Everything you need to know to buy a good puppy, from someone who did it

Quite some time ago, I wrote a three-part series of posts entitled The Almost Vegetarian Falls off the Bandwagon with a Thud.

On day 1, I talk about all the preparations I made so we would eat almost vegetarian food on the road. On day 2, I talk about the glories of motel food (psychedelic Fruit Loops, anyone?) and how we made it through most of the day only to fall off our almost vegetarian bandwagon that night. And, on day 3, I talked about our sorry trip home after a visit to the biggest fast food chain, ever.

But what I did not tell you is why we were on that road trip. That is, until now.

The answer is in the masthead. Let me introduce you to Sophie. Sophie is a West Highland White Terrier. West Highland White Terriers, commonly known as Westies, are hardy, joyous, delightful little dogs with the typical terrier intelligence and tenacity.

And Sophie is no exception.

As I write this, she is curled up next to me, resting her chin on my knee and watching me with sleepy eyes the color of coal. I know she will soon start gnawing something. One of her toys, I hope. But I'm not betting on it.

Let's clear up those myths
What Sophie is not is a white Scottie. There is no such thing. What she is is first cousin to the sweet Cairn terrier (Toto from The Wizard of Oz was a Cairn).

While she is perfect for us, you should know that terriers are not necessarily recommended for families with children or people who are not familiar with terriers. These little beasties are quite a handful. So much so that, while I have had terriers most of my life, I already have her enrolled in a puppy training class and I have a personal trainer to help me give her a good start.

Buying a puppy
So do you want a puppy of your own? Then let me help by telling you about the three types of puppies.

Puppy mill puppies
Driven by the almighty dollar, puppy mills are factories where puppies are churned out as fast as possible. Which means filthy conditions, overbreeding, careless breeding, and illness.

Puppy mills are hell on earth. Hell on earth. So I would not go that route. Which eliminates pet shops. And quite a lot of dogs offered for sale in the newspaper or on the Internet.

Backyard breeders
Say, for example, your neighbors poodle takes a fancy to another neighbors cocker spaniel.

A few months later, we have a litter. And, while the puppies will most certainly be beautiful, what will they look like as adults? What will their temperament be? And, from a genetic point-of-view, what have you got?

All of this means those puppies are a gamble. A gamble that can turn out wonderfully well. Or not.

And, if not, you could be looking at thousands of dollars in medical bills and heartache and misery for the entire family, including your children and the puppy.

Which is not a great bet in any book.

Purebred puppies
Purebred puppies come with some predictability - you know what they will look like as adults, you know what their temperament will be, you know the medical history of their breed.

So, purebred puppies are your best choice.

Buying the purebred puppy from a shelter or through rescue
You can get a purebred puppy from a shelter, from a rescue, or from a breeder.

From a shelter or a rescue, there are two types of purebred puppies: From a puppy mill who somehow got their hands on some purebred puppies and are churning out bad litters from good stock as fast as they can. Or from a breeder.

Those puppy mill puppies, even if they are purebred, can have all the problems other puppy mill puppies have, such as kennel cough. So this is not a great situation. And, because the responsible breeder will take back a puppy the owner no longer wants even if it is years and years later (all breeders I spoke to, even my own, have a contract that stipulates this), odds are that purebred puppies that end up in rescue are not from the best breeders.

We considered going this route, but ultimately did not. If you want to, then here is the link to the American Kennel Club Breeder Referral Contacts and The Humane Society of the United States.

Buying the purebred puppy from a breeder
The trick here is to get the puppy from a reputable breeder. Stress on reputable. BIG stress of reputable.

How do you know if a breeder is reputable? For starters, they are registered with the American Kennel Club. They show their dogs, they breed infrequently (say, no more than twice a year per female) and responsibly, they focus on one breed, and they know the pedigree of their puppies for at least four generations.

And that's just for starters.

Here is a list of good questions to ask a potential breeder (scroll down a wee bit). I also believe in speaking to as many breeders as possible and asking them about the breeder(s) I am interested in. They will tell you if they do respect a particular breeder or not.

In addition, I read as many books as I could lay my hands on. Now, most of my books were about Westies, but I also read puppy books. Here's a good one I quite liked: The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete. (Alas, the Cesar Millan Dog Whisperer books were a colossal waste of money which anyone with half a brain should have figured out and I don't know where my common sense went the day I picked these up).

And, of course, it is also a good idea to see the premises, play with the mother (odds are, the sire, or father, will not be on site), and listen to your intuition about the breeder.

But what does it cost?
A purebred puppy from a rescue or shelter can run as high as a few hundred. A purebred puppy from a breeder can cost a few thousand.

But the real cost is over the life of the animal because you have vet visits and food and toys and medicine. He or she will need to be fixed and dewormed. You will need nail clippers and collars (Sophie already grew out of her baby collar - they grow fast). And there are bags for scooping and a crate and training and a groomer who specializes in terriers (no pet store groomer with their overuse of clippers for this girl) and . . .

I wanna know more
Now, I knew the breed I wanted because I was familiar with it (Between my immediate family and my extended families, I am familiar with Scotties, Westies, Yorkies, and Cairns, as well as Daschunds, Collies, and mongrel and purebred cats, birds, fish, and even lizards. We are animal, people, indeed.) But what if you don't know the breed you want? Here's a quiz from Australia to get you started. And here's information on different breeds from the American Kennel Association

Then, when you have some breeds you think might work for you, visit a pet show to see them in person. Watch the dogs and grill the breeders. Don't be shy; they love talking about their dogs.

Finally, have more questions? Once again, the American Kennel Society is a great resource. This should give you the answers you need.

Say bye bye, Sophie. Arf!