How to see
and what they could mean
So, you have chosen to get a puppy from a breeder, but is every breeder the same? How to understand if the breeder is honest and provides quality puppies? How not to get scammed? We will list some very common red flags here and will be happy to hear back from you! Share your stories and ask questions! Please note, that not all red flags mean "scam" - ask your breeder to explain and if you do not feel comfortable with the provided answer - run!
In most cases, price point will filter out all low-quality breeders, but unfortunately, there are high-priced puppies from unethical breeders, too. Let's take a look. We will discuss some of the most common red flags (in our opinion) and what they could mean. Please note that this list is not all inclusive and we will be adding/editing it as we learn more and expand our experiences and deeper our knowledge. This list has been created by us and is based on our opinion & experience.
1. "We are not professional breeders", "We breed pets", "pet quality", etc.
There is no such thing as "not a breeder" if a person purposely breeds two dogs together and produces a litter of puppies/kittens for sale. That's what makes one a breeder. If a person's dog/cat/pet produced a litter, this person IS a breeder. "Not a breeder" is a most common excuse people use to cover up their lack of knowledge in breeding, dog genetics and raising puppies. Most "non-breeders" will also say, "we just breed our pets", as an excuse for producing a litter or the fact that their dog is off-color, size, health or temper. "We breed just pets" means breeding stock dogs should never be used in breeding in the first place.
We have said it many times before, and will repeat again, there is absolutely no pet quality. Pet quality means NO quality. Don't be mislead; unless you know this person and know for a fact that they had an accidental litter and are going to spay their female after whelping - "pet litters" from "non-breeders" are a big red flag.
2. "Old-fashioned", "straight-back", "slopped back", etc.
This is the most common statement we see in low-quality programs. German Shepherd Dog, as a breed, has very specific breed standard that has clear characteristics of the dog's desired phenotype. A dog is either per breed standard or not per breed standard conformation. A good breeder knows the breed standard and will never use the above terms to describe their dogs. Additionally, the same dog can be stacked differently to physically look like it has a greater slope or a visually straight back.
3. Over-sized, Large-boned, King Shepherds, etc.
Bigger is not better in German Shepherds and once again, anyone breeding dogs that don't fall under breed standard, just creates more dogs that have less in common with the breed.
4. Off-color: panda, liver, blue, white, etc.
There are very specific colors that are desirable in German Shepherd Dog. All other colors are Faults. What can we say. No quality breeder will ever consider using these in their program.
5. "Bitch for lease", purchasing "pregnant bitch", etc.
Producing females are the base of the breeding program. If you look at the breeder's website or online postings and see that they just bring in new pregnant females every time to produce one litter and then pass them on - to a different kennel - are they really a "breeder "or rather just a hosting facility where puppies are born? Do they really know their females, their temperament and health history? We see producing females that are being sold every six month - from one kennel to another. Sometimes two kennels will "partner together" and ship a female back and forth, so she would have a litter in one kennel in spring and second litter in the fall in another kennel. In a history of each kennel this female is only bred once a year, when in reality she produces a litter twice a year all her life. It is a big business - selling "covered females" - mediocre females that were bred and are for sale while pregnant. This ensures "return on investment" in a very short time - a buyer will get their money back once they sell puppies. No good breeder will ever sell their pregnant female- WHY? This is exactly what brings profit to any breeding program AND also brings JOY to a breeder - to see the result of their breeding program. Usually, pregnant females for sale are dogs that would not be purchased otherwise - there is something seriously wrong with them and their pregnancy and fast profit from sale of future puppies is the only value of this dog. Sadly, we see 14-18 months old pregnant dogs for sale all the time! In most cases, there are no hips or elbows done OR a seller will admit that there are faulty hips OR problems with temperament, conformation or anything else. It is very sad to also see pregnant 7-8 year old females for sale.
