Where to Get a Puppy: Pup Shelters, Pet Shops and Breeders

By PetMD Editorial on Apr. 13, 2011

If you’re interested in welcoming a puppy into your home, you may have already visited a pet shop. However, did you know there are other ways to find a new pet?

For instance, there are animal shelters in almost every town trying to end pet homelessness. These local shelters have plenty of cute puppies who are waiting for good homes. There are also responsible dog breeders, rescue organizations and shelter veterinarians who go to great lengths to ensure that puppies are healthy and properly cared for before adoption. Let's look at how each of these choices differ.  

Pet Shops

A lot of pet stores carry puppies, but as cute as they may be, this is not the ideal way to find your new family member.

You will see many of the most popular breeds of puppies available for sale in shops, but too many pet shops source their puppies from puppy mills. Puppy mills are facilities licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to mass produce puppies, frequently putting profit ahead of the wellbeing of the dogs.

According to Cori Menkin, senior director of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign, “Dogs are kept in overcrowded conditions, with tiny cages stacked on top of each other and wire flooring that can be detrimental to their paws.”

“Females are bred at every heat cycle to make as much money as possible and produce as many puppies as possible,” she says.

In addition, the pet shop itself does not typically provide the necessary hygienic conditions for the puppies or provide the physical space for them to be active. Far too often, puppies are undernourished or mistreated, and the cages in which the puppies are housed are sometimes so small that the puppies are unable to move freely. There are even instances of puppies not being vaccinated against disease, leading to the spread of illnesses like parvovirus to the others puppies kept in the shop.

Some pet shops appear more like a factory, where the finished goods are crammed into the smallest space possible and the truth about the animal’s health is not shared in order to sell as many as possible before they become obviously ill.

In addition, the puppies have been separated from their mothers, and the care and attention they need as they make the adjustment is often lacking in the pet shop environment. Many national animal advocacy organizations say these puppies will frequently have behavioral problems as they grow older.

From a financial point of view, shopping for a puppy in a pet shop is not viable either. While the initial cost may seem like a bargain, the future costs of training and veterinary expenses due to illness will become overwhelming if the puppy has been irreparably damaged by its experience or if its genetic background was less than optimal. Unfortunately, what a person gets in such a pet shop is a dehydrated or malnourished puppy that is weak and ill.

Far from the reason that some people use to justify, buying from a pet store or mill does not save a puppy's life. The bottom line is to stay away from pet shops and puppy mills, since this will only encourage continued breeding and large-scale animal abuses by irresponsible dog breeders.

If you are determined to get your puppy at a pet shop, go to one which partners with animal shelters and local sheltering groups that offer animal adoptions of new pets. Call your local shelters to find out if they offer this to the community.

Animal Shelters

Most communities have animal shelters and rescues where stray and abandoned dogs are taken care of until these new pets can be adopted. You can easily search for an adoptable dog near you on our dog adoption page. Sometimes the puppies are free, but in most cases there is a fee for the adoption; this fee covers the cost of vaccinations, spays and neuters, and operating expenses that help to keep the shelter afloat and keep the pets in it happy and healthy.

In that sense, you really are getting your puppy for free, you’re simply paying for a valuable set of services.

Some animal shelters will have special days in which the cost of adoption is less than normal in order to make room for more animals. You can find out more about this by calling your local animal shelter.

Most shelters will interview prospective owners to make sure that the dog is going into a safe and healthy environment. They will also be able to fill you in on the puppy’s health, temperament, and overall fit for your family. This is a huge advantage in finding the best pet for your lifestyle. You’ll also be creating more space in the shelter for a new homeless pet, thereby saving the life of your pet, plus one.

By the same token, many shelters will honor a return policy if the dog is not a good fit for the adoptive family. Don't forget to talk to your shelter counselor about their policy, though. While it’s unlikely you’ll need to return your new puppy, if you do you'll want to be sure you're returning the puppy to a safe place that will work to find a new home for it.

Before adopting, you will need to ask a lot of questions, interact with the puppy, and be aware of how the dog is behaving. Once you have met your ideal puppy match, many shelters offer training materials, veterinary care discounts, and advice on behavior and care.

Responsible Dog Breeders        

There are responsible and irresponsible dog breeders no matter where you live, so it is important to do more than a casual background check before you make a commitment to buy a dog from a breeder. If your heart is set on a certain breed we also recommend contacting the local accredited club or association for that breed. The members may know of a rescue group with pure-bred dogs in need of adoption.

If you do decide to go with a dog breeder, the best way to find a reputable one is to talk to dog trainers and veterinarians in your area, and, again, by contacting the accredited breed associations, humane rescue groups  and clubs for recommendations.

Most responsible breeders will have medical tests done on both the male and female breeding partners to make sure that communicable diseases will not be passed on to the pups, and genetic tests to make sure that the pair are a good match, ensuring the best genetic outcome possible. In addition, because the breeder takes part in socializing the pups, she or he can recognize character traits in the puppies and can appropriately match them to their prospective owners. A responsible breeder knows better than to allow the choice to be made on the looks of the animal alone.

If you are hoping to raise a show dog, then working with a private breeder is almost the only way to know for certain the pup’s lineage.

On the down side, the cost of buying a puppy can be significantly higher when you buy from a private dog breeder, but keeping all of the above mentioned benefits in mind, the cost of responsible breeding is significantly higher than simply allowing two dogs to mate with each other.

Before you settle on a private breeder, make a point of visiting the breeder’s home to see how the parents of the puppies live. This means you should avoid ordering puppies online. Often, these dogs come from irresponsible breeders or puppy mills that could be in violation of animal cruelty laws. You will want to be sure that the dogs are not kept for breeding purposes only, that they are not caged all the time, and that they are healthy. If the breeder does not allow for visits, you should take it as a red flag and look for another dog breeder or considering adopting a rescue dog. If conditions are severe, you should think about notifying an animal welfare agency. 

You should also ask for references from other homes the breeder has placed dogs with, how many litters they deliver per year (this should be a low number), and if they have a policy regarding lifetime returns. Again, the hope is that you’d never have to return your pet, but a responsible breeder will be there for your dog, no matter their age, if you do.

Once you have found the ideal dog breeder, make sure to make a list of questions you have about the breed. Some suggestions for questions include who they use for training their own dogs (i.e., the parents of the pups), what foods they have found to be best for their breed and how much they feed, how active the breed is and what types of exercises keep their pets at their optimal health, and what normal health challenges should be expected. For example, short-nosed dogs must be protected from heat and strenuous exercise, while non-shedding dogs like poodles need to have their ear and anal areas kept clear of excess hair to prevent infection due to dirt and bacteria buildup.

Remember, every puppy has its own particular challenge that must be accounted for — regardless of where it comes from.


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