How to choose a rescue or shelter to adopt from

Purchasing a dog or puppy: What to look for in a rescue or shelter


Congratulations on choosing to add a new dog or puppy to your family.

It is great that you are considering adopting a pet from a rescue or shelter. However, not all rescues/shelters are created equal – indeed, some facilities are merely posing as rescues and are more like an animal-broker than an animal-rescue.

It’s not a ‘black and white’ matter, but here are some suggestions that will hopefully help you when you’re looking at adopting a pet.


Green traffic lightNecessities

Do not purchase a dog from a shelter unless the facility:

  • Shows concern and regard to the physical health of their dogs and puppies
  • Shows concern and regard to the psychological well being of their dogs and puppies – either in providing enrichment on site, by frequently taking their dogs ‘out and about’, by using Dunbar’s methods of raising puppies (with toilet area, kongs, socialisation), and by providing training to dogs with behavioural problems
  • Is willing to provide life-long support to you as a purchaser, and is willing to take their dog or puppy back if things don’t work out. (There should be a trial period of anywhere from 1-12 weeks where a refund is provided.)
  • You feel comfortable approaching the rescue or shelter for advice, and feel they would be supportive and give you clear advise you can understand.
  • Sells all dogs and puppies microchipped, vaccinated and sterilised (or on contracts to have these procedures performed at a latter date, or with a medical certificate exempting them from these procedures)
  • Gives you some time to ‘think about’ adding the dog/puppy to your household



It’s ‘nice’ if a shelter/rescue does these following things, but not a deal breaker.

  • The rescue/shelter asks you lots of questions about your household and what you’re looking for
  • There is a sales contract
  • The rescue/shelter seems to have a great deal of knowledge about dogs
  • The rescue/shelter uses foster carers so they know what the dog is like in a house (instead of just living in a kennel)
  • The rescue/shelter has had the dog in care for at least 10 days, to serve as a quarantine period
  • Friends, family, or other shelters and rescues have heard of this rescue and have positive things to say
  • Identifies as ‘no kill’ or ‘out the front door’ or as ‘saving 90%’


Red Flags

Have some concern about the shelter or rescue if any of these events take place.

  • The rescue/shelter seems overly concerned about the purchase price
  • The rescue/shelter puts the hard sell on – “I might sell her next week if you don’t take her today”, or “I’ll give you 10% off if you buy her now.”
  • The rescue/shelter sells puppies together to the same pet family
  • The rescue/shetler is willing to sell a puppy/dog to you without you even meeting the dog/puppy to assess it for yourself


Do Not Buys

If the shelter or rescue does any of the following things, then walk away and source a dog from an alternative source.

  • You cannot meet the dog or puppy before sale
  • Dogs/puppies are not microchipped – in most states of Australia, this is a legal requirement
  • The dogs or puppies seem unhealthy or in poor condition (dirty, matted, skinny, fat)
  • There seems to be no plan to improve the socialability/behaviour of dogs that have problematic temperaments
  • The rescue/shelter is not willing to show you all the dogs in their care


Is there anything you would add to the list?


Further reading: See How to Find a Good Dog Breeder


How to find a good dog breeder

Purchasing a Dog or Puppy: What to look for in a breeder


So you have made a decision to add a dog or puppy to your family. Congratulations!

But how do you make sure you’re getting a puppy from an ethical source?

It’s not a ‘black or white’ matter. There is no definitive issue that makes a breeder ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Instead, here’s a guide which talks about necessities, niceties, and red flags.



If your breeder doesn’t do this then walk away…

  • Breeder shows concern and regard to the health of dogs and puppies – either in health testing or in the studs used (e.g. choosing old studs that show they’re healthy, using DNA testing, using x-rays, and other relvant tests)
  • Breeder shows concern and regard to the psychological well being of their dogs and puppies – either in providing enrichment on site, by frequently taking their dogs ‘out and about’, by using Dunbar’s methods of raising puppies (with toilet area, kongs, socialisation), and preferably a combination of these methods.
  • The breeder has a clear purpose in their breeding program that goes beyond ‘breeding pet puppies’ – they may enter their dogs in dog shows, participate in agility or obedience with their dogs, or have dogs that compete in working dog trials
  • The breeder’s dogs approach you in a friendly and sociable way. You are able to interact with and handle all dogs on the property. The mother should be available and should show exceptionable sociable behaviour.
  • The breeder is willing to provide life-long support to you as a puppy buyer – including taking back the dog at any point things ‘don’t work out’
  • The breeder happily shows you all the dogs in their care



It’s nice for the breeder to do any of these things, but don’t be concerned if it doesn’t happen.

  • The stud dog is on site
  • The breeder asks you lots of questions about your household and what you’re looking for
  • There is a sales contract that goes beyond simple money exchange
  • The breeder can show registration or affiliation to an organisation with a code of conduct/ethics
  • The breeder can recite pedigrees and seems to be oozing with knowledge about the breed


Red Flags

If any of these items take place, you may want to reconsider purchasing an animal from this breeder.

