The Good, The Bad, & the Uneducated: How to Tell Them Apart
This page will give you tips and insights as to how to identify the good and the bad English Golden Retriever breeders, as well as the well-intentioned, but uneducated. Most of this article will be specific to English Golden Retrievers, but much of the information could apply to American lines as well. We’ll give you tips on how to recognize puppy mills, health testing deception, & more! Our goal is to help you in choosing a Golden Retriever breeder that you’ll be happy with while at the same time not getting in the middle of your search by recommending particular breeders. With the help of this article, you should be able to separate the good Golden Retriever Breeders from the bad ones yourself.
American Golden Retriever Breeders Verses English Golden Retriever Breeders
Overall, it is much easier to find a good American Golden Retriever breeder than an English Golden Retriever breeder. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of American Golden Retriever breeders who are extremely knowledgable, honest, and care strongly about their puppies. Though it is more difficult to find a good breeder of the English type, they are there and you can find them. However, there are far more breeders that either fall into the category of being dishonest or of being uneducated “backyard breeders”.
In order to ascertain which Golden Retriever breeders are good, you first need to know what to look for to recognize the bad ones. Therefore, our first section in this article is about the red flags to be aware of. Then, our second section (which will be written soon) will be about considerations that may or may not matter to you; just some things to consider as you determine what is best for you and your family.
Red Flags for Golden Retriever Breeders
We are going to discuss some of the unscrupulous breeding practices going on primarily amongst breeders of what is commonly referred to as English Cream Golden Retrievers. If you can weed out those Golden Retriever breeders with the red flags listed below, then you’ve probably found yourself a good breeder!
Make Sure Golden Retriever Breeders are Doing Sufficient Health Testing on the Parents
The most important information you need to know about any Golden Retriever breeder is with regard to health testing of the parents. All Golden retrievers, whether from American lines, or field lines, or imported lines need to be tested at a minimum for hips, elbows, heart, and eyes. Eyes should be done yearly. These are the issues in the breed that have a strong genetic component, no matter what country they are from. Further, the best of breeders will also do DNA testing for PRA (a serious eye disease) and Ichthyosis.
See our page on health. This page will take you to several other pages to learn about what kinds of tests should be done and what results to look for. The breeder should be willing to show you proof of the results of these tests or have them linked to their website or show you how to verify these results through OFA.
A Guarantee is Not as Important as Health Tested Parents
There are quite a few breeders (even the bad ones) who will guarantee hips, elbows, heart, and eyes. However, this does not equate to having the parents tested. The less than desirable breeder’s guarantee might be the same as many good breeders. However, what good is a guarantee when there is an unnecessarily high chance of your puppy having a major health issue. These guarantees often include your returning the puppy and getting a replacement with no other options. What good is this if you’ve fallen in love with your puppy? Would you bring him back? For most, the guarantee ends up being worthless.
There is no reason for families to have to face a future of taking care of a puppy with genetic problems that could have possibly been prevented in the first place. No breeder can truly guarantee a perfect puppy. Even with the best of testing and care, there are things that can happen that are out of every breeder’s control. However, a breeder who does health testing on the parents and then retires those that don’t score well will give you the best chance of a healthy puppy.
Make Sure the Golden Retriever Breeder can Verify Health Testing Results
Be careful of Golden Retriever breeders who say they have health clearances, but do not have proof of it. There are many breeders who are claiming to do health testing when they have not. These breeders often will have a score reported on their website and possibly even on k9data.com.
K9 data is a good source of information. However, keep in mind that breeders post their own results. K9data is a trust-based website. Having results posted to k9data.com does not prove anything. If breeders truly have clearances, they should be able to show them to you.
For dogs with OFA clearances, you can verify results yourself on www.ofa.org. If dogs were either evaluated by Penn Hip, BVA, or FCI, you should ask to see documentation giving proof if the test results aren’t scanned into their site.
Verify That the Dog’s Health Clearances Were Done at an Appropriate Age
Once obtaining copies of health results, you need to examine these health results looking primarily two things. The score is the first piece of information you’ll need. Secondly, if the score is either an FCI or Penn Hip score, you need to see the age of the dog at the time of test.
