Originally published on December 17, 2013.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas A. Edison

I am not actually going to list all 10,000 ways not buy puppy, but I would like to share a few of the common mistakes I have seen people make when purchasing a puppy.  As a dog training instructor, I often ask people about how they came to get their dog, and it has been quite an education.

The first way not to get a dog is as a surprise gift.  The image of the birthday child, or the holiday surprise with everyone in their best dress, and the cute, sweet puppy delighting everyone is the stuff of myth.  Imagine instead, everyone in their best clothes, and a puppy who has been kept isolated and alone, who needs to pee.  The gift wrapped crate comes out, and someone opens the door, and instead of a calm well behaved quiet puppy we find a Tasmanian devil who can tour the living room at mach seven, spreading urine in a line several kilometres long, traversing the freshly cleaned rug, the sofa, the antique chair, and two end tables.  Once the puppy is contained, the mess is cleaned up, and everyone has calmed down, the family can meet the puppy and the puppy can meet the family.  The only problem is, now the puppy has a bad start to his introduction to the family.  Whoever is the recipient may or may not want this particular pup.  Whoever has to clean up all that urine is probably not going to be happy.  And everyone is going to be thinking about the mayhem caused by this dog.  No matter how well behaved the puppy is for the rest of the day, anytime he transgresses, his people are going to remember what happened when he was first introduced.


This is not going to end well!  Puppies should not be gift wrapped ever, and a surprise puppy often results in unexpected messes and mayhem at the party.Image credit: taden / 123RF Stock Photo

The next way not to get a dog is on impulse.  If you’re at the farmers market, and you see someone with a basket of puppies beside their pumpkins, this is not a good time or place to buy a puppy.  Puppies at the end of farm lanes, in shop windows, at markets, or in the bed of a pickup truck are all bad ideas.  The sellers are hoping that you just won’t be able to resist and that you will take that extra mouth to feed away from them and into your own home.  Buying a puppy impulsively means that you don’t get to meet mom, dad or any relatives.  This means you don’t know if in general these puppies are likely to be calm, excitable, tolerant, or nasty.  You don’t know what vet care mom got or if she was healthy while she was pregnant.  You don’t even know what vaccinations the puppies may or may not have had, or if they have been properly cared for.  Often they have not.  Far too often, we see impulse buy puppies with serious illnesses such as giardia or coccidea, or worse, parvo!  We often say there is no such thing as a free puppy, and we have observed many of our clients paying large vet bills instead of paying the breeder the price of a puppy who has had all of the early advantage is that every puppy deserves.


Puppies sold at a farmer’s market may be ill or may carry diseases that your family could catch.  The sales person doesn’t care enough about where their pups end up to interview and screen the homes their pups will end up in.  They are preying upon the softheartedness of those who are visiting the market and  hope you will impulsively take a puppy home.  This is one very common wrong way to buy a dog.  Buying a dog through online classifieds is every bit as bad; in that case the seller has just taken the farmer’s market model and brought it to yourcomputer.  Image credit: auremar / 123RF Stock Photo

The third most common wrong way to get a dog that we see is the one purchased under pressure.  Too often we meet people who have been volunteering with a rescue or shelter and who have been pressured to take home a dog lest it die, or because it is felt that it is a non adoptable candidate.  We have seen this happen to staff and volunteers in veterinary clinics as well.  Somehow or another the care that these people give during their shifts is not quite enough.  When you work in a caring environment, and everyone else is taking home animals in need, indirect pressure can result in people acquiring animals that may be inappropriate to their situation.  Sometimes the pressure is more direct; we know of several cases where volunteers have been offered particular animals over and over and over again, until they are worn down and feel they must take the animal even if they don’t want to.  In a culture of adopt one until there are none, it can be hard to leave at the end of the day empty handed.  Pressure should never be the reason that you get a pet.

Another purchase mistake that we often see is the person who selects a breed because they liked how they look.  These people often don’t know what the breed is like, and assume that a dog is a dog is dog.  A German shepherd is not a golden retriever with upright ears in a different coat.  If you have only lived with Golden Retrievers but love the look of a German Shepherd, stop to learn about the German Shepherd and find out if you really want to live with one.  We have had clients purchase puppies of breeds they’re afraid of the in the hopes that they will learn to like them as they grow.  We have had clients who like how the puppy looks but don’t like how the adult looks or behaves and purchase the puppy not the adult.  The problem here is that the puppy will grow up to be an adult!  Whatever breed he was when he started is going to be the same breed he will be when he grows up.  When you purchase a dog, you cannot just purchase what he looks like; you are buying the whole package.  This is why we encourage people to do their research carefully before they choose a breeding.  Even, or perhaps especially, when you’re purchasing a farm dog of unknown heritage, you should know something about what the parents are like so you can project what your puppy will grow up to be like.


