How to Find
a Healthy Puppy



by Jan Rasmusen


      You’ve decided to bring a new puppy into your life. Congratulations! You’d like to adopt a shelter dog, but you have your heart set on a particular breed or one of the new "designer" breed mixes. You’ve been reading, visiting dog shows, and grilling friends, vets and trainers and have determined just the right breed for you and your family. Now it’s time to find that right puppy. Unfortunately, you’ve heard so many horror stories about sick and genetically flawed pups that you’re worried--and rightly so. 

No where is “buyer beware” more important than when selecting a new puppy. Although it’s about love, it’s also an important business decision with a great deal of money at stake. Following these 10 tips will help you make a wise choice:


1)   Check out purebreds in shelters first.  25% of shelter dogs are purebreds already checked for temperament and common defects. Many are puppies. Search shelters on-line (by age, breed, sex and location) at or


2)   Be patient!  Breeders who always have pups available may run cruel mass breeding operations called puppy mills. These pups are often defective, poorly socialized and diseased. They are raised in deplorable conditions. Good breeders generally have pups available only once or twice a year, and don’t offer multiple breeds. Wait.


3)   Beware “sellers.” The best breeders don’t peddle dogs; they screen potential “parents.” If they have websites, they show you a few dogs and many generations. And they talk a lot about proper care and, especially, feeding. Be especially wary of low-priced dogs and sellers with sob stories. Today’s bargain will likely be tomorrow’s huge vet bill. Always avoid dogs from pet stores, flea markets, street corners and Internet puppy emporiums.


4)   Meet The Parents!  Meet the dog’s parents, grandparents and siblings—as many relatives as possible--to get valuable clues to the pup’s temperament and eventual size.(Know that countless “pocket” dogs wouldn’t fit into a steamer trunk when full grown.) Look for dogs raised indoors as family members, not penned up like chickens.


5)   Avoid inexperienced breeders.  People “dabbling” in breeding breed solely for looks with no idea what genetic problems they are passing along. Look for breeders who’ve studied the breed and are active in breed clubs and showing. Whenever possible, get pups from parents certified for soundness. For more and more breeds, DNA testing is the “Gold Standard” when screening for defects in puppy parents. Check out to learn more and read the breed-specific health information at And don’t just ask for references—actually check them.


6)   Don’t rely on terms like “USDA inspected” and “kennel club papers.” The USDA merely establishes minimum-care standards, and papers are no guarantee of quality, health or even lineage.


7)   If possible, buy locally.  Selecting a pup from a photo or video, even when accompanied by a health “guarantee,” is asking for trouble. If you do buy a long-distance dog, pick it up and carry it home on the plane with you. The best breeders will never ship any puppy by air cargo; shipping can cause permanent psychological damage and even risk the dog’s life.


8)   Buy the happy, friendly pup, not the cute shy one.  Insist on a dog that has been fully socialized as part of a family, not one raised in a kennel or cage. Many excellent breeders also have their breeding stock and puppies tested for mental soundness by outside organizations. If this information is available, check out the exact process used and the organization doing the certification.


9)   Beware “designer” mixed breeds.  Mixed breeds can benefit from “hybrid vigor” because common defects aren’t passed down by both parents. Unfortunately, popular mixes are now showing up on-line like so many ice cream flavors; when multiple dogs are available, suspect a puppy mill—and run!  


10) Have your pup vet checked!  You must have your pup examined by a vet before finalizing the purchase. No exceptions! And don’t use the breeder’s vet. You need someone representing you, not the breeder. Research the breed defects yourself and ask about common detects. Never “rescue” a defective pup, no matter how adorable, unless you can afford a mountain of vet bills and hours of nursing.


Remember, when you’re adding a puppy to your family you're making a commitment that could last decades and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Your happiness—and your dog’s very life--depend upon your making a wise choice. Save money and heartache by selecting a dog with your brain--not just your heart, and enjoy one of the best experiences life has to offer.


Note: Few things are as important as avoiding over-vaccinating your new puppy. Please read our article Don't Vaccinate Your Dog Unnecessarily: Titer Test   Also check our pages on vaccinating: Vaccinating Dogs: What Your Vet Hasn't Told You and




© 2009 Jan Rasmusen – All Rights Reserved

You may post this article on your website, or in your newspaper, newsletter, forum or group, ezine or blog with attribution as follows:

Jan Rasmusen is the author of Scared Poopless: The Straight Scoop on Dog Care, Ben Franklin Award Winner for the “Best Health Book” of any kind. Sign up for her free information-packed e-newsletter and blog at


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about your dog's health, please contact your veterinarian's office immediately.

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