This guide will help you in what to look out for when looking for a new puppy to join your family. This guide assumes you have an idea what breed you would like. I will be making a seperate blog soon on choosing the right breed for you.
One of the most important considerations when you are looking for a new puppy should be heath. You do not want to get your puppy home to find them sick or to suffer with genetic problems down the road. Each breed has their own list of health issues that the breed is more prone to. This means that it is important to read up on your breed and understand what to look for. This applies to crossbreeds too. There is an old myth that crossbreeding is healthier than purebreeding. The result is that many people are buying crossbreeds with little to no health testing and believing this is okay because they are a cross. A crossbreed can suffer with any of the genetic problems that their purebreed parents do. Whilst things such as genetic diversity will be more in a mixed breed, the majority of health problems are not due to this.
A good breeder will test for the problems in their breed. They also won't breed from parents who were affected. For many diseases this eliminates the risk of your puppy getting these problems, for others it greatly reduces it. This is something ALL breeders should be doing and there is no excuse not to. A DNA test is a quick and easy swab sent off in the post and for many breeds, physical exams such as hip scoring, elbow scoring and eye testing is required too (need to be done with x-rays & physical examinations). These must be carried out on the parents prior to breeding. If any of these come back as a poor score, a good breeder will not breed this dog. Whilst heath testing costs money, it is usually less than the sale price of 1-2 puppies. Therefore, there is no excuse for a breeder to not have done this. A vet clearance is not enough as they cannot always see the dogs potential genetic issues with a quick examination, you can ask your breeder to see proof of this testing and the results. If your dog is a KC registered dog, these scores and test results are likely to be recorded on the parent dog's kennel club account.
It isn't just testing though, breeders should not be breeding dogs with skin problems, allergies, severe eye or ear troubles etc. Breeding dogs should be in top health.
Puppies should also be seen by a vet before coming home. Your breeder should be open and honest about any abnormalities in your puppy before you collect them.
The temperament of the parent dogs is also paramount. Breeding from nervous or aggressive dogs can result in nervous or aggressive puppies. In addition, look at the parents - if they are very hyperactive, be aware that your puppy could too. Personality is thought to be 50% genetic and 50% environmental. Don't be afraid to ask your breeder about the temperament and make sure you meet the mother at a minimum. If the breeder makes an excuse about why you cannot meet mum, walk away as hard as it is. You should always see mum interacting with her puppies. This means she should not be seperated by a cage or crate or kept out. If the breeder claims that mum will "guard" or isn't good with people around her puppies, this would be another alarm bell that perhaps this isn't the sort of temperament you want for your puppy. (Exceptions to this could be prospective guard dogs or Livestock guardian breed and this is a character trait you are looking for).
The puppies should be raised in the home. Some breeders will raise puppies in a kennel environment outside. If you are purchasing a puppy which will live in a kennel at your home, this may be less of an issue. For a dog you are wanting to live in the house as a family pet, you want to be looking for puppies who have been raised in a household. The environment should be clean (depending on the age of the puppies, there could be a few toilet accidents here and there!) but it should look like the area is being regularly cleaned & maintained. This should be in an area where exposure to regular household activity and noises will become normal to them. There should be toys for puppies to play with (for puppies 4 weeks +) and puppies should seem comfortable and mobile (4 weeks +). Puppies should have clear eyes and ears should look clean. For puppies under 8 weeks, they shouldn't be overly shy or hiding at any people and noises. Mum should appear relaxed and not aggressive to the puppies. Ask the breeder what they are doing to socialise your puppy to people, sounds and new experiences. This should include regular handling, nail clipping, bathing & grooming (for dogs who will need this throughout their life). There shouldn't be puppies of multiple litters all together of all different ages. Sometimes breeders will have more than one litter at once and they may stay together, but be mindful of multiple different breeds and litters all thrown together in one pen without all mother's present.