  • The puppies are not vaccinated
  • The breeder seems overly concerned about the purchase price
  • Not all adult dogs are sociable and friendly
  • Part of the breeder’s sales pitch is ‘lots of colours available’ or ‘will grow up big’ or ‘will stay tiny’ or ‘rare!’
  • The breeder asks for deposits before a bitch is mated
  • The breeder sells puppies together to the same pet family
  • The puppies are crossbreeds which seem to have no real purpose (ask, how do they fit into the clear purpose of their breeding program?)
  • The puppies are crossbreeds and are given a fancy name like ‘labradoodle’ or ‘spanador’.
  • The breeder does seem to be putting the hard sell on you – they’re saying “if you put a deposit down today, I’ll take $100 off the asking price” or “If you don’t buy him now, I have someone coming at 2 o’clock who will buy him”.
  • The breeder breeds more than 3 different breeds of dogs

stop sign


Do Not Buys!

If a breeder performs any of the following points, then do not purchase a puppy and look elsewhere.

  • You cannot meet the mother or father in any circumstances (e.g. ethical breeders, even if the stud dog owner is interstate that should be able to say ‘you can meet them if you really want to go interstate’)
  • Puppies are not microchipped – in most states of Australia, this is a legal requirement
  • The dogs or puppies seem unhealthy or in poor condition (dirty, matted, skinny, fat)
  • The adult dogs are not sociable and friendly, especially if many of the adult dogs are not friendly
  • The breeder is unwilling to show you all the dogs at their home


Is there anything you would add to this list?


Further reading:

Red Flags: Warning signs when dealing with a breeder

How to tell if your dog breeder is responsible

A puppy ‘with papers’ from a ‘registered breeder’

Select, select, select

Dog Breeders: Don’t produce lemon puppies


A Puppy “With Papers” from a “Registered Breeder”

There is some confusion on what ‘with papers’ and ‘registered breeder’ means, and this confusion adds to the complexity of looking for a breeder and a puppy. This is a brief post that explains what ‘papers’ are  and a ‘registered breeder’ is, to ensure that you don’t find yourself ripped off in your puppy purchase.


What are ‘papers’?

When you say, ‘a purebred puppy with papers’, then the ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council) pedigree papers is what ‘the papers’ bit is.

It’s also a good idea, when purchasing a puppy, to look for other documentation, such as:

  • A vaccination certificate
  • A microchipping certificate
  • A vet check certificate or similar (keep in mind that vaccines can only be administered to healthy animals, so if the puppy is vaccinated, s/he should’ve been ‘healthy’ at the time of vaccination)
  • Any relevant health testing paperwork for parents and puppy (this will depend on the breed)


What is a ‘registered’ breeder?

When people refer to a ‘registered’ breeder, they are referring to a breeder which is registered with an ANKC member body (such as Dogs SA, Dogs Victoria, and so forth). A registered breeder should be able to show a membership card with their name, their prefix, and a membership number on it.

Some people call themselves a ‘registered breeder’ because they are registered with the council.  While many councils require breeders to be registered with them, it is not any type of endorsement for the welfare of the animals that are maintained or bred at the facility.


How do I find a puppy with papers from a registered breeder?

If you are looking for a purebred puppy from a registered breeder, then your best bet is to contact your ANKC body to ask for a breeder list.  DogzOnline also maintains a list of ANKC registered breeders (though not all breeders are listed on their site).

If you are an international reader (outside of Australia), then you will have to try to find your national kennel club.  The USA has the AKC and the UK has The Kennel Club.


Further reading:

Tips for Contacting a Dog Breeder

Resources for New Puppy Buyers


How to Stop Puppy Biting

Puppy biting and mouthing is a natural and normal way for puppies to explore their world. However, using their mouths on people is inappropriate, and something we need to train puppies out of. This especially important for households with young children.

Puppy biting is an issue that needs to be addressed through training. It cannot be left and hope the puppy ‘grows out of it’.  You need to provide training and guidance.

Here’s a few pointers to help you begin to decrease mouthing behaviour in your puppy and train appropriate interactions for adulthood.

Continue reading


How to Reduce Your Dog’s Weight

A dog in ideal condition will have a thin layer of fat on their ribs. Dogs that are a healthy weight should have their ribs easily felt with minimal pressure on their sides, but not seen. When viewed from the side, these dogs have a ‘tuck up’, and when viewed from above, they have an obvious waist.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier crossbreed on scales

Photos © Ruthless Photos

Overweight dogs will have a thicker layer of fat over their ribs. To feel an overweight dog’s ribs, the dog’s sides must be pressed. When viewed from the side and above, these dogs look more like a ‘block’, with no tuck or waist.

Some breeds may have characteristics that make it difficult to judge the condition of the dog, but these general guidelines are applicable for most breeds. For purebreds, there are specifications for the correct weight, but these too are only guidelines, and some individuals dogs may be small or large for the breed, and so may have different ideal weights.

Canine obesity is a serious health concern. Overweight dogs, in general, die earlier than dogs of appropriate weights. This is because being overweight puts more stress on an animal’s internal systems and organs (such as their heart, lungs, liver and kidneys). This leaves overweight animals more likely to develop cardiac disease, congestive heart failure, lung disease, and respiratory problems.

Obese animals are also at a greater risk of cancer, anal gland problems, constipation, diabetes, intestinal gas, stroke, skin problems, and an impaired immune system in general. Additional weight can cause and exacerbate health problems, such as arthritis and joint problems, including spinal disc issues. Overweight animals generally tolerate the heat less, have difficulty exercising, and are more likely to injure themselves when they do exercise.

If you believe your dog is overweight, it is important to check with your vet before making considerable changes to your dog’s diet or exercise regime.  There are some medical problems that may cause your dog to be overweight.

If you want to reduce your dog’s weight, there are a number of strategies that could be utilised. Continue reading