How to avoid backyard breeders

There is so much information available on ‘adopt, don’t shop’, many buyers end up uneducated on how to responsibly buy a purebred pedigree puppy if it hasn’t come from a shelter.

If you’re reading this, chances are “you just want a pet”. Being “a pet” is one of the hardest jobs a dog can have – we ask for a lot from our pets. We ask that they be well-mannered companions who warm our beds, love our kids, watch over our homes as loyal protectors while miraculously accepting our friends without question. We ask them to run with us, play with us and explore bustling cities with us.

In addition, we hope (for their sake and ours) that they live long, healthy lives, free of pain and suffering. Every owner wishes this for their dog, but not all breeders make the effort to improve those odds.

Not All Breeders Are Created Equal

Even if you want a dog ‘just as a pet’, you will learn why reputable registered breeders, rescues and shelters are the only places you’ll ever want to get your new family member from. Keep reading to learn more about how you can identify a puppy mill versus a responsible breeder by looking at six key aspects. 

Visit the breeder

The first question you should ask is whether or not you can visit the home of the person selling the animal. Puppy mills will nearly always say no whereas responsible breeders will be more than happy to let you come and see their puppies and how they are raised. 

Ask to meet the parents, siblings, and any other relatives of your puppy. Keep in mind that some responsible breeders won’t have the father, but they should still be able to provide you with his information and can connect you with his breeder or owner. 

Pedigree papers

Responsible dog breeders will be registered with Dogs Australia (Formally Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC)). Registration is voluntary and can be expensive, it proves responsible breeders are not just in it for the money and that they’re willing to go the extra mile to ensure they are the best dog breeder they can be. Click here to read more about the importance of ANKC registration.

Puppy mills and back yard breeders may have a kennel license or non ANKC registration, but this is given out by the local government and only provides permission to own more dogs than what is allowed in that city or area. Don’t take these too seriously if this is the only proof offered of legitimacy.

Health testing

“Vaccinated and wormed” was once the gold standard when shopping for a healthy puppy, but these days this is not enough. A responsible breeder will have health certificates for the parents of the puppies. Each breed (and mixed-bred dogs too) has its own particular hereditary problems and Golden Retrievers are no exception. Failure to screen for these problems before breeding is irresponsible and takes unnecessary risks for genetic disease and often leads to heartache. DNA tests, eye examinations, heart examinations and x-rays are expected of responsible breeders before they breed their dogs. 

You’ll often find that with puppy mills and irresponsible backyard breeders say puppies have been “health tested”, this usually just means the puppies have been examined by a vet for obvious conditions. This increases the chances that they will come with various health problems and shows the breeder doesn’t care about the animal’s health.


A responsible breeder takes the time to learn everything they can about a breed before they start producing puppies. Find some basic and more advanced questions to ask someone to find out how much they know about the breed. 

Here are some examples of things a breeder should know about their dogs: 

  • Personality traits 
  • Energy level 
  • Intelligence 
  • Expected lifespan. 
  • Common genetic problems in the breed 
  • Average height and weight of adult animals 

If you feel like someone doesn’t know much about the breed, consider this a red flag and keep going through the other items on this list to determine if they’re a responsible breeder or a puppy mill.

Number of breeds

One question you should always ask that can quickly determine if you’re talking with a puppy mill or a responsible breeder is “How many dog breeds do you have?” 

Because of the amount of time and care that responsible breeders put into each breed, it’s rare to find a breeder that is breeding more than one or two types of dogs at once. The vast majority only have one breed they choose to focus on. 

If someone is breeding multiple dog breeds or has a number of “designer dogs” available, this is a huge red flag. Responsible breeders view so called “designer dogs” such as Groodles (Golden Retrievers crossed with Poodles) to be no different than any other mixed breed of dog.  These crosses damage the welfare of the golden retriever.


Something else you’ll want to ask about and look for when visiting a breeder is the level of care and human interaction the dogs are receiving. A responsible breeder does more than make sure their puppies are fed and clean. They also raise their puppies in an enriched environment with huge amounts of age appropriate mental and physical stimulation.

A responsible breeder keeps the mother and litter mates together until the puppies are ready for their new homes. A puppy that has left its mother and the rest of his littermates too early will lack the social skills taught to the litter at this critical age. This can result in some serious behaviour and social challenges later in life. A responsible breeder will not let a puppy leave before the 8-week mark.

If you still have any doubts about the reputability of a breeder at this point, don’t be afraid to contact the GRCWA Inc. and ask them about the individual you’re considering buying a puppy from.

What to do next with your puppy

Now you know six ways to determine if the puppy you’re looking at is coming from an irresponsible or a responsible breeder. It doesn’t take long to ask a few questions to determine where a puppy is coming from so you can avoid supporting animal cruelty. 

Once you’ve found a responsible breeder, don’t expect to take a puppy home straight away. Responsible breeders have waiting lists you will need to be patient. If you don’t want to wait, you can always look to adopt a furry friend awaiting a new home from a local animal shelter. Then, your next step is to Join the GRCWA Inc Being active with the club gives you immediate and discounted access to club events. You will be able to connect with fellow golden retriever lovers and stay informed about a variety of events and breed issues.

Next Step

Learn more about the process of buying a golden retriever.