You want something that will take endless struggle, countless tears and screams, and some if not all of your free time. You want something that will be with you as you go through various stages of life; that you can't get rid of even if you can't afford it, don't want it right now, don't feel like getting out of bed today. You want something that will make messes, wreck your favorite things sometimes, and be a constant presence.
You also want something that will love you unconditionally. That will blindly follow your steps and be eager to please you. Something that will be your warm blanket, your exercise, your energy, and your heart. Something loyal, forgiving, and kind, that will keep all of your secrets and be a source of pride.
You want a dog.
I have a few recommendations, for everyone in every walk of life with any type of dog experience. First, sit down with your family or those who live with you. Ask them questions like, "How much free time do we have a day?", "Who likes to get up early?", and "What if ______ (fill in the blank with the person's favorite shoes, video games, clothing) got absolutely destroyed?" Like the answers? Go to step 2. Don't? Consider weaning the family into something they have to take care of. This is no joke: get a houseplant or a very small animal, like a fish or a mouse. What opened my eyes and my husband's eyes to the extent of pet care? A Winter White Dwarf hamster. Those things are adorable and live in a contained space, but if you want them to live a full, happy life and not die in a week and not stink up your house, they mean 3-4 cage cleanings a week, a full scrub-down every 2 weeks, fresh food and water at the same time every day, supplies, furniture to put the tank or cage on, careful considerations like the fact that on a 95 degree Jersey summer, the A/C has to be left on all day so the little guy doesn't fry.. the list goes on and on. It will open your eyes to what it takes to have a happy, healthy pet.
On to Step 2. The cost of owning a dog, as averaged by peteducation.com, can be between $12,000 and $38,000 over a 14 year lifespan. That's a few years in a house you own, a year or two at a local university, or a car or two, depending on the model. Remember the more you spend in the beginning, including spending the time to educate yourself and your family about dogs and the best options for you, will save you in the long run. A well bred, well researched dog from a reputable breeder (more on this in a minute) will lead to a cheaper dog in the long run. An adopted adult dog with manners and a kind disposition may take more time to acclimate to your home in the beginning, but will be easier and cheaper in the long run. Whereas a $500 bargain pup from the local pet store or an online breeder who breeds for CASH and not for health, may cost you thousands in food, vet bills, and training, not to mention heartache if the ill-bred dog gets hip displaysia, is allergic to your house, or is terribly under-socialized. Think about this carefully before you get a dog.
Step 2, continued.... Breeders, pet stores, and shelters/rescues.
Let's start with Shelters and Rescues. You know what you're getting in a shelter or rescue, because the organizations don't WANT you to have any surprises. If the dog hates kids, you'll know. If they're shy around food, you'll know. If a rescued dog has bad hips or cancer, you'll know. And if the dog is perfect for you and was simply discarded by another family, you'll know. Knowing what you're getting into is crucial. Please consider adopting, and remember most rescues are breed-specific, which means you'll be getting that purebred Dalmatian you dream about, without the cost of a breeder or the horror of a pet store.
Breeders are another option. Breeders are more expensive in the beginning, but a good breeder will value their dogs and their reputation enough to ensure you're getting a great dog. A good breeder is one you might have "heard about" in your calling of other breeders. They might not answer the phone or your emails right away because they're so busy with their dogs - or maybe they will, and their answers will be to the point, sometimes a little harsh. They'll ask you as many if not more questions than you ask them. Questions like, who's your vet, what's your job like, where do you live, do you have a fence, do you have references? They'll happily allow you to come see their ENTIRE facility, including where the adult dogs live, where the puppies live, where they play and sleep and eat. They won't breed their females (called bitches) more than once a year. Maybe twice. They will never, ever ask you to meet them or pick up your dog in a neutral location. If you're getting a puppy shipped from another state, they will want to accompany their dog on the flight, and will go the extra mile. They'll have a health guarantee, a registry and pedigree for your specific dog, perhaps some show wins and championships, and will offer to take back a puppy at any time, even in 5 or 10 years, rather than letting it go to a rescue or shelter or be euthanized. Does your breeder sound like this? Yes? You've found a good one, and should be willing to pay the money required to buy your dog from this breeder. If some of these things are missing, particularly if you are not permitted to see and interact with the parents and siblings of the dog you're about to buy, hang up the phone, run away.
Now, sometimes big male dogs won't be playful or cuddly. Male dogs are interested in breeding and showing. And sometimes breeding females are also show dogs, so they're disciplined and not always friendly. But they were trained and allowed to be that way. They should still be alert and friendly, not scared of people, and you shouldn't be scared of them. They should be social and clean and kept in the home or in a well built kennel you wouldn't mind crawling into. Most importantly are the other puppies. They should be social, active, happy, and beautiful. There might be one or two that are slightly bigger or more reserved, these would be excellent show dogs. If you want a pet, get the sweet pup who climbs in your lap, looks you in the eyes, and follows you around. Good luck!
As for pet stores: We've all heard horror stories. Puppy mills are very prevalent. If the "breeder" tag on a pet store tag says a central or midwestern state, or a farm, I pretty much guarantee a puppy mill dog. Not because it's the midwest, but because they have the space to run these operations. Trust me, there are puppy mills in every state, probably in every county of every state. Pet stores always get their dogs from puppy mills. If they say they don't, they're lying. If they say they don't, ask for the name, address, and phone number of the "breeder" and call to set up a visit. If the pet store says no or the people you call say no, run away. The difference between mills and breeders are the intent of the owner. Breeders want amazing specimens of the breed. They want well bred, well mannered dogs, and value their dogs above all things. They don't over breed or over sell, and if they can't sell all their dogs, they'd rather keep them then sell them to the wrong people.
Puppy mills want as many puppies as possible. They will breed their females as many times as they will have puppies. They will keep as many dogs as possible for breeding, and sell every puppy, even those with serious health problems. The ones they can't keep, they'll drown or kill. Puppy mills don't care about the dogs, and they certainly don't care about you. They only care about money. They want a huge number of dogs so that they can profit. Please don't buy from pet stores.
Also, you have to turn off your emotions at pet stores. Yes, the dogs are cute and sad. But you're not saving a dog buying from a pet store... you're helping a puppy mill. Don't even go in. Save thousands of puppy lives.
I'm tired and sad from writing about puppy mills... off I go!