Some people have their hearts set on getting a purebred dog.
That's fine mixed-breed dogs, often called mutts, aren't for everybody.
But if you're going to add a purebred canine to your family, it's important to do some legwork first, so you can be sure you know just what you're getting and that you're getting what you're paying for.
That's the advice of purebred dog experts like Barb Clauson, first vice president of the Lawrence Jayhawk Kennel Club.
The group, founded in 1954, is a nonprofit organization devoted to the advancement of purebred dogs and responsible dog ownership.
Clauson, a lifelong dog owner, has three purebred dogs herself: a Golden Retriever, a Belgian Sheepdog and a Belgian Malinois.
Her sheepdog competes in dog shows, and all the animals participate in agility and obedience competitions.
Getting a pet should never be done on an impulse, Clauson says, and that's the behavior that some pet stores try to capitalize on.
"You definitely want to avoid them, because there's no contact between the breeder and the person buying the dog. The pet store is a middle man," she says.
And meeting the breeder of a purebred dog is essential to ensure the buyer is getting a healthy, quality animal.
"The reputable breeders want to make sure that the puppy they lovingly have bred goes into a permanent, loving home. They're trying to match the people with the right breed, as well as the individual dog," Clauson says.
A good way to locate a reputable breeder is to contact a group like the Lawrence Jayhawk Kennel Club, which can point people in the right direction and make recommendations.
The Web site of the American Kennel Club, www.akc.org/, is another helpful source to find good breeders. The site has links to many national breed clubs that can offer more information, too.
Clauson advises people to always seek out breeders who screen their dogs for hereditary conditions such as hip dysplasia or a tendency to develop deafness, blindness and kidney problems.
Buyers also should ask breeders if they have certificates showing that their dogs have been tested by organizations like the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Evidence of health checks like these are a sign of a good breeder.
"It shows not only do they love their own individual dogs, but they're also trying to improve the whole breed through their breeding program," Clauson says.
Reputable purebred dog breeders often ask buyers to sign a contract when they purchase an animal. The document is designed to protect buyer and seller, in case the animal later develops a serious health problem or other defect.
Another tip: Pay attention to your instincts when visiting dog breeders.
"If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't," Clauson says.