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Where to get a dog
The Reputable Breeder
Since most people are usually interested in a puppy of a particular breed, I will start with the "Reputable Breeder". A reputable breeder is someone who is concerned with producing healthy, top quality dogs.
A reputable breeder will have their breeding dogs undergo extensive tests to help rule out hereditary diseases, as well as sexually transmitted ones. They will give a health contract that guarantees their puppies free of hereditary diseases, and has the option of the buyer selecting another puppy should one develop.
They will take great pains to match their dog with a dog that minimizes any weaknesses and increases any strengths of the puppies in regards to the breed standard. This involves researching pedigrees and successes (both in competition and in breeding) of several generations of dogs when matching pairs.
They will be prepared for emergencies relating to the pregnancy and afterwards which may require veterinary services.
After the pups are born, they will make sure that your pup receives his first round of vaccinations, is dewormed, and, if applicable to the breed, rear dew claws removed.
A good breeder is also concerned about the mental development of their puppies. They will take the time to make sure their pups are properly socialized to other people (and, if available, animals) while also engaging them with environmental enrichment activities. Now, since most breeders do this as a hobby and as such still have to devote their time to things like work, house, and family the amount of socialization and enrichment activities will vary considerably between breeders, if you have the option more is always better. In the end, the main thing you are looking to avoid is someone who raises their puppies in a small out of the way area with little to no human contact (except perhaps at feeding or cleaning times).
Generally, purchasing from a reputable breeder is the most expensive puppy you will find, and you can see why, when it comes to everything that goes on behind the scenes! Don't be put off by these breeders who ask for a down payment on a pup. This helps ensure that the buyer is interested in having one, and won't suddenly change their mind later. It also can help off-set some of the expenses that go into breeding on the front end.
You can expect to be questioned at some point too (either "in person" or through a questionnaire) regarding your familiarity with dogs, this breed in particular, and your living conditions. A good breeder will want their dogs to go to good homes where they can spend their entire lives with their family. But a good breeder is prepared for unseen circumstances too, and should you need to give up your dog at anytime of his life, will have first dibs on taking him. This is to keep their precious dogs from ending up in shelters or worse.
They will also require anyone not interested in showing or breed related events to spay or neuter. This ensures that their dogs will not be adding to pet overpopulation and that no one unseemly later manages to get their hands on their dogs in order to make a fast buck by pumping out purebred puppies.
If you are interested in competing with your dog, whether in showing or specific events (such as herding) you will definitely want to get your dog from a breeder.
The AKC keeps a list of breeder referral contacts to help you in locating a reputable breeder in your area.
Also, many breeders have websites dedicated to their kennel and can be found using google or other internet search engines.
Known by many names (pound, humane society, etc...) this is a facility designed to hold dogs who have no homes. The reasons are many, some are given up voluntarily when owners move or grow tired of their dogs, some are lost or have run away, accidental litters of puppies wind up here, and some have been removed from poor living conditions by authorities. Dogs here are safe from the dangerous life on the streets. They don't have to scavenge bad food to feed themselves, dodge cars, or avoid other packs of dogs. People, on the other hand, also get the benefit of not having packs of strange dogs running around. Which decreases the odds of being bitten by an unhealthy animal or attacked.
While the shelter does offer a pleasant alternative to stray animals running around our neighborhoods, it does have a very significant downside. As there are more homeless dogs than there are rooms shelters, euthanasia is commonly used to keep space available for the new dogs coming in.
For many people, that is the main reason they opt to go to the shelter. Adopting a dog there, usually means you are saving it's life.
One of the best ways to search for shelter dogs is with the internet. Some shelters have webpages that have pics and bios of their animals. If not, a great place to looks is Pet Finder. Pet Finder is an online search engine for adoptable dogs (and puppies) through the United States and includes shelters. You can even narrow your search based on breed, age and location of the animal.
You can expect to fill out a questionnaire when you are interested in adopting a dog from a shelter. This is to help avoid repeat dogs, as the more times a dog is returned to a shelter, the less chance he has of being adopted out permanently.
They may not have as much information on a dog as you like, but they will give you whatever they have learned.
It is worth noting that despite everyone's best efforts the shelter can still be a very stressful place for a dog. This can change their behavior and sometimes even result in them picking up bad habits. While the bad habits will usually be fairly obvious from the start, behavior changes might not show up until after the first couple weeks at their new home. Once they become comfortable and confident in your home, you may see significant behavior changes. Some of these behavior changes may be for the better! But some of them may not be. If your dog does end up showing some negative behaviors after he settles in, and you don't have success changing them yourself, it's best to consult a professional as soon as possible. The sooner you can address it, the less chance it will have for becoming a long term problem.
Your dog will be fixed before leaving, this is non negotiable. They do not want another accidental litter coming through later and taking up space if they can avoid it.
You can expect an adoption fee of around $100 for your dog or puppy. Considering that they will have to be fixed before they leave, this is actually paying for a very inexpensive neuter, not necessarily the dog.
