Labrador breeders – how to find the good ones!

How to find a good labrador breeder written beside a basket full of lab puppies

© / Yuri Arcurs

The Labrador Retriever has consistently been the most popular breed of dog throughout the English-speaking world for over a decade.

But finding the perfect Labrador for you isn’t as easy as jumping on Google and typing ‘Labrador Breeders’ into the search field and then buying from the first result.

There are good, responsible breeders and there are those that…well, let’s just say some aren’t quite so good!

Contents & Quick Navigation

  • 2 The 12 Questions You Should Ask of a Labrador Breeder
  • 3 Questions You Should Expect FROM A Good Labrador Breeder
  • 4 Where Can You Find the Good Labrador Breeders?
  • 5 Could You Offer Advice On Finding Good Labrador Breeders?
  • What Does a Good Breeder Do?

    A good breeder is without doubt the best place to get your Labrador puppies. They will usually have a demonstrable love of the breed and are usually active in a competitive discipline such as field trials or showing.

    Good Labrador breeders don’t do so on a simple whim ‘Because my bitch is in heat and she would love being a mother.’ And they certainly don’t breed purely for profit.

    Breeding responsibly takes a lot of dedication, time and considered, reasoned processes. There isn’t a huge amount of money to make when breeding responsibly so it’s almost always a labor of love.

    Good Labrador Retriever breeders:

    • Carefully select and match a sire and dam to breed Labrador puppies with particular traits and temperament.
    • Take the utmost care of the welfare and living conditions of their dogs and puppies.
    • Perform many health checks on their breeding stock to cut the risk of inherited diseases.
    • Can provide certificates of pedigree for both parents.
    • Will provide information and help to you throughout the life of your Lab.

    Matching The Sire and Dam For Breeding

    Good Labrador breeders will usually be involved in a competitive discipline and will selectively breed their Labradors to improve the breed for a particular purpose.

    Some will breed for field trials, some for conformance to show in the ring and some for obedience.

    In each discipline, different qualities and temperament are bred for. Although most will also breed for their dogs to become good family pets.

    A good breeder will carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of the parents, hoping to achieve a higher level of perfection in their next generation of dogs for the purpose of which they are bred.

    Contrast this with a less responsible breeder.

    Video: Dogs 101 - Labrador Retriever

    They will often throw together any two dogs of the same breed purely to produce a litter of puppies for sale. No consideration given to the pedigrees of the parents and how compatible they may or may not be.

    Welfare and Living Conditions

    A good breeder will want to meet you and will give you the chance to see the parents of the puppies and the conditions in which his breeding stock lives.

    This is a very good opportunity for you to screen out some less reputable ones.

    A good breeder will either raise their Labrador puppies in the home, or in clean and well maintained kennels. You should expect to see a small unavoidable amount of ‘toilet mess’ but the place should not look dirty and neglected.

    Of utmost importance is the puppies early socialization to different experiences, surroundings and human contact. If puppies seem nervous around you, as if they’ve had no human contact, then this should give you cause for concern.

    A responsible Labrador breeders stock, from puppies through to adults, should look healthy and be friendly and sociable. If you find they have health or temperament problems, you should walk away.

    Health Checks

    Good Labrador breeders will have put their dogs and bitches through an array of health checks before deciding to use them in their breeding programs.

    A vet holding a stethoscope listening to a Yellow Labradors heart

    Photo credit: © / ikostudio

    They will spay or neuter those with genetic disease or health problems to improve the welfare of the breed.

    DO NOT accept a breeders ‘word’ on such matters. A bad breeder may say his stock has had a vets clearance for health. This is not at all sufficient and a breeder should be able to produce certificates that you can verify online or by phone.

    The two main health clearances you should ask to see:

    • Are the parents free of hip dysplasia? This is checked for once in the animal’s life, after the dog has reached at least one year of age.
    • Do the parents have ‘clear eye certificates‘ stating they are free of ‘Progressive Retinal Atrophy’ (PRA) and retinal dysplasia? These checks should be performed once a year.

