How & where to buy a puppy

5 April 2024 - 5 min read
Puppy on lead

Congratulations if you’ve decided you’re ready to add an adorable puppy to your family! The next step is to choose whether to buy or adopt and to decide where you’ll get your puppy from. It’s one of the most important dog decisions you’ll make.    

There’s a lot of pressure to get it right and to be a responsible puppy buyer. But don’t worry, we’ll walk you through:

  • Where to buy a puppy 

  • What to ask the seller

  • What to look for when meeting a litter of puppies

  • The paperwork

  • Puppy farm warning signs and when to walk away

Where can I buy a puppy? 

You should choose a reputable source when considering adding a puppy to your family. This ensures the health and well-being of your new furry friend. You have a few options, including: 

  • Registered breeders.

  • Reputable breeders who prioritise the health and welfare of their dogs.

  • Breeders who provide proper care. Things like socialisation and health screening for their puppies and breeding stock.

  • Rescue centres.

  • A local animal shelter or rescue organisation. Shelters often have puppies of various breeds and mixed breeds available for adoption.

  • Private sellers and selling sites 

You should remember to:

  • Know that a shelter gives a second chance to a puppy in need and helps reduce pet overpopulation.

  • Exercise caution when buying a puppy from online marketplaces or classified ads.

  • Research the seller thoroughly and ask for references or reviews from previous customers.

  • Be wary of red flags like very low prices, lack of health guarantees, or refusal to allow visits.

  • Visit the breeder's facilities in person to assess the living conditions and meet the puppies and their parents.

Registered breeders

Kennel Club Assured Breeder is your best bet if you’re looking for a pedigree puppy.

Registered breeders must show responsible breeding practices including carrying out breed-specific health tests.

These reduce the chances of genetic issues being passed down, so there’s a better chance of getting a healthy pup. It’s also good for the future of the breed as a whole.

These puppies from registered breeders may be more expensive and you might have to join a waiting list. Generally, the pros outweigh the cons.

How to find a registered breeder

  • Research breed clubs: Start by researching breed clubs or associations related to the specific breed of dog you're interested in. These organisations often maintain lists of registered breeders who adhere to their standards of responsible breeding practices.

  • Attend dog shows or events: Dog shows, competitions, and breed-specific events are excellent opportunities to meet reputable breeders in person. Talk to exhibitors, breed enthusiasts, and judges to gather information about registered breeders in your area.

  • Online breeder directories: Use online breeder directories or databases that specialise in listing registered breeders. Ensure that the directories you use are reputable and reliable sources of information.

  • Ask for recommendations: Reach out to trusted sources such as veterinarians, groomers, or other dog owners who may have recommendations for registered breeders in your area. Personal recommendations can provide valuable insights and firsthand experiences.

Rescue centres 

Rescue centres are another great choice, especially if you’re not looking for a specific breed. They’ll also be able to help tell you which of their puppies will suit your lifestyle and family best.

Read our article on things to consider when adopting a pet.

Rescue centres will complete health checks and provide ongoing support. Although you’ll pay an adoption fee, this will be less than buying a pedigree puppy.

Vet Tim Kirby recommends looking for “rescue centres which are registered with the charities regulator and demonstrate good corporate governance.”

Puppies at rescue centres are usually adopted quickly, so you may have to wait. You could also consider rehoming one of their older dogs instead.

Whether you find a pedigree or crossbreed puppy, it’s no harder to find pet insurance for rescue dogs than for dogs from a breeder.

Private sellers and selling sites

You may see puppies for sale from private sellers in either local adverts, or through selling sites like Pets4Homes.

While these do offer plenty of choices, be aware that sellers here aren’t under any obligation to provide health tests or any kind of ongoing support.

If the litter of puppies is accidental, the seller may not be aware of any inherited health conditions

Buying from a private seller can be riskier than from a registered breeder or rescue. Always make sure they can answer all the questions and provide all the paperwork we’ve outlined below.  

What to ask when buying a puppy

Woman using a laptop while a  brown-and-white chihuahua puppy sits next to her on the desk

When confronted with a litter of adorable puppies — common sense can sometimes fly out of the window. So, what questions to ask a breeder when buying a puppy? 

Before you visit any puppies, write out a list of questions you’d like to get answers to. You might even ask these over the phone before making an appointment to meet the puppies in person.

It’s a good idea to write everything down so you can refer to your notes later. These are the sorts of questions to ask a breeder: 

  • Can you tell me more about both parent dogs? (Temperament, age, health, tests or any inherited conditions)

  • Can I meet both parent dogs? 

