small cocker pic

Is It Okay To Get A Dog From a Dog Breeder?

It’s totally okay to get your dog from a reputable dog breeder. Keep the word reputable in mind as you read through this post. What I am about to say might just help facilitate this age-old debate between reputable breeder vs reputable rescue. Spoiler alert: It’s possible to have both.

I love all dogs, but Cocker Spaniels own my heart. I’ve adopted a dog and I’ve also purchased a dog from a reputable breeder. I plan to do both again. Trademarking “My Heart Beats Dog(r)” means I live that mantra to its fullest. This is my passion, my mantra, my career, and my way of life.

Someone told me many years ago they could not be my friend because my dog came from a reputable breeder. I know that isn’t truly my definition of friend at all, so it’s okay. Allow me to shine the spotlight on truths and remain steadfast in the goal of this blog: A “Fidose” of Reality.

Getting a dog from a breeder

Why Responsible Dog Breeders Are Important

Two reputable Cocker Spaniel breeders interviewed for this piece agree: Responsible breeders will do the health testing available to that breed.

“It has taken a lot of years and a lot of patience and health testing (CERF, PRA and OFA of hips and elbows for cockers) to bring the Cocker back from the damage that was done by backyard breeders and puppy mills,” Ellen Toomey, of Stratford, New Jersey, says.

CERF deals with the eyes. OFA deals with the hips and PRA also deals with the eyes. Thyroid is an issue with Cockers, so many good breeders have access to this information.

I could write an entire book on the Cocker eye, but suffice it to say that eye issues are a concern in the breed. Good breeders get the necessary eye clearances on both the mother and father of the litter(s) before breeding or adopting out puppies to a pet home.

Reputable breeders perform due diligence and take a vested interest in each of the puppies bred.

Toomey says if she sells a puppy and it is to go to a pet home, as opposed to a show home, she sells it with a limited registration. In this case, the AKC registration states the dog cannot be bred. “I don’t turn over the registration papers until I have proof that the dog has been spayed or neutered.”

A really good breeder does so to improve the soundness, temperament, and health issues that may plague a breed. For example, syringomyelia is a disorder of the brain and spinal cord that is widespread in the Cavalier King Charles breed. A large percentage of Cavaliers will be diagnosed with this condition in their lifetimes.  Solid breeders will follow the latest guidelines and health mandates to reduce the prevalence of this disease in their lines.

Dog breeder Cocker puppies
Photo Courtesy Ellen Toomey.

Knowing the breed standard and how to improve upon are goals for long-time breeder of American and English Cocker Spaniels, Marlene Ness, of Bethel, Connecticut.

“As breeders, we spend countless hours studying pedigrees and dogs, attending dog shows, and seeing the dogs in person,” Ness shares. “We learn what their structure is like.”

Ness says good breeders take this knowledge and apply it to the next litter so that the plan comes together. Her goal is for each litter to improve on the qualities of the parents.

Responsible breeder puppies go to their new families with a birth certificate, microchip, contact information, and they are able to be found on social media. Dogs from responsible breeders should never get through a shelter door.

Cocker spaniel in show ring
Marlene Ness with her champion dog, Ace.

Breeder Dogs Are Harming Shelter Dogs

A good breeder will take their dogs back, for life. Let that digest for a moment: If for any reason throughout the dog’s life, the owner cannot keep the animal, the good breeder says, “I want that dog back.” I’ve seen it happen time and again.

The reasons for owner surrender run the gamut, just as they do in shelters. Sadly, finances, domestic issues, and sudden changes in life circumstances all contribute to a dog going back to a breeder or a shelter. Many of my dear friends foster and rescue and are my personal heroes. I love my reputable breeder friends, too.

Reputable breeders aren’t the problem. Bad breeders, irresponsible people, those who discard lives as they do an old t-shirt: these are the problems. The money hungry could-care-less breeders who do it for cash are contributing to the volume of dogs in shelters and rescues. Many don’t care where their dogs end up. This is something on which rescue advocates and reputable breeder advocates can agree: Dogs end up in shelters by no fault of their own.