    It’s also beneficial to talk to the breeder about other common illnesses that his breeding stock may have, such as epilepsy, osteoarthritis or exercise induced collapse.

    They aren’t required to test for these in their dogs. But a responsible one will be aware of these common ailments and will be honest about his stock being prone.

    In contrast to a good breeder, a bad breeder will not have put his puppies through any such health checks. They just don’t care enough.

    But if you get your puppy without such checks, you would be supporting bad practices, gambling with your dogs future health…and gambling with potentially high future vets bills!

    If a breeder cannot offer certifiable proof of the health of his stock and is unwilling to discuss genetic diseases, then you should definitely walk away.

    Ongoing Help to Care for Your Puppy

    Good Labrador breeders will provide you with lots of information on how to raise and care for your dog, both before you take your puppy home and throughout the lifetime of your dog.

    Video: Getting to know more about Labradors

    They will be extremely knowledgeable and because they truly care about their puppies, no question will be too simple or too small for them to answer.

    They will often help with dietary advice, training advice, health and care advice and be able to offer contact details of important organizations.

    Some will even go so far as to give a promise they will take your puppy back if it displays unmanageable health problems or your circumstances change and you can longer care for your Lab.

    A bad breeder will not provide anything like this level of service.

    The 12 Questions You Should Ask of a Labrador Breeder

    In order to help you filter out the good Labrador breeders from the bad, I have prepared a list of 12 questions that you should ask a breeder. They are questions they will expect and should be happy to answer:

    1. How are you involved with the Labrador breed? If they are seriously into their breeding, they have some involvement in field trails or showing their dogs. You cannot instantly discount a breeder who doesn’t, but this is a very good sign.
    2. How many different breeds of dog do you breed? Two, maybe three at a push is OK, but it’s usually a warning sign that the breeder isn’t the best if they are spreading themselves thinly over many breeds. They are more likely in it for the money and not just for the love of the breed.
    3. Are the sire and dam registered? Will the puppies be registered? Of course, when buying a pedigree dog, you will wan this to be proven and traceable. Most good breeders will also register their puppies and will hand them over when you collect your puppy.
    4. Where are your Labrador puppies raised? The perfect answer is in the home. Some kennel bred puppies are still well socialized and given lots of human attention. But many aren’t and this is a warning sign.
    5. How long have you breeding / How many litters of puppies have you bred? Although an inexperienced breeder isn’t necessarily a bad breeder, it’s less of a risk to go with an experienced breeder who has stood the tests of time. Also, a breeder of 10 years who has only produced 2 litters isn’t experienced. And a breeder who’s produced 20 litters in 2 years is more likely in it for the money.
    6. Can you provide check-able certificates of the parents health screening tests concerning hips and eyes?  Good Labrador breeders will health screen their stock and will not breed dogs that have poor scores for health. They will care more for the quality of life of their potential puppies and for the overall health of the population.
    7. Is there any history of other diseases common to Labrador Retrievers in the ancestry of the puppies? Unfortunately, many pedigree dogs have an array of inherited, genetically linked diseases. A good breeder will be happy to discuss this with you.
    8. Should my circumstances change in such a way that I can no longer care for the dog, would you be willing to take it back? The majority of good breeders will be happy to do so and will provide a written guarantee. However, a deal is a deal and if the breeder seems good in many other ways, do not place too high an emphasis on this one.
    9. May I contact you with any questions that I have about the dog once I have him in my care? Every single breeder should say yes and will be happy to help.
    10. At what age am I able to take the dog home? No breeder will let a puppy go before it is 8 weeks old. These first 8 weeks, the puppy is learning a huge amount from its mother and litter mates. If taken too soon, it’s development will be stunted and it could have behavioral problems later in life. Taking a puppy from its mother too soon is tantamount to cruelty.
    11. Is it possible for me to meet the parents of the puppies? Of course, the breeder should own the mother, but in many cases it’s also possible to see the sire too. You can learn a lot about both the potential looks and temperament of your chosen puppy by meeting the parents. If the sire cannot be seen, you should at least be able to get its name and the name of the owner so you contact them and try to arrange a viewing and check its certificates for health etc.
    12. Can you provide references of previous adopters of your puppies? The experiences had by people who have previously dealt with the breeder are invaluable. They can tell you how their dog is doing, whether any health problems surfaced and the way the dealer dealt with them both during the sale and throughout the lifetime of the dog.

