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Disadvantages of Pet Store Puppies

Unfavorable behavior compared to other puppies
By Karen B. London PhD, July 2013, Updated November 2022

In a study of over 6000 puppies, researchers found that the behavior of puppies purchased from pet stores was less desirable than the behavior of puppies obtained form noncommercial breeders. Specifically, there were 12 areas in which pet store puppies’ behavior was unfavorable compared with puppies from noncommercial breeders and two areas in which their behavior was similar. There were no behavioral areas in which the pet store puppies’ behavior was preferable to the comparison group.

In a recent study called “Differences in behavioral characteristics between dogs obtained as puppies from pet stores and those obtained from noncommerical breeders" used guardian observations of their dogs to compare the behavior between the two study populations. Observations were quantified using the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire, which uses ordinal scales to rate either the intensity or frequency of the dogs’ behavior

The biggest differences between the two groups of dogs related to aggression with dogs from pet stores being far more likely to be aggressive towards their guardians, to other dogs in the household, to strangers, and to unfamiliar dogs. Among their other unfavorable comparisons with dogs from noncommercial breeders were that they were more likely to have house soiling issues, to be fearful, to have touch sensitivity problems, to be harder to train, and to have issues with excitability.

As a person who has long opposed the selling of puppies in pet stores for humane reasons as well as behavioral, it is with open arms that I welcome this objective study about the undesirability of this practice. It’s heartbreaking for me to think of all the people I have seen professionally over the years who have been emotionally devastated by the serious behavioral issues they have faced with a dog from a pet store. Of course, there are people who have lucked out and obtained a wonderful dog from a pet store, and I am very happy for such dogs and their people. However, it’s important to remember that overall, buying a dog from a pet store does not put the odds in your favor.

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The authors of this study sum their research up with this important point: “Obtaining dogs from pet stores versus noncommercial breeders represented a significant risk factor for the development of a wide range of undesirable behavioral characteristics. Until the causes of the unfavorable differences detected in this group of dogs can be specifically identified and remedied, the authors cannot recommend that puppies be obtained from pet stores."

Health Problems of Pet Store Puppies

The horrors faced by pet store puppies and the puppy mill dogs that suffer to breed them are hardly news. Nor is the increased likelihood of behavior problems in dogs purchased at pet stores compared with other dogs. The profit-based justification for buying and selling dogs in pet stores as though these animals are commodities is not defendable. It does a great disservice to dogs and is often the cause of emotional distress in people as well. All the system does is make money for people who are creating a giant welfare problem for dogs.

Even though nobody needs another reason not to buy dogs from a pet store, a new reason has hit the news this week. Recent reports of a disease that causes diarrhea in people has been traced to puppies from pet stores. A specific disease (Campylobacteriosis) was investigated in more than 100 people in 18 states who were taken ill with this bug from January 2016 through February 2018. Twenty-six people were hospitalized. Out of the 106 infected people 105 reported exposure to a dog, and 101 reported recent contact with a pet store puppy. Twenty-nine of the infected people were pet store employees. People reported having contact with puppies at six different pet store companies, suggesting that the puppies were infected before reaching stores.

Dogs, especially puppies, have long been known to be a source of Campylobacter infection, although it is rare for them to cause outbreaks. This outbreak was the biggest one known to come from dogs. Researchers investigating the source of the recent flurry of infections found that it was widespread. Using fecal samples from 28 puppies, they learned that the disease could be traced to eight distributors and 25 breeders.

Infected individuals can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics, but this particular strain is resistant to all of the antibiotics usually used to treat it, making it the first outbreak of this bug that is antibiotic-resistant. Part of the problem may be the widespread dosing of puppy mill puppies to courses of antibiotics. While investigating this particular strain of bug, researchers found that 94 percent of puppies received antibiotics before coming to the store or while they were there. Even more alarming, 55 percent of them received antibiotics for preventative purposes only. The excessive exposure to antibiotics vastly increases the chances of antibiotic-resistant superbugs developing.

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Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life

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