In Search of the Perfect Puppy
by Lori Rodriguez
Written for and distributed by non-profit organizations in1994; updated in 2020
Bringing a new dog or puppy into your home can add laughter, comfort, and joy to your life. But getting a dog, like any change, can cause growing pains. Whether those pains are minor or become unbearable will depend on how well you have chosen and prepared for your new arrival.
According to the ASPCA, Americans own an estimated 78 million dogs about 44% of US homes own at least one dog (up from 52.5 million dogs and 36.5% in 1992). On the flip side, approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year -- 3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats. Thankfully, these numbers are nearly half the 12 million shelter animals in 1992. Tragically, in 1992, 8 million pets were euthanized, which is down significantly to 1.5 million (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). Although we have made significant progress over the last 20 years; we still have a ways to go. Additionally, many dogs are passed from owner to owner, merely coexist with their current owners in a less than perfect environment or are put to sleep at private veterinary offices. The numbers speak volumes about our culture - the idea of owning a pet is too often more appealing than the reality!
If you are contemplating owning a dog, first consider your motives. Be painfully honest. As Larry Shook so eloquently states in his book The Puppy Report,"...look into your heart. It will tell you that if there is no space in your life for a dog, if a dog's life with you will be mostly unrelieved solitary confinement, if you will not train your dog, if the essence of a dog is irritating instead of pleasing to you, if you want a dog only as a protective noisemaker or as a banner of the ego, if a voice whispers to you that should things not work out you can always take the dog to the pound, you shouldn't have a dog. You don't need anyone to tell you these things. Let your conscience be your guide."
Should you decide to own a dog, your work has just begun. Finding the right dog takes work. Raising your dog takes commitment. This life-changing decision is much too important to leave to chance. Never acquire a dog on impulse! The animal shelters are full of impulse purchases--living, breathing, feeling animals. Animals, not pieces of furniture that can be discarded when they become inconvenient or lose their cuteness. If you share your home with anyone--family members, roommates, whomever--make sure they are as enthusiastic about a new dog as you are. After all they too will be living with your new furry housemate. Often dogs end up unwilling pawns in unhappy marriages or living arrangements. Please give ear to that small voice that whispers "maybe a dog isn't such a good idea." Explore all negative avenues before making your final decision on owning a dog.
To Begin Your Puppy Search
Whether you are interested in a purebred or a pound-dog, your search should begin at an animal shelter. Read the statistics posted on each kennel door listing its occupants age and his/her reason for being there. Make a promise to those hopeful, often forlorn faces that you will be a responsible dog owner, that you will make certain that your dog will not end up pining away in some kennel run awaiting a lethal injection. Promise yourself that you will train your dog and that you will have him/her neutered or spayed. Promise that you will be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. However, before you may take a dog home with you, you have research to complete and work to be done in order to be fully prepared for life with your new family member.
Once you understand the seriousness of your commitment, the real work begins.
Select a breed
Select a breeder, shelter or rescue group
Prepare for your puppy
Select your puppy
Commit to be a responsible dog owner
If you are planning on adopting a dog from a shelter, don't skip the first step. Knowing the different breed characteristics will be vital to selecting a purebred or mixed breed dog to adopt--the cute little puppy you take home today may grow to be a very large, active, protective or dominant dog when he is grown. If you wanted a quite lap dog, this can be a major problem! Knowing something about a dog's genetic background will give you insight into your future together.
To determine which breeds to choose from, there is a world of information at your fingertips. Start with the AKC or other reputable all-breed sites. Jot down the breeds that interest you. Pay particular attention to pros and cons of character traits, not just how the dog looks. Next, look for breed-specific sites (or books) and narrow your list. Take stock of the knowledge you have gained; jot down questions that come to mind. Read up on buying, training, and caring for your dog. Find out if the breeds you are interested in have structural or temperament problems that you should be aware of. When you have a narrow list of breeds, search for breeders, email and call people. Ask them about the breed, their breeding program and to recommend good books (or sites). Don't forget to thank them for their time.
How to Choose a Breeder
If you choose to own a purebred dog, selecting a breeder is your most difficult, but most important task! An in-depth explanation on the perils of poor breeding would fill volumes. Generations of improper breedings have weakened structure, temperament, and health! A breeder should breed to maintain or improve his breed. But by ignorance, greed, indifference, and various combinations thereof, many of today's breeding programs consist of poor genes bred to poor genes, creating health problems that tug at your heart and your purse strings as well as shaky temperaments that increase the likelihood of behavior problems and the potential for disaster. Fortunately, however, there are beacons of light in the darkness. Breeders who despite it all prevail as saviors of their breed. Finding them is your duty.
Most people have seen or read about the deplorable conditions in many puppy mills. Not only are the conditions for living substandard, the conditions for creating a sound pet are even worse. Therefore, avoid pet shops who buy from these heartbreaking puppy factories. Do not buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it. For every pooch purchased means another one or two or three will be produced to replace it. Use the theory of supply and demand to defeat this problem. [By the way, most of the puppies produced at these mills carry American Kennel Club (AKC) papers. So don't be blinded by a "certificate".] Also avoid buying from inexperienced backyard breeders--dog owners who thought "wouldn't it be nice for the children to experience the miracle of birth" or "Fee Fee is such a love, I just have to breed her" or "maybe I can make a quick buck if Susi has a litter." Keep in mind, if money is the first or only motive for a breeding, you're almost guaranteed problems. By buying from people who breed for the wrong reasons, you are not only taking an aggravated risk, you are keeping them in business! YOU become part of the problem. On the bright side, there are people who breed because they recognize the benefits a particular breed can bring to society and they breed to ensure that these wonderful animals are not lost forever.
