Don’t buy that puppy in the window

Amid the rolling farmland and scenic sunsets of the Midwest, picture this scene: German Shepherds crammed into tiny cages, elevated over piles of feces. A recent mother sits in one of these cages with pups, her coat filthy, eyes matted and her body thin and dehydrated. Neither she nor the pups have any protection against the elements. The pups wander about on the wire floor, some having already died from disease or exposure. The mother dog cannot bark in protest — a metal rod rammed down her throat has severed her vocal cords. She is bred every heat cycle, and by the time she is four years old will no longer be able to produce more pups. She will be killed, most likely by gunshot or bludgeoning, and one of her daughters will take her place.

Welcome to a puppy mill.

Puppy mills are farms run by dog breeders whose sole intent is to make a living from the dogs they breed.

When breeding dogs becomes a money-making endeavor, both the dogs and the puppy buyers suffer.

German Shepherd owners know that the cost of properly feeding and caring for even a single dog runs in the hundreds of dollars per year. Add to this the necessary preventative care for a pregnant bitch, cost of the stud fee or stud dog (and his care), shots, worming and food for the puppies, and the total can rise to the thousands.

And that cost is the minimum; an ethical breeder will take the time and money required to show her German Shepherds and have both parents screened for genetic diseases, requiring more vet visits, x-rays and blood work.

Suddenly, the money earned from the sale of puppies doesn’t look like much of a profit, especially considering a bitch should only be bred once a year for her health.

But the “licensed” or “professional” pet breeders who operate puppy mills are not concerned with the lives of their dogs. The dogs’ worth is inherent in whether he or she can produce more puppies, to be sold to the highest bidder, a broker.

Brokers gather puppies from puppy mills to sell to pet stores. Brokers are necessary because of the number of breeds in demand; a pet store likes to have several breeds of dogs available for its customers. In addition, brokers arrange for the shipment of puppies to the store.

For healthy development, no puppy should leave its mother before 6 weeks of age, and should not leave its littermates before 7 weeks. Ethical German Shepherd breeders will keep their puppies until they are at least 7 weeks old, many preferring to wait until the puppy is 8 to 10 weeks. Typically, pet store puppies are shipped between 4 and 8 weeks old to arrive “fresh” in the store windows.

Pet store owners and workers will simply lie to their customers about the dogs’ origins, claiming the pups come from “local breeders,” “professional breeders,” or “licensed pet dealers.” While any of the above might be true (after all, anyone who makes a living off his or her endeavor could be considered a “professional”), it does not mean the puppies did not come from puppy mills.

Customers, who up until that point may not have even wanted a dog, do not question what they are told and hand over their money.

Because the puppies were raised in substandard conditions and their parents were not screened for proper temperament or genetic diseases, the customer has just purchased a ticking time bomb.

The 48-hour guarantee that most pet stores offer on their puppies will not cover the life-threatening genetic diseases that won’t appear until the dog is six to 24 months old. Nor will it satisfy those customers whose puppy, having contracted parvovirus or distemper during shipping, dies within those 48 hours.

The guarantee also does not protect the consumer from a puppy’s questionable temperament. In a pet store where I worked as a high school student, a four-month-old Rottweiler puppy for sale bit and drew blood on several employees who went near his food dish. The dog was sold to a family with a two-year-old daughter. The family was not told about the bites.

In addition, pet stores that sell puppies (purebred or mixed breed) without requiring those puppies to be spayed or neutered only add to the number of unwanted dogs languishing and dying in our nation’s shelters.

What you can do to help

  • Never buy a puppy from a pet store. There is no legitimate reason to purchase a puppy from a pet store. Fantastic pets, including purebreds, are available through your local shelter or rescue group, or by searching for dog rescue groups online. If you must purchase a purebred puppy, research information on choosing an ethical breeder.
  • Educate those around you about the conditions in puppy mills. You can order educational brochures about puppy mills from the Humane Society of the United States. Write to Reader’s Digest and Dateline NBC for copies of their investigative reports about puppy mills and pet store puppies.
  • Support legislation opposing the sale of pet store puppies. Contact your state representative or senator to require all puppies sold by pet stores to be spayed or neutered, or to support legislation banning the retail store sales of puppies.
  • Write a letter to the editor. Concise and clearly written letters to the editor will let retailers know that potential customers won’t buy pet store puppies.
  • Support your local humane society or Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. These organizations work tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate the homeless victims of puppy mills.

Teach your dog his name – for real, though

If I had a dollar for every time a dog training client insisted, “Oh, he knows his name!”, and then proceeded to demonstrate by calling her dog repeatedly while the pooch is busily sniffing the ground in front of him — I’d have enough money to buy all my readers an ice cream (or beer, your choice).

When and how these dogs “learned” their names is a mystery — mine weren’t born knowing theirs, nor did a few repetitions during puppyhood do the trick. Let’s dispense with wishful thinking and get busy teaching our German Shepherds the most important word they’ll ever hear: their names. The good news is, this simple, life-saving word can be taught in literally a matter of minutes.

