So, you are looking for
Are you a "dog" person?
First, ask yourself, "Am I really a dog person?" Do you want a dog or are you attracted to the image and atmosphere of having a dog curled up at your feet at night. There is a big difference. Dogs shed, bark, run around, require exercise, need baths, require consistent treatment, bring strange things in from outside and more "un-human" activities. This sounds like having a child. Well, almost. Owning a dog is a big commitment, and if you're not ready to invest the time now, maybe you should wait.
On the other hand, if you are ready to invest your attention and caring, dogs are wonderful. They know when you have had a bad day. They love you even when you're having a bad hair day. They keep you company in the dark. We know that people who own dogs are happier and live longer, too.
So, if you've decided that you are ready ready for a little hair, slobber and physical activity, then you need to choose your dog carefully.
What kind of dog should you get?
There is a saying "Dogs are the only relatives you get to choose." This is true, so you should put a lot of effort into finding a dog that will be compatible with your family. A little time and lots of research up front can make all the difference.
People sometimes choose a dog because it is cute. Or, they saw a TV show or movie with a cute dog (101 Dalmatians, Eddie from Frasier, Lassie etc.). This is the worst way to choose a dog. Instead a dog should be selected based on traits that they possess, such as temperament, hair type, energy level, and size at maturity. The best way to discover what you like is to meet as many dogs as you can - kind of like dating. I also recommend buying a book on dogs. The American Kennel Club's web site (akc.org) has lots of information and links to national breed clubs.
If you have a small backyard, you might look for a smaller dog. If you love to go running, you might consider a dog that has more energy. If your house must be clean all the time with no dog hair, then you thinks about a poodle, terrier or a Chinese crested (they are bald.) The point is be honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes, how you like to live your life style and try to find a dog that will fit into it.
Dogs are not people
Dogs are dogs. That means they act like dogs and do doggie things. I see a lot of people who buy a dog and then leave it outside. Why? Dogs are pack animals and once they bond to you (it takes about a month) they feel they need to be with you. They hate being separated from the pack. If they are outside and know you are inside, they will be very unhappy. This usually leads to excessive barking, digging or other obnoxious behaviors. If you are going to have a dog, expect it to be a member of the family.
This doesn't mean that you have to be with your dog all the time. But when you are home, your dog should be hanging out with you. When you aren't at home, your dog should be placed in a place where he won't get into trouble (a room with not much in it, or a crate where he can curl up and sleep.)
Dogs are animals, that is, you can't expect them to behave like people. If you leave them alone in the house with a trash can full of smelly stuff, you better expect them to get into it. If not, they are probably sick. Many people expect their dogs to know that getting into the trash (or anything else) is a no-no. They don't know this. Dogs are not morale. They don't know the value of a Coach purse. All they know is "Oh, that smells good and I'm bored, I think I'll just chew on it until someone comes home and plays with me." It is up to you to protect your valuables (and to some extent this includes the trash) from your dog when you can not supervise. Remember, you have a bigger brain.
Dogs shed. The only breed that doesn't is poodles. So if anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying. They shed in the spring and in the fall. Some shed less and some more. However, hair is constantly being replaced at all other times. If a dog hair in your food offends you, maybe you aren't ready for a dog.
Who is the Breeder? What do they practice?
You will find that the person that doesn't want to sell you the dog is the one you want to buy from. This is greatly simplified, so let me explain. There are two types of people that produce dogs, one type is trying to improve the breed (good breeders), and the other type is "bad breeders." Bad Breeders are anyone who produces a dog, usually for money, but they won't always admit that. Good Breeders are trying to improve the breed and are few and far between. However, these are the people you want to sell you a puppy. Expect them to have a very in depth knowledge of the breed. Usually, they will try to talk you out of buying a dog (at first, they want to make sure you are serious, and it's not just an impulse). Then, they will try to educate you as to the nature of their breed.
In an effort to improve the breed, Good Breeders will carefully select the parents of any puppies. They will make sure the parents are a good representation of the breed, that their temperaments allow them to be good with people, and that they are free from genetic defects. This is a very hard task, and Good Breeders are dedicated to it. Bad breeders usually aren't as strict concerning the quality of their breeding stock. And, often they don't screen for genetic defects.
