How to find a reputable doodle breeder, from bernadoodles to goldendoodles breeders to cavapoochons and everything in between; what to look for, and what to ask your breeder
Congrats on starting on your journey to find the perfect doodle puppy. Let me save you the headaches and uncertainties of finding a good doodle breeder and instead, give you the tools and questions to help you find the perfect doodle puppy.
I want to make this clear: I’m a fan of rescue dogs and well-bred dogs. The dog world is big enough to have room for both – and in my house, I have exactly that. Maggie, a poochon (bichon poodle), is a rescue from the LA city shelter. Rossi, my cavapoochon, came from an established breeder. Where a dog comes from is not nearly as important as the owner’s total commitment to the dog.
It’s well-known that no two doodles are alike. When mixing breeds, there is simply no guarantee what you will get – this goes for size, personality, temperament and inherited genetic conditions. For example, Rossi is 16lbs, his littermate brother is almost double that. A good breeder can estimate sizes but really, with a mixed breed, there’s going to be a lot of variation. What’s important is that your doodle breeder is trying to produce healthy, confident, good-natured doodles and not just breeding to breed a cute, popular dog.
If you’ve got your heart set on a doodle, what can you do to find a breeder who is trying to produce a healthy, family-friendly dog? A purposeful breeder takes health and temperament very seriously, investing a lot of time and effort to produce happy and healthy dogs.
Can I rescue a doodle?
Before we dive into how to find your perfect doodle breeder, I should tell you that yes, you can rescue a doodle. No one is more supportive of that than me. Just because a doodle comes from a rescue or shelter doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the dog – even the most loving owner can fall on hard times or be forced to move or find themselves in a situation where they can’t care for the dog. There are plenty of rescues that specialize in doodles and I highly encourage you to get in touch with them if you want to go this route. As I mentioned previously, I got my own Maggie from the Los Angeles city shelter – you might want to swing by your local and see what they have available.
How do I avoid puppy mills? What happens if I get a puppy mill puppy?
There are a lot of doodle puppy mills out there. Some are clever at disguising that they’re puppy mills. If you see an ad or a website and you’re concerned that it might be an operation with little regard for the health and quality of their dogs or if you think the seller is trying to scam you, a good idea is to go on doodle groups on social media and ask about the seller/breeder. See what kind of feedback you get and proceed – or don’t – with caution. And of course I have a lot of tips and red flags below to help you make an educated decision about a doodle breeder.
That said, I’ve had a lot of clients with puppy mill dogs. I don’t love these dogs any less – and neither do their owners – but often they’ll have health issues or temperament issues. Sometimes the dog is not the size promised by the breeder and – in some cases – a genetic test reveals that the dog is not the advertised breed mix.
While you might end up with a dog that’s everything you want and that you love whole-heartedly, I think we can all agree that we don’t want to support this kind of breeding. These dogs are not bred responsibly or ethically or with the dog’s health as a priority. But when you purchase a puppy from these breeders, you may think you’re saving a puppy but really you’re encouraging them to breed more dogs with the same lack of ethics.
A couple of years ago, when I was looking for a second dog – enter Rossi – I wanted another bichon poodle mix like Maggie. But since she came from a shelter, I couldn’t return to the breeder. I love the characteristics of both of these breeds – Bichons were bred to be family dogs and to do tricks for royalty, they’re confident, loving, sweet and as cute as can be (to me at least). Poodles are active, intelligent and loyal. All of this fits my lifestyle very well and hence I wanted a similar dog to join our family before Maggie, then 9, was too old to be accommodating to a puppy. During my search, I made the rounds at the shelters and rescues for years where I didn’t find anything suitable. Online, I trawled through so many unethical puppy mills while searching for a breeder who was ethical and had what I was looking for. In the end, I fell in love with a slightly different breed mix and I did find my dream breeder.
Finding a reputable breeder takes time and commitment
My search took over a year. I had to be patient and ask all the necessary questions.
And then, decision made, I waited almost another full year to get Rossi. No, not everyone wants to wait that long. But good breeders don’t breed that many litters and they usually have waiting lists of return clients and people like me who’ve done their research.
Below I’ll dive into what I look for in a doodle breeder including:
- Health and temperament testing
- Breeders that ask questions about you
- Puppy Culture and ENS
- A welcome Back Program
Does the breeder do health and temperament testing?
Good breeders want to better the breed and produce a better quality dog. Granted, for doodles there’s no ‘breed standard’ as they’re a mix by definition. But, they want to breed healthy dogs that live long and pain-free lives. Any breeder you consider should 100% be health testing their dogs – and it’s a hard pass for me if they aren’t. An ethical breeder wants to ensure their dogs have good health and isn’t going to breed dogs from bloodlines that have high rates of hip dysplasia and cancer.
How does a dog breeder health test?
