(written and copied from my friend Tracy's blog. Thanks for letting me use it!)
Before you do anything, I would say consider adopting! There are so many abandoned pets in the world that need good, loving homes and would be more than willing to enjoy the pretty weather with you! If you or someone you know is considering a puppy or an adult dog, be sure to check out your local shelter. There are PLENTY to choose from! There are also breed-specific rescue groups all over the place.
That said, there are pros and cons to adoption, and if it's not for you and you want to purchase a purebred puppy, I've got some tips that will help make sure you do it right and protect yourself from getting scammed.
First: Know Your Breed!
Once you've identified what breed of dog you want, get familiar with the AKC standard for that breed, even if you just want a pet and not a show dog, you need to make sure your dog fits the bill. After all, the standards were developed over many years to create the ideal health, structure and temperament for that breed...if you buy from someone that doesn't stick to that standard in their dogs, then there's an increased likelihood of illness, injury or poor temperament....it could mean LOTS of money out of your pocket...plus heartache if the issue is really bad.
Another thing is the AKC standard goes into breeding practices...specifically what colors can and can't be bred together...that's an important one to learn also, because for example, if you breed a harlequin to a harlequin, the result is something like 25% fatality in the puppies. Don't buy puppies from someone that doesn't follow the breeding practices. I could do infinite blog posts on the genetics of why - but it's just a bad idea.
Second: Window Shop!
Don't assume that because a breeder has a nice website that they're worth their weight. Websites cost money and/or time...so all a fancy website means is that the breeder has enough of either (or both) to spend on it...it is totally unrelated to the dogs they produce. In fact, a lot of the best breeders don't have websites at all because they don't need them...they have people lined up with waiting lists for years to get a pup because they're THAT good.
Keep your eyes open and compare and contrast different breeders. Here's the tools you need to help you do that:
American Kennel Club
Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
Sign up for an account http://www.akc.org/. It's free and there's a cool trick you can use to get a little extra information. Once you've signed in, your main homepage will have a link in the middle that says "manage dogs". Click on that and it gives you a place to keep track of dogs and their titles and points.
Near the top is a link that says "Add a Dog", which you can click on and you get a pop up window. If you already own a dog, you can verify your name and date of registration and it will add your dog to your list. However, if you don't own the dog, you can still add it to your list as a "dog of interest", you just need either the registration number or the registered name of the dog. (You're welcome to add my dog, Kaptain, to your list of "dogs of interest" just for an example - his name is Legacy's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and he's a Great Dane.) If you are adding by registration number that you've received from the breeder - DOUBLE CHECK IT. Your breeder might be telling a lie, you have no way to know that THAT dog is the same one that has that number, all you know is what you're being told. I can tell you my dog's name is Sammy's Big Brown Bear and you have no choice but to believe me. I can also tell you his registration number is RP35206434 and you wouldn't know the difference....especially if I made it look like it might be a registration number for a Great Dane. Be full of doubt at this stage...let's face it...you just don't know.
When you do the search, you'll get the results for all the dogs with that name in that breed.....and there's only one. If you'll notice, your search results will also show you the registration number, Kaptain's is WS30567003.
However, the first part of the name is the kennel name and if you only want to enter the kennel name, then your results will include all active registered dogs from that kennel/breeder.
For example, my previous rescue dog, Boston, came from a litter sired by a dog named Watkin's Lordstryders Rangerboy. In this case, "Watkins" was the kennel name. So, if I want to do some research on this breeder, I can type in "watkins" and I get the following results:
Dog Name AKC Number Sex Birth Date
- Watkins Booger Bear
- WP32584710 M 12/31/1990
- Watkins Midnight Rain
- WP41241808 F 04/26/1992
- Watkins Mama Cass
- WC135419 F 10/16/1970
- Watkins Magistick Cleo Rose
- WC261669 F 11/19/1971
- Watkins Princess Sheena
- WF059570 F 10/25/1981
- Watkins Golden Spook
- WD593818 M 01/17/1977
- Watkins Blue Duke
- WE651081 M 04/22/1980
- Watkins Great Black Abbey
- WF642280 F 09/29/1984
- Watkins Black Sassafras
- WF642281 F 09/29/1984
- Watkins Belle Star
- WF945462 F 06/23/1985
- Watkins Gray Bert
- WG253464 M 01/18/1989
- Watkins Baby
- WR04763107 F 10/20/2001
- Watkins Willow A Weewee
- WS03058110 F 02/26/2003
- Watkins Sophy Lady Luck
- WS09266601 F 06/10/2004
- Watkins Blu Titus Maximus
- WS08075609 M 04/05/2004
- Watkins Miss Blueberry Muffin
- WS12097001 F 01/29/2005
- Watkins Lordstryders Rangerboy
- WS15308004 M 09/15/2005
- Watkins Cabella's Gone Fishing
- WS29360708 F 12/28/2008
So this is all the registered dogs from this kennel. I want to know more about them and I have several options for doing that. First, I can add them to my "dogs of interest" page. Unfortunately, you can only do this one at a time, but I'll use Lordstryders Rangerboy as an example from here on out (because I don't care that I'm calling them out for their terrible dogs and breeding practices, because they broke my heart, cost me thousands of dollars and when I tried to inform them nicely, they ignored me and continue to breed and sell sick dogs.) When I add him to my list, I can click on the tab that says "titles and points" and it will tell me if he's a champion or not. If so, when you see his name it will have a CH in front of it...but he's not a champion, he's just a dog, so he has none.
