Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

So, You Want a Puppy: With some knowledge and preparation, you can avoid puppy-buying pitfalls.

There’s no aroma quite like puppy breath. When a baby-sized, furry snuggler burrows into your chest and licks your face, it’s a fleeting time in both of your lives.

Today, rescuing an adult dog may be more socially preferred, but buying a puppy from a reputable breeder isn’t irresponsible, provided you follow best practices and educate yourself against puppy mills.

Puppy mills are easy to spot. Conditions where dogs are kept are usually cramped and minimal, violating scads of health and safety codes. Their dogs’ health is often compromised. (Be especially vigilant for costly, fatal sicknesses like heartworms.) Their females are overbred and inbred. Paperwork may be muddled, indicating facilities know little about the history of the dogs. They overcharge, possibly by thousands of dollars. In short, puppy mills take maximum shortcuts to maximize their profits.

Responsible breeders have indicators, too. They frequent dog shows and kennel clubs. They are dog-focused, particularly in maintaining a healthy lineage in a dog breed.

“Responsible breeders earn points toward maintaining their certifications for breeding rights,” said local trainer Amy Powell. “They breed title winners in dog shows. They follow best breeding practices. They carefully screen whoever wants to buy their dogs.”


Screen Time

The puppy purchase process should feel like getting a new job, including a self-assessment, interviews and background research.

Cindy Meyer, a member of Eastern Stewards Club, sends her prospective owners a survey to thoroughly screen them for compatibility with her puppies.

John Szarek, member of Gordon Setter Club of America, believes that “breeders should be educated and be able to tell you everything about the breed, but breeders should be asking prospective dog owners most of the questions. The breed you’re choosing must fit into your lifestyle.”

Health tendencies are another consideration.

“Understanding the health of the breed will go a long way toward understanding what you’re getting into, things like hip dysplasia, night blindness, tumors, seizures and bad knee joints,” Szarek said.

A good breeder will want to meet you and screen you, just as you screen the breeder. You should meet your puppy several times before it’s time to bring it home.

“Look for a good temperament,” Meyer said. “If the dog comes up to you and is playful, that’s a good indicator of early socializing.”

You should also be able to meet the puppy’s parents—the mother, at a minimum. Ideally, breeders will breed only one or two litters per year, giving the female’s body a chance to replenish the nutrients needed for the next pregnancy. You will also want to introduce your other pets to the puppy.

Ask to see the litter’s living conditions. Puppies should be kept in the household as members of the family, according to Meyer, and areas should be spacious and in good condition. This will give puppies a chance to socialize with other animals and people to develop good temperaments.


Love of the Breed

At 16 weeks, the pup should be ready to come home with you, but Powell said that some breeders release as early as 12 weeks.

A puppy will not be pre-trained, but should be housebroken, inoculated, de-wormed and genetically tested. The breeder might implant a microchip, but obtaining a license is your responsibility. The breeder will give you a contract, along with plenty of time to review and consider.

The cost will be part of the contract.

Powell said that a puppy should cost in the $500 to $600 range for a pet-quality dog. Certain breeds may cost slightly more, but no more than $1,000. You should expect to pay more for a show-quality dog.

“Many breeders actually lose money,” she said. “They do it for the love of the breed.”

A good breeder will be concerned about the breed’s lineage and try to prevent you from breeding your dog, as part of the contract. You must agree to spay or neuter the dog, unless you are purchasing a show dog. If the dog is considered large-breed, ask the breeder when it’s best to do so, as sex hormones play into development for the hip joints.

Szarek said a good breeder truly cares about what happens to the dog after it leaves the litter and wants the dog back if you have buyer’s remorse.

Find a resource to work with you and your dog throughout the dog’s life, not just during the puppy years.

“Issues come up near the end of a dog’s life,” Powell said. “Your well-behaved dog may develop dementia and act aggressively, start biting, not know who you are.”

As part of your homework, ask for referrals from kennel clubs, trainers and veterinarians. These professionals will be on a first-name basis. A good breeder will be there for your dog in the future, too.

If you’re looking for a purebred dog, but don’t necessarily like puppy breath, every breed has its own club and its own rescue. Finding a reputable rescue will give you a chance to network with other dog owners and socialize your dog in the process.

The Humane Society of the United States offers resources on finding a responsible dog breeder. Visit


Puppy-Buying Checklist

Questions to Ask Yourself

What is my lifestyle like—active or couch potato?

Will a dog fit into the activities I enjoy?

Will this breed of dog and its instincts and tendencies fit into my lifestyle?

Will my dog have a place to exercise?

Will I have time to work with a dog?

Have I researched this breed?

Am I aware of the breed’s tendencies toward certain health issues?

Will I have enough money for everything the dog will require throughout its life?

Will I agree to spay/neuter the dog?

Does the dog get on well with my current pets?


Questions to Ask a Breeder

What awards or titles have you won (ribbons, certificates, etc.)?

Does the puppy have a good temperament?

Can I meet the puppy and its parents?

Can I see where you keep your puppies?

Can I introduce my current pets?

How often do you breed your dogs?

Can I contact you with any questions or future support I will need?

Can I have time to review the genetic testing paperwork and the contract?

What do you charge for a puppy?

When can I take my puppy home?

Do you take returns?

Can you recommend a veterinarian?

Can you recommend a kennel club or trainer?

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