    From the answers they give, you should be able to instantly spot the bad breeders and cut them from your short list.

    You should try to make a personal visit to the remaining ones to further check that they are reputable.

    For more information, please see:

    • 16 questions you should ask a breeder – From PetPlace.com
    • Ten Questions to ask a dog breeder – From DogChannel.com
    • Ten Questions To Ask The Breeder – From the Canadian Kennel Club

    Questions You Should Expect FROM A Good Labrador Breeder

    Responsible Labrador Retriever breeders will have lots of questions for you before they’ll consider giving you one of their beloved puppies.

    Here are a few of the questions you should expect to be asked:

    • What are you particularly hoping for in a dog? They will use your answers in helping them to decide if a Lab is the right dog for you.
    • Can you afford a dog? They will want to make sure you’re able to cover not just the cost of acquiring a puppy, but the ongoing costs for food, health care, equipment and the inevitable unexpected vets bills in time of accident or illness.
    • Do you live in a house or a flat? Do you have a garden at all? How large? Is it fenced? Ideally, they’d like to know their puppy’s going to a good home with a nice medium to large fenced yard so the dog will have ample time outside. However, they won’t refuse you a puppy if you don’t have a garden. You’d just better be able to convince them you will give ample exercise and fresh air to your puppy throughout the day.
    • How much time can you spend with the puppy and where will you keep it? They will want to be sure they aren’t giving their puppy to someone who will just abandon their dog to the back yard and pay it no attention. You should have concrete plans for the care and upbringing of your dog.
    • Do you have a spouse? have you any children? They will want to know who else in the home will be spending time with the dog. They will almost certainly want to meet them and see how they interact with the puppy to make sure everyone is compatible with the puppy.
    • Do you currently own any dogs? Have you had dogs before in your life? They will want to know if you are an experienced dog owner and if you know what to expect. And if you currently own a dog, whether it is compatible with a new lab puppy.

    Please don’t take offense to these type of questions. They may seem a bit personal, but hopefully you understand that the breeder is asking through nothing but concern for both his puppies AND for you as an owner.

    Good Labrador breeders will want to be sure you are a perfect match for their puppy and that you aren’t biting off more than you can chew.

    For more information, please see:

    • Finding a responsible breeder – From DogOwnersGuide.com, where there’s a section on what a breeder might ask you
    • 10 Questions a Dog Breeder Wants To Ask You – From Exceptional Canine.com
    • 10+ Questions Dog Breeders Should Ask Puppy Buyers – From BreedingBusiness.com

    Where Can You Find the Good Labrador Breeders?

    An animated magnifying glass held over a map

    Photo credit: © / kaktus2536

    You should treat this like the big decision that it truly is. You’ll have your lab living with you for the next 10+ years, so it makes sense to take this seriously.  Be willing to spend some time on research.

    The major kennel clubs around the world (AKC, CKC, UK Kennel club etc.) all have a database of breeders you can search on their site.

    You will also find the more regional Labrador Retriever Clubs will have directories and listings from breeders.

    Finally, there’s a wealth of breeders that have their own websites and you can easily find them by searching for ‘Labrador breeders’ combined with your location in a Google search.

    The only advice I can give, is that you should exercise due caution, look for reviews and feedback from earlier customers and remember the points we have discussed above.

    Although breeders may be listed on a major kennel or Labrador Retriever Club, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are reputable. The vetting processes on some of these organizations is somewhat relaxed or even non-existent for some. The vetting process is, I’m afraid, all down to you.

    Could You Offer Advice On Finding Good Labrador Breeders?

    If you have any advice on how to find the good breeders or avoid the bad, would you mind telling us in the comments below?

    Perhaps you know of a good directory? Or a service in your country that vets breeder listings and only shows the good ones? if so, please let us know in the comments below. We can all help each other!

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