  • Can you provide your licence number and the name of your local authority? (for registered breeders only)

  • Have the puppies been health checked by a vet? If not, will they be?

  • Do you provide a contract of sale? 

  • Will the puppies be wormed and vaccinated?

  • How will you socialise the puppies? 

If whoever is selling the puppies can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, it’s probably best to walk away. Otherwise, you risk buying a puppy bred without their health and welfare as the priority. 

A person high fiving a dog

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A person high fiving a dog

What to look for when buying a puppy

Once you’re happy that a puppy’s breeder can answer all your questions and provide the necessary paperwork, it’s time to choose. Vet Tim Kirby offers some helpful advice on what to look out for. 

Puppy Personality 

“When you have committed to buying a puppy, it’s important to visit the breeder at least once and get to know the litter of puppies, and also the mother and father,” he says.

“This will be a good opportunity for you to get to know the personality of each puppy and decide which one you’re going to choose.

“A healthy puppy will be inquisitive and want to explore their surroundings. They should be keen to come forward and sniff you.

“It’s equally important to see that the puppy interacts naturally with their mother and that a clear bond exists between the two,” says Tim.  

Quick health checks 

Tim also advises that “a general look at a puppy’s coat, overall size, and cleanliness will be a good indicator of general well-being.”

If you’re wondering whether you should buy a puppy with an umbilical hernia or other health condition, the answer is really that it depends. It may be a good idea to speak to a vet before committing yourself.

Tim says that “should any issues be detected such as hernias, congenital defects, or developmental disorders, your vet will gladly assist you and advise the best course of action.” 

While many of these conditions can be treated, you may find yourself looking at some vet bills very early on. Can you afford any ongoing bills? You’ll also probably find that when you take out puppy insurance it won’t cover pre-existing conditions that were diagnosed before the puppy was insured.

Rescue centres and registered breeders will often carry out more extensive health checks than private sellers in addition to offering extra support and advice. 

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What paperwork should I see when buying a puppy?

It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of buying a new puppy, but don’t forget the paperwork. Here’s what you need. 

Essential paperwork:

  • Microchip certificate 

  • Certificate of health from a vet

  • Vaccination and worming paperwork

  • Contract of sale

Optional paperwork:

  • Breed paperwork (pedigree puppies will be registered with The Kennel Club. Mixed breed dogs may also be registered with a breed association)

  • Kennel Club health certificates

  • Insurance details. Breeders and rescues often offer a month’s free puppy insurance

  • Puppy pack containing feeding advice, training information and anything else the breeder deems relevant

Before signing any contract, examine all the paperwork and ensure that everything matches the official microchip and health documents.

Buying a puppy from a puppy farm warning signs 

Border Terrier puppy with a red collar looking up at the camera

Nobody deliberately buys a puppy-farmed dog. But the criminals running them look like a legitimate litter. 

Lucy’s Law has made it harder for puppy farms to operate in England, but sometimes it can still be difficult to know what to look out for. If you’re not sure how to spot a puppy farm, some warning signs include: 

  • Not letting you meet the parent dogs

  • Multiple online adverts from the same seller 

  • Offering different breeds of puppies for sale at the same time 

  • Asking to meet you in a neutral location like a car park 

  • Pressuring you into buying a puppy then and there 

  • Only allowing cash payments 

  • Not offering a contract 

Sadly, puppies from puppy farms are often poorly bred and are more likely to suffer from health or behavioural problems

Even though it may feel hard, don’t be afraid to walk away. Don’t be tempted to ‘rescue’ the puppy yourself.

Tim advises speaking with your local vet practice if you have any doubts or reservations about a breeder. “Listen to your gut. This is too important a decision to not complete properly.”  

How to report a puppy farm

If you’re worried you may be dealing with a puppy farm, speak to the Trading Standards department of the local authority responsible for the area.

If you’re concerned about the welfare of the puppies and parent dogs, contact the RSPCA to make a report.     

Bringing your new puppy home 

Once you’ve done your due diligence you can look forward to the day you get to collect your new puppy. Before then, use our new puppy checklist and shopping list to make sure you’re prepared for their arrival. Give some thought to how you'll introduce your puppy to your family, and make sure you've made your home safe for children, dogs and other pets.

The first day with your new puppy can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. But before you know it, you won’t be able to imagine life without your new sidekick.

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Emma has written extensively about the environment and health but she has a real passion for pets. She has written articles for The Happy Cat Site, Pet Life Today and Dogsnet, as well as ManyPets.