Of course you want your puppy to come from an ethical breeder. But what exactly is ethical breeding and how can you find an ethical breeder?

Ethical breeding is about producing healthy puppies from healthy parents and raising them to be happy, well socialised dogs. But ethical breeding starts long before the puppies are born. It is about accumulated knowledge and experience of your breed and the preservation of its best characteristics. It is being devoted to the happiness and welfare of your dogs and puppies. And it’s about breeding for the right reasons; in my case because I enjoy breeding and raising puppies and because I want to maintain the lineage of my own pack. I find it moving and rewarding to see qualities and characteristics I cherished in one dog reappear in their descendants.

How Ethical Breeding Impacts Your Dog’s Health

Ethical breeding practice starts with healthy parents, the careful selection of breeding pairs and extensive health testing. This reduces the risk of passing on inherited genetic disorders and breed associated health problems.

A responsible breeder will only breed from dogs who have undergone the recommended health tests for their breed. Note that carefully: health tests, not health checks. A vet will examine a dog annually when it receives its booster vaccination; this is a health check. A health test will examine the dog’s genetic inheritance through the submission of blood samples or buccal swabs; and a specialist will examine the dog’s eyes and heart and grade the result. Health tests provide test certificates recording the results. To find out more about Cavalier health testing, go here.

Unethical breeders will cut corners from the start, using unsuitable stud dogs, failing to carry out health tests, not feeding the dam properly, not handling the puppies, and keeping the dam and puppies in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Such puppies, not socialised and unused to being handled, do not settle easily in their new homes; and depending on the breed may be either anxious and fearful, or hostile and aggressive. These are the dogs most likely to end up in shelters, because their new owners cannot cope.

Sometimes puppies become ill within days of arriving at their new homes, because they were raised in poor conditions and because they have no immunity as neither they nor the dam have been vaccinated. Distressed owners, already devoted to their cute little puppy, can incur huge vet’s bills trying to save them, often in vain because the puppy is so young, and its health is already compromised. It’s a sad tale too often heard.

The raison d’etre for unethical breeders is profit: producing puppies as cheaply as possible, sometimes by importing them from abroad. Ethical breeding is not cheap, and it follows that quality puppies are not cheap either. A great deal of loving attention and hard work is needed to produce happy, healthy puppies who will settle into their new homes quickly and easily.

Other Considerations for Ethical Breeding

Good breeding practice maintains and improves the breed standard. This means correct conformation, strong bones and a good temperament. These qualities vary enormously among different breeds, and it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the Kennel Club standard for your breed. Although temperament is partly a question of nurture (unethical breeders are unlikely to produce well-socialised puppies), it is important that the parents’ temperaments accord with the breed standard.

To find out more about the Cavalier breed standard, go here.

It’s desirable that the parents are not too closely related; this is not always easy to avoid when the gene pool for a particular breed is small, which is especially likely in rare and endangered breeds. Deciding on a suitable breeding pair means considering the coefficient of inbreeding. For the Cavalier the average coefficient is 5.6%, this is considered to be a low figure for a pedigree dog breed.

Signs of Ethical Breeding Practice

An ethical breeder will not sell a puppy to someone they have not met; nor will they suggest you meet in a lay-by where the puppy will be exchanged for cash, no questions asked! It may seem obvious when you read it in black and white, but such transactions continue to take place, often with unhappy results.

This is what to look for in an ethical breeder.

  • An ethical breeder will want to meet you, and for you to meet the puppy, before any agreement is reached.
  • An ethical breeder will want to know more about your home and your lifestyle; and will expect you to have questions you wish to ask them.
  • You will meet the puppy’s mother and littermates when you visit (and possibly other relatives). Remember that bringing up a litter of puppies places a considerable strain on the dam’s resources, so she will not be looking her best!
  • You will see the conditions in which the puppy is being raised. These should be light, clean and well-aired.
  • The puppy will be health checked by a vet and microchipped before collection.
  • The breeder will provide full paperwork, including registration papers (if the puppy is pedigree), the parents’ health tests, microchip details, advice about feeding and training and (if the puppy has been given its first injection) a vaccination card (for more about puppy vaccinations go here).

Signs of Unethical Breeding Practice

An unethical breeder will primarily be concerned about being paid. All other considerations will come at best a poor second.

  • An unethical breeder may not want you to visit the puppy before collection.
  • An unethical breeder may not show you the puppy’s mother or littermates, or they may show you a dog which is not the puppy’s mother (the puppy will show no affinity for her, and she may not even have any milk).
  • An unethical breeder will not have any paperwork. They may brandish a health test certificate, but they will not give you a copy.
  • An unethical breeder will not show you where the puppy was raised.
  • An unethical breeder will not give you a vaccination card for the puppy, even though they claim it has had its first injection.
  • An unethical breeder may not have microchipped the puppy (which is illegal).

How to Find an Ethical Breeder

A good place to start is by contacting the breed club for your chosen breed; most pedigree breeds have them. Many breed clubs keep a puppy register; you can find the Cavalier KCS Club here.

The Kennel Club also offers a puppy register although the cost tends to discourage some people from using it. You can find the Kennel Club Cavalier puppy register here.

There are also online websites advertising puppies; the better ones such as Pets4Homes are nowadays trying to safeguard buyers against buying from unethical breeders. Be very cautious about less dedicated websites like craiglist, and adverts on social media.