What is a "Responsible breeder?"
There are many opinions about breeding. Many people believe that no one should ever breed any dogs because there are so many dogs in shelters that need homes. I'm all for adopting "recycled" dogs from your local shelter. I've done it too, and I've also fostered dogs while we find forever homes that match that dog's needs. There are many outstanding dogs in shelters, so if there is a great dog calling to you from a shelter, please follow your heart.
Most people who breed despise high volume "puppy mill" breeders. Dogs are kept in horrific conditions and bred with little or no thought to health and welfare. These puppies are sold at too young an age to anyone willing to fork over the money. These are breeders who see dogs as disposible objects. Never purchase puppies from these types of breeders - even if you feel sorry for the dogs. It only encourages them to continue their unethical practices. Report them to your local authorities and to the American Kennel Club if they are selling "AKC registered" puppies. Hopefully, your local laws will put them out of business.
"Backyard breeders" is a term used to describe those who decide to breed just so their kids can see the miracle of life. They put little thought into their planning, and generally provide minimal care of the puppies, place an ad in the classifieds and then never speak to the future puppy homes after the puppy is sold. These homes do minimal training and socialization, and the puppies don't come with any guarantees for returning puppies if anything goes wrong.
"Designer dog breeders" is a term for people who breed dogs just because they are so cute. Chewinies, Pomskys, Puggles, Labradoodles, etc. - these are breed mixes that have become popular. Obviously, the puppies are not registered, and often they end up in shelters because people who buy them are attracted to the "cute" factor rather than really thinking through the idea of living with a breed for the life of the dog. I personally have no problem with the idea of mixing breeds. After all, any dog breed comes from other dog breeds that preceeded it. Every dog breed has some interbreed mixing. However, no matter what breeds are mixed, the parents should be health tested!!! How many Designer Dog Breeders actually test for hips, elbows, thyroid, etc. of the parents before breeding them? Quite often, Designer Dog Breeders are also Backyard Breeders.
The vast majority of shelter dogs come from Puppy Mills, Backyard Breeders and Designer Dog Breeders. The majority of shelter dogs are surrendered from inappropriate homes, while the rest are "found" strays.
A "Responsible Breeder" is someone who loves a breed and respects the many generations of dog breeders who have developed the breed over centuries of carefully planned good breeding practices. It is preservation of the love that has gone into producing HAPPY HEALTHY dogs that are intelligent, designed with excellent structure, athletic, beautiful, and are innately talented. Responsible Breeders health test parents before breeding them. Responsible breeders are active members of their national breed club. Responsible Breeders study the latest research on health, behavior and best practices. Responsible Breeders don't breed to make money - in fact, it's a money pit! Responsible Breeders don't skimp on veterinary needs. Responsible Breeders make sure their breeding dogs are "proven" in the field and/or the breed ring and/or other performance venues. It's not just their opinion that counts - these are dogs who numerous judges have given a "stamp of approval". Responsible Breeders are picky about their puppy homes. They ask a lot of questions and they have high standards. It is tough to get onto a puppy list from a Responsible Breeder because they have few litters. Responsible Breeders will ALWAYS take the puppy back, no matter what reason, no matter how old - and in fact, they INSIST on it. A Responsible Breeder will continue to work with their puppy homes for the LIFE OF THE PUPPY! This is what you should expect from your breeder. Dogs bred by Responsible Breeders do not end up in shelters, by definition. These are well planned breedings from well cared for dogs matched with outstanding homes. Responsible Breeders work with/contribute financially to breed rescue organizations. Many Responsible Breeders provide foster homes for their breed rescue organizations. For more information see the AKC's page on responsible breeding, information on breeding from a rescue group, a lovely chart for comparison, and a post from the Rocky Mountain Vizsla Club.
In short, there are many options on where you can find your perfect companion. Please follow your heart on finding the best match for your lifestyle and your own personal situation.