Rottweiler puppies come home when they are under ten pounds, but they will grow up to be between 70 and 90 or more pounds.  Rottie pups are playful bundles of friendly fun, but they should grow up to be fairly reserved working adults.Image credit: cynoclub / 123RF Stock Photo

Periodically we have clients who purchase a dog when a friend has bred a litter.  This isn’t a big deal if you both belong to a gun club and you both have English pointers, and you both train English pointers, and you really like your friend’s dog and would really like one of her puppies.  This is a problem when you work at the supermarket, and the produce manager has an Aussie doodle who didn’t get spayed and who was accidentally bred by the neighbor’s cocker spaniel.  This gets even worse when your friend’s dog was too young to be bred, or if your friend’s dog has health problems, or if your friend doesn’t know how to raise a litter.  Far too often these puppies are sent home at six weeks.  6 to 8 weeks can be an expensive time when you’re raising puppies and inexperienced breeders will often send the puppies home prematurely to avoid having to pay for worming, vaccinations, veterinary care, and feed.  When you have a family and you think you want a puppy, bringing home a puppy just because your friend has offered it to you might work, but more often it is going to create problems.  When the only criteria is that your friend bred the litter, then you aren’t taking into account what your family might need in a good pet.

Many of our clients are looking for hard and fast rules about how and when to get a puppy.  On our uniform shirts, we have a slogan.  The slogan is “it depends…” This is our slogan because when to get a puppy depends on a lot of factors.  Which puppy to get depends on a lot of factors.  How to bring your whole puppy home depends on a lot of factors.  As two adults who don’t celebrate Christmas and who work in an industry that virtually shuts down between the 24th of December and the 2nd of January, the holiday season is an excellent time for John and me to get a dog.  We have more time than normal, and very few commitments.  Our house is calm at this time of year.  The traditional time of year to get a puppy is in the springtime.  For us springtime is a disastrous time to get a puppy, because this is our busiest time of year.  We have the least amount of resources to put into puppy training in the springtime.  As professionals, we will get a puppy when the right puppy comes along, and we have the resources to meet his needs, regardless of the time  of year.  This is not  appropriate for everyone, but when you are prepared for raising a puppy, the time of year is less important.

If you’re going to get a puppy during the holiday season, there are ways to do so successfully.  First set your plans in motion six months ahead of when you’ll get your puppy.  Research the breeds and breeders in whom you are interested.  Get to know them.  Get to know their dogs.  Go puppy equipment shopping, and get all of your bowls, leashes, crates and toys a head of time.  Plan your time off work.  If that happens to be over the holiday season, make sure that you plan your puppy’s arrival carefully.  If the puppy is going to be a gift, include the recipient in the planning process.  Not everyone wants a puppy, and there is nothing worse than an unwanted puppy given as a gift.

If unwrapping gifts is part of your tradition, consider wrapping a picture of your puppies’ litter instead of your puppy!  Plan to visit the puppy at the breeders in the days following the gift giving activities.  Instead of one big moment were a lot can go wrong, what you create is a series of moments that you have set up to go right.  Purchase your puppy classes before your puppy comes home, and get the training school to print you a of the certificate to give along with the picture.  If you offer a puppy as a gift and the person says no, find something more appropriate for them.

The long and the short of it is while there is no one right way to bring home a puppy, there are probably 10 thousand wrong ways to do it.  If you are not sure about how to bring home a puppy there people who can help.  Most trainers want you to be happy with the puppy you get.  This is why we got into training to begin with.  Most of us are more than happy to talk to you about how to bring home your puppy.  Sure, we hope that you’ll sign up for puppy classes and later for advanced training, but even if you don’t, most of us are happy to talk dogs to nearly any body.  Your local veterinarian is another resource who can help talk to you about how to be successful in bringing home your puppy.  Of course breeders are another underused resource when getting a puppy.  A good breeder, even if they are breeding mixed breeds, wants their puppies to grow up to be happy and healthy and to stay in the homes that they start in.  Talk to us!  We all want what you want-to have a puppy who will grow up in your home and stay there, successfully for his whole life!


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