Do your research. Be sure that the size and temperament of the breed you’ve chosen is the right choice for you and your lifestyle. The American Kennel Club can get you started; go to AKC.org and click on “Future Owners.”
Check the paperwork. Whether you’re adopting an adult dog or a puppy, get a detailed clean bill of health from a veterinarian before you bring the new kid home. A claim that he’s been “vet-checked” says nothing about the veterinarian’s actual findings.
Investigate local shelters. No matter what kind of dog you’re looking for— purebred or mixed breed—check shelters, humane societies and rescue groups. (Visit Petfinder.com to locate organizations in your area.)
Spread the word. If you are willing to adopt an adult dog, let the staff at your local shelter know what you’re looking for.
Insist on temperament testing. This will help make sure your dog is behaviorally a good fit with you and your family.
Find a reputable breeder. If you choose to purchase a pup from a breeder, make sure she’s an expert on the breed’s inherited health issues, temperament and special needs. She should show you the paperwork on her pups’ pedigree and health clearances, provide references (and ask for yours) and work with one breed, two tops.
Avoid “puppy mill” purchases. These large-scale breeding operations produce puppies for profit, often under inhumane conditions. By purchasing a puppy from a pet store or online, you may be inadvertently supporting puppy mills—and committing the next 10 to 15 years of your life to taking care of an unhealthy pet.