So as you stand there ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aaah’ing’ over the adorable cuteness of these innocent creatures - the thought enters your mind… “Well, they look so healthy and happy! Pet store puppies can’t be that bad, can they?”
Maybe you’ve heard that puppies sold in pet stores only come from puppy mills. Or that puppies sold in stores are sick and riddled with disease.
But these cute puppies in front of you don’t look sick! Could it really be true?
Today I’m going to do my best to help sort out fact from fiction. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give you a broader view of where these puppies come from and benefits or risks you may experience from purchasing a pet store puppy.
So let’s start first with benefits.
The biggest and most significant benefit: Convenience.
Without a doubt, pet stores beat out every other option for acquiring a puppy fast. They typically have many puppies in stock in the store, and in a wide variety of breeds. If they don’t have it, they can usually special order one from their network of brokers and suppliers.
Pet stores will usually send those puppies home with the customer on the same day if you have the cash in hand. In fact, some pet stores are even making that easier - by offering financing. That’s right! In some stores, you can even sign up for monthly payments to help buy your puppy.
In addition to convenience - pet stores also offer the benefit of puppies being handled frequently by a wide variety of staff and shoppers. This early socialization can be beneficial to puppies, especially considering the wide range of age, ethnicities, and mannerisms the puppies likely encounter in a store setting. (This benefit however, is not unique to pet stores.)
So, in addition to the two points above - here are some more benefits that pet stores will frequently list as great reasons to source your puppy from them:
OK. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately while on the surface those points seem to be positive - they also don’t tell the complete truth. So let’s go through these one by one.
#1 - Pet stores help match families with the right breed.
This one I actually find a little bit comical. Why, you might ask? Well - let’s think about it.
This is a store that sells puppies. Puppies.
Cute, adorable, roly-poly puppies that probably range in age from 8 to 16 weeks.
How much do you think the store staff actually know about the adult behavior of every single breed they sell? They only handle puppies!
Puppies are pretty easy to manage, and they often take up to 2 or 3 years to fully mature into their adult personalities and breed traits. Unless a store staff member has actually owned a dog of a particular breed, or spent a great deal of time handling that breed as an adult - I would not rely on them to be ‘experts’ in breed selection.
Also keep in mind, these are sales staff. Their main objective is to sell you a puppy. A very expensive puppy. While I would imagine there are some genuine staff members who do their best to match up a family with the right breed - I remain skeptical that a retail environment is the most appropriate place to get that information.
#2 - Pet stores and their breeders are regulated at the state and federal level.
Again, on the surface - this sounds great. But what regulations are they actually required to follow?
Right here in the state of Pennsylvania, a commercial breeder is anyone who sells a puppy to a pet store. The minimum requirement is that they must obtain a kennel license through the state. The kennel license requires an annual inspection, keeping of certain records, a basic level of sanitation, and veterinary care. And that’s pretty much it.
It does not require any genetic testing for disease such as debilitating Hip or Elbow Dysplasia. (Nor does it prohibit the breeding of animals with known unwanted genetic conditions.)
It does not require that the dogs used for breeding be friendly, social, or pass any sort of temperament evaluation.
It does not require the puppies be socialized or handled when they are young, to be exposed to different environments and surfaces, or to provide them toys or chewies. Nor does it require the breeder to train and prepare these puppies for homes with children and other types of pets.
The laws exist to prevent cruelty to animals, and provide them with basic comfort in a kennel setting. Unfortunately, with dogs - that is often not enough to ensure a healthy, well adjusted puppy will be produced from a “legal” commercial breeder.
#3 - Pet store puppies are “registered”.
Registration for your puppy is not going to be important to everyone, so you may feel free to scroll past. But to those interested in getting those pedigree documents, be forewarned.
Not all registrations are equal.
The most well respected and recognized registry for purebred dogs in the United States is the American Kennel Club (AKC). In addition, is the United Kennel Club (UKC) which is an international organization that also provides registration for purebred dogs and puppies.
With both of these organizations, it’s required to have a minimum of 3 generations documented as a prerequisite to register a litter of puppies. Registration does not automatically equal “quality” when it comes to that puppy’s lineage - but it does document that it came from parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who were all purebred dogs.
With AKC or UKC registration, you are eligible to enter your puppy or adult dog into many different types of competitive events. Conformation shows, obedience, agility, herding, hunt trials, and a long list of new and exciting sporting events are available to registered dogs.
