Dear Pet Docs,

I know that you are veterinary medical and surgical specialists, and this may not be your area of expertise, but my question deals with behavior. I would like to know what you would recommend as the best place to get a new dog or puppy that would be the least likely to have behavior issues. We have heard that shelter animals often have these issues, but we aren’t sure we want to buy a dog when so many in shelters need homes.


Dear Daniel,

You are absolutely correct that we are not experts in dog behavior. Actually, I should be court ordered not to dispense dog-training advice, being the owner of seven of the best worst-trained dogs in the tri-county area. It’s a classic example of the “Cobblers children” being the last to get shoes. I think, or rationalize, that its because I work such long hours that when I am finally with my dogs I don’t want to spend any of that time training or reprimanding them, but I may just be a mildly indulgent pet owner and borderline animal hoarder.

So, to give a more qualified level of response I have enlisted the input of Susan Marett. Susan carries a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDK) credential, and has been training Lowcountry dogs for more than 18 years . She has seen dogs whose backgrounds range from exclusive breeding kennels to the flea market.

The first thing we discussed was the myth of the perfect puppy. Many believe that if you go to the ends of the earth to find a breeder who has selectively bred for the perfect temperament and health, and then provide the best care, training, and attention, a great outcome is virtually assured. This is no more true with puppies than it is with children. We cannot claim all of the credit, or take all the blame, for how our children or pets turn out.

The best we can hope to do is stack the deck in our favor. I asked Susan if she had noticed a correlation of her subjects behavior and their origin. Her feeling was that with puppies, the greatest predictability in both health and temperament came with responsible, non-commercial, breeders.

Those who selectively breed for good behavior and health traits, while providing a nurturing environment for both the pregnant mother and the puppies, are merging the influences of favorable genetic and environmental factors.

This is in contrast to a commercial puppy mill that is breeding for numbers, irrespective of genetic and behavioral deficiencies. Studies have shown that prenatal emotional and physical stressors can have profound effects on a puppy’s behavior. Numerous studies have proven that with both domestic canines and wild canids, such as foxes, behavior traits can be selectively bred for.

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) supported these observations. In an online version of the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire, pet store derived dogs received significantly lower scores that those obtained from non-commercial breeders. Be aware that this does not reflect pet stores that are providing animals from local animal shelters.

Speaking of shelters, when it comes to overall behavior, studies are not so clear. In my experience, dogs adopted from shelters don’t stand out in any negative way compared to breeder-sourced pets.

Maybe its my imagination, but many owners have echoed the observation, that their “pound puppy” just seems to say “thank you for rescuing me”, every day.

It can be almost hard to believe that your treasured family member was once discarded, abused, lost, or in a shelter,and possibly faced being euthanized. It’s an incredibly warm feeling to know that you took him or her away from all that. That’s something you can only get from a shelter adoption

When adopting an adult dog, shelters can offer a high degree of predictability in terms of health and behavior. When you get a puppy from a reputable breeder, you have certainly stacked the deck in your favor. The adult dog you see is the one you get, both physically and behaviorally.

You can introduce your prospective adoption to your other pets and children at the shelter prior to adopting. Many adoption centers, such as Pet Helpers and the Charleston Animal Society use reliable methods to evaluate canine behavior.

The SAFER system is consistent and highly predictive of the probability of aggression problems in individual dogs. This is a seven-item evaluation that only takes about 10 minutes to perform and can be applied to dogs as young as 6 months.

So if you have a specific breed in mind, we would recommend that you do your due diligence to find a reputable breeder. If it’s a less formal operation, get a feel for the parents and the place. If you have decided to adopt, pick a size, age, and temperament that suits your situation.

Use the shelters support in evaluating your dogs behavior tendencies Of course, none of this guarantees perfect behavior, but lets not get too obsessed with perfect. We may strive for perfect, but sometimes its our dogs imperfections and idiosyncrasies that we love the most.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to