The breeder should be happy to answer any questions you may have. A breeder should be able to explain why they chose the two parents they did. The answer shouldn't just be "because I owned them both". Ask them what traits they liked from each parent, what sort of homes each puppy would be suited to. Even in the best litters, individual puppies will be more suited to different homes and your breeder is the best person to ask.
A good breeder will be passionate and knowledgeable about their breed/breed mix. They should be able to answer all your questions.
Good breeders do not breed 5/6/7 different breeds of dogs, or mix their dogs just for a funky new crossbreed name or to meet a new trend. They breed with thought and care for every mating.
You will likely find a good breeder will ask you lots of personal questions. They want to ensure their puppies are going to a good home so don't be offended by this. Alarm bells should ring if the breeder doesn't ask you anything and hands the puppy right over.
Many many breeders have waiting lists. This means that you may need to be patient when looking for your puppy, particularly if it is a rare breed. Good breeders have waiting lists for a reason, this is usually because they are not breeding many many dogs a year and are breeding good quality. Some good breeders wont have waiting lists or won't advertise until the pups are ready, this is okay but often these puppies will go quickly so if you have a set breeder in mind, it is best to ask about their planned matings and wait.
What should a puppy leave with?
Breeder puppy packs are all different. Your puppy must have a microchip by the time you collect (UK - legal requirement). Many breeders will give you some food and a scented blanket too. If your puppy is KC registered, ensure you have the documents at the time of collection.
Many breeders will ask you to sign a contract upon sale.
How to avoid puppy farms
Avoid breeders who are breeding lots of different litters, especially if they are at the same time.
Avoid any breeders who have mixed litters of multiple breeds all in one pen.
Ask to see pictures of the puppies at various ages to ensure the puppies haven't been shipped in before your meeting.
Always see mum with puppies in person at the breeders home. Watch how they interact and be satisfied that the puppies are hers.
Do not let the breeder bring the puppies out to you. You need to see where the puppies are living/sleeping.
If the breeder avoids answering questions, walk away.
If puppies are being raised in a barn, you need to consider whether this is the sort of puppy you want. These are unlikely to adapt as effectively to living in a home.
Avoid breeders who have not health tested the parents (this isn't just a vet check - see health section)
Avoid breeders who have tripled their prices due to demand.
Avoid litters that have very nervous puppies or puppies who look dirty. Nervous puppies are NOT normal.
If you get a bad feeling, walk away.
How to avoid scams
Don't pay anything until you have seen the puppies and mum's.
Don't pay final amount until pick up.
Watch out for scammers saying crossbreeds can be KC registered. Only pedigree dogs can be KC registered on the breed register.
Look out for stolen pictures when being sent photos. Look for any inconsistencies with puppies.
Before you visit, ensure you have seen pics of pups WITH mum.
If you are unsure, as the breeder to place a piece of paper with a phrase or your name next to the puppy and take a picture.
Where should I look for a breeder?
This is one of the hardest questions to answer. Word of mouth is often a great option but impractical if you don't know anyone with the breed/mix you want. Do your research! Have a look on Google, Facebook breeders pages, breed groups, KC Assured breeders, champdogs etc. For every one of these though, do your own research. Just because a breeder is a "KC Assured breeder" does not mean that they raise and breed good dogs. It just means they have jumped through some specific hoops. Never be afraid to ask questions - and as many as you want! Don't be afraid to ask to visit the parents or even do a video chat with the breeder. Reviews can be a good place but note that some breeders will just remove bad ones. Some breeders have been known to write their own reviews! Just because someone has had a good experience, doesn't mean they knew what to look out for. They may have missed some alarm bells too.
Take care on sites such as pets4homes, Preloved & gumtree. Whilst they can be good places to advertise, there are many people who use it for a quick sale. It can be very tempting in the moment to ignore all this advice and go for it when a breeder says "someone else is interested so if you want him you'll need to come today".
Take care to base anything on pictures alone, pictures are easily set up.
There are many many excellent breeders out there for all breeds, but do do your homework.