Good Breeders will screen their breeding stock for a variety of health problems BEFORE breeding them. They will have the hips x-rayed to check for hip dysplasia. They should have a certificate from OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) to certify the health of the dog's hips. Do not accept a letter from the local vet saying the hips looked OK. They will have the eyes checked for cataracts (sometimes as often as once a year.) They should have a certificate from CERF, certifying the health of the dog's eyes. They might have the thyroid tested and will also check for lots of other potential disorders, depending on what is common for their breed. (This is why it is important for you to learn about the breed. You will know what kinds of health problems are common in a particular breed.) The Internet can be a great resource for learning. National club websites are full of health and disease information about their particular breed.
If you ask a breeder about x-rays for hip dysplasia and they don't feel it is necessary, don't buy the dog. The x-rays only cost about $50 and are a must for healthy dogs. It is heartbreaking (as well as very costly) to buy a dog, bond to it and have its hips go bad by age two. (Check www.offa.org for more information.)
Good Breeders will usually want you to sign a contract when you purchase a dog from them. This contract usually requires a lot from the purchaser, but in exchange, you get a lot from the breeder. You can expect a lifetime guarantee from a good breeder for the dog's health. You can also return the dog for any reason if you cannot keep it for any reason. You might be required to spay or neuter the dog. You will also be required to have annual vet visits. The Good Breeder will also ask where you plan to keep the dog. He doesn't want to see a dog that he has brought into this world spend its life tied to a tree. The Good Breeder will be very interested in hearing from you about your progress with the dog and should be available for any questions. Basically, a good breeder is concerned about the welfare of the puppies long after they have left their mother. If they aren't, they aren't a good breeder.
If you go to look at a litter of puppies and you ask questions about some of the things mentioned here and the breeder doesn't give you a satisfactory answer, don't buy the dog. Be picky! Interview the breeder. You are making a big investment in time and money, so now is not the time to let things slide or make excuses. Make sure everything is in order.
If you go to look at a litter of puppies and discover that the breeder has a lot of puppies (more than one or two litters available), this should be a red flag. They are probably doing it for money. Ask how many litters of puppies they have a year. If it is more than four, it's a red flag. Why do they need that many puppies? If the conditions in which they keep the puppies are less than ideal, it's another red flag.
Ask to see the parents. Temperament is inherited. If you meet the parents and don't like their personalities, chances are you won't like the puppy's personality once it matures.
A word about papers.
There are many different kinds of papers. Some mean something, some don't. Just because a dog has papers, does not mean that it is a good specimen of the breed. The American Kennel Club (AKC) will issue papers to any dog that is a product of two (of the same breed) dogs that have papers. A lot of dogs shouldn't be bred. A lot of dogs are not good enough examples of the breed to keep breeding. Good Breeders will select the few that are and breed them. Bad breeders will take two dogs with papers and functioning reproductive organs and breed them. The resulting puppies will be registered; however, they may not be of quality. It is up to you as the unsuspecting buyer to figure out the difference.
NOTE: There is a new development about how dogs are registered. Since the AKC has gotten tougher about record keeping, several groups have started new registries that then give "papers" to puppy buyers. They could have names like NAKC, PKC, CCKC. Sometimes dogs that are registered by these groups are not purebred - meaning they do not breed true to type and the puppies will not necessarily look like the parents. The new designer dogs fall into this category - Cocapoos, Labradoodles.
This includes dog in pet stores. They may have papers, but you have no idea of what the parents look like or act like. Pet stores are probably one of the worst places to buy a dog as well as one of the most expensive.
Champions and other titles
There are things called "titles" that registered/papered dogs can earn. There are different areas of titles that exist. There are titles for conformation (the structure and correctness of a dog compared to a standard of perfection.) This is a good start. The indication that a dog has earned a conformation title is that there is a CH in front of their name on the papers. This CH stands for conformation champion. It means that the dog has competed in shows (sanctioned by the AKC) and has been given the stamp of approval that it is a good representation of the breed. It is a good place to start but it is not always a sure bet. You still need to be sure that the parents (even if they have earned the CH) have been screened for genetic defects. Some breeders will have dogs that are conformation champions but still won't x-ray their hips or check for other problems. They are almost good breeders but not quite.
