So you've decided to get a dog. Congratulations! You're in for the time of your life. 

Take time to evaluate your lifestyle to figure out exactly what sort of dog you're looking for (e.g., a high energy dog to go running with, or a more sedate dog to lounge on the couch with). Remember that breed is no guarantee of temperament or likes and dislikes, so it's best to get to know the individual animal.

Start at a shelter or rescue group

Not only are you likely to find a great dog, you'll also feel great about helping a homeless dog find a loving home. Most dogs lose their homes due to owner-related problems like cost, lack of time, lifestyle changes (new baby, divorce, moving or marriage) or allergies, not because of something the dog has done.

You don't want to buy a puppy from a pet store or a website. Most of those puppies come from mass breeding facilities—better known as puppy mills. If you've decided to buy a dog from a breeder, you'll want to support one who has their dogs' best interests at heart.

How to find responsible dog breeders

Responsible dog breeders don't sell their puppies to the first person who shows up with cash in hand. Too often, unsuspecting people buy puppies from puppy mills. Too often, this results in purchasing puppies in poor health or with temperament problems that may not be discovered right away.

A dog who has genetic health problems due to poor breeding practices or who develops significant behavior problems due to a lack of early socialization can cost thousands of dollars to treat—and result in grief and heartache as well.

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Avoid the pitfalls

Download our "How to Identify Responsible Dog Breeders" [PDF] checklist and take it with you as you visit different breeders. If the breeder you're working with doesn't meet all of the minimum criteria listed, The Humane Society of the United States advises you to walk away. Remember, your dog will likely live 10 to 20 years, so it's well worth investing some time now to be sure you're working with a responsible breeder who breeds healthy, happy dogs and keeps them in clean and humane conditions.

You can also check the PupQuest website, which is run by licensed veterinarians and warns against the health problems with puppy mill dogs.

Get a referral

You can find responsible dog breeders by asking for referrals from your veterinarian or trusted friends, by contacting local breed clubs or visiting professional dog shows. Remember, a responsible breeder will never sell her dogs through a pet store or in any other way that does not allow her to meet with and thoroughly interview you to ensure that the puppy is a good match for your family and that you will provide a responsible, lifelong home.

Always visit where they were born and raised

Always personally visit a dog breeder's facility before buying a puppy. Find out where your puppy was born and raised. Take the time now to find the right dog breeder and you'll thank yourself for the rest of your dog's life.