Where to Buy Dogs

If you decide to buy a dog, finding the right place to do so can be a challenge.


With so many dogs needing good homes, deciding to buy a puppy rather than adopt one from a shelter or rescue can be a controversial decision. In my experience, people choose to buy dogs for several reasons. Many, myself included, get attached to a specific breed or want a dog who is more likely to demonstrate certain traits and behaviors. Often, people feel more comfortable knowing where their dog is coming from, his genetic and health history, and how he has been handled and socialized. That said, if you are looking for where to buy dogs, you have some work ahead of you to ensure that you really are getting the puppy of your dreams and are not supporting breeding practices that lead to poor health, animal abuse, and crowded shelters.

Where Not to Buy Dogs

Before discussing where to buy dogs, it is important to talk about where NOT to buy them. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that puppy mills are at the top of the list of places to never, ever purchase a dog from. The goal of a puppy mill is to produce dogs as products to be sold for profit. The wellbeing of the animals and the overall health and vitality of the breed very rarely play any part in that equation. It’s worth noting that, while the American Kennel Club (AKC) does have a kennel inspection program, not all kennels listed with the organization are inspected and having “AKC registered” animals does not guarantee that a breeder isn’t a puppy mill. You have to do your research and pay attention to any warning signs you might see.

There are a number of things to look for when it comes to identifying a puppy mill including:

  • Lack of cleanliness: While dogs do make unexpected messes, take a look at the overall condition of the dogs themselves and the environment where they are being kept. The dogs should be healthy-looking and well-groomed—nails trimmed, no matted coats, good weight, etc. Bedding, yards, crates, and kennels should be clean. If the breeder won’t let you see where the dogs are kept, walk away.
  • Under-socialized dogs: Dogs present at the breeder’s house or facility should be used to people and comfortable with them. If multiple dogs show signs of being shy, aggressive, or fearful, it is likely that time isn’t being put into socializing and handling them. That will also be true of any puppy you get.
  • Dogs in cages: If it looks like dogs are living in cages, the breeder is likely a puppy mill. A proper kennel will usually have crates where dogs go to eat or rest, but the dogs will spend most of the time (when they’re not in the house sleeping on the couch) in runs or yards where they can move easily and relieve themselves in a different place from where they stand.
  • Many different breeds: Most ethical breeders specialize in only one or two breeds. If a breeder is selling dogs of many different breeds, it should raise a red flag.
  • Dog has had too many litters: Puppy mills will breed a dog as often as they can to maximize profit. Ask how many litters the mother has had. If the answer is more than three, be cautious. It is very rare that an ethical breeder will have four or more litters from one mother—not only can it be hard on her health, it also puts a lot of genetic eggs in one basket.
  • Multiple litters at once: While some bigger kennels have the people-power to properly support more than one litter at a time, most don’t. If there are many young puppies present from several different mothers, the breeder is probably a puppy mill.

Pet stores are another place to avoid when it comes to buying a dog. Ethical breeders will never sell their puppies that way. If the puppy isn’t going to a new home, he should be AT home getting loved on and socialized—not sitting in a store window. As a note, this refers only to stores that offer dogs—usually “purebred” puppies—for purchase. I fully support pet stores that hold adoption events or sponsor adoptable animals in partnership with local shelters or rescues.

Please remember that you are not “saving” a dog when you purchase one from a pet store or puppy mill. You are providing resources for unethical and unhealthy practices to continue. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to see an animal stuck in those conditions but funding the people who create the situation will only make it worse.

Similarly, you should exercise extreme caution if you are thinking about purchasing a dog or puppy from an individual not associated with an established kennel. The odds that the dogs involved were ethically bred and well taken care of just aren’t good.

Where to Get a Dog

The best place to buy a dog is from a good, ethical breeder who specializes in the breed you are looking for. Unless you already know someone, finding the right breeder is going to require time and research. Some breeders have websites but many don’t.