Many shelters also offer additional services beyond just adoption. Some of them offer veterinary services, boarding, training classes and even canine good citizen testing.
Rescues are groups that are devoted to re-homing a certain breed of dog. There are rescues for pretty much every breed out there. These groups are dedicated to helping stop the euthanasia of adoptable pets. They are usually non-profit and foster homes regularly keep the dogs, and work with them, until they are ready to be adopted.
Rescues are a great place to find a purebred dog. Most of them will be juveniles and up as far as the age goes.
The aforementioned Pet Finder (from the Shelter page) lists dogs from rescue groups, as well as shelters.
The AKC also keeps a list of people who can refer you to purebred rescue groups.
Internet search engines like google, are another good way of locating a rescue organization in your area.
There are many people who, for various reasons, are unable to keep their dog. However, they would much rather try to find a home themselves, then to have their dog, or puppies, take it's chances at the shelter.
Most of these transactions will either take place on community bulletin boards, or the ever popular craigslist. Craigslist is a regional list, so make sure you are in the right region and state before you start your search.
Dogs and puppies that are being re-homed are found under the "Community" heading. You can use the search feature to narrow down ages and breeds. People who are re-homing their dogs are encouraged to ask for a small re-homing fee (around $50-$100) so someone doesn't go "Hey! Free dog!" and just decide to pick it up on a whim without thinking things through, or worse, pick up a dog for unscrupulous purposes like dog fighting.
Private transactions can have the advantage of saving a dog (who might otherwise go to the shelter) while still being able to learn about the dogs history from the original owner. Of course, love can be blind and so what the owner may call "small problems" may not be so small for you, or they may fail to mention some serious problems. As always, take what they tell you with a grain of salt.
The Backyard Breeder
A Backyard Breeder is defined by what they do. They are very similar to puppy mills, but on a smaller scale. Backyard breeders are people who own purebred dogs, and breed them for the purpose of making money selling the puppies. Again, to make money on this they have to skip things like screening for hereditary diseases, which is usually quite expensive.
Their pups may not conform to breed standard, both in physical apperance and temperament. Researching genealogies and paying for a top stud dog wouldn't make this very profitable. Also, odds are that their female isn't a top dog either. Top dogs usually come from good breeders and good breeders generally require a spay/neuter contract for people who aren't showing, and showing costs money.
They command close to the same price, though they may drop it just a bit to be more competitive than the hobby breeder (reputable breeder). They will also try to find a way to have their pups be from "champion lines" somewhere back in the pedigree.
Due to the costs and lack of quality control, this is not a recommended source for a puppy.
The Accidental Breeder
Some folks don't fix their dogs. There are many reasons and I'm not going to get into them here, occasionally it is even a hobby breeder who got surprised. An accidental breeder is exactly that, someone who has had an unplanned litter of puppies. These puppies are usually mixed bred, or mutts.
These folks aren't out to make money, indeed the pups are usually free or require a small adoption fee (to ensure a good home), and the owner tries very hard to find them good homes.
If you know the dog (or even dogs) that have produced these puppies and the home that they are coming from are good, you may very well end up with a really nice dog. But it can be somewhat dependent on several factors that you don't have control over, so it can still a bit of a dice roll. Naturally, you won't have any guarantees against hereditary conditions and diseases.
Just because someone has had an unplanned litter does not automatically make them a backyard breeder. While they may not be able to research the history like a hobby breeder would, that doesn't mean they can't work hard to make sure that their pups are the best they can be by providing socialization and mental stimulation. They can make sure they have their first set of shots and are in good overall health. They can try their hardest to make sure that the homes these pups are going to will be good lifelong homes.
Not surprisingly, you can find purebred puppies at pet stores. It's hard to resist a cute puppy, and purebreds are expensive. This combination makes them a valuable commodity for pet shops.
To do this, there must be a very large supply of purebred puppies, and that supply must be regularly resupplied. This is generally provided by puppy mills. A place that churns out purebred puppies like Ford churns out cars. And this is where the problem lies.
In order for such a place to be profitable, the mill must churn out many puppies and do so regularly. They also must be cost effective, as the pet shop won't be able to sell the puppies for more than a hobby breeder (reputable breeder) would.
So, in order for both companies to make a profit on this, puppy mills usually help keep down expenses by keeping only the most minimal conditions for their dogs. Hereditary diseases are not screened for (as the tests are very expensive), and dogs are bred as frequently as possible (to keep the supply up).
This generally makes for a lower quality puppy. Lack of screening means many of these pups end up with hereditary diseases. Minimal conditions at the mill and the cage at the pet shop means less socializing and stimulation, and therefore a puppy that is not as well-balanced mentally. And of course, with minimal conditions the odds of having a sick puppy go up.
By and large, for these reasons, pet shops are not a recommended place to get a puppy. They are just as expensive as from a reputable breeder, but instead of paying for things like health screenings, and socialization with his litter-mates and other people, you are paying into the profit margin for two companies.
To learn more about puppy mills please visit the human society webpage.