There are many more registries that exist - both for purebred and cross-bred dogs. Unfortunately, these are nothing more than “clubs” that will gladly accept your money in exchange for a fancy piece of paper with your dog’s name on it. Just to reiterate - these clubs do not screen for quality of the dam and sire. These particular registries also do not run competitive events. They do nothing more than maintain the registry and filing of your paperwork.
In short - while the AKC and UKC registrations do not promise your puppy will be free of genetic defects or of show quality - they are the most respected organizations for purebred registration. Any other registration is a waste of your money, at best - and a sketchy option chosen by the breeder, at its worst.
#4 - Pet store puppies are healthy, come with veterinary records & a health guarantee.
Many pet stores will have their puppies seen by a veterinarian either by the breeder or after they take custody of the puppy. This is usually a general physical exam.
The veterinarian checks vital signs, examines for any obvious irregularities or signs of illness, deformity or disease. The wellness exam is then documented and included in that puppy’s file, along with any other records showing when the puppy was administered any vaccinations or dewormer.
Sounds good, right? Sure - this is standard practice for anywhere you acquire a puppy. But it’s only a snapshot of the puppy on that day.
The puppies are usually sold with a “health guarantee”. The scope of this guarantee ranges incredibly from store to store. Most will require the buyer to take the puppy to a licensed veterinarian within a couple days - to be examined at the buyer’s expense.
For some stores, this is pretty much where that guarantee ends. If the puppy is found to be ill, they offer to pay for treatment or return the puppy for a replacement.
Other stores may offer longer initial periods of general wellness - but usually have strict limitations on what they will offer to cover, since puppies can contract communicable diseases once they leave the store.
Some guarantees will offer a warranty against genetic defect - but read that fine print closely! Again, these guarantees widely vary. Some may be as short as a couple months - hardly enough time to detect some genetic conditions. And the policies also differ on how they resolve any potential health issues. Some stores may only offer a 2nd puppy replacement for free.
If you already bought a puppy that requires significant (and often expensive) treatment/surgery - will you want a 2nd puppy (from potentially the same breeder) as a suitable replacement?
You are rolling the dice when it comes to the long term health and wellness of a pet store puppy.
In addition to the list of above - I'd also like to mention a couple more facts to consider about purchasing from a pet store.
#5 - Price
You absolutely will pay the most expensive purchase price for a puppy from a pet store. The mark-up is outrageous. And it's necessary. When you think of all the hands that each puppy has passed through before going home with a buyer - it makes sense why they cost so much.
Paying a higher price, does not guarantee you get a better quality product.
In fact, after visiting a few pet stores to do a little of my own research - I was shocked to see prices $1,000-2,000 MORE than average cost to buy the same breed of puppy from a reputable, independent breeder who can provide long lists of titles, certificates and health testing on the parents, and a lifetime guarantee for genetic defects. I just couldn't believe it.
#6 - Choice
It may seem like you have a ton of options when standing in an aisle lined with pens or cages filled with adorable puppies. But really, your options are very limited once you've narrowed down your breed selection.
Most stores only stock 1 or 2 puppies of the same breed.
Watching puppies interact with their littermates is one of the most important parts of the puppy selection process. There can be a wide range of personalities emerge from the same litter of puppies. When buying from a store, you are sacrificing that opportunity and leaving the selection up to the broker or breeder. How do you know you're getting the best puppy for you from the litter?
#7 - Potty Training Woes
I cannot tell you how many clients I've worked with that bought pet store puppies and had a horrendous time trying to potty train them. This seems to be one of the biggest training problems I have encountered as it relates to pet stores.
While I do not have any data or studies to back up my opinion on this - my belief is that due to the puppies in stores being kept in cages for so long... most pet store puppies are perfectly content to sleep and eat where they use the toilet.
One thing we usually bet on with potty training, is that the puppy would 'prefer' not to toilet where they sleep. Especially when using crates or a portable exercise pen. However, if a puppy was raised in a raised wire-floor cage (very common in many pet stores, to make cleaning more efficient), the puppy gets used to going where they eat, sleep and spend most of their time... the cage.
This results in a puppy that will soil a crate or in a house indefinitely.
Is it possible to untrain a puppy from soiling indoors? Yes. It's possible. But it's much more difficult than your average puppy potty training.