Breeders: Red & Green Flags

As a puppy specialist, I am lucky enough to work with lots of puppies (in the last year, I have worked with over 100 puppies and their owners!). This means I see, on an almost daily basis, the impact that a good or a bad breeder can have on a puppy (and ultimately, the whole life of a dog). 

Many people think that as long as they see the mother with the pup or if the breeder is ‘licensed’, that this is doing due-diligence and sadly, this is not enough. In fact, in most parts of the country, you only need a licence at all if you are planning on having 3 or more litters a year, which can be a red flag in itself. In Dorset, however, you also need a licence if you are going to make more than £1000 per litter (and with prices how they are currently, this is very little!). 

With this in mind, I wanted to write a list of breeder ‘red-flags’ and ‘green-flags’ so that prospective puppy parents know what to look out for but also so that current puppy parents who are struggling can understand where their young dog’s issues may have stemmed from. 

Green flags

  • A good breeder should be full of questions. They should be genuinely concerned about where their puppies end up and want only the best homes for them. They should ask about your current home situation: kids, current pets, working hours, access to outside etc. 
  • First refusal. In the event that you need to rehome your puppy, a good breeder will have a stipulation upon adoption that the puppy is returned to them. Ethical breeders care about all of their dogs and will take back a puppy so that they can find a good home for them, if it happens that their first owner can no longer keep them. 
  • Mum will be happy to see you. Responsible breeders will only breed from dogs who have a good temperament, who are not reactive or aggressive and who enjoy the company of humans. The temperament of both parents will be considered before a mating to make sure the future puppies are as well-rounded as they can be. The mother should not show any signs of worry about you being near her puppies or in her home. 
  • Health tests. Pedigree dogs are prone to certain breed-specific health conditions. For example, golden retrievers are prone to hip/elbow dysplasia so should have their hips and elbows tested. The Kennel Club has extensive information on what tests each breed should be screened for. These tests are expensive, often needing specialist practices and there is no guarantee that a dog or bitch will pass the tests. If they fail  a test, they should not be bred from as this runs the risk of passing conditions onto pups. Only ethical breeders who want to produce healthy puppies will go to this effort and expense. 
  • Early socialisation and exposure. The best breeders will start exposing the puppies to ENS (early neurological stimulation) and ESI (early scent introduction). This involves beginning to condition the puppies to lots of new experiences, building their resilience and adaptability. This decreases the chances of fear and reactivity forming immeasurably. The will also begin the process of toilet training the puppies and introducing separations. They may also begin crate training the pups.

Red flags

  • You don’t meet the mother. This is the big one! If you aren’t meeting mum, there is a reason for that. Is she fearful? Aggressive? In bad condition?
  • Tail docking/ear clipping. This is illegal under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I still have puppies turn up to class with docked ears and tails, the owners having been told that it is ‘fine for working dogs’. There are exemptions to this rule but there are extensive limitations. Working dogs can have their tails docked but extensive evidence has to be provided that the dog will be a working dog (just being a Jack Russel or a cocker is not enough). Here is a full breakdown of the law and exemptions. 
  • Letting puppies go at less than 8 weeks of age. Again, this is written into law under The Animal Welfare Act, 2018. Eight weeks is the legal minimum age at which a puppy can leave its mother. 
  • Letting you take the puppy on your first visit. A good breeder will want to get to know you and make sure you are ready for a puppy and can provide a good home. They should invite you to meet your puppy at least once before taking them home. 
  • Puppies don’t live in the home. If the puppies live outside, then they are not getting used to all the sights, sounds and smells of living alongside us. It is crucial that they are in the home during their socialisation period. 
  • Dirty puppies. The puppies should not have fleas, ticks or worms. They should not be covered in excrement – this is a sign that their mother is unable to care for them properly or being kept from them or that the breeder is not keeping the area well looked after. 
  • Fearful mother. Puppies learn everything from their mother and inherit her character through their genes. If the mother is aggressive, anxious or fearful of you, then this is how your puppies have been learning to react to unknown people. 
  • Lack of paper work. You should see health certificates for mum (and ideally, dad too). As well as this, if your dog is ‘pedigree’, you should be given (or at least shown!) a family tree. 
  • Evasive about questions. A good breeder will jump at the opportunity to talk about their dogs and their puppies and should be able to freely answer any and every question that you have. 
  • Asking for more money when you arrive. I’m including this one because I have had clients who this has happened to. If this isn’t a red flag, I don’t know what is! Ethical breeders do it for the love of the dogs, not money. 
  • Puppies advertised on social media/gumtree etc. You may find good breeders this way, but you’re also guaranteed to find a lot of bad ones. Champdogs and the Kennel Club will only post litters from breeders who are meeting the health testing standards of the breed so these are your best port of call when looking for an ethical breeder. The best breeders have long waiting lists for puppies. 
  • Large deposits. A deposit of more than 20% of the price of the puppy is something to be wary of. Deposits are often charged to cover the cost of the stud dog, as this fee is due as soon as the pups are born. Some breeders do not take a deposit at all, as they want owners to be able to change their mind if they aren’t 100% sure about a puppy. A good breeder will have a long waiting list and will not struggle to find homes for their pups. 


I also hear from a lot of owners that they took the puppy, even though they knew things weren’t right with the breeder, because they didn’t want to leave the puppy there and felt they were rescuing it. Please don’t do this. All this does is create a market for the breeder. If they can sell all the puppies, even whilst giving terrible care, then they are going to breed more. Bad breeding is driven by the market and it is up to us, as consumers, to  stop the demand for back yard breeding. 

If you wanted to check out a shining example of the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to breeding, then Snowyoak Golden Retrievers are brilliant. You can check them out on their instagram here. When we bring home a second dog, it will be one of Agnes’ pups.

As always, I am here to help. I offer puppy consultations, both at home and online, where I can help you to identify a good breeder and assist in the process of choosing the right puppy for your home. Click here to find out more.