Remember when you look at dates from Europe that they are written in the format dd/mm/yy. For instance, if you see the date 06/03/20 in the United States, it means June 3, 2020. However, if you see this same date 06/03/20 in Europe, it would be referring to March 6, 2020. Any FCI or BVA documentation will have dates written as dd/mm/yy.
BVA will not evaluate a dog unless they meet the their minimum age requirement of one year, so you can be assured that a dog tested by BVA was tested when he was at least a year old. OFA posts the date of the test on their website thereby taking the responsibility for examining the paper off of you.
If OFA shows the test results as “preliminary”, that means that the x-ray was taken prior to the dog being 2 years of age. For a final OFA clearance, the dog must be at least 2 years old.
However, as has already been discussed, you can get FCI clearances at ANY age. In addition, Penn Hip will evaluate a dog as young as four months. Getting these 4-month Penn Hip clearances is becoming more and more common with breeders of the imports. A clearance done at 4-months is not adequate. If it were, every breeder in the country would be doing them. We will discuss more on Penn Hip below.
The BIG Scam With FCI Clearances
Starting several years ago, breeders in eastern Europe and Russia discovered that American breeders marketing their dogs as “English Creams” would pay high prices for puppies that were guaranteed to pass health tests. These breeders outside of the U.S. (and there are LOTS of them) will obtain an FCI health “clearance” on their puppies at very young ages. Then the American breeders pass them off as final clearances.
Breeders obtain FCI clearances through their own own vets. European Breeders can do them at any age. Even the good breeders in Europe will sometimes do them early just to get an idea of how their dogs’ hips are developing. However, these early tests are not final clearances. They are purely meant to be informational for the breeder. For FCI clearances to be official, breeders must do them when dogs are over 18 months of age.
Dogs Being Bred Who Were Imported With “Full” Clearances as Puppies
There are many breeders in eastern Europe and Russia who are selling their puppies at about 6-10 months of age to Americans. They offer the breeder in the U.S. a “full” clearance. These clearances are not official and are obtained only from the European breeder’s own vet. Once American breeders receive these puppies and they’ve grown up to be of breeding age, they then pass their dogs off as having final clearances. In actuality, the clearances were received when the dog was just a puppy in Europe.
There are many breeders in eastern Europe who have found a money making opportunity with Americans. To make their puppies even more marketable, these European breeders are also getting “junior championships” from eastern European countries. These championships are meaningless and can be obtained on virtually any dog. However, Americans buying these dogs are touting these championships (along with the meaningless health clearances) as something worthy of merit.
FCI clearances are fine as long as they are official and as long as breeders don’t lie about what the results mean. However, be aware that there are many breeders advertising final FCI results when all they have are results obtained from x-rays that were made on the dog as a puppy.
Be Wary of Dates on Unofficial Clearances
Another scam between eastern European breeders and less than reputable American breeders is this: The European breeder will have the dog health tested as a puppy. They then send the puppy to the U.S. with the promise of getting the health clearance issued from their vet after the dog is a year old. The vet issues the clearance when the dog is over a year and the European breeder sends it to the breeder in the U.S. However, the clearance is based on the x-ray that was done many months prior. These x-rays would have been done too soon to see if the dog will indeed remain clear of hip dysplasia.
I know these things are going on because I’ve talked to the European breeders myself. Don’t rule out FCI clearances all together. However, you need to be careful with FCI clearances if they were done on young dogs. Otherwise, you can’t maximize your chances of getting a puppy with healthy hips and elbows.
To my knowledge, these types of unethical practices are not going on in western Europe and especially not in the UK.
Age of Dog at Clearance
There are 3 primary health testing agencies (not including Penn Hip) that represent different areas of the world. All 3 of them have a different minimum age. Which ones are acceptable?
Minimum Age Is Different in Different Parts of the World
OFA is the only organization that requires dogs to be over 2 years of age. FCI requires dogs to be 1 1/2 for an official clearance. BVA’s minimum age is 12 months. You can be assured that dogs with foreign clearances will have had them done when the dog was barely over the minimum age. All breeders anxiously await health clearances. After investing much money, time, and most importantly heart into a puppy, it is a very nerve-racking time. Breeders have little incentive to wait.
