Pet connection: Do your homework before buying a dog

We can stream movies at any time of day or night, order books or small kitchen appliances for next-day delivery, or send off for a dozen pairs of shoes for in-home try-on, free returns guaranteed. The Internet allows us to acquire all kinds of goods at a speed undreamed of less than a decade ago. So why not pets?

Americans spent more than $2 billion last year purchasing dogs, cats and other companion animals, according to a 2013 survey by the American Pet Products Association. Anyone in search of a puppy has run across websites such as,, or, not to mention advertisements on Craigslist or

It’s no longer “How much is that puppy in the window?” but “How much is that puppy on your website?” It’s easy to fall in love with a pet in a picture, but not so easy to evaluate that potential pet’s temperament, health and living conditions.

Last November, a new USDA rule brought large-scale online pet sellers under federal oversight, but it’s important to know that neither the USDA nor dog registries such as the American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club guarantee puppies or require breeders to test dogs for heritable problems, to socialize puppies or even to be knowledgeable about the breed or dogs in general.

Registration papers certify only that both parents were of the same breed. It’s up to you to research the breed and breeder to make an informed decision. You might think that a dog destined to be “just a pet” doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of champion, health-tested parents, health guarantees, an in-person visit to examine the breeder’s home and kennel, and all the rest that comes along with buying a dog from a reputable breeder.

But pets are family members, and it just makes good financial and emotional sense to choose one carefully, not only to ensure that the dog is a good fit for your family, but also to reduce the risk of high veterinary bills from congenital or genetic diseases. It’s best if you can see the puppy in person before you buy so you can evaluate his temperament and the conditions in which he was raised.

If that’s impossible, ask for references that include the breeder's veterinarian and previous puppy buyers – and call them. Try to find a trusted friend or relative in the area who can examine the puppy and interview the breeder on your behalf. To get the most for your money, expect the seller to provide up-to-date health certifications for both of a pup’s parents on file with health registries, such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and the Canine Health Information Center. Check CHIC to see which health tests are recommended for the breed you’re interested in.