Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store

By Michele Welton

Every pet shop will assure you, solemnly, that their puppies are different. Their puppies don't come from puppy mills, but from wonderful local breeders.

Pillars of the community, in fact.

Hogwash. No responsible breeder will place one of their puppies in a pet shop.

Why do I say that?

  • Because those breeders are condemning their puppies to cramped cages.
  • Because those breeders are exposing their puppies to illnesses from the other puppies.
  • Because those breeders don't care what kind of home their puppies end up in. A responsible breeder wouldn't be able to sleep at night worrying that their beloved puppies could be sold to unsuitable homes by sales clerks who know nothing about dogs.

Watch out for these typical "assurances" from pet shop people

"We buy our puppies from responsible local breeders."

Pet shop employees are told to say that. But saying doesn't make it so.

Virtually all pet shop puppies come from commercial breeders and puppy mills. And irresponsible breeding practices are irresponsible whether the breeder lives in Timbuktu or just around the corner. The location makes no difference.

"We buy only from USDA-licensed breeders."

USDA stands for the United States Department of Agriculture, which deals with farming and livestock. The USDA knows little or nothing about dogs. As long as a breeder's paperwork is in order, the facilities are disinfected, cages are a (very) minimum size, and no infectious diseases are immediately obvious, the kennel passes.

The USDA has no interest in...

  • whether the breeder knows anything about his breed
  • whether the dogs used for breeding look like their breed
  • whether the dogs used for breeding act like their breed
  • whether the dogs used for breeding are free of health problems such as hip dysplasia, eye diseases, or heart defects – all of which can be inherited and show up long after you buy the puppy

A USDA license is not something that should reassure you. On the contrary, it is a warning sign that a breeder may be cranking out too many puppies.

"Our puppies' health is guaranteed!"

Ah, yes. The "wonderful" pet store guarantee. Pet shops offer to REPLACE unhealthy puppies – instead of trying to prevent those health problems in the first place. How? By requiring their "wonderful" breeders to do health tests on every parent dog used for breeding.

Puppy in girl's armsLet's look at this from the PUPPY'S point of view, shall we? Guarantees don't help the PUPPY at all.

Sure, you may get your money back, but the PUPPY still has to live with the health problem that might have been avoided if his breeder had been seeking to produce healthy lives instead of trying to keep his expenses down.

Pet shops aren't too worried about having to honor their guarantees, by the way.

  • First, they count on you becoming attached to the puppy. They know that people with soft hearts will often keep a sick puppy even if we're forced to spend a thousand dollars and many heartbreaking months (or years) trying to nurse him back to health.
  • Second, the guarantees are carefully written so that whatever your puppy develops probably isn't covered. Or else you won't have all the "proper" documentation to prove it.
  • Third, many genetic health problems don't show up for months or years. Either the guarantee has expired by then, or you're completely unwilling to give up a dog you've had that long.

My advice to you is to ignore everything pet shop people tell you. The pet store industry has professional marketing manuals that teach their employees what to say to persuade you to part with your money. Don't fall for it.

The advantages of pet shops

Advantages? Yes, pet shops do have advantages, which is why people buy from them.

Smiley faceInstant access to LOTS of puppies. Tracking down puppies from breeders and rescue groups takes time and effort. With less common breeds, you may find no current litters and your only option would be to put your name on a waiting list.

Whereas the pet shop is just a short drive away and is open all day, 6 or 7 days a week. There are pet shops in neighboring communities, too. You just make the rounds until you find something you like. A pet shop may even be able to "order" a puppy for you from their warehouse.

Pet shops satisfy buyers who are impulsive and impatient.

Smiley faceAnyone with enough money can buy. No applications or references required. If your credit card goes through, you've bought yourself a puppy.

Pet shops satisfy buyers who don't like the idea of the "screening" process they face from animal shelters, rescue groups, and some breeders.

Convenience. Immediacy. No questions asked. Those are the advantages of pet shops. The ONLY advantages. Problem is, almost no one who buys from a pet shop pauses to consider all the DISadvantages. Let's do that now.

The DISadvantages of pet shops

Frowning facePet shop puppies come from parents who were not tested for genetic health problems. That puts the puppies at high risk for developing those health problems as they grow up.

Some health tests can determine with 100% accuracy whether a puppy has inherited certain serious health problems. Other health tests can't say for sure, but can predict the risk. Responsible breeders do these tests. Breeders who sell to pet stores don't.

