Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Evaluating Dog Breeder Websites

Recently, a group of people have begun conducting peaceful protests in front of a couple Iowa pet stores that sell puppies from puppy mills. I've never been to any of these protests for the following reasons:

1. 85% of my dogs have been from responsible breeders... which could get awkward with some of the protesters.
2. I'm not really the type to picket much of anything.  I'm not really "protester material."
3. My views on adoption vs. breeders are far too complicated for me to be able to do something as simple as picketing.  
4. My weekends are hopelessly booked with other dog activities.

However... I do think their message is important.  Buying a puppy from a pet store is... well, it's utterly repugnant.  It funnels more money into a system that:

1. adds to the overpopulation of poorly-bred dogs in shelters and rescue
2. provides a hard, sad, hopeless life for the sires and dams of those cute puppies in the window
3. is more focused on quantity than quality
4. doesn't care who buys their "product" - the only requirement is that the buyer can pay the purchase price

I could go on, but I'm already getting away from what this post is supposed to focus on.  While reading about the protests, I saw some internet hecklers argue about whether or not the mill where the puppies come from is actually a mill. Slick websites can make even the slimiest operations look legitimate.  That got me thinking about responsible breeders' websites, and how - to the untrained eye - it can be difficult to tell whether or not a breeder is responsible or not.

Let's talk about aesthetics...
Most breeders do not have degrees in web design.  Some breeders are lucky and know someone who will do their website for cheap, but that's not common.  Most breeders are more willing to put their money into showing, trialing, training, health testing, and actually breeding good litters than pouring money into a fancy website.  After all, they are not selling a product to the masses... they are breeding to improve the breed. Along the same vein, breeders are probably more likely to spend time working with their dogs than they are updating their website, so some information may be out of date.  There is nothing wrong with a breeder website that looks like it was "homemade."  If you need an example, here is a link to one of the most responsible and ethical Doberman breeders in North America.  

Health Testing
Listing the results of health testing is a great sign that a breeder is doing the right thing. Look for "named" tests and certificates, such as OFA, PennHip, CERF, etc.  These are highly respected, independent organizations that issue and/or keep track of test results. 

If a breeder doesn't have health testing on their website, it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't test.  Contact the breeder and ask.  As I mentioned before, they may just be a bit behind in getting health results listed on their website.  Some breeders don't feel the need to list health testing if it can be found on an online database (such as OFA.)

You will notice some dogs have CHIC numbers, issued by a special database sponsored by the AKC Canine Health Foundation and OFA.  CHIC issues certificates for dogs that have had a full battery of health testing as defined by each breed's parent club.  Keep in mind that this doesn't mean that the dog passed all tests, but it does mean that the dog's owner and/or breeder did go to the effort of having the health testing done. 

Information on the breeder's ADULT dogs
It is very rare for a puppy mill or commercial kennel to list detailed information about the dogs they use for breeding.  Therefore, to see evidence of a breeder's pride and hard work in their adult dogs is another way to tell if a breeder is responsible.  Now, many backyard breeders will feature pages dedicated to adult dogs, but they won't list titles, health testing, show results, etc.  Look for evidence that the breeder is proud of their adults, and that their adults do more than just sit in cages.  Here's an example of one of my own dogs, as listed on her breeder's website:

Looking at this, it reminds me.... I need to update my breeder's website to include Kaylee's new titles.  I also need to update it to list new health testing on some of my breeder's other dogs.  See what I mean about breeders being too busy with their dogs to fuss over a website?  ;)

Geez, that's a lot of dogs!
Some breeders (mine included) have websites that feature dozens of dogs.  In most cases, that's okay.  Of the 41 dogs featured on my Doberman breeder's website, only five actually live with her full time.  Others listed on the website either belong to other people on co-ownerships, or are deceased and we can't bring ourselves to take them off the website.  Don't automatically assume the breeder is overdogged.

Club Affiliations
Look for indications that a breeder is involved in organizations that support their breed and/or their involvement in dogs.  Look for parent breed clubs, training clubs, performance clubs, and all-breed kennel clubs.  A breeder doesn't necessarily have to be involved in everything, but it's good to see they're involved in some way.  Clubs like this generally have an application process that weeds out the irresponsible folks. Click here to see an excellent example of a responsible breeder's involvement.  

A word on Breeder of Merit status... while it's great to see a breeder listed as a Breeder of Merit, lack of such a designation in no way means a breeder is not responsible.  It's a program that must be applied for, and not every breeder is interested in "tooting their own horn" in that way.

Many responsible breeders will also have sections of their website dedicated to breed education and/or useful breed-specific information.  They may also have a questionnaire or application.  Lack of these types of pages doesn't mean a breeder is bad, and doesn't necessarily mean a breeder is good either.  I personally love to see puppy questionnaires, but plenty of fantastic breeders don't have them.  This could be because they want to do all of the interviewing in person, or they simply don't know how to add a questionnaire to their website.  

A responsible breeder's website will not...
- have online purchase/paypal options
- have breeding dogs with disqualifying faults
- several breeds available 
- several litters constantly available

I'm sure I'm forgetting something - or several things - but this is a good start.  If you have anything to add to the list, feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss!


  1. Beautifully written! Something I have noticed too (and this could be a "gimmie") but responsible breeders will generally have stacked pictures of their adults and puppies, whereas not so responsible ones will have what appears to be random pics, often blurred and sometimes on props to be "cute". I think my favorites are of the bitches, teats sagging to the ground, dirt circle under their feet b/c their on a chain. Ugh.

  2. Some of the ones I have seen that are well known breeders of great dogs and such don't update their sites that regularly either. And leave little to no info on the site but suggest you call or email to talk to the breeder instead. That way they can have a phone evaluation so to speak, with who could potentially be buying their pups.


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