This is a subject that could easily fill a book.  Our domestic dog population is changing.  In Vermont we used to be able to go to the local shelter and have a good chance of finding a gentle, sociable dog that needed a new home.  With training, regular exercise and loving kindness most of these dogs could adapt well and become loving, safe family pets. Those days are pretty much gone.

Over the last twenty years, shelters in the North east have done a great job of limiting the population of unwanted dogs through a rigorous spay/neuter program.  It seemed like a humane and socially prudent way forward.  But there have been unforeseen (by most anyway) and quite  dramatic consequences to what we thought was going to help dogs, not harm them.  Because of the mandatory practice of spay/neutering every dog entering the shelter system, the gentle, sociable dogs that make great family pets have been all but extinguished. 

Shelters are doing the best job they can with the population of dogs that are brought into their shelters today.  Many of these dogs are transported from southern states where there are many, many more stray or surrendered dogs that need homes.  It’s warmer in the south so more dogs reproduce and thrive.  Which dogs are reproducing on the streets and in back yards?  Many of them belong to fighting or guarding breeds, or mixes of these breeds that are kept and sold for protection purposes.

We still have a responsibility to try to find homes for this population through our shelter system.  And most shelters are doing a heroic job.  But we also have the responsibility of keeping people and families safe. The general population must be educated about dogs as a species and especially about dogs that belong to the fighting and guarding groups because they carry greater risk.  Many shelters do not call a “Pit mix” a “Pit mix”.  They are called “Terrier mix” or “Hound mix”.  I have clients coming in all the time who believe they have a “hound mix” when actually they have an American Staffordshire Terrier/Dogo Agentino/Cane Corso/German Shepherd mix (true story)!!  Look up these breeds.

If you decide to adopt a dog from a shelter, do your homework.  Research the breed or breeds that are in the dog.  Learn about the genetic characteristics or those breeds and you can ask for a DNA test.  These are relatively inexpensive, easy to do and very accurate.  It is worth while doing.  This is an animal you bringing into you home and will be with you for the next ten plus years.

Ask a professional behaviorist and or trainer to help you to evaluate the dog.  Learn about canine behavior and the common behavioral problems we see in dogs coming out of shelter systems, especially after long range transport.  People generally do not give up great dogs.  Most of these dogs were given up for behavioral problems, some of which can be changed through regular training and or counter conditioning, and some cannot.

Contacting a breeder and getting a pure bred dog is another option for finding a good family dog.  How do you know who is a good breeder?  This is the one million dollar question.  Ask a friend where they got their dog.  If that breeder doesn’t have puppies or puppy plans ask for a referral to another recommended breeder.  Good breeders will have professional websites that profile their dogs and the parentage of their dogs going back at least three generations.  They will have all health clearances appropriate to their breed.  Their dogs may be registered to the AKC or a breed registry or to a more generic registry.  The important part is that dogs should not be bred unless they pass their health clearances at around two years of age.  These are veterinary certified.

Research the breed you are interested and ask yourself if the requirements for that particular breed is something that you can realistically meet.  Go and meet the dogs.  If the breeder will not introduce you to one or more of the parents, move on.  Your puppy will be like the parents.  This is a very important step unless that breeder has such an outstanding reputation that you deem it unnecessary (some do).  Do your homework!

Contacting good breeders is an art in itself.  Most good breeders get tons of inquiries about puppies.  Make yourself stand out by asking intelligent questions and introducing yourself, to demonstrate that you are serious.  Follow up.  Call again if you do not get a response.

You can expect to pay $1,200 to $3,500 for a good pure bred dog.  If you ask a breeder right off how much they are asking for a puppy, you will probably not get an answer.  While money is usually a consideration for most us, it should not be primary.

Breeders sometimes have young adult dogs retuned to them for one reason or another.  One of these dogs may be a good option for you.

Breed rescues are another possible source for dogs.  Most states have  breed rescues for the majors breeds.  The internet is a great way to research this.

Online Pet Finder dogs.  The Website Pet Finder is a legitimate way to find a dog but….you are taking a gigantic risk.  Pet Finder asks you to plug in your address and the data for the dog you are seeking.  You will see matches pop up that are a thousand miles away, in a shelter in Texas or Louisiana.  How can this be?  There is an entire industry that does nothing but move dogs from one part of the country to another.  Once you contact a rescue that is out of state and pass their requirements for adoption, you will contact the transport company that the rescue uses and book  transport.  The rescue hands the dog over to the transport company and three days later you pick it up behind the Irving station at exit One I-91.  A huge tractor trailer will pull in and some one will hand you your dog.  This is for real!

I do not recommend acquiring a dog this way.  While most of the individuals involved are legitimate, you are gambling big time on the dog.  Remember, the dog will have gone through a huge amount of trauma before it ever gets to you just by going through the rescue and then transport experience.  And then you have no way of knowing what the history of that dog is, prior to being picked up or surrendered.  People tend to keep good dogs.  

The Doodles.  The popularity of poodle mix dogs is undeniable.  I have seen about fifty of them in my training building.  They vary tremendously in temperament and tend to have skin and health issues (from what I have experienced).  Some are great, some…not so much.

As with the pure bred breeders, you should be looking for a professional and organized website, parentage of each dog going back three generations and most importantly, health clearances.  If you don’t see these I would inquire “why not” and or move on.

Beware of sites that have pictures of cute puppies and bows with price tags.  Beware of sites that will not let you meet the dogs who will be the parents of the puppy.  The puppy will be like the parents.

There is a scam run by puppy mills where they take the puppies to a nice looking home and have someone pose as the breeder.  Buyers are sent to the home to meet and pick up their puppies.  You never see the parents because they are somewhere else.  You give them a check.  They give you a puppy.  Don’t fall for this.  Sometimes they will hand the puppy off in a parking lot and it is not even the puppy you thought you were getting.

I had one client who went to visit a litter of doodle puppies at 6weeks old and the mother was suspiciously absent.  They were told that she did not like the puppies and was somewhere else.   At 9 weeks old, my client’s puppy was so aggressive that I recommended that they take the puppy back.  I wonder why the mother was absent?  Don’t let yourself fall for this. 

Beware of puppies being sold out of the Amish areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio.  This is a horrible situation.  Dogs are being kept in cages and bred like livestock.  Google it and be prepared!

The long and short of it it this:  Educate yourself about dogs and about the breed you are interested in.  Ask questions.  Get advice from trainers and other dog breeders.  Do your home work.  It is easy to go into denial over a cute face and tell yourself that “love conquers all”.  This is just not realistic.  Having a dog is a twelve to fifteen year commitment.  Make it a good choice and not wishful thinking.