There are also working titles. Dogs such as retrievers or hounds can participate in events that specialize in what they were bred to do. There are hunting trials, retrieving trials, tracking trials, even herding trials. By competing and winning in these trials, dogs can earn working titles, too. These aren't always the types of dogs you want as a house pet. A border collie that was successful in the herding arena may not make the best house pet. A dog that has been bred to work will be very bored hanging around the kitchen all day. Instead he will want to go out and do his job. However, if you are interested in getting into one of these sports, then you should look for a dog that has been bred to do that and whose ancestors were successful in related competitions.
There are also events for companion animals and titles can be won in these areas. They are fun to watch and participate. Agility, Obedience, Rally, Tracking trials have letters like CD, CDX, UD, NA, OA, TT, and more.
You may be thinking by now that all breeders are bad, and it will be impossible to find a good dog. It's not, but you just need to be educated and patient. It helps if you tell yourself, "I will not buy a dog until next month," and then, you go looking at dogs and talking to as many people as possible. Puppies are not always available; Mother Nature sets the timing. Don't buy one on impulse. Don't buy one because you've been told that it will sell soon or may not be available next week. Don't fall for that tactic!
What about PRICE?
Bottom line: raising a healthy dog is costly, and those puppies sales DO NOT support all the genetic and health testing, showing, stud fees, whelping and puppy raising costs - then, there's all the breedings that don't take or puppies that don't make it. So, don't think the Good Breeder is making a pile of money. "It probably will work that the cheaper the price the less the dog will grow up to look as you expect. Often, you will pay more in vet fees and have the emotional trauma of a sickly puppy. Depending on the breed, puppies can cost as much as several thousand dollars. Puppies out of larger dogs with bigger litters will be less expensive. Smaller dogs with smaller litters usually will be more expensive. If there are few dogs of a certain breed, that will increase the price as well.
Be a smart consumer; do be let by your head; don't go and look at puppies until the breeder has passes the phone test. All puppies are cute especially if they need to be rescued from a bad situation.
Rescuing a homeless dog
If all this sounds overwhelming (and it often is to the first time dog buyer), there is another option - Dog Rescue. There are many non-profit organizations that devote their time to bailing dogs out of the pound and keeping them in their homes until they can find a good home for them. Rescue organizations are dedicated to saving dogs. They want to ensure that the dog has a good rest of his life. Therefore, they want to be positive that the dog finds a good home that is a good match so it will not have to be rescued again. Rescue organizations are typically very honest about the dog's good and bad points. They want to make sure you know what you're getting into and that you're prepared to handle it. So, they usually tell you everything bad about the dog.
They also expect you to sign a contract that says you will take good care of the dog. You must notify the organization if you no longer want the dog. In return, the organization will keep in touch with you, answer any questions that you have and will take the dog back for any reason, should you become unhappy with it. Above all, they just don't want to see the dog back in the pound and will do a lot to be certain it stays out. Basically, rescue organizations pick up the mess that bad breeders or uneducated buyers have left behind. Often Good Breeders are involved in rescues efforts of their particular breed.
There are many benefits to getting a rescue dog. Usually puppies don't end up in rescue because they are so cute. There are several groups of dogs that end up in rescue: the cute little puppy that then grew too large or became too much of a nuisance when they got older ( 6 months to 1-1/2 years); dogs that are impulse buys or presents show up around this age.
Another group of dogs that show up are ones that are between 5 and 8 years old. The owner grows tired of the dog. Perhaps, they just had a baby, and the dog hasn't adjusted. Or, maybe they are moving and can't take the dog. Or, they haven't trained the dog, and it has some annoying habits. No one really wants to take a dog that age, so they end up in the pound.
There are benefits to adopting a rescue dog. The biggest one is what you see is what you get. The dogs have already matured so you know how big they will be, you know how much hair they will have, and their personality is pretty much set.
Also, the dog is `fostered' at a rescue volunteer's house for some time before being adopted. Usually, they are housebroken and have been taught some manners (not always though). But, the foster home can give you a good description of what life is like with this dog.
The biggest benefit of a rescue dog is the satisfaction you get knowing that this dog probably would have been put to sleep, had it not been sprung from the pound. You have given this dog a second chance at having a good life.