Buyer - beware
When getting a dog, you do have a variety of options:
- Direct from a breeder
- From a breed rescue organization
- From a shelter or general rescue organization
- From a pet store
- From Kijiji or other online sales sites
Be sure you know the pros and cons of each before you buy. Remember that a dog is a lifetime commitment. It pays to research carefully and think twice before you commit. Feeling pressured to commit right away to purchase or adopt a dog, regardless of where you are looking, should be a huge red flag and a reason to say no and do some more thinking and searching. Never let a seller push your decision.
Buying direct from a breeder
They will be members of the Canadian Kennel Club and will ascribe to the CKC Breeder Code of Practice. A really top notch breeder will follow an intensive socialization program with their puppies such as that described in Jane Killion's "Puppy Culture" program. http://www.puppyculture.com/
Expect that a good breeder will:
- raise the puppies in their home with lots of human contact and handling
- not allow you to take a puppy home before 10-12 weeks of age - the last few weeks with the litter mates and mother are critically important to healthy puppy development and should not be rushed
- provide you information about the pedigree and health issues relevant to both the breed and her line of dogs
- permit (encourage) you to meet the mother and other puppies (sometimes the father is also available, but breeders often look outside their own line of dogs for the best sire - so the sire may not be accessible). The breeder will however be able to tell you about the temperament and history of the sire.
- pick the puppy for you - she has 10-12 weeks to learn everything about these puppies and is in the best position to know which one will be the best fit for you and your family
- ask you many questions before agreeing to sell you a puppy - after all she is entrusting you with not only a big investment of time and money, but a labour of love. Expect to be asked about your plans for the dog, your lifestyle, your resources, your home and yard etc. Expect to be quizzed on your knowledge of the breed and its characteristic temperament, adult size, health issues etc. She will want to know you have been diligent in learning about the breed before committing a dog to your care.
- ask you to sign a purchase agreement that includes commitments as to what you will do if the puppy does not work out for your family. The purchase agreement will also include requirements regarding spay and neutering and various other commitments.
- have the puppies CKC registered (please note that the papers may not be available at the time of sale, but you should have a written commitment that such papers will be forthcoming when available)
- have the puppies microchipped or tattooed before they leave her care
- never sell to pet stores
For information on the CKC Breeder Code of Practice see the links page.
What are the risks when buying direct from a breeder?
Backyard breedings - this refers to individuals who breed their dogs for a variety of reasons that have little to do with obtaining quality puppies with good health, temperament and structure, and advancement of the breed. Sometimes breeding is accidental, sometimes planned. Sometimes the main reason for breeding is money, sometimes a learning experience for the kids - there are a myriad of reasons. Problems with backyard breedings include lack of attention to selecting appropriate breeding stock, lack of experience in raising puppies to support development of a good temperament, lack of long term commitment to the puppies after they have gone to new homes etc. Backyard breeders generally will not have a kennel name that is registered with CKC or AKC but a registered kennel name is not an absolute guarantee!
Puppy mills - puppy mills are high volume breeding facilities that breed primarily for financial reasons. Be aware that puppy mills may have registered kennel names and often look good until you dig below the surface. They may have flashy websites with many cute puppy pictures and testimonials. Puppies are often raised in barns or out buildings, in cages. Because of the volume they are rarely raised in a home setting with intensive human contact. Puppies are typically forcibly weaned at an early stage and often lack the necessary degree of human handling and exposure to new experiences to make them confident, well adjusted puppies. Things that should raise your suspicion for a puppy mill include:
- insistence on a quick decision to purchase, or pressure for you to commit to a purchase
- wishing or offering to meet you somewhere with a puppy, rather than encouraging you to come to the place where the puppies are raised
- unwilling to have you meet the mother (excuses as to why you cannot meet the mother may sound legitimate!)