You are not killing a shelter dog if you purchase a dog from a responsible breeder. Morally, it is your decision to have a dog or not, and where that dog comes from is your choice. We choose who to marry, where to live, our careers, and if we want children (or not). Bringing a dog into your life, no matter what the circumstances or where he was born, must be one that suits your life and your reasons. Do not adopt a dog if you just are not interested. Do not work with a reputable breeder if you are simply not interested. Do stay away from puppy mills and those who genuinely harm dogs with no regard for their health and well-being. Puppy mills are hell on earth. Reputable breeders are not puppy mills. Most dogs from pet stores come from puppy mills.

Stricter laws that punish animal abusers and reduce animal suffering are needed. Reputable breeders support these beliefs.

I support both dog rescue adoption and I support the best breeders who do their homework and care about dogs. If you do not want to rescue, then don’t. Shop smarter and perform the necessary background checks about a breeder before you invest. An expensive puppy does not mean a dog without health problems. Pets are viewed as property in the eyes of the law. Puppies that come from great homes means less dogs who end up in shelters.

Guilting people into rescue and cyber pressuring contributes to the pets who end back up in shelters. Imagine the innocent dog who has no idea why he is back in a shelter on his third or fourth home. Dogs are lost in the system every single day. Over and over. I know.

Whether your dog comes from a good breeder or from a rescue, there is zero guarantee of future health issues. We can identify certain disease propensities, perform genetic testing, screen the parents, and not breed dogs that have no business producing litters.

My dog’s first groomer was a Golden Retriever lover. His dogs were in the show ring and also puppies at heart with a good life. He stopped after 20 years because no matter where his dogs came from, they died of cancer. This is common in the breed. He adopted a mixed breed dog from a priest in his area who had no time for his adorable pooch. The dog ended up with many health issues and is now 12 years young. You just never know.

Cocker spaniel puppy
Our Dexter is well rounded from a wonderful breeder.

How to Identify a Reputable Dog Breeder

A good dog breeder will screen you as much as you screen them, maybe even more. A good dog breeder will welcome your questions and not take offense to things you ask. A responsible dog breeder:

  • Does not have puppies available all the time. They will keep a list of potential adopters for future litters.
  • Keeps the dogs and puppies in a clean environment with plenty of room to walk, exercise, access to clean water, and interaction with a variety of stimulus.
  • Allows you to meet the birth mother and will share the family line with you.
  • Does health screening and shares those results.
  • Provides references from previous adopters.
  • Gives you a contract that explains the adoption and the requirements of both parties.
  • Does not sell dogs online to people they’ve never met/screened, to pet stores, or in any other unscrupulous manner.
  • Allows you to visit your puppy several weeks after birth (with appointment).
  • Provides guidance and answers your questions even after adoption.
  • Does not require a certain veterinarian; they can recommend but not require.
  • Does not require you to breed the dog. Run far away from this breeder if they put that in the contract. Quality dog breeders will adopt out puppies to pet homes while others will stay with them and/or be in the show ring.
  • Most quality breeders require you to spay or neuter the puppy at the appropriate age.
  • Will not guarantee perfect health. They are not psychics and cannot forsee the future. They should monitor their lines and genetic diseases.
  • Will not guarantee show quality. A dog might have show potential and reputable breeders can spot this, but they cannot foresee the future.
  • Will give you copies of vaccinations and veterinary visits prior to releasing the puppy to your care. Most good breeders require your own veterinarian examine the puppy within three to give days after adoption.

Do not believe everything you read on social media. Disgruntled rejected adopters will often take to social media to cyber-bash a good breeder. Consider the source.

Dog breeder puppies
Photo courtesy Marlene Ness.

What a Responsible Dog Breeder Wants From You

A good relationship is a two-way street. When I first connected with my Cocker’s breeder to inquire about his availability, she had a whole process and host of questions for me. This gave me such great joy because my first impression was a positive one.

