How to Choose a Dog

By: Dr. William Fortney

Buying a Dog From a Breeder

Once you know you want a purebred puppy or dog and you have figured out the right breed for you and your home, the next step is to find a reputable breeder. Good breeders are committed to improving the breed. They are careful about breeding; have healthy, well-cared for dogs; belong to dog clubs or breeder organizations; and usually enter their dogs in shows. They try to eliminate health problems by screening their dogs for genetic disease. They keep current on information regarding vaccinations, canine medicine, and genetics.

To find a good breeder, ask your veterinarian or other dog owners for referrals. Breeders often advertise their dogs in such magazines as the American Kennel Club Gazette, Dog Fancy, and Dogs USA, all of which can be found nationwide. Attending a dog show is another good way to find breeders. Talk to breeders there, after they have shown their dogs (before competition, they will be too busy preparing the dog for the ring).


Good breeders know their breed inside and out. They enjoy talking about their dogs, and they're willing to take the time to educate people who are new to the breed. Tell breeders the type of dog you're looking for -- one who is quiet, active, friendly, easy to groom, good with kids, and so forth -- so they can tell you if their breed suits your needs. Ask about a breed's personality and temperament. What are its grooming requirements? Does it have special dietary needs? Is it accustomed to children or other pets? What genetic problems affect the breed?

If you meet a breeder you like, make an appointment to see the dogs in their home setting. As you examine the dogs and facilities, talk to the breeder about standards and practices. An honest, responsible breeder will appreciate your concern and won't be offended by any of the following questions:

  • How long have you been breeding dogs?
  • How often do you breed your dogs?
  • Why did you choose to breed these two dogs?
  • Before you bred them, did you screen the dogs for health problems common to the breed?
  • Can you show me the results of those tests?
  • Do puppies come with a health guarantee or a veterinary health certificate?
  • Do you belong to a breed club and subscribe to its code of ethics?
  • Can your dogs perform the tasks for which they were bred (if it's pertinent to the breed in question)?
  • Have your dogs earned any titles (conformation championship, obedience titles, tracking titles, herding titles)?
  • Can you provide references from other buyers?
  • What are the positives and negatives of owning this breed?

A good breeder will question you just as carefully. The questions she asks may seem personal, but her intentions are good: to ensure her puppies go to loving, lifelong homes. A breeder may also require you to sign a contract agreeing to certain standards of care such as keeping the dog in a fenced yard or spaying or neutering a pet-quality dog. Some breeders withhold a puppy's registration papers until they receive proof the puppy has been altered. The breeder may also require you to return the dog if there ever comes a time when you can't keep it. In return for meeting such stringent requirements, you should expect to receive a healthy, well-socialized puppy at a fair price, as well as ongoing advice from the breeder regarding its care, grooming, and feeding.Finding such a paragon of a breeder is not always easy. There is no canine version of the Better Business Bureau. Anyone can hang out a sign proclaiming herself a dog breeder. As the buyer, it is your responsibility to screen the breeder carefully to ensure she follows reputable, responsible breeding practices. When you visit the breeder, take note of kennel size, exercise areas, cleanliness, state of repair, ventilation, lighting, and overall appearance. Are bedding and elimination areas clean? Is there an isolation area for sick dogs, show dogs, and newborns? Does the breeder feed a high-quality food, or are her animals raised on a generic diet? Is fresh water readily available? Does the breeder keep good records (including proof of vaccinations), store medications properly, and take steps to prevent worm infestation? In addition, rate the condition of the dogs and the socialization of the puppies. In the end, your own good judgment is what counts most.A breeder is not the only option, however. Most people have a lot of luck adopting a dog from a shelter. We'll tell you what you need to know in the next section.