If you’re ready to get a dog, congratulations! You’ll add a loving member to your family and enrich your life. The best place to find a dog or puppy is your local animal shelter or breed rescue group. They have plenty of purebreds, mixed-breeds, big dogs and little dogs -- you’re sure to find a great companion.
And when you adopt from a shelter or rescue group, you’ll give a dog a second chance at finding a home and you will not add to the nation’s pet overpopulation problem. The reality is that an estimated 3.7 million unwanted pets must be euthanized at animal shelters every year -- many because they could not find families to adopt them.
If you don’t find your ideal companion at your local shelter or breed rescue group, you may choose to purchase a puppy instead of adopting one. In this case, it is important to be certain you are buying from a responsible breeder that breeds and sells only healthy well-socialized puppies.
Responsible breeders typically do not sell their puppies to pet stores. Most responsible breeders want to meet and screen prospective owners to ensure that their puppies are going to good homes. Sadly, most pet store puppies come from puppy mills where dogs are not bred for good health and temperament and where they are often raised in inhumane conditions.
There are several ways to find a responsible breeder. You can look to your local kennel club directory, attend a dog show, or get a referral from a friend or family member. You can also look at newspaper or Internet classified ads. Some responsible breeders do advertise their dogs through these channels because it is a great way to reach a lot of people.
However, puppy mills and irresponsible breeders also use newspapers and the Internet to reach unsuspecting families that are just excited about finding a puppy and may not know the warning signs of an unscrupulous breeder. When you read an ad like this, it can be difficult to tell:
Golden Retriever puppies. AKC registered. Two female, one very blonde, one red. Last of the litter. Adorable. 8 wks. Call Susie!
The following are questions you can ask to understand whether you’re getting a puppy from a quality source -- a responsible breeder who is as concerned as you are about pet overpopulation and the care and future of their puppies.
When considering buying a dog that is advertised in a newspaper or online, always visit the breeder’s home. Responsible breeders may have outdoor exercise runs, but they do not keep dogs or puppies in outdoor cages. There should be an indoor room with food, water and bedding where the puppies and their mother spend most of their time as part of the family. The room should be lean and well-maintained. If the breeder will not allow you to visit the home or tells you the dog was born in another city or state, there is a high likelihood that the dog comes from a puppy mill or irresponsible breeder.
Always ask to see the puppy’s mother and father. Responsible breeders will want to introduce prospective buyers to the dog’s mother and father. Sometimes breeders use stud dogs that do not belong to them, and in this case it is acceptable if the father is not on the premises. The mother dog, however, should always be present. It is important to note the health and temperament of the parents. If they are unfriendly or show signs of malnutrition or illness, there is a good chance that the puppy may have health or temperament problems.
Responsible breeders generally breed only one litter of puppies at a time and generally have only one breed of dog. Very experienced or show breeders may have two or three litters available at one time. Puppies need a lot of social interaction with people beginning at an early age to develop sound temperaments. This socialization cannot occur effectively when there are too many dogs and puppies in the environment. Multiple litters of puppies and multiple breeds of dogs on the premises indicate that you could be dealing with a puppy mill.
Responsible breeders will always provide you with a health certificate showing that the puppy received its first set of vaccinations, worming and an examination by a licensed veterinarian.
You should never buy a puppy that has not had this initial veterinary care. Almost all puppies are born with intestinal worms because mother dogs can serve as carriers even though they themselves are not infected.
All puppies are also at risk for several serious diseases, such as parvovirus and distemper. To ensure they are adequately protected against these diseases, puppies need to receive their first vaccinations before they are separated from their mothers. An initial exam by a licensed veterinarian will also give you peace of mind that the puppy has been checked for illness and genetic defects.
Certain breeds of dogs are at risk for specific genetic disorders. For example, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and some other large breeds are prone to hip dysplasia. If you’re considering one of these breeds, it is a good idea to make sure the puppy’s mother and father have had their hips certified by a veterinarian using a special x-ray called “OFA Hip.”
Collies are prone to two types of genetic eye disorders, and collie puppies should have their eyes examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist between five and eight weeks of age.
There are other inherited disorders, such as elbow dysplasia, that cannot be predicted with testing. Click here for a complete list of genetic disorders by breed.
Responsible breeders will be knowledgeable about their breed’s genetic risks and honest about genetic disorders in their dogs. They will be able to provide OFA Hip or other test documentation when indicated.
Responsible breeders will not breed a dog until her second heat, which is typically at one and one-half to two years of age, and will breed her no more than every other heat cycle or about once per year. This ensures that the mother has time to rest and recover between litters. Puppy mill breeders typically breed their dogs at the first heat and at every heat cycle thereafter until the dog is worn out and can no longer produce litters.
Responsible breeders feed their pregnant dogs, nursing mothers and puppies high-quality puppy food because it contains a higher level of fat and protein than adult dog food formulas. Food given to puppies and nursing mothers should meet the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials for growth and reproduction. If the breeder is feeding the puppies or mother an adult dog food or a low-quality dog food that does not have the appropriate level of nutrients, the animals could have or could develop heath issues.
Most responsible breeders breed only one type of purebred and put considerable time, effort and financial resources into breeding only dogs with good health and temperament.
Responsible breeders try to produce puppies that come as close as possible to the breed’s standard in conformation and temperament. So-called “designer” mixed breeds such as Yorkie-poos, cockapoos, Malti-poos, puggles, Labradoodles, and goldendoodles are often bred by puppy mills or novices looking to make a quick profit. These mixed breeds are not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and have no recognized breed standards.
Responsible breeders often require that you have the puppy spayed or neutered before the age of six months. This is a good thing. Responsible breeders recognize that most people do not have the time or resources to breed their new pet responsibly. They also recognize that pet overpopulation is a serious concern and they do not want their puppies to add to this problem.
Registration papers from the American Kennel Club merely prove that both the dog’s parents are of purebred lineage. AKC registration is not a reliable indicator of good health or temperament or responsible breeding practices, as many puppy mills produce AKC-registered puppies.
Responsible breeders may breed dogs that indeed have AKC papers, but the presence of these “papers” is not an indicator of the breeders’ quality.
Good breeders love their animals and are concerned with their welfare and future. Responsible breeders may not be able to refund your money, but they will accept your dog back and take the responsibility of rehoming him if you find you can no longer care for him for any reason.