The purchase price in no way reflects the quality of the animal. The best purebred puppy comes from a responsible breeder, who has the friendly mother of the pups on site, can show you at least a three-generation pedigree, has raised the puppies indoors, will not let a puppy leave the litter before 8 weeks of age, and can show you health clearances for both parents, such as hips and elbows certified free of dysplasia.
Physically and temperamentally sound puppies are not found over the Internet. Don't support the puppy mill industry by making one of these purchases; research can save you grief and money by ensuring you get a healthy and stable pup.
2. Do your breed profiling carefully.
Although Labradors are popular, the family pet type — the mellow, relaxed, easygoing dog — is not what you will get when purchasing a Lab bred to work in the field. Many a dog fancier will tell you that field-bred Labradors have a high energy level, which can make owning them as pets a challenge.
The same can be said for many working breeds, including the German shepherd. Anytime a dog is described as a working dog, it generally means it has a high level of energy and needs a job to be happy and to prevent you from going nuts.
So unless you plan on a high level of training and lots of time spent working the dog in his field of expertise, stay away from dogs with working descendants and working titles in the pedigree, and look for the family-pet-bred dog instead.
3. Look at other venues.
There are plenty of adoptable animals at the shelter, and plenty of pure-breed rescue groups with dogs looking for a home. Keep in mind that the majority of older adoptable dogs do have baggage: They often have a few behavior problems to overcome. This isn't a reason not to adopt, but be prepared to seek professional advice when bringing an older rescued dog home.
4. Don't buy just any dog for an older relative.
It is heartbreaking for those of us who work with dogs to see these ill-suited partnerships. The dog is nearly always lacking the basic attention and exercise any exuberant puppy needs, and the senior is usually overpowered, overwhelmed and frustrated. If you must surprise an older relative with a pet, consider an older, more sedate dog that will be thrilled to take slow strolls and enjoy cuddle time and relaxing at home.
5. Consider a mixed breed.
Purebred dogs are in no way superior to mixed breeds, but it is a good idea to try to discern what a mixed breed's genetic makeup is so you have an idea of how large the dog will grow and to better predict its behavior. A border collie-beagle mix may take on the characteristics of either breed and may have a lot of herding instinct, or have a loud baying bark and a superior nose.
6. Give the gift of education.
Give the gift of training classes, or instead of purchasing a dog, give the gift of a consultation with a knowledgeable dog professional to help guide your family member in the quest of preparing for and getting the perfect dog — purebred or mixed breed, adult or puppy, from a breeder or the shelter — that will best fit in with their lifestyle and expectations.