There are many ways to acquire a dog. You can adopt one from a shelter or rescue, save one you find out wandering, or purchase one from a breeder. When you buy a puppy from a good breeder, you have a sound idea of what to expect from your pup as he matures in physical appearance, size, temperament and trainability. You can insure the parent dogs have appropriate health clearances. You should also receive a lifetime of support and information. The problem is, how can you tell the difference between a good breeder and one that’s not ideal? I’ve had several people ask me this lately.

Pet stores are never a good option when it comes to buying a puppy. Most pet store pups come from commercial breeding facilities, and are typically not well socialized or well cared for as babies. Puppies purchased from pet stores often have health issues, and some have been mentally scarred. Housebreaking and basic skills can be much more difficult to train, and some dogs develop issues as they grow older. Easy payment plans and pleading eyes aside, you’re often buying trouble when you bring home such a pup.

There are many types of private breeders, some who take great care of their puppies and others interested only in profit. It can be confusing, but there are guidelines you can measure.

A good breeder should, first of all, take good care of his breeding stock. Parent dogs should be kept in sanitary conditions, receive proper nutrition, adequate exercise and lots of time and attention from their owner. A well socialized mother dog will raise people-friendly puppies.

Parent dogs should be screened for genetic health problems. Most breeds have health issues that are prevalent. Some problems can be evaluated by genetic testing, while others can only be avoided by careful study of the dogs in the pedigree. Buyers should research and understand what health issues may impact their desired breed, and know what type of screening is available. With this information in hand, question the breeder and ask to see the health clearances. If the breeder becomes defensive or evasive, or says his vet said there was no problem, buy your puppy somewhere else.

Questions should be a big part of the puppy buying process. Ask the breeder lots of them, ask for references from other buyers, and be prepared to answer questions yourself. Good breeders pour themselves into the puppies they produce, and want to ensure they go to good homes. They might even request vet references. Rather than be insulted when this happens, be excited! The breeder is showing you they care about their pups. If the only requirement of the seller is that you have cash in hand, it is doubtful that they are raising quality pups.

Don’t be swayed by the words, “parents on premises” when you’re looking for puppies. Many times breeders don’t own the father. With the ease of artificial breeding, the dog that best compliments the mother in pedigree, type, temperament and genetic background may be located elsewhere. If they can show you pictures and health clearances, don’t be disturbed by the absence of dad.

Some breeders will not allow you to come onto their property. Some do this to protect their puppies, and others do it to protect themselves from losing a sale. Conscientious breeders often worry about allowing people to potentially bring diseases onto the property. Others will allow you to come in, but will limit your access and insist on spraying your shoes with a disinfectant or having you step in a bleach bath. If you are not allowed onto the property, look carefully at what you can see, and ask to see some of the dogs other than the puppies. If you see outbuildings that appear to be full of dogs, smell a strong odor, or see anything that seems wrong to you, rethink your purchase. Should the breeder refuse to allow you to come to their property at all, but instead insist on meeting you somewhere to bring you the puppy, be very suspicious.

Price should never be the defining factor when choosing a puppy. It takes time and money to breed carefully and raise puppies well. The difference between a $300 and a $1,000 dog may not be easy for you to see at first glance, but over time, the carefully bred dog is usually worth it.

A puppy is a life-long commitment. Take your time, research carefully, and find a quality breeder worth your investment.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.