What to look for in a reputable breeder
First off there is plenty of advice out there on this subject but some of it is ridiculous.
Never expect a spotless house or kennel. Puppies eat constantly and it has to get out so it is likely you will see and smell poop. A breeder can literally do nothing but clean all day and turn around and there is new poo. You may arrive and smell bleach or another cleaning product. I have seen post that say you should not trust a breeder if you smell cleaning product and in the next sentence that the puppy area should be free of excrement. That is not realistic. You either have to have just cleaned or it won't be clean. What you really want to look for is old dried poop, that obviously has not been cleaned up that day or in some cases much longer. Here at Frenchie Kisses Kennel, I clean many times each day because we free feed our puppies. I know that a clean dry area is much healthier for puppies, but realistically it doesn't stay clean for long. This was Maya with her new litter claiming 1/3 of my bed.
Expect to be allowed to see adult dogs, the Dam and possibly the Sire if the breeder owns him as well and the puppy's litter mates. I do not advise anyone to meet the breeder for the first time anywhere but their home or kennel. It does not give you the chance to see the rest of the litter and the circumstances they are being raised in. If they have a special area separate from their house or kennel where they present your puppy ask to see the dam, Sire if available and siblings. Some disreputable breeders may have illness in the litter they don't want you to know about and a separate meeting area would be convenient to hide that issue. They also may have very horrific conditions. Look for signs of this on the puppies such as runny/goopy eyes. fleas, signs of diarrhea such as dried on poop. A full litter of excessively thin puppies should be a red flag. Sometimes a very good breeder will have a puppy that is not doing well, do not hesitate to ask if that puppy is okay. A good breeder will explain what is going on with the puppy. If the breeder acts reluctant to answer or changes the subject beware.
Look at the water bowls. The water should be clean and clear. I have to laugh at this just a little because I water my dogs out of glass casserole cookware that I don't use anymore (I like to use it because it is heavy and not easily tipped over). If you cook/bake you know that no matter what you do those get dark spots where butter baked on that will not come off without a chisel, (the reason I no longer use it for baking.) I had a visitor ask me what was in the dogs water I looked and said "there is nothing in the water" she pointed to the brown spot so I dumped out the water and washed the casserole dish so she could see and we both had a good laugh about it. That being said be sure it is not a dish that has been repurposed. What you want to look for is either green or sometimes pink slime in a drinking dish or stuff floating in the water.This is a sure sign that the breeder is not taking care of their dogs. Many parasites are water borne and it is hard enough to keep dogs from drinking from puddles but allowing water to become stagnant is creating a perfect environment for parasites.
Don't be alarmed if you see a pile of blankets neatly folded somewhere. This is a good sign that the breeder keeps fresh clean bedding ready for when a dog or puppy makes a mess of their area. Puppies need blankets if the house or kennel is on the cooler side to snuggle in.
You should feel comfortable to ask questions, many questions. If a breeder seems to be rushing you or acting irritated by your questions thank them and leave. You want a breeder you feel welcome to call for answers if you have a problem.
Ask to see a copy of their contract. A thoughtful breeder who is looking out for your interest should give you a two year guarantee on debilitating genetic defects. Breeders know that in the first year puppies are gangly and awkward so you will not be able to easily spot things like patellar luxation, hip dysplasia and spinal deformities. Most defects unless advanced will not be apparent until sometime after the puppy turns a year old. A one year guarantee is only them protecting themselves from having to replace a puppy, You are not a part of the equation.
Watch the interaction between the breeder and her dogs and puppies. If the breeder is constantly yelling at them spanking or kicking at them, best not to get a puppy there. That kind of interaction creates nervous and sometimes aggressive puppies. On that note observe the puppies. All of them should be outgoing, never choose a shy puppy. a shy puppy is that way for a reason. By shy I don't mean wary, I mean hiding or staying as far away as possible. These puppies usually end up being aggressive as an older dog because they are fearful. On the other end of the scale beware of a puppy that growls at you aggressively and then snaps at you. There is playful nipping and then there is fearful biting. Do not get a puppy that no matter how cute it may be, has a social issue.
A reputable breeder will help match you with a puppy but not push a certain puppy at you. If you feel uncomfortable like they are pushing a certain puppy that you have told them you do not want this is an irresponsible breeder. A responsible breeder will make sure that if they do not have what you want, they advise you to wait for another litter or find a different breeder. Never be pressured into taking a puppy you are not head over heels for.
Ask if the puppies have been dewormed or when they are scheduled to be dewormed. If the breeder does not have a ready answer and the puppies look very bloated they may have worms. Worms are easy enough to treat but a breeder that is not deworming their puppies is probably not caring for them well in other ways either.
Observe whether the puppies are in a comfortably warm dry area. Puppies should not be exposed to drafts or damp conditions. Drafty cold and damp can cause pneumonia and permanently damage their lungs. If you see puppies in this condition do not buy a puppy from this breeder as much as you will want to save it, the puppy will likely have problems for it entire life.
If the breeder is more interested in talking about money than you and the puppy it is a pretty good indication that is the focus of the breeding program. The conversation should only turn to money if/when you broach the subject or if the breeder is telling you how the program works and that is a part of their introduction process. They should not keep referring back to it.
Ask for references. A reputable breeder will be able to offer several immediately. They should have many happy customers. Though if they tell you they have never had an unhappy customer, they have not been breeding very long or they are lying. As a breeder you can do a wonderful job and still have a sour grape now and then.
If they spend most of your visit putting down other breeders This is a sign that they are not confident in their breeding program. A breeder who is confident does not think of others as competition.
LIsten closely to their comments, many times a breeder will say something and within a short time say just the opposite or the conversation may sound rehearsed. This is something you will find with Puppy Mill staff. They memorize their speech so that they don't slip up and say the wrong thing. Those breeders are very crafty and deceitful. They try to boost your ego by telling you that you are very well informed about the breed and they agree with everything you say. Their goal is not to find a good home for their puppies, it is to get the money in their hands and you away from their place of business as quickly as possible. Usually they will not even let you come to their home or facility but will ask to meet you somewhere.
Lastly, a bit of advice: Do your homework, Go with a substantial list of questions and observe. Follow your gut instincts.