Frowning facePet shop puppies are frequently inbred, which increases the risk of health problems. You need a pedigree to look for inbreeding and most pet shops don't have a copy of the pedigree for you to look at. Instead they promise to mail it to you after you've bought the puppy. That's no help.

Frowning facePet shop puppies may have false registration papers and pedigrees. Many pet shops avoid the stricter documentation requirements of the AKC and instead register their puppies with an "alternative" registry (Continental Kennel Club, APR, APRI, NKC, and others).

Now, it's true that the AKC has its own problems with faked registration papers. But the alternative registries are even worse. If a puppy has papers from any of those registries, I wouldn't trust that the parents listed on the papers are necessarily the true parents. I wouldn't trust that the ancestors listed on the pedigree are necessarily the true ancestors. I wouldn't even trust that the puppy is purebred.

Frowning faceYou can't see the puppy's parents. This is a huge negative because the parents (especially the mother) can have so much influence on how a puppy turns out. If you can't see the parents, how can you tell whether they might have passed on genes for an unhealthy structure or rotten teeth or bad temperament?

ad temperamentAlmost all puppies look normal and healthy and friendly. But as they grow up, the genes they inherited will begin to assert themselves, and that's when all the problems will start.

Frowning faceMany pet shop puppies are hyperactive and noisy. Raised in a small cage, they haven't been able to run and play like normal puppies. So they develop frenetic habits like running in small circles and excessive barking.

Frowning faceMany pet shop puppies are nippy. Some were removed from their mother before 7 weeks of age. Puppies need a full seven weeks with their mother so she can teach them "bite inhibition" (how to control their mouth and not bite too hard). If they haven't learned this lesson, their nippiness will be harder to correct.

Pet shop puppies also learn to nip from customers taking them out of their cage and playing wrestling games with them. This encourages the puppy to growl and nip and grab people's hands.

Frowning faceMany pet shop puppies are hard to housebreak. Where does the puppy go the bathroom? Right there in his cage. It's hard to take such a puppy home and teach him NOT to soil his crate or bed when that's what he's been trained to do. Most pet shop puppies, you see, were born and raised in wire-bottomed cages in outbuildings.

Frowning facePet shop puppies may come with hidden illnesses. All seems well when you bring the puppy home, but a week later he develops a raspy cough, or diarrhea, or listlessness, or he starts scratching.

Kennel cough, parvovirus, coronavirus, giardia, coccidia, mange, ringworm – these illnesses can be transmitted when many dogs share the same living space. The illness may lie dormant until after you bring the puppy home.

Finally, a major disadvantage of acquiring a pet shop puppy is this....

You're supporting a bad industry. When you pay money for a pet shop puppy, you're encouraging the industry to keep doing what it's doing.

You've emptied one cage, yes – but that creates demand for another puppy to be born to fill that cage. Even if you get lucky and YOUR puppy turns out "okay", a large percentage of the others will not. And you provided the incentive for them to be born by buying the one who came before them.

So what seems like a simple, isolated purchase actually contributes to:

  • The misery of the female dogs who will spend their lives in a small cage, being bred again and again so people will have a "quick and convenient" source from which to buy.
  • The misery of the puppies born with health and temperament problems.
  • The misery of the families who will buy these puppies and then struggle to cope with all the health and temperament problems.
  • The misery of the animal rescue groups who have to deal with all the pet shop puppies dumped on their doorstep when frustrated families give up on the health and temperament problems.

I hope you can see that when you buy one of those cute puppies in the pet shop, you buy more than the puppy. You buy potential physical, behavioral, and health problems, and you feed a profit-hungry industry that is harming innocent creatures. Just something to think about.

Everything you need to know about buying a puppy

book coverIn my book, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, I'll show you how to find a nice puppy.

  • Dog Quest helps you sort out what kind of puppy to get – purebred, crossbred, or mixed
  • Compares male and female dogs
  • Compares young puppies and older puppies (and even adult dogs)
  • Helps you decide where to get your puppy
  • Tells you the exact questions you should ask each potential source, what answers you should expect, and which answers are "red flags" that mean you should stay away
  • Shows you how to evaluate a puppy's temperament to see whether he will make a good pet

Learn more about Dog Quest

Michele Welton with BuffyMichele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.