When searching reputable small dog breeders, many prospective pet owners might assume that a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) license is a seal of approval regarding the safety and care of a breeder’s dogs.
However, this common misconception leads down a troubling path. A USDA license, in reality, says nothing about the quality of a breeding program. Instead, it merely indicates compliance with the minimum standards required for commercial breeding operations — standards that, unfortunately, are far below what most of us would consider acceptable.
In fact, when I see a breeder flaunting their USDA license as a “stamp” of quality, it signals to me something quite different. Large-scale puppy mills, which prioritize profit over dog welfare, often feature this badge to fool unsuspecting families. In fact, some of these facilities with USDA licenses are notorious for their frankly hellish conditions and the physical and emotional neglect of their animals.
For those who wish to delve deeper into the realities behind USDA licensed breeders, I highly recommend reading “Barred from Love,” an article published by the ASPCA. It provides an eye-opening look into the harsh and often heartbreaking conditions dogs endure in these breeding facilities.
Understanding that a USDA license is not a mark of excellence, but rather a bare-minimum standard, is crucial. It underscores the importance of thoroughly researching breeders, looking for those certified by welfare-focused programs like Purdue’s Canine Care Certified, and always remaining vigilant about the health and happiness of the animals.
Often, we fall in love with a breed and friends and acquaintances say “oh, you must use my breeder. They’re amazing.”
And, while word-of-mouth recommendations are part of the vetting process, remember the cognitive bias at work here. Your acquaintance loves her dog (probably almost more than anything), and she is unlikely to admit, even to herself, any potential red flags with her pup’s health or behavior. So, don’t just rely on recommendations (and certainly not on unverified Google reviews). Instead, do your own “mini-certification” and ask the types of questions Purdue’s program asks.
1. Physical Health:
- Can you provide detailed medical records for the puppy and its parents? This should include vaccination records, preventive medications, and any genetic testing.
- What kind of health guarantees do you offer for your puppies?
- Do you have a veterinarian who oversees the health of your dogs? Can I contact them?
- How do you handle grooming, dental care, and parasite prevention?
2. Behavioral Health:
- What steps do you take to socialize your puppies?
- Can you discuss your behavioral wellness plan for your dogs?
- How do you exercise the dogs and ensure they receive mental stimulation?
- Are the puppies exposed to different environments and various people before they go to their new homes?
- Can I visit your breeding facility to see the conditions in which the dogs are raised?
- How do you provide for the dogs’ comfort regarding living space, bedding, temperature control, and access to clean water and food?
- Do the dogs have access to outdoor spaces? How often?
- Are the puppies raised in a home environment to acclimate them to household noises and experiences?
4. Breeding Life and Retirement:
- At what age do you begin to breed your dogs, and at what age do you retire them?
- What is your policy for the retirement of your breeding dogs?
- How many litters do your dogs have in their lifetime?
5. Caretaker Expectations:
- How do you stay informed about best practices in dog breeding and canine care?
- Can you provide references from other families who have adopted your puppies?
- Will you be available to answer questions or concerns I have now and in the future?
- Do you require a spay/neuter agreement or any other contracts for puppy adoption?
These questions align with the pillars of care in the Purdue program and can help guide you in assessing whether a breeder meets high standards for the health and well-being of their dogs, even if they haven’t been officially certified by a particular program.