A responsible dog breeder:

  • Will ask valid questions: Everything from why do you want this breed to who will care for the dog, are there children, access to outdoors, have you had this breed before, for example.
  • Will ask if you own or rent and speak to your landlord about the pet policy.
  • Wants to know your training thoughts, how often the dog will be alone, living arrangements, etc.
  • Will explain the maintenance and basics of the breed, grooming requirements, known health issues to watch for, and will want your feedback.
  • Ask for references to vouch for your character.
  • Has a return policy in place: Whatever their terms are, the contract will spell them out and he or she will review the contract with you prior to signing.
  • Is open to questions about how long he or she has been involved with the breed, perfecting the line, and how many breeds with which they are involved. A good dog breeder will not have a large amount of breeds they churn out for profit.
  • Might be new, but will have no problems answering questions. New doesn’t mean not reputable. Everyone starts somewhere.
  • Tell you when the puppies can come home. My dog’s breeder kept them through their first eight weeks so she could properly socialize them, they could benefit from their mother’s milk, and engage with their littermates.
  • Tell you what you are taking home with the puppy: Our breeder gave us a folder of information, the contract, a personalized blanket, stuffed toy, and her card.
  • Will help you pick the right puppy. Our breeder had an uncanny ability to know which puppy belonged with each approved adopter. Matching you with the puppy that best suits you is a wonderful talent of reputable breeders.
  • Isn’t afraid to turn people away if they are not a good fit.

My dog is going to be 10 years young and I still keep in touch with his breeder through social media and occasional meet ups. She took a break from breeding to grow her human family and when the timing was right, she started up again with one litter.

Wigglebutt Warriors help dogs

Breeder V. Rescue Bottom Line

We all want good dogs. Whether that dog comes from a shelter or a breeder, dogs have the wonderful ability to adapt to us. Dogs who were abused, let down, ignored, or mistreated by people are so worth the love and affection they deserve.

“I personally choose to find responsible breeders to acquire puppies, says Cocker mom, Stacie Baumbarger of Perrysburg, Ohio. “I am very active in the Cocker Spaniel community and I want a health tested dog who was brought up from good sound lines structurally and temperamentally. We compete in agility, confirmation, obedience, rally, and even in the field. It’s important for me to know or at least have a very good indication of what they will be and still be able to have that important puppy time for foundation training.”

Let’s focus on stopping the sheer volume of dogs in shelters, how they ended up there, and come together to educate, inform, and not berate. Let’s put the fingers down and lift our message up. Social media has really cool features of unfollow, hide, and block. Your message goes down the black hole of “see ya” and you don’t win when you bash someone for wanting a dog from a reputable breeder. Have an open dialogue, save the judgments, and find common ground. No one wants to see a dog enter a shelter or rescue group. In my lifetime, I will continue contributing to the conversation and methodology of decreasing the number of dogs in shelters. I will use my voice. Someone’s got to for those who have none.

I am very pro adoption and co-founded Wigglebutt Warriors with my wife. We host fundraisers in person and have spent immeasurable time through a labor of love to get homeless dogs to their well-deserved loving homes. I am unable emotionally to foster: I get too attached, it isn’t something that is healthy for us, and we help in other ways. To date, we’ve raised close to $75,000 in a few years’ time for various dog rescues. Throughout the year I work to help get dogs in need to loving homes with transports, donations, online fundraisers, and connecting with those in the rescue world. I fundraise to try to eliminate cataracts in the Cocker Spaniel through the American Spaniel Club.

I also believe in, promote, and advocate for the betterment of the breed that is the American Cocker Spaniel. I run an engaged Facebook group called Club Cocker: Wigglebutts Worldwide. We focus on health, wellness, and lifestyle of the Cocker (American and English) and we have fun. We are a no bash zone.

There are many breeders who do not belong in the business. There are many rescues that don’t belong, either.

My focus is on how the dog is being treated no matter from whence he or she came.

dog bloggers

Keep This Conversation Flowing: Don’t Stop Now

In conjunction with three other highly respected pet bloggers, we are collaborating on this topic. I am incredibly proud to share the spotlight with each of these ladies.

Please visit the following blogs to continue our educational series. We’d love your feedback and just ask you are respectful, as you would expect, too.

If we work together and stop the people shaming, dogs win. On this happy thought, we can all agree.

Kelsie McKenzie: Mom to Great Pyrenees and foster cat mom: Breeding Great Pyrenees: Does Job Matter?