Now, if you're not looking for a show dog and you just want a pet dog, it's still important that the dog comes from champion parents. Becoming a champion is a way to prove a dog is worthy IMPARTIALLY, everybody loves their dog....I love my dog, I would love to have more dogs just like him, but until I can prove that my dog is an ideal example of the breed to someone that doesn't love him as much as I do, why should I contribute to an already overpopulated dog world? There are enough homeless puppies already, we don't need more. In order to become a CH, a dog has to win at least 3 different shows by 3 different judges....and some of those shows have to be of a particular size...so not only do we know that he's an ideal example according to other people, but he's an ideal example among a LOT of other dogs, many of whom are also ideal examples themselves, according to several different impartial people...and not just ANY people, but impartial experts. To be a judge requires a boatload of experience amounting to several years. As a friend of mine put it, "You want your breeding stock independently evaluated by breed experts to prove their quality."
Also, don't take a breeders word for it. A woman asked my help in double checking on some breeders earlier today and their website said "We breed for great dispositions and to the AKC standard for Great Danes" and on another line said they were the home of AKC Great Danes.....and not only was the dam of the litter NOT a CH, the sire wasn't even AKC registered!!! Which means the puppies aren't registerable either. What a racket!
So the other thing you can do - and probably the best thing you can do, is take that registration number to http://www.offa.org/. This is the end-all and be-all of canine health testing. This is a 3rd party company that does nothing but review test results and log them and make them public....good or bad, they still get paid. Again, they're impartial, which is a big deal.
In the top left of the website is a place where you can enter in a dogs AKC registration number and view their results. It not only displays the results of that dog that you entered, but also any family member of that dog that has test results.....so now you can not only be more certain that the parents of your future puppy are healthy, but also you can see that they come from a family of very healthy dogs.
Each of these tests cost a couple hundred dollars. Many of them are repeated several times throughout the dogs life. Some of them are repeated each time a dog is mated. THIS is why purebred dogs cost what they do. If you're being charged anything more than a couple hundred dollars for a purebred dog - you had BETTER be getting this, otherwise, you're lining the breeders pocket...giving them money for things they did not bother to do for your dog.
Finally, Don't get sucked in by a crappy guarantee.
Many, Many, MANY genetic conditions are adult-onset. The "one year money back health guarantee" is GARBAGE. Here's why:
You buy a puppy. You bring puppy home. You fall in love with puppy. Your kids fall in love with puppy.
At 6 months, your puppy is diagnosed with something that means it will require medication for the rest of his/her life. You call the breeder and give them the news that you want your money back.
But here's what you DIDN'T know....that "money back guarantee" was actually a return policy, meaning you can return your dog for the price that you paid for it. But your family loves this dog. Your children love this dog. This dog is a part of your life....not a faulty piece of equipment. So now you have to choose between $2000 or a family member....nobody deserves to have to make that decision.
But here's the dirty part of it that you also don't see....IF you do return the dog, the breeder can turn it around and resell it to some unsuspecting soul (and they do this all the time under the ruse of "rehoming a dog who's owners can't take care of it anymore") and the breeder can also CONTINUE to breed more dogs with this ailment and CONTINUE to sell them to unsuspecting souls who will have to make the same terrible decision with their poor heartbroken families full of children that love their puppies
Your other option is to keep the dog and pay out of pocket expensive health care for the rest of his/her life. In which case, your breeder just made $2000 off of you and you got hosed....and the breeder has no repercussions...and still continues to breed, sell and profit off of unsuspecting souls.
This is why those health tests are so important. Those health tests are the best guarantee you can ask for. HOWEVER, it's always good to have backup in place, so IN ADDITION TO THE HEALTH TESTS - not place of - you should also have a guarantee that you're comfortable with and that you know ALL of the details of. It needs to have everything in writing...all of the "what if's?" should be answered...and specifically - you need to know what's going to happen if the dog develops some medical condition as an adult that is genetic or chronic and requires expensive procedures or lifetime medications. More importantly - The question that needs to be asked is 'What happens to the breeding program should a genetic condition pop up?' The best answer you can receive is 'All of the intact animals get tested and then fixed, and then all of the owners of puppies sold from the affected dogs get notified.' This is a terrifying possibility for any breeder...even those that health test rigorously - so be gentle about it. If this were to happen to a longstanding established breeder, this could bankrupt them, not to mention completely end their lifestyle, and be emotionally devastating. But this is also why good breeders WANT to make sure their dogs are healthy. A sick dog does affects the entire line, not just the one family. If a breeder doesn't want to do the tests to be certain - ask yourself why, chances are, it's probably because they have no sense of accountability if it goes wrong.
I hope this helps! If anyone thinks I should add anything, please feel free to comment.