To locate a good breeder, you may start by gathering referrals from every source possible. (Pull out your list of breeders and questions) Begin calling the breeders on your list; let them know you are interested in obtaining a puppy. Ask your questions. Check out breed-specific no-profit organizations, ask for a breeder referral list and the name of a local breed organization. Many breeds also have breed-specific rescue groups. These groups take in unwanted purebred pets and look for people to adopt them. A rescue group can be an ideal place to find an older purebred dog! Your local veterinarian is an invaluable source of information. He/she knows first hand the problems you may encounter. He/she also knows local breeders and the quality of the dogs they produce. The vet is a knowledgeable, impartial resource. He/she should be top on your list of people to call. You can also approach friends, neighbors, even total strangers--most pet owners can't resist talking about their dogs and will be more than happy to talk with you.
Keep narrowing your list down to one or two breeders. Cross off those breeders who don't appear knowledgeable about their own breed. Delete the names of those who keep their dogs in filthy conditions. Remove those who seem annoyed that you are asking them questions or who refuse to answer them. Tell the breeder what you are looking for. Does the breeder seem interested in where the puppy will be going? Ask to see the mother and any other relatives the breeder may have. Ask about the father. Can you see him? Have the puppies been to the vet? Have they been vaccinated? How often has the mother been bred? Has she produced any health problems? Do the pups look healthy and well cared for? Is the mother shy or aggressive? Has the breeder performed any health screenings such as hip X-rays, blood tests, etc. (remember you researched the breed and know the tendencies for disease this breed may carry). What were the results of the tests? Is the puppy guaranteed?
After you have narrowed your list of breeders, do not be disappointed if you have to wait six months for the right litter from the right breeder. A six month wait is worth the 10-15 year commitment you are making! Be patient. Viewing a litter of puppies without buying one is like going to a bakery just to look around. Once inside chances are the temptation to buy will be too great--a cute little puppy, like the smell of pastry baking, is irresistible. So tell yourself you will not, under any circumstances, buy a puppy until after you have gone home to think about it. In fact, don't buy a puppy from the first place you go, even if you are quite excited. Check out several litters before making your decision. Puppies can sometimes sell quickly, but you can wait for another litter from the same breeder if all the puppies are gone. A good breeder will not push you into making a decision you are uncomfortable with. The puppy buying process should feel like an adoption, not a car purchase. If you feel hustled, go home and think it over without the pressure. (When looking at litters of puppies, please visit one litter a day--you can carry viruses from one place to another and cause a litter of otherwise healthy puppies to become very ill, perhaps even unto death.)
How to Select the Right Puppy for You
In your research you may come across items entitled, Puppy Profile or Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT). These insightful guides or tests can be beneficial to breeders and puppy buyers in the selection process. If you choose a puppy from an animal shelter or rescue league, these tests, along with your research into breed characteristics, can help you determine a puppy's individual temperament. Knowing a puppy's personality pluses and minuses will make the difference between a disastrous relationship and a loving one. (You might want to bring along a qualified dog trainer, behaviorist or a knowledgeable friend to help you select the right puppy for your household.
If you are purchasing a purebred puppy and have done your research well and have chosen a good breeder, you may wish to leave the ultimate puppy selection up to the breeder. He will take into consideration your preferences and living environment and can be trusted to make the best decision for you. A good breeder matches the puppy to the owner. His concern that his baby has a good home will guide him . While you may be partial to a puppy because of size or color or because it is the most comical that day, hee has spent many weeks getting to know these little ones and can expertly match personality with personality.
How to Prepare for Your New Puppy
You must be well-prepared for your puppy or dog's arrival. He will need a place to eat, sleep, and eliminate. You will need supplies such as water and food bowls, brushes, leashes, collars, toys, food, etc. If you purchased a puppy, please remember that a puppy is still a baby and should be treated like one. Don't expect him to be housebroken and sleeping through the night--this is simply not going to happen right away. Puppies also whine and bite (be careful of children's delicate faces). Puppies also chew on everything. Older dogs have their own set of problems, some rather complicated. To help eliminate these unwanted, but instinctual, behaviors, read up on care, behavior, and training; puppy or dog-proof your home; and schedule obedience classes.
Make your first vet appointment right away to make sure the dog/puppy is healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations. Think ahead, and plan for problems. If all this seems too complicated, costly, and time-consuming, forget the puppy and buy a goldfish. Once you dog/puppy is home, your responsibilities have begun anew. You must teach your puppy to be the companion you want him/her to be. A canine good citizen isn't born, he/she is made. Bad habits and good house manners are learned behaviors--what your puppy learns is up to you. But if you have done your homework well, you have brought home the raw material to create the dog of your dreams. Now you must lovingly shape their behavior to become enjoyable, obedient members of your human pack!. Best wishes on finding and raising a friend for life!
* The Veterinarian Service Market for Companion Animals ©1992.
** The Humane Society of the United States.
The Puppy Report. ©1992 Larry Shook, Lyons & Burford Publishers. An indispensable guide to finding a healthy, lovable dog.