Stephanie Seger: Big Dog Mom to Mastiffs: The Fallacy of Dog Rescue: Why Reputable Breeders Are Not The Problem

Susan Bewley: Dog mom to Alaskan Malamutes (and other animals, too): How To Find A Reputable Breeder

Similar Posts


  1. Wonderful post ! That’s great information, and we love the fact that you don’t shame people who prefer buy a dog from a good breeder than adopt a dog in a shelter. Furthermore, we think that the points you’re mentioning can all apply for any breed of any kind of pet. Purrs

  2. What a terrific post, Carol! Not only were you completely fair to both sides, but you are unequivocal in your stance. I so appreciate that! I especially love how you included the give and take between buyers and breeders. It really is a partnership in so many ways and I have found the mentorship of my breeders to be invaluable. Thank you!

    1. What a delight to do this collaboration with you. You made such outstanding points in your piece, and you gave me pause for thought. I am very impressed with how far you have come in such a short time blogging – way to rock it, Stephanie!

  3. Finally, a blogger who gets the importance of reputable breeders vs rescue. You showed how both sides can and should come together for the health and well being of the dog. You always put the dog first and foremost, which all responsible breeders and rescues should do. This article needs to be shared everywhere.

  4. A timely article for me. I can’t argue that what you listed is the highest-echelon of dog breeders. However, I’ve found when you are looking for a coat/color that is not common in the show ring, it can be impossible to check off all of those boxes with one breeder. There usually is at least one compromise. Or not. There is also the moral question of seeking out a more unusual looking dog for the breed and compromising vs going with colors that do well in the show ring so you can buy from a top-of-the-line breeder only.

    The question for me is which points are compromised and how much? There are some dealbreakers for sure but it’s possible, to me, for a breeder to be high-quality and not meet 100% of those requirements. My #1 dealbreaker though is someone who values profit over the wellbeing of the dog. There are many others but that is the most glaring to me. Also, one breeder looked good to me but, when I checked her contract (always ask for that up front), there was a clause about not saying anything negative about the breeder in person or on social media without risking a big fine for defamation. I was like, “Whoa! That should even be an issue if you are a good breeder.” Yikes!

    1. WOW about the social media and not being negative – that is a new one on me. Holy wigglebutts!

      That is true about not common in show ring. The Dapple Dachshund, for example. Even with shelter dogs, the same exists: Where do you let some things go in favor of finding the dog with which you most connect?

      1. Yeah, it’s SO HARD. In practice, I feel like adopting a dog from a shelter is so much easier. That is ALWAYS where I will point people if they want a dog soon or on a specific timeline. With rescue dogs, you can visit a few shelters, or look on Petfinder, find one that “speaks to you”, and then take it home (with a background check and application of course). I see many people with “puppy fever” who bought from a breeder and made a bad choice because they were in a hurry or emotional. I’ve been on the search for that perfect match between puppy I’m looking for and breeder I can stand behind for 7 months!. Also, as you said, a good breeder doesn’t have litter after litter. So that also means you might find one and wait a year or more before a great-match puppy comes along for you.

        1. I’ve also had readers tell me they wanted a breeder puppy and when the wait was a year or me, they opted for rescue. We love this. And in a win-win they also got their puppy a year later and had a wigglebutt family!

          1. I will freely admit, I do this as well. I have had readers frustrated with the wait times of good breeders. We waited three years for our Reya because her breeder rarely did breed. If you want a specific coloring or coat, you could be waiting even longer. If people don’t want to wait, I typically guide them toward a reputable rescue or their local shelter.

  5. Awesome post!!! I have met Ellen and Marlene. They are great people and are definitely responsible breeders. Everything that was said in this post is very informative and something everyone should know. I agree getting a dog from a rescue or a reputable breeder is fine. People shouldn’t be mad at someone from not adopting a dog from a shelter and getting it from a breeder instead. Every dog needs a home whether it be a breeder or a shelter. As long as it gets a good and loving furever home that’s all that matters.

  6. Great Article which I will Share to my page.

    I have an issue with saying a puppy sold by an ethical breeder is an ‘Adoption’.
    Adopted dogs are from Shelters and ethical Rescues and puppies are sold by ethical breeders.
    This is just my opinion, having been the founder of a local Cocker Rescue for 15 years.

