much more. You will also have the support of that breeder for the entire life of your dog. If for whatever reason you feel like your dog would benefit from finding a new home, your breeder will take that dog back and find it a good home. Many ethical breeders are microchipping their puppies before they go to their new homes, so that if one of those puppies ever ends up in a shelter the breeder can go get that dog. Ethically bred dogs are rarely found in shelters and when they’re identified their breeders do everything they can to get them back. Ethical breeders work hard to improve the future of all dogs so that we can continue to enjoy these incredible animals for generations to come.