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

Getting a Puppy?

What to consider when you make your choice

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When you buy a puppy, you might think that you’re simply acquiring a family companion, but you’re also participating in a billion-dollar business that crosses all lines of the economy. You can purchase a puppy from your neighbor down the street whose dog had an “oops” litter, from breeders who raise show or sport dogs as well as pets, from importers and rescue groups who bring them in from overseas, and from commercial breeders, ranging from mom-and-pop puppy farms to large-scale dog-production operations.

Does it matter where a puppy comes from as long as you’re happy with him? Yes and no. A puppy’s start in life can affect health and temperament through the years. Knowing his background can prepare you for issues you may encounter, including housetraining and behavior problems. Here’s how to find a great puppy from a good source.

Smart puppy buyers know the adage “You get what you pay for.” Choosing a puppy with a healthy start in life is likely to save you money in the long run.

Whether you want a purebred or a cross-breed (aka “designer dog”), look for a breeder who health-tests dogs for inherited problems before breeding them and has the paperwork to prove it; provides dogs with good veterinary care and high-quality food; and raises puppies in the home with good opportunities for socialization to people and the environment.

Don’t put a premium on “papers.” Registration papers, whether from the American Kennel Club or any other organization, aren’t a guarantee of quality, health or temperament. Neither is breeder licensing by the United States Department of Agriculture. No agency or registry requires breeders to perform any specific health testing or socialization.

If possible, meet a puppy’s mother and the breeder’s other dogs. If they are friendly or have other positive personality traits common to their breed, your puppy will probably have a similar temperament. If they are shy or aggressive, look elsewhere.

Choose a breeder who offers a sales contract spelling out a two-year health guarantee against inherited diseases common in the breed. A breeder should be able to show you up-to-date copies of health certifications performed by specialists on both parents of puppies. It's a bonus if the breeder asks you to keep in touch throughout the dog’s life and requires you to return the puppy at any time if you can’t keep him.

Red flags: breeders who don’t want buyers to see puppies at their home or breeding facility, puppies who aren’t raised in a home environment, offers of “next-day shipping,” or availability of large numbers of puppies.

Other sources for puppies are animal shelters and rescue groups. If possible, talk to a shelter employee or rescue volunteer who can counsel you about the puppies and share observations about their behavior.

Don’t assume that a shelter’s assessment of a dog’s breed or mix is accurate. Unless they have firsthand knowledge from the person who brought the pups to the shelter or rescue group, employees and volunteers can only make guesses about a puppy’s background. As he grows, your adopted puppy may be a “surprise package” of size and behavior traits. Be prepared for anything!

Wherever you get your pup, put at least the same amount of thought and research into his purchase that you would if you were buying a new car or refrigerator. When you’re spending anywhere from $500 to $5,000 for a dog who will spend the next 10 or more years with you, you should get your money’s worth.

Be patient. Some things in life are worth waiting for, and that includes puppies. Hold out for the one who’s right for you, instead of taking home the first one you see.


Cat won’t come

out of hiding

Q: We’re fostering a cat, and she beelined for the bedroom as soon as we brought her home. She has food, water and a litter box in there, and she’ll let us pet her, but she won’t come out from under the bed. We have two other cats, but we haven’t let them into the room yet. What can we do to help her feel safe?

A: In new surroundings, cats need time and space before they feel safe enough to explore. Right now, under the bed is your foster cat’s happy place: It’s dark and quiet and she feels safe there from any potential threats, whether those are the hands of strangers or the two cats she can undoubtedly smell, even if they haven’t been allowed in the room.

The best thing you can do is to give her the opportunity to relax and explore her new surroundings at her own pace. Don’t push her by trying to pet her or play with her. Sit in the room quietly, but don’t try to coax her over to you. Right now, she just needs to become accustomed to your scent and presence. You can intrigue her by tossing treats in her direction -- without looking at her -- or wiggling a long teaser toy that allows her to stalk and play without getting too close to you. Other things that can help, according to the Fear Free Happy Homes blog, include spraying the room with a synthetic feline pheromone or playing cat-specific music that has calming properties.

Cats are most interested in people who leave them alone and don’t stare at them because that’s proper feline etiquette in the “getting to know you” process. It could take days or even weeks for her to feel comfortable in your presence, so be patient. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

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Beware the bufo!

Toad toxic to pets

-- Pet owners in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Hawaii and Massachusetts should be on the lookout for a giant invasive toad that secretes a highly toxic milky substance. Dogs or cats who grab onto the toad can die if they ingest the secretion. At a minimum it causes drooling, head-shaking, crying, incoordination and seizures. The gums may turn red. If you know your pet has come in contact with a bufo toad, use a hose to run water in the side of the mouth, pointing the head downward so your dog or cat doesn’t swallow the water -- and with it, the toxin. Then get him to your veterinarian immediately. The toads are known to eat pet food, so don’t attract them by leaving food outdoors. And don’t touch the toads yourself: The secretion can burn eyes and irritate skin.

--It’s no wonder the golden retriever ranks third among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club. They have a sunny temperament, a beautiful feathered coat in rich shades of gold, and great love for people. Beyond being family companions, they keep busy as therapy dogs, service dogs, guide dogs, hunting dogs and canine athletes. Choose a golden if you’re an active person with plenty of time to spend with a dog and don’t mind a little gold fur glistening on your clothes and furniture.

-- Pets are good medicine! A University of Michigan poll on healthy aging conducted last year found that adults between the ages of 50 and 80 credited pets with helping them enjoy life (88 percent), feel loved (86 percent), reduce stress (79 percent), provide a sense of purpose (73 percent) and stick to a routine (62 percent). Respondents also said pets helped them connect with other people, remain physically active and cope with physical and emotional symptoms. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


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.