6. No dogs on premises - "family raised in other homes"
There is a practice of large breeders to place female puppies in so-called "foster homes" with an agreement to use these dogs for future breeding(s). This seems like a great opportunity for a family that can not afford a quality dog and gets a dog with a discount or no cost at all. Then, once this dog is older and in heat, the female is brought back to the breeder, mated with a stud and taken back to live her normal life until it is time to whelp puppies. Once puppies are 6 weeks old, they are taken to a breeder, where they are then sold to families. While knowing that the mother of your puppy is someone's beloved pet and puppies were raised in someone's home can be viewed as a benefit - in reality not knowing the dam of your puppy can leave many questions unanswered. In addition to this, how much does the "breeder" actually know these puppies? How well does the breeder know the producing females, their temperament, traits, health?
7. European import. You know why many USA-based breeders are importing dogs? Because in Germany dogs can only be bred AFTER they have been breed surveyed. The dogs have to earn the privilege to be used in breeding programs. Only the best dogs are allowed to produce. When you look at the pedigree of a German Dog, you will see decades of helth-tested, titled and breed surveyed dogs. Many breeders around the globe are doing their very best to do just the same. However, there are no regulation on this from any overseeing organization outside SV (Germany). For example, AKC will register any dog for as long as both parents are also registered. We have seen many pedigrees of puppies where the entire five generations of AKC-registered dogs have zero titles, health testing or DNA-testing. So, purchasing a dog from Germany, breeders are knowing that the risks of faults are minimal. Where is the red flag, you think? "European import" is a term that is so vague and is describing all dogs coming from Europe, and not necessarily (if ever) from Germany. Those importing from Germany will use "pure SV-lines" or "German SV pedigree/pink papers" and not "FCI/European import". The difference is that in countries other than Germany - the rules are pretty much the same as in AKC. "European import" is a very lame statement and means nothing.
8. "Health tested per my vet"/ Up to date on everything. This is also another pretty back-yard-breeder statement. Genetically health tested dogs must have HD/ED testing on file. Being up to date on vaccinations and rabies has nothing to do with Genetic health screening of the breeding dogs. Additionally, we want to add that we have seen numerous breeding programs, where claims "genetic testing" was based on the fact that dogs were tested for DM. DM testing is a DNA-based screen and is a tool for breeders to make better breeding decisions. It is not (and can not be substituted for) a Genetic Health Testing as recommended for the breed. In fact, it is very rare that a German Breeder will perform a DM testing on their dogs, as it is an optional testing and a breeding decision should never be based solely on the results of this test.
9. Sales online. Dear God. We did not think that anyone would ever go for this. But the desire to have this "cute little 8-weeks old puppy delivered to your home by this upcoming weekend for just $350" makes naïve buyers believe and fall for this scam. No reputable breeder will ever sell their puppies online. EVER. The images are most likely purchased online, borrowed or stolen. The "breeder" is not even in this country. Your credit card will be charged and you will never get your money back. We have seen this so many times. So many times. Even looking at the images of puppies posted on those fake websites - (clearly images of puppies from a very good breeding) and the prices are what a good breeder would have asked for a deposit. This just does not happen.
NOTE: there are legitimate broker/middleman websites that are selling dogs online and buyers will most likely receive a dog or their money back, however there is no communication with a "breeder" or knowledge of the background of the dog/puppy. We have been contacted by those websites numerous times with a request to list our puppies for sale with them. The way this works: the broker/middleman website recruits real breeders, makes sure they are a real business, checks their background, etc. and once breeders get approved and join the team, the website advertises their puppies for them. Those websites have HUGE marketing campaigns and will be on a first page of any online search. They do well in advertising and selling puppies online. They have good shipping. A breeder will then ship a puppy once it is sold to receive a compensation. The compensation for a breeder is leass than a thousand dollars, ranging from $600 to $950 (maximum allowed for the German Shepherd Breed as I, Veronika, was told by the representative of this company). Typically, puppies listed on these websites start at $2500 (the website will keep the difference). I have spent some time researching these websites (just for fun) and did not find a single puppy that looks like a quality well-bred puppy for the German Shepherd Breed. No reputable breeder will ever list their puppies on a website like that (not just for financial reasons, but a reputable breeder wants to establish communication with a potential family, good breeders wants to ask questions, not just sell their puppies to an unknown buyer). It is my firm believe that puppies listed on such websites are products of puppy mills. Please think twice before supporting these unethical practices.
