Tarahill Cairn Terriers &
Wags to Wishes K9 Training 

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Buyer - beware

A lot of thought and research should go into a decision to get a dog.  It is equally important to give great care and thought into choosing where you get your dog..  Impulse buying is all too common, and once that cute little puppy has stolen your heart, it is so, so very hard to say no. Remember the old adage...buy in haste, repent at leisure!
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 you into making a quick decision.  A seller who is looking for the best interests of the puppy or dog will always encourage you to take your time.

Buying direct from a breeder

Before you decide to buy from a breeder, learn as much as you can about them and their breeding and puppy raising practices.  A good breeder does it for the love and well-being of the breed - rather than for profit, although that does not mean they should not ask a fair price for their puppies - one that will allow them to recoup expenses which are usually well into the mid thousands for a litter.  Good breeders will breed selectively to achieve puppies with good health, excellent structure and great temperaments.  They will usually be active in showing dogs as this is a good way to demonstrate that their dogs meet the breed standard. They may also be active in performance sports with their dogs.  They will usually be members of, and involved in, breed clubs regionally and nationally and sometimes internationally.
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/ or Avidog.


Expect that a good breeder will:
  • raise the puppies in their home with lots of human contact and handling
  • generally 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 and especially the parents
  • permit (encourage) you to meet the mother and other puppies. The sire may not be available on site as  breeders often look outside their own line of dogs for the best sire.  The breeder will however be able to tell you about the temperament, health 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.  This does not mean that she will not take your preferences into consideration, but it does mean that the final decision will be at the discretion of the breeder. She will be prepared to discuss the reasons for her choice with you.
  • 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.  The purchase agreement will also define refund policies.
  • 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).  Puppies are often not registered until the breeder is certain the placement is working well as changing owners on papers is costly.  You must receive registration by the time the puppy is 6 months old.
  • have the puppies microchipped or tattooed before they leave her care
  • provide you with the vaccination and health record of the puppy
  • never sell to pet stores
  • usually not sell on on line marketplaces such as Kijiji and Craig's list.  Some breeders do advertise on these sites but you do not to use extra vigilance in purchasing a puppy via on line sales. 

For information on the CKC Breeder Code of Practice see the links page.


What are the risks when buying direct from a breeder?
Irresponsible breeders -  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, or a myriad of other reasons.  Problems include lack of attention to selecting appropriate breeding stock, lack of experience in raising puppies to support optimal development of  temperament, lack of long term commitment to the puppies after they have gone to new homes etc. Such 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 that you are not dealing with a irresponsible breeder!  Such breeders are not so much intentionally unethical as misguided, inexperienced and uninformed. 
Puppy mills - puppy mills are high volume breeding facilities that breed exclusively for financial reasons. Be aware that puppy mills may have registered kennel names and often look good until you dig below the surface.  They often 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 of puppies involved, 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 - this is an indication that the puppies are raised elsewhere but brought into the house to make it look like they are household raised).
  • 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)
  • produces puppies of multiple breeds (most responsible breeders focus on one or two breeds)
  • 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, not interested in having the puppy returned to them is something does not work out
  • does not belong to breed clubs for their breeds
  • some puppy mill owners do participate in showing and performance sports so an abundance of ribbons or titles on the dogs is no guarantee of a good breeder
Puppy mill puppies often face a variety of health, temperament and behaviour challenges.  You may be able to overcome them, or not.  If you do, it may well be at the cost of a large investment of time, effort, and money. Once you have paid for your puppy, you can expect little, if any, support or help from the 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

Just as with breeders, it is very important to do your homework before getting a dog from a rescue organization or a shelter.  Getting a dog from a shelter or rescue group will inevitably have some uncertainties with it.  In most cases, little if anything is known about the origin and past history of the dog, about his parents and early training. Some shelters and rescue groups bring in dogs from great distances - even out of country and this practice has been responsible for introducing a variety of health problems into the community and landing unsuspecting families with large veterinary bills or serious problems with canine aggression. 

