Find a reputable breeder
Some traits which indicate a reputable breeder:
A reputable breeder is passionate about one or two breeds and is knowledgeable about breed standards and potential breed-specific genetic problems.
A reputable breeder should understand basic female reproductive health, so each female should not be bred more than a few times in her lifetime.
The puppies and their parents are kept in the breeder’s home as part of the family. A reputable breeder will welcome you to see where the dogs spend most of their time and encourage you to spend time with the puppy’s parents. Multiple visits are encouraged prior to taking the puppy home.
A reputable breeder relies on a strong relationship with a veterinarian and will provide documentation of the puppy’s vet visits, medical history, and any genetic tests that were performed.
Every puppy should come with a written health guarantee and the breeder should ask you to sign a contract stating that you will return the dog to the breeder should you be unable to keep the dog at any point during its lifetime. It is also customary for breeders to microchip their puppies before they go home. (Commerical kennels have now begun offering these “health guarantees” as well. Please use your best judgement when reading over any contractual paperwork.)
A reputable breeder will probably have fewer dogs than potential families waiting. He/She will maintain a list of people interested in the next available litter. This will mean that you may not be able to choose the exact time of the dog’s purchase. Please be patient! A healthy, happy puppy is well worth the wait.
(Remember, AKC registration itself does NOT imply that the puppy has not come from a commercial kennel. AKC registration ONLY verifies the dog’s bloodline. It does not imply acceptable conditions in which it or its parents have been kept. Many commercial breeders, or puppy millers, keep AKC registrations in the hopes that the public views this as a positive credential.)