After you’ve done your research, it’s time to start searching for your
perfect pet. Here’s where to look.

Shelters/Rescue Groups

You want a puppy? A purebred? Possibly both? No matter what kind of dog you’re searching for, first look at shelters or rescue groups, which are volunteer-run organizations that sometimes focus on one breed and usually use foster families to care for dogs until they find permanent homes. You’ll be amazed by the dogs you can find. According to the Humane Society of the United States , 25 percent of dogs in shelters are purebreds.6 As for puppies, many dogs living in these places are pregnant, and their offspring will need homes, too. Also, when pet store puppies don’t sell, the stores may ship them off to shelters. You can get, say, a four-month-old puppy for less than one-tenth the price you would have paid if you had gotten the same exact dog in a pet store one month earlier.

Dogs arrive in these places for different reasons, ranging from being abandoned on the side of the road to being dropped off by loving people who couldn’t care for their pet anymore because of an illness or death in the family. Some people give up their pets because of an unexpected allergy or because their new landlord doesn’t allow dogs.

Others decide they don’t like a particular behavior, such as barking or potty accidents, and they don’t want to dedicate the time to teach their dogs.
It’s worth noting that, because of their backgrounds, some shelter or rescue dogs may have trust issues or difficulty interacting with, say, certain people or other animals. That’s not to say that these issues can’t be worked out, but you might just need a little extra time and patience socializing your dog (see this page, chapter 3). Also, in many instances a rescued dog’s past is unknown. However, unless the dog just arrived in the shelter or rescue organization that day, the staff or volunteers should be able to clue you in to the dog’s personality as much as possible.

There are so many benefits to rescuing a dog. First, you know you are providing a home to an animal who is truly in need, and you’re possibly saving his life. The cost of the dog is minimal compared to getting one at a breeder or pet store, and in most cases your pet will come vaccinated, micro chipped, dewormed, and spayed or neutered, saving you hundreds of dollars, even more. Also, you can find a really special pet—some of the greatest dogs I’ve ever worked with came from shelters and rescue groups. Visit your local shelter and also check out www.theshelterpetproject.org and www.petfinder.com, excellent sites that will help you find a shelter or rescue dog in your area. The AKC also provides a rescue network.7 Keep in mind that new animals come into shelters and rescue groups every day, so if you don’t find the dog of your dreams right away, keep checking back.


If you have a specific need or desire for a puppy that’s a particular breed, then a breeder may be for you. Some breeders are very educated about dog breeding, and they have extremely high standards and know how to breed for health and temperament. They care about the dogs they mate; often they are their beloved pets. However, you still need to be wary—there are lots of unethical breeders out there. Some breed dogs strictly to make money and have little to no concern about the welfare of the dogs they’re
breeding or the health of the puppies they’re selling. Others are amateurs who mate two dogs because they enjoy the hobby and want to bring in a little extra income. They may mean well but don’t know much, if anything, about how to breed healthy puppies.

So how do you sort through the thousands of breeders out there to find a reputable one? Your first step is to ask people you trust— whether that be a friend who knows a lot about dogs or your local vet —for the names of breeders they recommend. Never purchase a dog off the Internet or from classified ads, as those puppies almost always come from puppy mills or irresponsible breeders. Instead, always visit a prospective breeder and see the puppies in person. HSUS offers some more signs of a reputable breeder:

  • Lets you see their premises and meet the puppy’s mother and, if possible, the father.
  • Doesn’t always have puppies for sale.
  • Gives you the puppy’s vaccination schedule, information on the breed, and proof that they screened the parents for breed related health issues such as heritable cataracts and orthopedic conditions. You should also ask for proof that the dog was treated and examined by a licensed vet.
  • Asks you a lot of questions. They won’t sell their puppies to just anyone.
  • Never permits puppies younger than eight weeks old to go home with you.
  • Treats their breeding dogs humanely, giving the animals plenty of space to exercise, a clean environment, fresh food, water, and love.
  • Happily provides references if you ask for them.

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