I recommend contacting breed-specific clubs or organizations to see if they have events you can attend or have members who are willing to answer questions. Ask them where they got their dogs and which breeders they might recommend (and why). Going to dog shows can also provide some leads to explore. In addition, check with veterinarians in your area to see if they know of any local breeders with good reputations.

When you do start getting names, don’t be afraid to contact the breeder directly. Have a list of questions ready and be prepared to answer some yourself. If you like them but they don’t have a litter planned, ask if they might be able to recommend someone who does.

Is Breeding Dogs Ethical?

My family has been breeding Airedales for going on four decades so it should come as no surprise when I say I strongly believe that breeding dogs can be done ethically. However, doing it right isn’t easy. Every decision about which dogs to breed and when needs to be made with knowledge and care. Temperament, health, ability, lineage, and conformation all play a part in selecting which dogs to breed—and which dogs not to breed.

To me, following ethical breeding practices means working with veterinarians who specialize in canine reproduction, following protocols for pre- and post-natal care of the mother dog, having the knowledge and skill to identify and respond to birthing complications, and understanding how to support a dog’s physical and emotional development. When the puppies arrive, there should be plans in place to care for, socialize, train, and find good placements for them. As discussed in the main article, there should also always be room for any dog that came from the kennel to come home again.

I believe an ethical breeder only breeds a litter with a goal in mind, taking into account which specific traits they are trying to preserve or eliminate and why. It should not be attempted casually or without the resources to handle any potential problems. Breeding dogs can only be done ethically if the health and wellbeing of the animals is the top priority.

What to Look for in a Breeder

So how do you tell if a breeder is doing their best to breed and raise dogs in an ethical way? Look for someone who:

  • Has a good reputation: Your first introduction to a breeder will often be through the things other people say about them. Listen closely to what people who have gotten puppies from a breeder report about the experience.
  • Conducts interviews: It is a good sign if the breeder asks you a lot of questions before agreeing to sell you a puppy. A breeder should care about where their puppies are going. It is their job to make sure you understand and are prepared for the kind of dog you are getting.
  • Welcomes visits: Look for a breeder who is happy to set up a time for you to come visit the kennel, meet the dogs, and see the puppies. If you live too far away, ask if they might be willing to give you a video tour. At the family kennel, we sometimes set up a webcam so future puppy families can watch their dogs grow up. In my experience, good breeders are excited to show off their dogs.
  • Keeps records: A good breeder will keep extensive records on their dogs—from family trees to health information. These are necessary to ensure that reasoned, informed breeding decisions are being made. While most of this information isn’t usually of much value or interest to non-breeders, a breeder should provide you with any health records related to your puppy including vaccination information and a complete health history. They should also be able to answer questions about the puppy’s parents and why they chose to breed the litter.
  • Willing to discuss common temperament and health issues: Even the best, most ethical breeders can’t produce perfect temperaments and health every time. A good breeder recognizes that and will talk with potential puppy families about issues common to the breed and what to do about any problems that arise. Avoid any breeder who tells you they have never bred a dog with a difficult personality quirk or have never had a dog that suffered from health issues. They either haven’t been breeding dogs very long or they are not being honest with you.
  • Has a plan for problems: Along the same lines, look for a breeder who has a plan for what they would like to have happen if any health issues develop or if the puppy ends up not being a good fit for the family. A good breeder will ask that you tell them about any problems your puppy might develop so that they can better understand any genetic components and help ensure the best life possible for the dog. Make sure you understand and agree with their approach.
  • Plans for the lifetime of the dog: As I recently discussed at length in an article on what to do when your dog is in heat, I believe that a breeder is responsible for any dog born on their watch for the life of that dog. A good breeder will talk to you about what they would like to have happen if the time ever comes when you can’t keep the dog. Most will ask that you bring the dog back to them or, if you’ve found a new home for the dog, that you let them know where the dog will be going.

While finding the right place to buy a dog can be time-consuming, it is worth the effort. Beyond just selling you a puppy, a good breeder can be a source of support and knowledge for your dog’s entire life. And you won’t have to go home wondering about the wellbeing of the rest of the dogs living there.