If you want a dog with a pedigree full of parents tested at over 2 years of age as is the requirement in America, you should stick to American lines. Waiting until 2 years is just not done in Europe. Why not?
Many American breeders say that if you are breeding in the U.S., you should follow the American GRCA (Golden Retriever Club of America) guidelines which state that dogs should not be bred until hips and elbows are tested at over two years of age. We agree with this age limitation UNLESS the dog has met one of the following conditions. A BVA clearance (taken at over 12 months) with a result of less than a total of a 10 on both hips is acceptable to us. Also, an official FCI clearance from western Europe taken at over 18 months with a score of “A” on both hips is a good clearance.
To understand one reason why we think it is acceptable, read the next section. In addition, we will update this page soon to also discuss why we think that BVA evaluations are actually much better than OFA hip evaluations.
OFA and Dogs Under 2
We feel that dogs tested under the European guidelines need to be re-tested when they are over 2 years of age except under 2 very specific conditions discussed below.
OFA suggests that breeders do what are called preliminaries. A preliminary is an OFA test done at under 2 years of age.
According to OFA’s website, if a dog receives a preliminary score of excellent, there is a 100% chance of the dog passing at 2 years of age. If a dog receives a preliminary score of good, there is a 97.9% chance of the dog passing at 2 years of age. Now, keep in mind that these statistics are based on ALL preliminaries including those taken at ages as young as 4 months.
Reliability increases with age. Here are some statistics based on age of the dog. These statistics were taken from the same page on OFA’s site. Preliminaries done at 3-6 months are 89.6% reliable. Those done at 7-12 months are 93.8% reliable. Those done at 13-18 months are 95.2% reliable.
Now, let’s combine the reliability of ALL tests done at over a year including those receive a “fair” and those that don’t pass (95.2% reliable) and the reliability of tests receiving a good or excellent done at any age over 4 months (97.9%-100%). The reliability becomes close to if not at 100%. I see no point in repeating the test. Neither does OFA according to the page just referenced.
Hip Dysplasia is Progressive
However, hip dysplasia is a progressive condition. It tends to get worse as dogs get older. Further, according to this same page on OFA’s website, only 76.9% of dogs that pass with a “fair” prior to 2 years of age will still be passing at 2 years. A “fair” is the same as an FCI “B” or a BVA total of both hips of 11-18. These scores cannot be trusted at a year of age. Hips of this caliber must be x-rayed again at 2 years of age in order to determine if the hips will deteriorate. 76.9% is no better statistics than the statistics you’d find on a dog totally untested. You would be rolling the dice with a puppy from such parents.
Further, you need to trust whoever is evaluating the x-ray. BVA and OFA both have teams of non-biased professionals evaluating the x-rays. FCI X-rays are evaluated by a breeder’s own vet.
No Short Cuts
Raising a puppy only to discover that they don’t pass clearances is very disappointing to any breeder. It would be wonderful if we really could get adequate testing done early before we’ve poured our heart (along with our money) into the puppy.
However, there are not short-cuts. Breeders must take the risks of raising puppies without knowing for sure if they will pass. Otherwise, puppy owners (and the puppies themselves) might develop problems worst than simply retiring a dog that wasn’t quite good enough health-wise to be bred.
Common Ways Breeders of Imports are Exaggerating Health Clearances
If you discover that a breeder is dishonest about one issue, there could be others. Uncovering misleading facts on clearances is fairly easy to do. Usually the breeders that fall into the category of exaggerating health clearances are the same ones that are saying things like they have the “best dogs in the world” or other such nonsense. Their goal is to make you think that their dogs are superior to others breeders’ dogs in order to jack up their prices.
A common exaggeration with the imports is with regard to health results. Some breeders claim to have dogs better than they are by misrepresenting how European health results compare to the American OFA.
