Guide to buying a dog ethically

Getting a new dog is an exciting time, but how do you buy one ethically?
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  • Updated:1 Sep 2008

01.Buying a dog


Pet ownership in Australia

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with an estimated 63% of households owning a pet and more than 50% having a cat or dog.

We spend an estimated $4.6 billion on pet care products and services each year but there’s also an unacceptably high rate of pets ending up in shelters every year.

In the 2007 financial year, the number of unwanted dogs received by the RSPCA rose by 2% to nearly 68,000 — a third of which had to be put down.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Consider cost and lifestyle before buying a pet

  • Apart from initial one-off costs such as the purchase price, microchipping and desexing, there are also ongoing expenses including food, veterinary costs, registration and grooming which can add up to be $1,500 to over $2,000 per year.
  • How much time can you commit to a caring for a dog?
  • Do you have an active lifestyle?
  • Are your living circumstances likely to change? That is, are you likely to travel, move house or have a baby?
  • Is your house pet-friendly?

Once you’re sure about your decision, talk to other dog owners or go to websites such as where you can do a short questionnaire, to help you choose the right sort of pet for your lifestyle.

Hybrid vs pure bred

In the last few years, so-called designer dogs (think ‘spoodle’, ‘cavoodle’ and ‘shnoodles’) have become a sensation. The concept comes from mixing two purebred dogs to create first crosses for a specific purpose, such as a low-shedding coat or particular aesthetic qualities.

Unlike pedigree dogs, these fashionable pups are not considered ‘breeds’ because they’re not registered with the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) and the breeders aren’t scrutinised for their breeding practices. This is why buyers should be extremely careful when purchasing a hybrid puppy.

Hybrid breeders often promise qualities such as “hypoallergenic”, “non-shedding” and “the best of both breeds” in their dogs. But how many of these claims are true? The Australian Veterinary Association’s Dr Anne Fowler says that while ‘hybrid vigour’ does exist for cross-bred animals, genetics remains largely a ‘numbers game’.

“I wouldn’t think that getting the best of both breeds is going to happen every time. It comes down to the individuals and their genetics,” she says. “It also depends on ‘penetrants’ — that is, how inheritable certain characteristics are and how well they manifest into something we see.”

Responsible breeders screen their breeding animals for common genetic diseases to ensure they don’t pass those genes to new generations.

Puppy farms in Australia

‘Backyard’ breeding is not illegal in Australia. Although all breeders are required by law to ensure that they follow the animal welfare code, it’s often difficult to monitor as there are no regular audits.

According to Animal Liberation Victoria, puppy farms are common in Australia. The operations range from 80 dogs to anywhere up to 1000 dogs. The majority of these premises hold about 300-400 dogs.

Although all animal breeders are required to comply with the Domestic Animals Act , the RSPCA needs permission from an owner to enter a property, so they can only follow up complaints but can’t carry out routine checks.

Choosing the right breeder

  • A good breeder will ask you lots of questions to ensure your lifestyle is pet-compatible.
  • They’ll offer ongoing support and most will also offer to take the pet back any time you choose to part with it.
  • They will also provide you with the health and genetic background of the parents of puppies and ensure that pets are well socialised before they’re sold.
  • Where possible, meet both parents of the pup and visit the breeding premises to ensure that the dogs were bred and cared for in a healthy environment, and if a breeder refuses to let you visit before you make a purchase, alarm bells should sound.
  • Many designer dog breeders now sell over the internet and while there are many reputable sellers, you run the risk of not getting the puppy you expect if you don’t visit the premises personally.

Rescuing pets

Before purchasing a pet, it’s also worth considering adopting a dog or cat from an animal shelter or RSPCA .

It often costs less than buying one from a breeder ($300 for a dog from an animal shelter, whereas a breeder can charge anything from twice as much and you’ll be offering animals a second chance of a happy life.

According to AWL, all animals that are fit for adoption have been through health and behavioural checks looking for potential problems, such as food aggression or the chasing instinct. These characteristics are then noted so the AWL can make the best recommendation to families.

After behaviour testing, the animals are desexed, vaccinated, microchipped and wormed before they are put up for adoption. You can search for a rescue pet through organisations such as DogMatch, PetRescue, RSPCA or the Animal Welfare League.

Websites to visit



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