With the transition away from selling puppies in pet stores, some shelters are little more than "fronts" for puppy mills.  On the other hand, there are many ethical rescue organizations that truly work for the good of the dogs entrusted to them. It is every bit as important to learn about the shelter or rescue group as it is to investigate a breeder.

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.  Ask if the dog was placed previously and returned to the shelter. 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.

Dogs imported from out of country - the trade in imported dogs is huge and a money making venture for many rescue groups and individuals.  Why are dogs imported?  As there are fewer and fewer locally derived dogs in shelters and rescue groups, the need for these organizations has diminished.  To stay in business (and yes, many of them ARE nothing more than businesses wrapped up in an aura of doing good), dogs must be imported from elsewhere - Korean Meat Dogs, Thai Beach Dogs, etc etc.  Please note that supporting these groups that bring in dogs from all over is no better than buying a dog from a pet store and may be worse. Buying a Korean Meat dog will not save dogs - it will only increase the demand for breeding more dogs under conditions we would consider frightful.  Buying a Golden Retreiver "rescued from the streets of Turkey" is likely buying a dog that has a home and family but has been snatched from a community where dogs roam freely. In many other countries dogs are permitted much more freedom than here - that does not mean they lack a family that cares for and about them.  When buying from a rescue, I recommend working only with groups that do not import dogs from other jurisdictions - this is the only way to be confident you are not simply supporting puppy mills and unethical breeders who are from another country or province.  Avoid puppy purchase events as these are often ways to unload a large number of dogs brought in from other areas. Imported dogs are often turned over as quickly as possible - meaning that there is little to no time to determine if there are serious behaviour problems or health issues that need to be addressed before adoption.

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 especially 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. They are usually not a 'bricks and mortar' organization but rely on club members to help move dogs and care for them in homes as foster dogs until a new home can be found. Placing a dog in a home rather than a shelter 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. You can usually locate breed rescues through breed clubs or by contacting breeders.  

Rescues and shelters often try to guilt people into "adopt, don't shop" - this meme is a fallacy.  When you adopt a dog, you are still purchasing a dog and any decision to bring a dog into your home should be done with 'shopping' in mind. By 'shoppping', I mean making a carefully considered decision. You would not go out any buy the first car you see because you like the colour.  You need to be sure the car (puppy) is the right one for your lifestyle, you want to know that it is in good mechanical order (good health and temperament). You want to know the history of the car (pedigree, parents, conditions of breeding and puppy raising) and any accidents it has sustained (health screening of parents and puppy).  Some of this will naturally not be available for rescued puppies and you will have to assess the puppy yourself very carefully.  But - do not allow anyone to make you feel guilty over choosing to obtain a dog from an ethical breeder who has raised the puppies with their health, temperament and sound structure in view and prepared them to transition to your home in a confident and resilient way and can provide you with all the information and assistance you need to make this puppy a cherished and successful family member. 

Buying from a pet store

The trend is for pet stores to move away from selling dogs and this is a positive move.  Pet stores depend on impulse buying - you walk in and see those cute little puppies and just can't leave them behind in those lonely cages.  Be aware that pet store puppies are usually the products of puppy mills or unplanned / irresponsible breedings.  Health, structure and temperament are uncertain and often less than ideal. You will generally know little if anything about the parents' health or temperament. Ethical pet stores do not sell puppies.

Buying on line

Reputable breeders generally do not sell puppies on line.  Most  will have their own websites where you can get detailed information about their dogs and kennel. While it is unusual for breeders to advertise dogs via on lines sales sites, some do post notices about litters for sale, usually with links to an established website where you can find more detailed information about their breeding program, kennel, dogs etc.

When buying on line from sites such as Kijiji, Craigs List, Facebook Marketplace etc the risk that you are buying from a puppy mill or backyard breeder is high - take special care to research in detail and be sure you are dealing with an ethical breeder, looking at all the criteria mentioned above under "Buying Direct from a Breeder".

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 with the breeder 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.