Looking for a Dog on Craigslist? Run Screaming If You See Any of These Red Flags

Craigslist is like an adoption agency with no standards or oversight. So if you're going that route to adopt your next dog, be extra careful.
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When I first started dog training, the vast majority of the dogs I saw came from pet stores, rescues, shelters, family and friends’ “oops” litters, backyard breeders, or, rarely, responsible breeders. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen an increasing number of dogs being obtained on Craigslist, with many (read: most) of them with some pretty intense behavior problems.

Craigslist appeals to many prospective pet owners because the dogs are usually less expensive than the options above (often the dogs are offered free), there is no waiting period (the listing party usually wants to get rid of the dog yesterday), and, as opposed to adopting from many rescue organizations, there are relatively few requirements. Those that are in place are pretty much a joke — nobody is doing a home visit or checking personal or veterinary references. Essentially, Craigslist is like an adoption agency with no standards or oversight.

The vast majority of the Craigslist adoptees I see do not come to my practice for a puppy or basic manners class. They usually have relatively severe behavior problems that require weeks, months, or years of dedicated, active behavior modification, plus lifetime management in some situations. They are not “easy” dogs, and they certainly aren’t the Lassie dogs my clients hope for — dogs that will be able to go camping or traveling with the family, hang out at Timmy’s football game, allow baby Abigail to take a nap while resting her head on the dog, and take leisurely strolls through their suburban neighborhood.

How to read Craigslist ads

I sat down recently with some friends who are not dog pros. Some of them are pet owners, and some hope to be but do not yet have the appropriate living circumstances to make dog ownership practical. We looked through some Craigslist ads, and I found that we had a very different process in evaluating the ads we looked at.

Invariably, the non-dog pro process went as follows:

  • Is there a picture? No? Move along.
  • Is the picture cute? If yes, proceed. If no, move to the next ad with a picture.
  • Scan the article for an adoption fee. If the dog is inexpensive and immediately available, proceed.
  • Finally, read the description. Take it at face value.

Not that the Lomonacos are considering a third dog, but if I were looking for a pet on Craigslist, my process would be more like:

  • Sit down, make a list of deal-breakers (size, age, sex, good with cats/kids/other dogs, etc.)
  • Review all ads, picture or not. I can get pictures later if the deal-breakers are all in place.
  • Read the description. READ BETWEEN THE LINES.
  • Check out the adoption fee. I’m willing to pay a significant bit of money for a good dog with the deal-breakers in place, knowing that I’ll save lots of money and stress in the long run by making a wise purchasing decision. Plus, adoption fees for dogs on Craigslist rarely go over $300.

Now, the read-between-the-lines part is where many pet owners struggle. This requires some critical thinking! I pulled some descriptive phrases from a number of local Craigslist ads that seemed like red flags to me as a dog trainer. These may or may not be deal-breakers in the negative, but are certainly signs that further inquiry is required — “What exactly do you mean by that?” and “Why is this a requirement?” are both legitimate questions to be asked. I hope that reviewing them will help you make a well-educated adoption decision. Some of this may be a little tongue-in-cheek, so consider yourself warned.

Craigslist red flags

  • Would prefer a house where someone is home all day — Separation distress. I won’t say separation anxiety, which is a somewhat rare clinical diagnosis, but this is a dog that may well chew through your couch, empty your refrigerator, be a Houdini who is good at breaking out of crates, pee on your bed, or eliminate throughout your house when left alone. Maybe you do work from home, but how will you contain this dog when you run out for groceries? What will you do with him when the family wants to take a vacation?
  • Needs a big yard — Needs a lot of structured exercise. This dog may well enjoy playing in the yard (fetch, tug, appropriate play with other dogs, tracking, nosework), but will also need lots of structured exercise off the property through walking, jogging, biking, participation in dog sports, rollerblading, hiking, backpacking, etc. This ad should read: Needs an active family; couch potatoes need not apply!
  • Has lots of energy — ATE OUR BED, pulls on the leash, chases the cat and passing cars, digs out from under/climbs over the fence, and likes jumping on guests and knocking them over.
  • Outside dog — Usually indicates potty training issues or other behavior problems the family does not want to deal with in the home, including destructive chewing.
  • OK with kids, dogs, cats — May or may not be true. Many pet owners do not know how to accurately read canine body language to assess social interactions. Don’t take it at face value. Ask questions like: How many kids has he been around? What age ranges? What kind of play with children does he enjoy? What kind of other dogs does he like? How many other dogs has he played well with? How does he like to play with other dogs? How does he respond to cats at the vet’s office or a friend’s house? Often, dogs may enjoy the company of the kids, cats, and dogs they live with but react differently to those who are not members of the household.
  • Needs a firm hand/experienced owner/is dominant — Untrained. This dog is likely impulsive (has not been taught appropriate leash, door, or greeting manners), and may like to countersurf. This may also be a sign that there are resource-guarding issues (possibly including food, space, toys, or people).
  • Very protective — Again, worth asking what exactly this means. I’ve seen this descriptor include dogs who exhibited territorial aggression, leash reactivity, other-dog aggression, human aggression, and resource-guarding issues. Maybe the dog just barks when someone walks by the house, but maybe there is something more going on.
  • Is fine with other animals as long as she can be in charge — A bully with other animals and may exhibit aggression. These dogs also tend not to do well in homes with same-sex dog pairings (male/male, female/female).
  • We are too busy and have to keep her in her crate all the time — What does this dog do when the family is home and she is not crated? I understand crating when you’re not around, but this dog’s lack of exercise may be manifesting as destructive (chewing furniture, shoes, or toys) or obnoxious (demand barking, jumping, mouthing, or countersurfing) behaviors. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this dog was not well potty trained. Ask why she is in the crate all the time!

