I work mostly with adolescent and adult dogs, most of whom are fearful and/or aggressive to some degree. A few times a year I get new puppy clients, and they're like a birthday surprise for me, and oh so refreshing! All my adult dog experience underlines the importance of early socialization, but also, where puppies come from.
Most of the dogs I work with come from either pet stores or are adopted from rescue groups or shelters. I often meet people who tell me they know they shouldn't have acquired their puppy the way they did, but they couldn't help it, and they want to do the best they can now that they're in love and a family. And I fully support that - once your puppy is home it's time to get to work! But if you haven't brought puppy home yet, let's make sure you get the best possible dog for your home and lifestyle.
First off, pet stores should be a blanket no way. I know why people get dogs from pet stores, oftentimes rescues turn you away for seemingly no reason, and breeders have long wait lists, so you go into a pet store "just to look" and that one really cute little fluffy thing just captures your heart. Maybe you go home and can't stop thinking about her, go back the next day, she's still there, and you just *have* to take her home. I hear that same story all the time. But remember that no responsible breeder you actually want to buy a puppy from will ship out their extremely young and sensitive puppies out at 8-10 weeks old for unknown pet store employees to sell to the general public. It just doesn't happen. These breeders are breeding for money - not the betterment of the breed. I don't care how many papers or photos the pet store employee shows you - your puppy is most likely from a puppy mill. These breeders are not breeding for temperament and solid health. They're mostly likely not running extensive health tests on both parents, trialing or working their dogs, or breeding only the best representations of their breed. I'm sure there are shades of terrible and some may be better than others, but it's not a gamble I would ever encourage. With all this said - I think it's also very important to remember that many wonderful dogs come out of pet stores. Many well loved family pets who live long, wonderful lives are purchased at pet stores. But many die young from health issues, suffer with chronic behavior and health issues. At the end of the day, let's stack the deck in your favor.
Rescues. That's the next best thing, right? Well, not always. There's an unfortunate side effect of the widespread "no kill" movement which is the warehousing of unadoptable and marginal dogs for years. Oftentimes in tiny crates and in deplorable conditions. Many rescues also ship in dogs from out of state (even out of country) with inadequate quarantine, health checks, or behavior evaluations. Most of the time when I meet an adult dog who is terrified of being outside and find out the dog was adopted, I ask if the dog was brought in from the South and the answer is almost always "yes". This is not an adopter problem. This is a rescuer problem. One of the problems with adopting puppies is similar to a problem of buying puppies from stores - you don't know what you're getting. There's always been the argument of nature vs nurture - genetics vs experience. The truth is both are extremely important. If your puppy was found on the side of the road in Texas, we have no information about your puppy's parents. Was mom a biter? Was dad a resource guarder? We don't know. Did your puppy's parents die young from a congenital disorder that your puppy has inherited? There have also been several studies done on the effects of in utero and early life stressors on future behavior. So if your pup's mom was hungry, stressed, fighting to survive while pregnant, that flooded your puppy with stress hormones while he was in the womb, and it's been shown can affect his baseline to make for a more reactive and sensitive adult. We just don't know a lot of the time. It's a similar unknown to buying a puppy from a store, only your money may be going to an organization doing some good, as opposed to no good, although several rescues have been buying dogs at auctions (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/investigations/dog-auction-rescue-groups-donations/?utm_term=.2a84d66c0dd2) which is a very troublesome trend.
So what does that leave us? Breeders? Yep, if you want a puppy and you want to stack the deck in your favor. Remember though, how much work puppies are (read: they're A LOT OF WORK). If you're sure that's what you want, find a breed you feel would work well for your home and lifestyle, meet a few dogs, and research breeders. Go in with the understanding that there may be a wait, sometimes for a year or more for rare breeds. But you can meet your puppy's parents and most times, close relatives. You can inquire about health histories of that line. You can learn about temperaments and how old dogs were when they passed. You can have well researched expectations. All with the understanding that things can still go haywire and your dog can still be the black sheep, but you have a much better chance of getting exactly what you want in a dog.
The more strict your criteria is, the more I would recommend adopting or buying an adult dog at least 18 months old. You'll have a better idea of the dog's physical characteristics and temperament. Around this age most dogs are hitting social maturity so you won't have as many behavioral surprises down the road. You can adopt dogs from a local shelter or rescue group, or even reach out to breeders and see if they have dogs they are retiring or no longer using for their breeding program. You can also hire a behavior professional like me to help find the perfect dog for you.
With all of that said - I think it's important to know that Prynne was purchased at a pet store by her first owners, and I adopted Eyre from a shelter who brought him in from Ohio. So everything should be taken with a grain of salt, as always. There's no right answer, but the more information you have, the more you know what you want, the more likely you will make the right decision for yourself and your family.