Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Pup Search

Finding a breeder and buying a puppy calls for research ability, interviewing skills and patience

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Buying a puppy seems like a simple process. Puppies are available from private individuals, pet stores, shelters and online sellers.

But where you get your puppy can determine whether you have a good experience or a bad one. A study published in the May 15, 2013, issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that puppies obtained from pet stores were significantly more aggressive and fearful than those obtained from noncommercial breeders and were more likely to develop separation anxiety.

Buying a puppy from an online seller is also risky. Internet scams abound.

French bulldog breeder Carol Gravestock in Durham, Ontario, Canada, recently received a phone call from a family conned by an unscrupulous online puppy seller. The sophisticated setup referred the buyers to the website of an existing breeder and used photos of a real, available puppy from that breeder's website. They gave the buyers a cellphone number to call, claiming to be out of the country and unable to answer the phone at their home. The buyers sent a deposit and transport fee, and then received a call saying the seller needed more money for shipping fees. At that point, Gravestock says, the buyers realized something was wrong.

"They contacted the airline -- no reservation. They finally contacted the real breeder associated with the website, who had no idea what they were talking about. The funds are gone, the actual puppy is not available, the family is devastated and feeling stupid."

This type of scam -- and others -- occurs in every breed, not just French bulldogs. Sometimes the dogs are touted as being from "rescues" or "shelters."

To protect yourself, avoid buying a puppy sight unseen from online sellers. Be wary if you're told that the person is out of the country and available only by cellphone or email.

"Google it," Gravestock says. "Nine times out of 10, that phone number or email address will come up across multiple sites, sometimes with warnings attached."

Other red flags include puppies offered for unusually low prices or sellers who ask you to wire money or send it by Western Union.

Health is another consideration. No matter what you've been told, purebred, cross-bred (hybrid) and mixed-breed dogs can all fall prey to genetic diseases. Both of a puppy's parents should be at least 2 years old and free of hereditary health problems such as hip dysplasia, heart conditions, deafness or eye disease. Reputable breeders will tell you upfront about possible health problems in the breed and what they've done to reduce the risk.

Confirm that a pup's sire (father) and dam (mother) have appropriate health certifications by looking them up on the website of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals ( or the Canine Health Information Center (

Meeting a puppy's parents, or at least the mother, is a plus. When you purchase a puppy sight unseen, it's impossible to know what the parents are like or whether the pup was raised in a home environment with plenty of human attention and socialization to normal life experiences. But if the parents have nice temperaments and aren't shy or aggressive, it's likely that your new puppy will share those positive traits.

When you want a specific type of dog, seeking a knowledgeable breeder and meeting his or her dogs in person is the best way to find a puppy. Benefits include early housetraining and socialization of pups and up-to-date health clearances on the parents.

Finding the right puppy from the right breeder doesn't offer instant gratification, but it's a safer, smarter way to go. Just remember that good things come to those who wait.


Feline aggression

a common problem

Q: My cat is aggressive toward people who visit our home. Is there anything I can do to help solve this problem? -- via email

A: Surprisingly to many people, aggression is the second most common behavior problem seen in cats, right behind not using the litter box. Cats who threaten or attack strangers -- either human or feline -- do so for a variety of reasons. Most often it's because they're fearful, but cats can also be territorial (especially after changes in the household) or irritated by repetitive touching, such as petting.

Aggressive cats hiss and puff up to what looks like double their size. If cornered, they may scratch or bite. Your cat will probably never be an affectionate greeter of guests to your home, but you can take steps to help her chill out in their presence.

The first is to get her checked by your veterinarian, particularly if this is a new behavior. Certain conditions can cause cats to become irritable or aggressive. They include hyperthyroidism, hypertension, osteoarthritis and cancer.

If your cat gets a clean bill of health, never force her to interact with strangers. Have a safe room, stocked with food, water, toys and a litter box, where she can retreat before their arrival. For many cats and people, this is the optimal solution.

You can also use desensitization and counterconditioning to help your cat be more accepting of the presence of guests. For instance, a guest who will visit often can toss treats in the cat's direction (being careful not to look directly at him) or offer interaction with the cat's favorite toy, also without giving the cat direct attention. It's also a good idea to ask guests to ignore the cat, letting him approach (or not) on his own terms. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


New app lets

cats take selfies

-- Candid Catmera? It's not a typo. An app created by Brooklyn-based Current Studio lures cats with pictures of fish, mice and other goodies on the screen of a propped-up tablet device. When the cat touches the screen, click! His image is captured and then shared by proud cat people (we all know that cats don't have owners). The goal, besides bragging rights about feline photography prowess, is to keep cats entertained during the day when they're home alone. And it's for a good paws, er, cause: $1 of each $1.99 purchase goes to the SPCA of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

-- If the Havanese were human, he'd be dressed to the nines, strutting proudly in the Sunday promenade and puffing on a fine Cuban cigar. A member of the bichon family of dogs, the Havanese was developed on the island of Cuba. Fun-loving, cheerful and good-humored, his idea of the perfect day is spending it with his people and going someplace enjoyable, ideally where other people will see and appreciate him for his entertaining demeanor. He has a happy, friendly temperament and a soft, abundant coat that may be any color or combination of colors.

-- How cold is too cold for pets to be outdoors? According to a chart by Pet Plan Insurance, dangerous weather conditions begin at 25 degrees Fahrenheit for small and medium-size dogs. Temperatures of 20 degrees or lower are life-threatening for small dogs. Life-threatening temperatures for all pets start at 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain and sleet add to the risk because when pets get wet, it's more difficult for them to maintain normal body temperature. Senior animals and those younger than 6 months are at highest risk in cold, wet weather. Pets at least risk are northern breeds or heavy-coated dogs acclimated to cold weather. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.