10. Multiple breeds/ lines OR having puppies of a variety of color - one for every taste. Typically, a good breeder will focus on one (in rare cases more) line, one breed or one specific trait. A good breeder will explain what their focus in breeding is and if you are looking for something else - they will most likely say, "Thank you for your interest, but we do not breed this line/for this trait, etc." But back-yard-breeders and scammers do not think this way. They want to offer a "Variety", so a buyer will find what they are looking for and not look anywhere else. When you look at a well-established professional breeder, you will notice that their dogs are of the same phenotype - they look pretty close, if not the same (of course no dog is the same, but to an unspoiled eye it may seem this way). But when you look at a back-yard-breeder, they will have 5-6 females each of different lineage, color, size, etc. They want to offer a variety, something for every like. In a professional world it is called "unpredictability".
11. Breeding too young/too old females. This is quite a topic for a discussion. What is a healthy breeding age for a male? 24 months and older, and there is no age limit - for as long as a dog can sire a litter and passes his semen count annually - he is just fine. Of course with the rise of science of reproductive health and artificial insemination, it not uncommon to see a litter sired with a frozen semen of a dog that passed years ago! This is why when we are evaluating the age of breeding dogs, we look at females. Every female is different. That is very important to consider. Typically, a female is bred between 2 and 6 years, but there are situations when females are bred at 20-22 months or past their 7th birthday. If you see this happening - ask a breeder why this decision was made and listen for their explanation. NOTE: SV allows breeding of females prior to their 2nd birthday. Here is from SV rules: "The male must have had his 2nd birthday by the time of the breeding. Bitches must be at least 20 months old by the first breeding use (date of mating). Unintentional matings before the respective minimum age are to be reported immediately to the responsible local breed warden, who will inform the regional breed warden and the Studbook office. Regarding any litter registration from such combinations, the studbook manager decides, together with the SV chief breed warden and/or the president."
12. No vet reference/veterinary information. Personally to me, it is a big red flag not just when seeking for a breeder, but also when screening a potential buyer that has(had) a pet. When you have a pet, a veterinarian becomes your new best friend. We, pet owners, rely on veterinary care. We take our dogs for routine exams, bloodwork, parasite screens and vaccinations. As breeders, we take dogs for pre-pregnancy exams, pregnancy monitoring and post-delivery exams. And of course, puppy exams before puppies go home. If you ever doubt - ask for a veterinarian reference, make sure this is a real clinic (google it) and call them to ask if this person/breeder is in fact a breeder and had a recent litter of puppies/kittens for an exam. It is very VERY shady when a breeder can not provide a veterinarian reference or does not remember the name of their veterinarian.
13. Unregistered puppies from "AKC-Registered" dogs
This is a common situation when a family breeds a dog that they purchased on limited AKC registration. Limited AKC registration is typically provided with a puppy/dog sold as a family pet/personal companion, and does not grant rights to register an offspring of this dog with AKC. You see, reputable breeders will only sell dogs with full AKC (with breeding rights) to established breeding programs, active show homes or those that are willing to learn from a breeder and follow the advice and appreciate the mentorship. Some families don't realize that they can not register an offspring of their AKC-registered dog until after the fact of whelping a litter of puppies and contacting AKC with questions. Some have accidental litters and are "not a breeders" (see above). In worst cases, these are experienced back-yard-breeders that simply lied to a reputable breeder that they are seeking a pet to purchase a well-bred puppy from their program. They know that a breeder will not sell a puppy to them with full AKC, so they pretend to seek a pet and are ok if it comes with limited AKC. So, while it may seem like "the same quality puppy, just no paperwork" - it is a big red flag. First, it is unethical to breed a dog that was sold as a pet, as there was no breeding right in a first place (and most likely, a sales contract that they are violating with their actions). If a person is unethical and not honest in this decision - what else are they doing wrong? Second, reputable breeders will sell only the best puppies with full AKC and those puppies that might have less desirable traits are then sold to pet homes. To many pet owners these traits are unknown - maybe there are small conformation flaws, troubles at birth, being a runt of the litter, umbilical hernia, etc. Or maybe, there are more serious issues - such as a puppy being a carrier for a serious genetic decease or defect (such as DM) and while this puppy/dog will be living a happy and healthy life himself, he will be producing affected puppies that will suffer.