Without a doubt, the best possible place to buy a puppy is from the breeder who whelped the litter, gave them their shots, wormed them, socialized them, watched them develop unique personalities and kept detailed records. Just as there are many ways to buy a car, there are many ways to buy a puppy. But remember, you can’t “trade in” a puppy if it doesn’t work out!
Big Breeders, who maintain large kennels with dozens of dogs, can be good or bad places to buy puppies. Unless the large breeder has an equally large staff, it may not be possible to properly socialize and evaluate the puppies. (Proper socialization does not mean feeding them and cleaning their kennels!) They may have multiple litters at any given time. These breeders are either very involved in conformation showing and they are constantly breeding in an attempt to attain their next champion, or they are puppy mills breeding indiscriminately with the primary objective to make money. Large breeders may not screen their buyers properly, resulting in numerous mismatched dogs and owners.
Small Breeders typically only have one or two litters per year and most raise them in their home. You can find puppy mills here, too, except on a smaller scale, particularly if the breeder owns both the sire and dam and has made several repeat breedings of these dogs (this is undesirable). On the plus side, small breeders usually approach “dogs” as a hobby rather than a business, so they give their animals more individual care and attention.
Individuals will sometimes advertise a litter, which is the result of their first step to becoming a small breeder, or because they bred their bitch “so the kids could experience the miracle of birth” or “because they heard it was better to breed her before spaying her.”
Pet Stores are typically the least desirable place to buy a puppy, next to a puppy mill, because they often purchase their animals directly from puppy mills in the Mid-West. Occasionally they buy local animals from breeders that need to “get rid” of a lot of puppies. Many pet store puppies are separated from their mothers before 7 weeks of age, resulting in psychological and/or health problems. There are numerous horror stories about sick puppies that died shortly after purchase. Pet store puppies also spend 95-99% of their time in little cages, where they barely have room to turn around. They are not able to play, interact and develop normally. More behavior problems are seen in pet store puppies. To be fair, however, there are some situations where a family was lucky enough to end up with a nice puppy. This is the exception, rather than the norm. If you seriously consider a pet store puppy, ask the store for several references from other puppy buyers and make the appropriate follow-up calls. Veterinarians and trainers in the area may also have had experience with their puppies.
Shelters and Rescue Organizations primarily have older puppies and adults that have been abandoned or found. Occasionally they will have an entire litter of puppies brought in, although they are adopted very quickly. With careful screening and evaluation, you can often find very nice dogs in shelters and rescue organizations. However, you do run the risk of not knowing the animals complete history.