Joan Merriam: Finding a responsible breeder |

Joan Merriam: Finding a responsible breeder

I’m a huge proponent of rescue dogs. Over the years I’ve adopted four adult rescue dogs, and they’ve all been wonderful, cherished companions. I wouldn’t trade any of them for a blue-blooded, AKC registered, purebred puppy.

Most of the people I know who’ve adopted dogs from shelters or rescue groups, or even “washouts” from organizations like Guide Dogs for the Blind, feel the same way. They also know that adopting these dogs means one fewer dog who’s doomed to a life on the streets or as a bait dog or even in a home where they aren’t cared for.

But what if you have your heart set on a puppy? And even more, a specific breed of puppy? First, remember that there’s nothing “wrong” with buying a puppy! Each one of us has our own values, wishes, and life situations, and it’s not up to me or anyone else to judge you for any of it.

Joan Merriam

If it’s a purebred puppy you want, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind before you enter puppy-land. First and foremost, find a responsible breeder.

But what’s a “responsible” breeder? First, they tend to focus their efforts on one breed of dog, and are experts about that breed, including issues of health, genetics, temperament, and behavior. Further, these individuals take time to educate and carefully screen potential buyers, not just to insure the puppy is going to a good home, but also to make sure that the dog is a good “fit” for the potential family and their lifestyle. And finally, responsible breeders take a lifetime responsibility for the welfare of the animals they have bred.

Okay, those are the generalities; here are some specifics to guide you in your search for that perfect puppy.

Finding a Breeder

Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a responsible breeder, or talk with trusted friends who own the breed you’re looking for. You can also contact breed clubs or breed rescue organizations in your area, or talk with people at a professional dog show. Reputable dog trainers can also be a valuable resource when you’re looking for a trustworthy breeder.


It’s critical that puppies be socialized almost from the moment they’re born, which means living in a home with humans, not in a garage or back yard. A puppy raised without consistent and positive human relationships is far more likely to have serious issues trusting, bonding with, and enjoying the company of people as it grows up. A well-socialized puppy is curious, not fearful, of the sights, sounds, and smells associated with living in a human world — and you should be able to observe that from your very first interaction with him.

Home Environment

A responsible breeder is happy to show you how they care for their dogs — puppies as well as adults — and to let you see them in their home environment. They will encourage you to make multiple visits with your whole family to meet the puppy and get to know her. They’ll also want you to meet the puppy’s mother, and see how she relates to her pups as well as the humans around her. Is she friendly and social, or fearful and cowering? If it’s the latter, that should raise a red flag that perhaps she’s not truly a member of the family, but is seen as nothing more than a breeding machine.

Beware the breeder who is reluctant to allow you to visit their home and see how their puppies are raised. If he insists on meeting you in a public place, or refuses to let you into his home, you need to walk away, no matter how adorable the puppy appears. Chances are that puppy has been raised in less-than-optimal conditions, and will end up suffering the effects for a lifetime.


A responsible breeder will offer referrals from others who have purchased their puppies — and you should always follow through by contacting these people and talking with them about their puppy, the breeder, and of course any issues or concerns they have.

In turn, the breeder should be able to provide complete veterinary records for both the puppy and parents, and be willing to explain any potential genetic or developmental problems common to the breed.

After the Purchase

A responsible breeder is happy to offer guidance and support, even after the purchase. They may be able to direct you to resources such as veterinarians, trainers, and other experts who can provide the best services for your puppy throughout his or her lifetime. Perhaps most important of all, a trustworthy breeder will require that if at any time during its life you find yourself unable to keep the dog, you will return it to them.

In the final analysis, you need to do your homework before buying a puppy. Hopefully you’ll have this cute bundle of fur for many years, and you want both its life and your own to be happy and fulfilled.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.


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