Misrepresenting BVA Hip Scores
BVA scores are often grossly exaggerated. In fact, these breeders report their scores as literally being twice as good as they should be. They do this by not adding the scores of the two hips together as they should be. BVA gives a separate score for each hip on a dog. To compare a BVA score to an OFA score, the scores of each of the two hips must be added together.
The lower the score, the better with BVA. Therefore, if you are comparing individual hips to the OFA numbers on their comparison chart, you are bumping your score up at least one level. These breeders will claim “fair” to be “good” scores. They claim “good” scores to be “excellent”.
For example, for a BVA score to be equivalent to an OFA excellent, the TOTAL of both hips must be 4 or less according to the OFA conversion chart. There are some breeders who are claiming that their dogs have excellent hips when only one hip is 4 or less. By the time the other hip score is added in, these dogs are almost always in the good range. The “good” range is when the total of both hips added together is between 5 and 10. So if a dog has a 2/3 BVA score, then the dog has the
Misrepresenting FCI Hip Scores
There are also many breeders misrepresenting FCI hip scores and how they compare to OFA. (Often the same breeders exaggerate both.) An FCI score of A does not necessarily mean an excellent. It is a broader range and could be a good or
A Penn Hip clearance is an acceptable clearance as long as they were done at over 2 years of age, they show no evidence of arthritic changes, and as long as the results show the dog to be in the highest 50% of those tested. However, Penn Hip will give a dog a number whether they have good hips or not. Having a Penn Hip number means nothing unless you know what the results show. Penn Hip suggests only breeding dogs who rate better than a 50%. Ask to see the results to verify that the hips are in the top 50%.
In addition, verify the age of the dog. Many breeders are breeding dogs with Penn Hip testing that was done at 4 months of age! Hip and elbow dysplasia are developmental diseases. A passing score at 4 months does not indicate that a dog will not develop hip or elbow dysplasia. It could happen even a few months later.
Penn hip assesses the laxity of a dog’s hips. This is an important part of what contributes to hip dysplasia. However, it is not the only part. Penn Hip does not take into account the shape of the hip’s ball and socket and how they fit together. This aspect can only be assessed by an x-ray taken at at least a year of age.
Registered Names Should be Easily Matched to Dogs
Another important red flag for unscrupulous breeders is when they do not identify with their registered names. Without the registered name you can’t know for sure which health results go with which dogs. There are breeders who only identify their dogs with Fido or whatever their call name is. There is no reason not to have a dog’s registered name displayed unless someone is hiding things about their dogs. A registered name will also give you the ability to check out the health clearances of the dog’s relatives.
Verify that Relatives of Your Potential Puppy Aren’t From Puppy Mills
Look at the pedigrees of any puppy you are considering. Then, verify that the relatives have not come from either of the puppy mills in the U.S. You will know these puppy mills by the fact that they have large numbers of dogs and no verifiable health testing. I recommend that people stay away from these puppy mills as well as from breeders who have purchased dogs from them. Sadly there are many honest, well-meaning new breeders whose dogs came from one of these puppy mills with poor health backgrounds. These puppy mills, unlike most reputable breeders, will sell their puppies with full-registration to anyone. This is flooding the American market with poorly bred English Goldens with bad health.
Does the Breeder Have a Non Disparagement Clause in His Contract?
A non disparagement clause is essentially a gag order, forbidding you to express anything negative about the person that you have signed the contract with. Why would anyone have such a clause in their contract unless they have disgruntled puppy buyers? This red flag is the ultimate “no” in our opinion. A non disparagement clause screams of hiding things.
Other Considerations in Finding a Golden Retriever Breeder
Once you’ve ruled out the breeders that are truly not trustworthy, this section will give you some ideas to think about to further narrow your selection down.
First of all, consider how important show championships are to you. If having a puppy from champion parents is important, you’d work best with a true show breeder.
A breeder who has dogs with International Championships from IABCA and nothing more is not a true show breeder. The International Championships through IABCA that many English Golden Retriever breeders have can be earned in a single weekend of shows with even a mediocre dog. I’ve never brought a dog to an IABCA show that I didn’t receive the title in just a weekend. In fact, since they’ve added a fifth show to a weekend, I’ve never had a dog that didn’t complete the title in a single day.