- unwilling to show you where the puppies are raised (or you may be invited into the house but observe the puppies seem ill at ease in the house)
- produces a high volume of puppies each year (most breeders have several litters per year at most - puppy mills depend on a continuous turnover of puppies to stay in business)
- puppy seems timid with people or reluctant to accept handling, seems withdrawn, won't make eye contact, seems 'shut down'
- the seller is unwilling to discuss health issues - or glosses over health issues with blanket statements such as "I never have health problems in my litters"
- no return policy
- does not belong to breed clubs for their breeds
- some puppy mill owners do participate in showing and performance sports - an abundance of ribbons or titles on the dogs is no guarantee of a good breeder
Buying direct from a reputable, knowledgeable and ethical breeder you will have the best chance of getting the puppy you want - with good health, good structure and a great temperament. Your puppy will be off to a sound start in life and your job in socializing and training him will be much easier.
Keep in mind that most good breeders have only a few litters per year - sometimes none. A puppy is not an "off the shelf" item. It is normal to have to wait to get a puppy. Some breeders do not breed until they have a wait list of clients, so they know that any puppies they produce will be guaranteed of a suitable home. Patience pays off and waiting 6-12 months for the right puppy rather than insisting on immediate gratification will help you get the dog that is right for your family. While you are waiting for a puppy, keep in touch with the breeder, learn as much as you can about the breed, prepare your home, yard and routines to accommodate your new puppy. Learn about positive training techniques so you can start off on the right foot. Once the litter is born, the breeder will want you to be involved and have visits with the puppy if you are close enough for that.
Rescues and shelters
Learn as much as you can about the shelter or rescue group before you look at any of the dogs and develop an attachment to particular animal. Once you are satisfied with the shelter - you then need to learn as much as you can about the individual dog that you are considering. Ask for all the information available about where the animal came from and the reasons he was surrendered to the shelter or rescue group. Usually animals that pass through shelters or rescues are neutered or spayed - often at very young ages. Very early spay and neuter can have detrimental effects on growth and development. Check the vaccination status and health report. Ask about behaviour problems noted while the dog was in the shelter. If there were behaviour problems, ask how they may have been addressed. Find out about the training style of the shelter - do they use force-free, positive reinforcement based techniques? If behaviour problems are addressed with corrections and aversive methods, they may have been suppressed, only to reappear once the dog leaves the shelter. Assess the dog yourself with great care and take as much time as you need - try to stay objective, especially when dealing with a dog that has a "story" that tugs at your heart. If the dog seems fearful or aggressive, keep looking or you will be setting yourself and the dog up for challenges you may not want. Extreme caution is indicated if you have young children in the household and it is vitally important that you assess the dog's comfort level with children before you take a dog home.
Consider enlisting the help and advise of an experienced (positive reinforcement) dog training professional if you have any doubts. It is worth the cost of having a professional not affiliated with the shelter assess the dog and provide you with an unbiased opinion. The trainer can also advise you on what you might need to anticipate in terms of training and behaviour problems.
No Kill Shelters have a policy of not euthanizing any animals. While "no kill" sounds like a humane policy, it does carry a risk that dogs that are up for adoption may have serious health issues or severe behaviour problems. Such dogs may become a financial burden, a danger to family and friends or be challenging to handle in terms of training and behaviour. Be expecially cautious in assessing the dog for health and behaviour problems before you commit.
Breed Rescue groups are a good place to look if you want to get a particular breed. Breed rescues are typically networks of people who have a strong commitment to a particular breed and are very knowledgeable about the breed. Dogs may be fostered with a rescue group member in their own home until a new home can be found. You can usually locate breed rescues through breed clubs or by contacting breeders. Most of the time dogs handled by a breed rescue group are placed in a home rather than a shelter. This is less stressful for the dog and the foster family will have opportunities to see how the dog behaves in the setting of a normal home. This will give you a better idea of how the dog will behave in your own home.
Buying from a pet store
Buying on line
Individual dog owners who need to rehome a dog will often sell on line. Due diligence in learning as much as you can about the dog before making any commitment is a must. If the dog is a registered pure bred dog, you should ask if the seller has communicated with the breeder about their intent to sell the dog. They may be under an obligation to the breeder to return the dog or consult before any ownership changes.
Be aware also that a variety of internet scams have involved on line dog sales. Never send or hand over money until the dog is in your possession and make sure that you insist on the seller showing you government issued identification with home address listed. Take down the information and keep it. This is no guarantee that you are not dealing with a scam, but any reluctance on the part of the seller should be a red flag.