Educate yourself. If you are looking for a purebred puppy, the American Kennel Club site provides information about each breed. There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a pure bred dog. Years of specific breeding have often created genetic health issues, so be sure to find out what problems are common in your desired breed, and what health testing you should expect a good breeder to do. For more on education and breed selection see Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?
Choose a breeder wisely. They are not all created equal, and finding a good match can really help you. A good breeder will want to interview you to ensure that their dog will be going to a good home. They will put the dog’s welfare ahead of their own monetary benefit. They will expect you to sign a contract of some sort. They will require you to return the puppy to them if you are unable to care for it at any point in time. They will be willing to answer your questions, offer advice on raising your puppy and serve as a great support system. I have pretty high standards these days and generally suggest Natural Rearing breeders.
Consider adopting from a shelter or rescue. While most dogs in shelters are mixed breeds, approximately one third are pure breeds. If you have your heart set on a particular type of dog, there are specific breed rescue groups across the country. If you are open to a mixed breed, there are lots to choose from! Mixed breed dogs generally have hybrid vigor and are often healthier than pure breeds. Ask if your shelter uses the Meet Your Match program to help you choose a suitable dog. Shelter adoption fees are generally quite reasonable and you are giving an unwanted animal a loving home. Dogs are smart, and they will appreciate and love you for it.
Get to know the puppy. Each puppy will have a different personality. Some are adventurous and outgoing while others are calm and cuddly. Part of this can be breed-related, but there are many variations within a breed and litter. If you have your heart set on a “cuddler,” you won’t be fully happy with an “explorer.” The only way you will know is by spending time with the pups you’re considering.
Buy from a pet store. Almost all the puppies in pet stores have come from large, commercial breeders (puppy mills). They are generally taken away from the mothers at too young an age, which can lead to a variety of behavior problems. They are often challenging to house or crate train because of the way they were housed. These puppies are treated as commodities, rather than living, breathing, feeling, thinking beings. Finally, they often have health issues and sadly can be a heartbreak waiting to happen.
Buy from the internet. Due to the “anonymous” nature of the internet, you have NO way of knowing who you are dealing with and what the puppy is like. It is so easy for puppy mills and other unsavory people to make false claims and take your money. These days there are reputable breeders with web sites, but they typically want to meet you in person, interview you, and help you select the right puppy.
Have a puppy shipped to you. Young puppies are very vulnerable and the stress of a flight can inflict lasting damage. If you choose a puppy several states away, arrange to pick the puppy up in person. While some may do fine flying back in the cabin of the plane, as a general rule I do not recommend it.
Buy a puppy from the classified ads, either the newspaper or Craig’s List. There can be acceptable puppies there, but the risks are high that they are poorly bred (increased risk of health and behavior problems), or have been “damaged” in some way. If you are an inexperienced puppy buyer and don’t know what to look for, or what to ask, you are at greater risk with these sources.
Be impressed or swayed by claims of “AKC papers” or “championship lines.” The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a breed registry. AKC registration only means that the dog is a product of purebred parents. It, in no way, guarantees the dog conforms to the breed standard or that it measures up to any standard of quality. There are breeders out there claiming “championship lines” because one dog in the pedigree earned the title of AKC Breed Champion several generations back. This is meaningless in evaluating the quality and suitability of the present generation of puppies they are selling. They may also make “championship” claims based on other breed registries like the UKC (United Kennel Club) – equally meaningless. Good breeders should be able to show you several generation of champions in your pup’s pedigree, but even that doesn’t guarantee that your puppy will be championship quality – or healthy or of good temperament.
Pay extra for a “designer breed.” Other than the Labradoodle, which has been around for enough generations to be a unique breed, the rest of these so-called designer breeds are really nothing more than well-marketed mixed breeds. While there are some nice combinations, they are not worth paying a premium. And any breeder that claims their mix (or pure breed) is “rare” or “unique” is selling you some oceanfront property in Montana. These are often Mother Nature’s genetic accidents and consequently they tend to be less healthy (physically and mentally) than their more normal counterparts. The best place to find a nice mixed breed puppy is at your local shelter.