Your breeder should be doing multiple health tests including either OFA (a DNA test for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals database) or PennHIP (a radiographic imaging exam) for bone and joint health, with dogs/breeds over 50 lbs/23 kg tested for hip dysplasia. Parents should have had cardiac and and patella testing as well as more extensive DNA testing to screen out any carriers of genetic issues.
Most breeders will require a spay and/or neuter (unless you are part of their guardian or breeding program) as they don’t want you breeding dogs outside of their strict program.
Now, it’s important to know that many puppy mills and unethical breeders know that people have been told – in blogs like this one – to look out for exactly these things. So when a prospective buyer asks them about health testing, they’ll be ready with answers, like ‘yes, we health test our dogs’. As the buyer, you have to dig deeper and ask more questions, like specific questions about test results and certifications – do they have them and will they share them with you?
Likewise, a good doodle breeder will have a lot of specific questions for you because a good breeder cares about where their puppies are going to live. Another way to put this: if a breeder will sell you a puppy with no questions asked, find a different breeder.
A responsible breeder will want to know if you can afford veterinary care, if you plan to carry pet insurance, what experience you have with their breed and dogs in general, what are your plans for training – and of course, who lives in your household, what type of home you live in, what are your home and work hours.
A good breeder wants to know a lot of details about you. It might feel like a job interview. (Even though I’m a professional dog trainer with a dog-centric life, I was so nervous filling out my application for Rossi!)
But even though the extensive questions – on both sides – can be time-consuming and difficult, this process goes a long way to helping ensure that you’re the right fit to the puppy.
The important of Puppy Culture and Early Neurologist Stimulation (ENS)
This is something you may not have heard of before but I’ll tell you it’s a huge one for me. The first 12 weeks of your dog’s life – basically, the time the puppy is with their litter and breeder – can shape their future. How stressed do they get with new situations? New sounds? New environments? Breeders pay a huge part in how adaptable dogs will be in situations they will encounter over their entire life.
A good breeder does either Puppy Culture or ENS, which are processes to introduce mild stresses to the puppy which helps stimulate the neurological system, improve the growth of the immune system and cardiovascular system and also increase their ability to tolerate stress. What this means is that simple handling and activities starting on day 3 of the puppy’s life will help make a confident happy dog. These simple activities include things like walking on a variety of surfaces and hearing different sounds.
Studies have shown that thirty seconds per day of ENS for the first 2 weeks of puppy’s life can dramatically improve how a dog deals with stress – which, in addition to giving them confidence, can lead to avoiding health issues.
A good breeder has a ‘welcome back’ program
Any good breeder requires that buyers return the dog if something happens so that they can no longer keep the dog. This could be a change in personal finances or a serious illness or an allergic member of the family or unaffordable vet treatments for the dog. Because a good breeder cares about their dogs, the breeder will have you sign a contract requiring you to return the dog to them if you can no longer keep it and forbidding you to sell, give away or trade their dog.
Red flags to look out for when looking for doodle breeders
We’ve talked about how to find a good breeder. Now we’ll flip it and discuss how to avoid a bad breeder. Doodles – goldendoodles, bernadoodle, Aussiedoodles, labradoodles – are ‘hot’ dogs these days. Due to their popularity, there’s a wide range of breeders out there and you’ll surely encounter some who show the following warning signs.
- Breeders who don’t ask you questions about yourself. What is your job? Can you afford a dog? Where do you live? When are you home? How much time do you have for a dog? What is your plan for exercise?
- Breeders who aren’t doing health and genetic testing OR can’t/won’t tell you what health tests are done on their puppies.
- Breeders who state their mixed breed dogs (like golden doodles) are AKC registered.
- Puppies should not be allowed to leave before 8 weeks of age.
- Ask about the parents. Where are they? What are their personalities like?
- Often the price is lower or too good to be true
- Won’t get on the phone with you to answer questions
- Breeders who don’t have a welcome back/return program.
- Breeders who don’t introduce their puppies to the basics of grooming (doodles require grooming – this is important).
- Breeders who don’t retire their breeding dogs at age 5-6. This is for the dog’s well-being, although males are usually retired later than females.
- Breeders who won’t share vaccine and medical records or won’t share their vet’s contact information.
- Breeders who don’t do early socialization.
Good luck with your doodle hunt! There are a lot of good breeders out there – just be patient and take the time to do thorough research.
My own Cavapoochon, Rossi, comes from Petit Jean Puppies in Arkansas. I did loads of research – actually, all the research you read about in this post – before making a commitment to Petit Jean Puppies and I can say that Rossi is everything I wanted in a doodle (and more).
But remember, we all have different recipes for the perfect dog – do you want a calm pet? A hiking buddy? A frisbee fanatic? A family dog? A therapy dog? All of these things figure into your search.
When you’re ready for your doodle puppy, remember to check out our puppy training section including important blogs for your new puppy’s arrival: What to buy for your new puppy and your dog’s first few days.