Bonnie Kreitler
ILLUMINATION-Curated
6 min readApr 4, 2023

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Animals | Free Dogs | Dog Breeders | Dog Rescues

The Best Puppy Search — Start with Breeders or Rescues?

A dog may show up on your doorstep as our family’s first dog did. Your search for the perfect canine companion will likely start with a list of reputable breeders or rescues.

Credit Avi Naim on Unsplash

Of the seven dogs that have shared my life, four were free. And the first was an actual party animal.

My younger sister and I went to a children’s birthday celebration. When we arrived, the girl’s mom told everyone we could go downstairs to visit the puppies there. They resulted from an unplanned pregnancy, no longer nursing, and being ready for new homes.

When we returned from our snuggle visit with the exuberant furballs, the mom said we could use their phone to call our parents for permission to pick a puppy to take home if we liked. We liked that idea, of course!

What a marketing scheme! What a party favor!

When I took our current dog to training classes, the instructor used the phrase “free dog” to release a dog from the sit, stay, or whatever she’d asked a dog to do.

I always laughed to myself, waiting for little kids to come running through the door to pick up their puppies.

But a free dog is kind of like a free lunch. No such thing.

Even Free Puppies Come at a Cost

Puppies not only need food, water, and shelter (initial expenses), but they also need health care. Vaccinations, microchipping, and spaying or neutering are just starters. There will be vet visits for planned annual checkups and unplanned medical events. And don’t forget your town’s licensing requirement.

Optional expenses are grooming, boarding, training, and an ongoing supply of beds, leashes, toys, and other supplies.

Today, puppy seekers more typically find their new dog from a breeder or rescue shelter.

Picking a Purebred

A purebred puppy from a reputable breeder will not be free, obviously.

People gravitate to different dog breeds for so many reasons. They like the breed’s looks. A friend has one that’s a lovely pet. They want a companion for a specific activity like running an agility course. They want a friendly, confident dog that enjoys socializing anytime, anywhere.

Rather than starting with the choice of a breed, I suggest you start with a list of the reasons you want a dog. What size? What temperament? Long hair or short? Hyperactive or couch potato? Are kids in the picture? What activities would you like to do with the dog?

Start by defining the characteristics you like in a dog. Then research what breed or breeds fit that description.

When you’ve settled on a breed, find a breeder using the bloodlines most likely to produce your perfect puppy. If you’ve had dogs before, pick the brains of your veterinarian, dog groomer, and any trainers you’ve used about the breed. Use the internet to research breeders and the goals of their breeding programs.

Finding a nearby breeder offers the advantage of meeting potential parents (at least the mom) to see if they fit your ideal dog description. You can interact with the puppies to get a feel for their personalities. In his book Marley and Me, author John Grogan relates meeting his Labrador puppy’s mom. Just the temperament they were looking for in a dog. Then there was a commotion. A manic male streaked by. That would be the dad, the breeder said. Uh oh. And that would be the parent Marley took after.

If you decide to purchase from a breeder farther afield, search the internet to gather information about the breeder’s reputation and opinions about dogs from those bloodlines. Does the breeder have a Facebook page? Ask questions there. Call breeders and ask them about bloodlines and what characteristics they are known for.

At what age does a breeder release puppies to new owners? What vaccinations will the pups have? What is the breeder’s policy on spaying or neutering? How will your pup get from the breeder to your home? Think of all this Q & A like dating someone before you ask them to marry you.

You can’t learn too much when you’re making a potential 10- to 15-year commitment.

Now return to that breed research you did again. Were there caveats or warnings about certain traits you might find difficult to deal with? Research puppy personality tests online. Be prepared to watch and interpret the puppies’ behaviors to choose the pup that best meets your expectations.

Rescue Research

If you choose to rescue a dog, the basic questions are still the same:

  • What personality traits do you want in your new canine companion?
  • Are you going to look near or far to find that pet?

Adopting locally offers an opportunity to meet and interact with the dog in person. That’s a huge plus, especially if your adoption prospects are adult dogs that come with potential baggage.

Asking why an adult dog surrendered was surrendered is a reasonable question. Can you deal with whatever personality quirks or health issues that question reveals? Ask what kind of home situation and outdoor exercise the rescue organization recommends for this particular dog. What characteristics do they notice that inform their suggestions?

Simple personality tests may not apply to adult dogs exactly the way they identify puppy potential. Still, they offer ideas to help you evaluate older dog personalities, too.

Beware of “cute face syndrome” if you’re pup shopping on the internet. You know what I’m talking about. Contact the rescue directly and ask if they do any personality testing on the dogs they offer. How did the cutie in the photograph score? Again, ask a LOT of questions when you won’t be able to meet the dog in person before making a decision.

The advice that applies to breeder pups applies to rescues, too. You’re making a long-term commitment.

Back to that party pup

My sisters and I had wanted a dog…FOREVER. Mom had her hands full enough with three kids and wasn’t enthusiastic about adding a piddling puppy to the tribe. My dad understood her concerns, but we also knew he leaned in the direction of adding some fur to the family.

So, we called Mom. When she said, “Wait ’til your dad gets home,” we already knew his answer. We were going to get our puppy! Our older sister was onboard, too.

Author Photo

The feisty little terrier mix we took home (the runt of that large litter — tiny was cute) lived happily for 16 years. Queenie ate everything. A bag of chocolate kisses, a long stick of pepperoni, fiberglass insulation, stuffed toys, and who knows what else we don’t know she ate. She drank water out of my sister’s guppy tank. She put up with dress-up costumes and other shenanigans until each of us left the nest in turn. Then she became Mom’s lap dog until her dog years came to an end.

Did we ask a lot of questions before we took her home? Nary a one.

Our other “free” dogs developed into great family pets, too. Still, the chances of a great companion increase if you look before you leap. Do some homework before you fall for a cute face in person or online to find a good fit for your lifestyle and personality. After all, bringing a dog into your life is a kind of marriage.

Do some due diligence to enjoy lots of good times with the new love of your life.

© Bonnie Kreitler 2023. All rights reserved.

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Bonnie Kreitler
ILLUMINATION-Curated

Author, journalist, animal addict, observer, and explorer creating connections between our critter relationships and life lessons at ramblingdog.com