The IABCA shows are fun for novice handlers to gain experience. They are also a good place to give dogs an opportunity to acclimate to the show ring and to gain confidence in that environment. However, they do nothing to prove the worth of a dog with regard to conformation or looks or anything else.
Dogs who have a Canadian Championship must really be nice to successfully compete. Only the truly good dogs win in Canada. Your dog must be the best dog of his sex and in his class to even win one point. You must earn 10 points for a Canadian CH. Many dogs show for an entire summer without finishing a Canadian CH.
Further, the very best dogs earn American AKC championships. There are less than a handful of breeders that have earned AKC championships on 100% English dogs.
Benefits of Working With Show Breeders
An added benefit of working with a show breeder is with regard to their connections within the show world. It is a chance for Golden Retriever breeders to get together and discuss problems within the breed and how to solve them.
Most of the really good show breeders show American lines. However, many of them incorporate English lines into their program by blending the two.
We highly recommend most show breeders. You won’t find many with red flags among them.
Does the Golden Retriever Breeder Work Full Time?
This might okay for you or it might be a negative. Many, if not most show breeders do work full time. The money made from breeding their dogs barely (if at all) covers their show expenses. Most of them have to work to support themselves.
Their puppies are socialized in the evenings and on the weekends. The puppy areas are usually cleaned out twice a day which could be sufficient depending on what you want.
In our view, this is not ideal, but neither is it a red flag to where I would rule out a breeder who worked full time.
Does the Breeder Offer Training?
Obviously, we value training at Summer Brook. However, we think that the ideal age for a puppy to change homes is when he is fairly young (10-11 weeks).
We do not know of other breeders who offer training that we would recommend. (They might be out there, but we don’t know of them.)
Therefore, if you want training and have the resources, we would recommend hiring a trainer before buying an expensive puppy from a breeder who exaggerates and/or misrepresents who he is and the credentials of his dogs.
Do the Breeder’s Dogs Barely Pass Health Clearances?
This another one of those things that is a matter of personal opinion. If the criteria for breeding were too high, the genetic pool would be so small that there would necessarily be too much line breeding. Other health issues would then become a problem.
However, the closer a dog is to not passing, the higher the chance that your puppy will have a problem.
As long as the breeder is open and honest about what they have, mediocre health results may or may not be of concern to you. It is not a red flag. Rather it is your choice as to what is important.
Do You Really Want an English Golden Retriever?
We, as breeders of the imported lines are of course partial to them. However, as the demand for the English lines has increased, more and more unscrupulous breeders have come on the scene touting their “English Cream Golden Retrievers” or “White Golden Retrievers”. More and more unscrupulous eastern European and Russian breeders have started catering to these American breeders wanting to get on the “English Cream Band Wagon”.
Because so many American breeding dogs are treated the same as livestock, hardly any good breeder in Europe will sell indiscriminately to Americans. This has opened the door for eastern Europeans to make money off of both the dishonest American breeders as well as those who don’t know better. In todays breeding climate, it is difficult for breeders in America to get dogs from England or western Europe. These are where the truly great dogs are from and these breeders will only sell to those who have a proven breeding record or a solid relationship.
Health Benefits for English Lines
We get and unbelievable number of inquiries from families looking for a healthy “English Cream” as most Americans now call them. Many are looking at the imported lines because of health benefits, especially with regard to cancer.
It is true that the cancer rate is less according to a study done in England than the rate according to a study done by the Golden Retriever Club of America. However, cancer rate is not driven purely by the distinction between English and American lines. There are American lines with relatively low cancer rates and there are English lines with high rates. You must know and trust your breeder. No test has been done to my knowledge to quantify the cancer rate of those dogs with generations going back to nothing but eastern Europe and/or Russian dogs. From what I can tell, many of these lines have cancer rates far worse than many of those in America.
We Hope This Page Helps You in Your Search for a Good Golden Retriever Breeder!
I’ve written this little section to hopefully help people find a nice puppy from a good breeder without anyone contacting me directly for help. I don’t want to be in a position of having to judge another breeder. Thank you for understanding.