How Can I Identify A Responsible Breeder?
At a bare minimum, you should make sure you visit the breeder to see conditions for yourself. Never, never, never purchase a dog over the Internet or at a pet store without seeing where he came from. Puppy Mills are breeding facilities that produce purebred puppies in huge numbers. The puppies are sold either directly to the public via pet stores, the Internet, newspaper ads, at the mill itself, or are sold to brokers such as The Hunte Corporation who just one of several large commercial puppy mill brokers in the US. Other similar companies (such as Lambriar, Inc. and Crittersville Kennels) also profit from the cruel puppy mill industry. Puppy mills have long concerned The Humane Society of the United States. Don't believe any pictures you see that purport to show you where the dogs were born. Ask the breeder to show you where the puppies spend most of their time. Is the area clean and well-maintained? Is the mother present?
Then take a look at the puppy's parent(s) and ask to see their certification from the OFA, which shows that they have been checked for hip dysplasia and found to be free of genetic orthopedic problems. Also, many breeders will have their dogs checked for genetic eye problems and will have a certificate from CERF, although this is a bit less common than an OFA certification.
Ask the breeder to show you his records. He should keep track of which dogs have been bred with which other dogs, and what the results were. This helps him to selectively breed for desired traits such as gentle personalities or even certain colors. He should also be able to show you each puppy's worming records and each adult dog's shot records.
Ask how many breeds the breeder deals in. Ideally, a breeder will specialize in one or two breeds and will be able to tell you the breed standard of each. He cannot breed to the standard if he doesn't know what it is. As you are talking to the breeder, you will get a good sense of why he is in the business. A high quality breeder has an interest in creating the "perfect" specimen of his preferred breed. He will likely be able to tell you the awards his dogs have won at shows.
Responsible breeders will not usually tell you to "come on over and take your pick of the litter." Rather, they will take your name and let you know when they have a puppy available for you. This is good; it indicates they are not wearing out their breed stock.
While you are interviewing the breeder, he should also be interviewing you! He wants to take some responsibility for sending his puppies to good homes. He should insist that you sign a contract to spay or neuter your dog if you are not buying a show quality dog. He should ask who you intend to use as your veterinarian and what kind of training you plan to provide. He should inquire as to whether the dog will be allowed to live in your house, and if you rent, he should require proof from your landlord that he allows pets.