How to buy a puppy

February 2, 2022 - 5 min read

This article was written for the United Kingdom market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United States.

Dalmatian Puppies

If you’ve decided you’re ready to add an adorable puppy to your family, congratulations!

The next step is to decide whether to buy or adopt and to decide where you’ll get your puppy from. It’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make about your new dog.    

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

  • What paperwork you should receive 

  • Puppy farm warning signs and when to walk away

Where to buy a puppy 

You have a few options, including: 

  • Registered breeders

  • Rescue centres 

  • Private sellers and selling sites 

Registered breeders

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

Registered breeders have to demonstrate 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, but generally, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

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Rescue centers 

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

Rescue centres will complete health checks and provide ongoing support and although you’ll pay an adoption fee, this will be a lot 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, but 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 dog 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 choice, be aware that sellers here aren’t necessarily 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 more risky than from a registered breeder or rescue, so 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

When confronted with a litter of adorable puppies, common sense can sometimes fly out of the window.

Before you visit any puppies, write out a list of questions you’d like to get answers to. You might even decide to 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 back to your notes later. Use these questions to get you started: 

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

  • Can I meet both parent dogs? 

  • Can you provide your licence number and 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 rather than risk committing yourself to a puppy that may not have been bred with their health and welfare as the number one priority. 

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 your new puppy from the litter. Vet Tim Kirby offers some helpful advice on what to look out for. 

Puppy personality 

“When you have made the commitment to invest in a puppy, it’s important to visit the breeder at least once and get to know the litter of puppies, as well as 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 eager 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. 

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 with the official microchip and health documents.

Puppy farm warning signs 

Nobody deliberately buys a puppy-farmed dog. But the criminals running them look like 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 ads 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 ‘recue’ 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 when you get to collect your new puppy.

Before then, use our new puppy checklist and shopping list to make sure you’re fully prepared for their arrival. And give some thought to how you'll introduce your puppy to your family, as well as making 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.

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.