I don’t see any red flags - in fact, some of the points in your first list are what I would consider pros not cons. Let’s go through them:
- They do not let you pick your own puppy. Instead, they will ask you questions, and try to choose a puppy that matches well.
Puppies, like people, have different personalities, temperaments and traits, yes, even from the same litter. A good breeder will be able to recognize them very early and will strive to match applicants and dogs. It simply doesn’t make sense to place the most sensitive and timid puppy with the family with four rambunctious kids and a loud and hectic lifestyle or a dominant dog with the elderly lady who just wanted a peaceful companion just because someone fell in love with the specific pup. At worst, this may even mean that even someone high on the priority list of applicants ends up empty handed and the puppy goes to someone further down if it appears a significantly better fit.
When we applied for our puppy (GSD, working line, some Schutzdienst champions in the ancestry, so not entirely uncomplicated), the breeder asked me after the first visit whether we had a favorite and we had two “not this one” candidates - the two with the most drive and dominance. She confirmed that she would never have given them to us either. When we finally picked one, it was the one that she’d had in mind for us right from the start.
Conclusion: Not a red flag, rather a plus.
- They are significantly more expensive than other breeders.
Supply and demand? And if they have just a litter every few months or years, that’s not much money for them. Good vet care and good dog keeping are expensive and time consuming. Higher prices also keep the “bargain hunters” away. If the first question of a buyer is “how much?”, many reputable breeders will see that as a red flag and decline immediately.
Conclusion: Not a red flag.
- Their website has no pictures of the dogs' living quarters.
That may be personal preference - for example if you are keeping your dogs in your living room, you may not be comfortable to post your private space for everyone to see. Or it’s just not “photogenic” - and dogs couldn’t care less about it. On the other hand, pretty pictures don’t necessarily mean much either, as Instagram etc. have taught us. I always would insist on meeting with the breeder and the dogs at their place. Then you will see and sense for yourself whether it’s a good fit or not (see also first bullet point). Don’t be afraid to say “no thanks”, if your gut feeling is bad, no matter how far you have traveled or how excited you are to get a puppy.
- There are no online reviews of them, except for their own website.
This is a puppy, not a coffee machine. We are talking about a very limited number of dogs, so the number of people that could have posted reviews (where, btw.?) is also limited. They are probably more busy with training, walking and loving their dogs than writing reviews. In my opinion, it’s the other way around: Lots of reviews would make me wonder how many puppies they have produced and why they need the advertising. Good kennels are known by word of mouth (we had a few inquiries about our puppy’s line and origin already) and if they breed for a specific use, by the achievements of their dogs. Memberships in reputable organizations is also a plus, certifying that the kennel for example mates only health dogs and monitors the health of their offspring.
The biggest red flag for me is any kind of sales focus - when a breeder is more interested in selling a puppy than in their future home. If they don’t ask questions about you, your life and circumstances and your plans with the dog (don’t lie, remember you want a good fit - we were clear that we would be working with our dog, also depending on his fortes, but not necessarily compete in Schutzdienst, no matter how successful his ancestors were). Ask whether they will be available for questions in the future. Some kennel have “reunions” or keep up otherwise with their doggy clan. Some contracts also include a passage that if you sell the dog within a certain time frame, the breeder gets the right of first refusal.