All you’ll need to do is grab your dog, a leash (if you need it to keep him nearby), and 50 or so really, really good treats. I’m not talking about dog biscuits or those pre-packaged, food coloring-filled store-bought treats — we mean business here. I’m talking about hot dogs, chicken, turkey, pieces of salami, roast beef, and the like. The good stuff. The stuff you were always told not to feed your dog from the table. Anything your dog would love to get his little paws on counts. (Obviously, check with your vet if your dog has dietary or medical issues.)

You don’t need to use big treats — slices or bits the size of your pinky nail work just fine for even the largest dogs. This is a treat your dog loves, remember?

If you want to go high-tech with your training, get a clicker as well. Remember to condition your dog to the clicker before getting started, if it’s your first time using one. If you don’t have a clicker, no worries — with this exercise, you can simply skip that step in the following instructions:

  • Place the treats within easy reach for you, but where your dog cannot get them.
  • Say the dog’s name, click the clicker and feed a treat. Do not ask for a sit, do not call the dog from a distance, and do not repeat the dog’s name. Click as soon as you say the dog’s name and feed a treat.
  • If your dog isn’t paying attention, move backwards with the leash in your hand. Wait for the dog to look at you, say his name, then click and treat.
  • Repeat with all treats. Do this exercise at least twice a day in different locations.


Once you’ve done this exercise for a couple of sessions, test its effectiveness by saying your dog’s name while he’s not looking. His head should snap up and he should focus his big greedy brown eyes on you in hopes of getting a treat. If he does, congratulations! You’re ready to move him outside and repeat the process. If not, check that you’re still using a super-yummy treat in a non-distracting environment and repeat the exercise a few times before testing it again.

Top 10 Pet-Friendly Places to Stay

Planning on taking your German Shepherd along on vacation? A survey released by TripAdvisor lists the top 10 accommodations for pet owners and their furry friends.

TripAdvisor, an online travel resource guide, surveyed more than 1,100 travelers and more than 700 pet owners around the globe. Almost half of those surveyed said hotels should be more accepting of pets.

A TripAdvisor representative said bed and breakfast establishments are popular with pet owners.

“Animal lovers might be even pickier about travel accommodations for their pets than they are for themselves,” said Michele Perry, director of communications for TripAdvisor, in a news release. “B&Bs dominate our pet-friendly accommodations list because they do a great job catering to the most finicky pet owners.”

The survey awards Best Western the title of most pet-friendly hotel chain, with Holiday Inn and Red Roof Inn on its heels. The top Best Western, according to pet-friendliness ratings on TripAdvisor, is the Best Western Lake Norman in Cornelius, N.C.

Pet Peeves

Thirty-five percent of pet owners surveyed say they take shorter vacations, and a quarter take shorter vacations because of their pets. Only 12 percent said their pets thwart their vacation plans.

More dog owners put importance on pet-friendly traveling, with 64 percent insisting on pet-friendly places to stay, compared to 38 percent of cat owners.

Most concerning for owners traveling with pets? Twenty-nine percent of dog owners and 48 percent of cat owners worry their four-footed companions will get “stressed out.”

East Coast, West Coast

A few highlights from the top 10 include the TierraLinda Bed and Breakfast, Galena, Ill. The survey’s first-rated hotel offers dog and their owners a nature-themed paradise. A forest for hiking and lake for swimming ensures a good time for both two- and four-legged travelers.

Besides the colorful canine-themed artwork in the Sleepy Dog Guest House, in Bisbee, Ariz., solitude allows for frolics on leash-free trails and fenced yard. Got a disc dog? A lot is set aside just for tossing a Frisbee.

For cats and dogs with luxurious tastes, The Hotel Marlowe is an eight-story hotel located in Cambridge, Mass. Special packages, such as the finicky feline pampering kit or the man’s best friend pampering kit, both contain freshly made treats from a local pet bakery.

And the Ocean Lodge in Cannon Beach, Ore., boasts oceanfront views no beach hound could resist. Rooms include private decks and beach access, and pet packages are available. A dog wash at the lodge provides a rinse for sandy paws.

Top Ten

  1. Top Dog: TierraLinda Bed and Breakfast, Galena, Illinois – Average nightly rate: $135.
  2. Dog Show: The Sleepy Dog Guest House, Bisbee, Arizona – Average nightly rate: $95
  3. Lassie Locale: Gazebo Inn Ogunquit, Ogunquit, Maine – Average nightly rate: $144
  4. Canine Cottage: Spruce Moose Lodge and Cottages, North Conway, New Hampshire – Average nightly rate: $124
  5. Pet Stop: The Ocean Lodge, Cannon Beach, Oregon – Average nightly rate: $220
  6. Basket-Hound: Cambria Shores Inn, Cambria, California – Average nightly rate: $232
  7. Hotel Marlowe, Cambridge, Massachusetts – Average nightly rate: $288
  8. Animal House: Courtney’s Place, Key West, Florida – Average nightly rate: $104
  9. La Quinta Inn and Suites South Padre, South Padre Island, Texas – Average nightly rate: $177
  10. Hotel Monaco Denver, Denver, Colorado – Average nightly rate: $247.
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