    1. A matter of semantics, but yes, adoption can apply to them although mostly used for ethical reputable shelters and rescues.

    2. I often have this conflicting feeling too – that buying a dog from a breeder is “adoption”. I’m not sure when it became common to refer to the interaction with a breeder this way. It seems to me it is partially because breeders starting to use that term with buyers so they didn’t feel so bad. And that buyers started telling people they “adopted” a dog instead of bought so people wouldn’t get mad at them or ridicule. Do you know when/why the switch to saying a dog from a breeder was “adopted” came Carol?

      1. I have been hearing it at different events in my travels. I am more of the adoption is a rescue word, but included that as part of the whole discussion. Not my terminology, but things I am hearing.

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful article showcasing both sides of the coin. I would like to add, speaking of social media, that in this day and age, just because a breeder, or a rescue for that matter, has a slick website, it does not insure that they are “reputable.” You still need to do your homework. Thank for all you do for these furry little monsters!!

  8. Fantastic article, as always. There is so much that goes into breeding and many people don’t realize the importance of testing. If we want to keep dog breeds alive, we need reputable breeders to help weed out common health issues. They aren’t the problem – it is the backyard breeders and puppy mills. THIS is what we all should be working together fighting, not fighting among ourselves about rescue being the only option.

    I have lost friend as well over the fact that I have purebred dogs. I don’t think I could have cheered more than at your point of you need a dog that is best for your lifestyle. With my dogs being trained for my needs with my anxiety disorder AND working in hospitals, they needed certain traits. Dogs that come from bad breeding and mixes are also the ones more likely to cause issues since they don’t have the common characteristics for the breed. For example, malamutes are known for being very social, friendly dogs….they don’t attack kids and family. Bad breeding and mixes is what has led to them now appearing on restrictive lists. 🙁

    1. It saddens me because there is a place both. I am very committed to dog rescue and saving lives. Do you remember Betsy Saul who founded PetFinder back in the day? I had a chat with her at BlogPaws. It opened my eyes. I learned so much.

      Bad breeding and not spaying and neutering a Cocker who is left to roam as he or she pleases creates litters with issues. It breaks my heart. There is a place and a necessity for both. Thanks for your expertise, and your friendship, Susan.

  9. After volunteering at a shelter for years, I’m a huge fan of rescue and shelter adoptions to save lives, but I have no issue with adopting from a REPUTABLE breeder. Everyone has the right to obtain the dog and dog breed of their dreams. I advocate for breed specific rescues as well but I respect others if they choose to find a reputable breeder whom they can personally investigate and develop a relationship with. I’m so glad you provided the key points of what makes a Reputable breeder, that is the most important thing if you’re using a breeder. I love that Cocker breeder Ellen Toomey won’t turn in the AKC papers until the dog owner spays/neuters the pet she sold them – good for her! I’ve written about the fact that more and more and more adoption is great but adoptions alone will not solve the problem of too many pets in shelters. We must address the Source of the heartbreak of pets landing in shelters; Who is dumping all these pets at shelters, Who is not securing & microchipping their pets, Who refuses to spay/neuter their dogs & cats, and WHY??!? If we can address and solve those issues we may not even need shelters one day – that is what I pray for. Until then I will foster (as hard as it can be to let them go) and I will adopt. I’ve already identified a Husky rescue I can adopt from and have developed a relationship with them for when the time is right to get another Husky. However, if I somehow end up getting a puppy from a very reputable Husky breeder for some reason (never say never, right?), I won’t punish myself for it. Thanks for writing this. Sharing.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  10. I Really Need to communicate with You
    Privately, Carol… Truly appreciate Your
    Feelings, Knowledge, Writing, And
    Point ofView………Dr Julie Bergan, Mesa,AZ
    PS Annabelle and SuzyAnna have a crush on

  11. Hi Carol,

    I really enjoyed the article. I’ve sometimes felt a bit guilty for getting our German Shepherd from a breeder instead of from a rescue. I had my own reasons: my husband and I wanted a German Shepherd, and I was worried about getting a dog from a shelter, due to potential behavioural issues. Despite the fact that I have read and learnt about dogs, training and ethology, this was our first dog as a couple (we had previous experience with dogs at our parents’) and I was really worried about not being able to be a good owner.

