Once you have decided that you want a dog, you will need to consider what size or breed or mix you prefer. Helpful here is to reflect on what you want the dog for? As a companion animal, as family dog, as guide dog, as guard dog or protection dog, as working dog for specific assignments, or what?
Then the next question is: Where to get a dog? That's what this brief article is about!
Types of Dog Breeders and Other Sources for Getting a Dog
Let's start with the two worst sources.
Pet store dogs are almost always coming from Puppy Mills, and the reason is simple: The pet store needs to make a decent profit to fund the store. Being a pet store, they have to keep the sales price low to be able to sell dogs at all. With the sales price being limited to the low end, a pet store can only realize a profit if they buy their stock cheap.
There come in the puppy mills. They are willing to sell their dogs cheap. In fact, they know they cannot realize higher prices since their dogs are genetically healthy only with luck. Puppy mills too want to make a profit! Knowing that they won't get much for their sick dogs when they sell them to pet stores, the only variable they can influence is the cost of breeding dogs.
The biggest cost factors are vet bills and spending time with the dogs. Hence puppy mills save on health screenings and treatment of their breeding dogs (dam and sire) and puppies, and they cannot afford to spend time on socializing the puppies either.
For the same reason, it just doesn't make sense for puppy mills to retire a breeding dog just because she has health issues. Instead, puppy mills have a strong economic desire to continue to use breeding stock that has been clearly identified as unsuitable for breeding healthy puppies!
With the two worst sources for getting a dog out of the way, does this mean that purebred breeders are the place where to get a dog? Don't purebred breeders want to make a profit too?
Yes, sure, and there's nothing wrong with that! But purebred breeders normally apply a third business model: They know that they can command a decent sales price for a superb dog and superb puppy, but not for one that's unhealthy or has obvious socialization issues.
This gives the purebred breeders more playing field as regards the cost (selecting top breeding stock, paying regular vet bills, providing excellent food, spending much time with each dog) and a strong motivation to only use and breed quality stock. Their investment in this kind of quality stock is considerably higher than the investment any of the other breeders are making - both money-wise and time-wise.
In addition, quite a high number of purebred breeders only breed a certain dog breed - out of passion. They have a personal motivation to maintain a high quality of breeding stock for that particular breed. This motivation may even dominate their motivation to make a profit. Not that they would accept a loss-making business, but the amount of profit they make often is clearly not their primary driving force.
So, what about backyard breeders then? Backyard breeders usually don't have a business model at all, but a lucky or forced-upon one-off situation, or one that's too rare to make it a business. In most cases they have not planned what to breed, i.e. which dam should mate with which sire, and for what reasons, in order to get what kind of offspring.
In particular, backyard breeders don't have the means to choose their breeding stock, they simply go with what they have, without making a big investment to get the right dam and sire mate. Quite literally, they take whatever they find on the street.
This isn't always bad though. In fact, you may be lucky and you find a healthy and well socialized smaller pet dog at backyard breeders - if you know where to look. However, to find a quality German Shepherd that way is rather unlikely. Why?
Because the German Shepherd breed deteriorates quickly when you mate the wrong dam and sire. The German Shepherd Dog is prone to health problems, in particular the hips and elbows, bowel and GI tract, ears and eyes. In addition, the German Shepherd is a quite large and strong dog breed, with a strong will and determination. So if you get the genetic match wrong, and making it worse, if you save on comprehensive puppy socialization, then you may end up with an adult German Shepherd that is anything between aggressive and uncontrollable for you. Instead of a dog that protects you and follows your direction.
Dog Rescue Center
Finally, a dog rescue center is a completely different story. Their aim is to run cost-effective, not to make a profit. They get the dogs for all kinds of reasons why the prior owner abandoned the dog. For you it's important to know that in the majority of cases a dog is abandoned not because of health issues or behavioural issues of the dog, but because of isolated issues of the prior owner!
Before a dog rescue center releases a dog for adoption, they will generally undertake a full health-screening of the dog and test the dog's status of socialization. While it naturally is rare that you will find a top-of-the-breed dog with an optimal genetical heritage at a rescue center, it is very likely that you will get a healthy dog, waiting to be trained and in need of lots of love to overcome the stress of changing home twice (or more)!
If the case, the dog rescue center will openly tell you if they are aware of any issues with the dog. Because they will try to avoid that the dog has to go through the emotional stress of changing home again. So, a rescue center normally will not entice you to adopt a dog if they feel you may not be committed to the dog or not able to handle the dog for life.
Other important considerations
When you get a chance to visit a breed show or conformation show, do it. Not only will you get an impression of the breed's standards, you may afterwards also have a chance to see some breeders or handlers with the dogs point-blank. Maybe you can even talk to some of them - who otherwise you would never meet because they may live far away and visited specifically for the show.