    In the end, we got the last available dog from the first breeder we visited: the breeder seemed trustworthy, the dog met our requirements (and we met hers, I hope!) and we fell in love with her. Despite this, we visited the breeder a couple of times before signing any papers, and in the meantime I asked around for other people’s opinions. I even went to our “future” vet to ask for advice.

    The dog, Nix, turned out pretty well. She is pretty well-balanced and a really good dog overall. Unlike many other dogs, she’s not afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks. We’ve been really lucky.

    There is one thing in the article, though, that I disagree with: the neutering or spaying of the dog. Before taking her home, I knew I’d want to spay her when it was the time. However, as the months went by, I started questioning my ideas. I did some research, and I found that spaying the dog may lead to thyroid issues and urinary incontinence, for example. We also talked about it with our vet.

    In the end, we decided not to spay her. I know this may lead ups her chances for cancer, but all things considered, we thought it was better to let nature run its course. It’d have been different if she had had some psychological pregnancies or other issues.

    And, believe me, I don’t like it at all when she is in heat. She leaves bloodstains on the floor, her personality changes a little, and she has to walk on a leash. Still, we didn’t think we should put her under the stress of a surgery just for our comfort.

    Having said that, I think it’s perfectly fine and valid to neuter/spay your dog, and I totally understand why shelters and some owners do it.

    1. Hi Montse and thanks for the feedback. I am glad to hear that Nix is doing well. Congrats on being a wonderful pet parent.

      I am actually kind of with you on the spay/neuter timing. That said, most reputable breeders will require this to prevent future litters and to prevent puppy buyers from breeding and selling future litters.

      As the dog mom to a Cocker with 2 separate ACL tears (and surgeries to repair both), I’ve learned a lot over the years about the condition. I wish I had waited until my Cocker, Dexter, was two years of age before neutering to allow for the bones and joints, ligaments, to be strong and fully grown. I’ve blogged about it, and that is my only regret.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Carol! I’m sorry your dog had to go through 2 surgeries to repair the ACL tears 🙁

        I think one of the problems is that vets sometimes don’t give all the information available. I don’t know why, but I guess it’s a mixture of: 1) many dog owners who probably don’t care about the “details”, 2) they are afraid of perhaps sounding pushy or of looking like they trying to sell something in their interest and not the dog’s.

        Just to mention an example, my previous dog, Syd, got diagnosed with Leishmaniasis when she was four. We are lucky that in Spain, unlike in other countries, you don’t have to put down dogs who get infected. Although she reached the age of 10, she went through some very rough periods in her life. All of this may have been avoided if the vet had informed us of the seriousness of the disease and that it could be prevented by buying a collar. I’m not blaming the vet, far from it, but I think it’d be great if they gave more information.

  12. Thank you, Carol! I was sooo happy to read this post! I have always only adopted, but I do believe there is a place for reputable breeders. My grandfather was a breeder over 50 years ago, before all the testing was available. I was young, but I vaguely remember that some problems arose in a line once, and he retired (neutered and spayed) both sire and dam. Of course, both stayed on and, along with two other mutts, explored the “back forty” with me every summer. I am saddened that I actually can’t feel comfortable talking about my grandfather’s career in today’s “adopt don’t shop” climate.

  13. This was an amazing article! I hope to touch on this subject one day in my own blog, but it’s always nice to see the POV of other people! I’ll definitely keep reading these posts!

  14. Why continue to breed a dog that is known to have health issues? Whether they are reputable or not, it’s irresponsible to breed a dog that will have to suffer health conditions because people like to BUY a specific breed. That is the problem, reputable or not. If you truly love dogs you wouldn’t buy a living thing from someone profiting off them.

  15. No it is not okay to keep buying animals from breeders. They can tell you they care and love these animals but in truth- these dogs are just a product to them and all they care about is making a profit. There are already so many great dogs out there that are put down every day because someone bought them and then just discarded of them. There are also many other legitime reasons why not to support breeders but the list is so long lol definitely keep researching and trust me you will see.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.