Perhaps I’m a skeptic. Maybe this post makes me sound like an awful person. But it’s very hard to see really wonderful pet owners overwhelmed by adopting pets with behavior problems they were unaware of or poorly equipped to deal with. This culture clash frequently lends to stress and frustration for dogs and their owners, and at worst, leads to further rehomings and/or eventual euthanasia.

Think critically about what dog is right for your family — and that may not be the cheapest or cutest or youngest or “free-est” dog. It’s the right dog. The dog who doesn’t just “tolerate” your kids, but LOVES them. The dog who can fulfill the role you want a family dog to fill, be that neighborhood walking companion, softball game mascot, hiking partner, or tent warmer.

Bringing a new dog into your home is a huge decision and deserving of careful deliberation — remember that this new life may be in your family for ten or more years. Choose wisely! Ask questions and be a careful consumer. Your family and your dog will love you for it.

24 thoughts on “Looking for a Dog on Craigslist? Run Screaming If You See Any of These Red Flags”

  1. I am looking for a grown dog. Small, house broke, loving, good with special needs people. I need it to be as cheap as possible, I live on a limited income. Miss the love of a dog. I had a Lhasa Apso. She was the first dog I had in the house. She was the perfect dog. She went blind and had some other health problems. She was suffering so I had her put to sleep. I could not let her suffer. I sure do miss her. She was our baby. I miss her so much. No puppy mill dog. Thank you

  2. Stephanie Bermudez

    I purchased my part lab/part pit bull mix on craigslist from an accidental breeding. She only cost 50 dollars and she is the SWEETEST dog ever. She is now 3 years old. Now I am looking for a new pup but there are sooo many scammers on craigslist, plus they all want HUGE rehoming fees. These are definitely backyard breeders that only care about the money!!

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  4. I would like to say that a lot of people that sale on craigslist is dishonest, I am one of them , I don’t sale dogs on craigslist never have , but I have ok ne now and he is a great catch, I ask questions from the people who want to buy him because he is not going to some dump or breeder, I try to read the facts about my GSD, I have researched a lot of facts, and I have said no a slot of time because I didn’t feel right about. I would love for my GSD, to have a great home, thanks

  5. I have a very different opinion about this. I prefer raising a dog from a young (8 weeks old) puppy because they bond very strongly with me, and I start immediately with potty training outside although it still takes about 6 to 7 months for them to become fully potty trained to where they will hold it until they can go outside and do their business. Rescue dogs tend to be much older than that. And I am not a rich person. I can’t afford to spend $1000 or more on a puppy. My last (and current) puppy I got from Craigslist for $20. She is a Jack Russell Terrier / Chihuahua mix, which in my personal opinion is the best combination of dogs in the world. She is an absolutely wonderful dog. I immediately took her to my local affordable vet clinic to get her parvo/distemper shots, Bordatella vaccine, and dewormer. Normally that would cost several hundred dollars at a normal vet, but this place only charges me $57 for all three. I look for ways to have a wonderful dog that are affordable for me.

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  8. I’ve been seeing several Craigslist “ISO puppy,” ads with the advertiser looking only for a pit bull, doberman or rottweiler, no older than 3 months. I enjoy these breeds too, but I’m a little concerned that ads like this are trying to get dogs for fighting. Do you have any tips on identifying whether someone seeking puppies is legitimate?

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  11. I was scammed by shanabreey123@gmail.com If you see this email do not do business with this person 443-343-2238 They got me for $400 I’m new to the game and I’m pretty old and I don’t know how all of the Internet works but I know how this works now I’m following with every agency I can to report this person please do the same

    1. Hi there Ronald,

      We are sorry to hear about this. Please let us know what happened so we can take a further look to prevent this from happening in the future: https://www.dogster.com/team-dogster/

  12. There are great dogs on Craigslist. I bought an 8 week old puppy from the site and was charged an inexpensive fee. It’s been 8 years and she’s healthy and very well-behaved. It really depends on the age of the dog and the condition that the dog has been living in. My dog was born alongside her siblings and the owner was kind and caring. Not everyone has bad intentions. Some people simply don’t know how else to find forever homes for their puppies. Instead of looking at all the faults with Craigslist, please understand that these sweet dogs need our help. Their owners can clearly see that, which is why they posted the ad on Craigslist in the first place.

  13. I can’t believe anyone would buy an animal through Craigslist. Their own rules say you can only ask a “small rehoming fee”. Everyday I see postings where they want 500-1500 for puppies/dogs! No reputable breeder would advertise on Craigslist!! I no longer even feel sorry for those who go ahead and buy off Craigslist. Geez, people, do your homework before buying and get your heads outta your butts!

    1. Honestly, people, like myself, get lucky and adopt a wonderful dog off of Craigslist, so enough people have a good experience that we don’t all realize the terrible things that happen. I understand now that my last dog was probably from a ‘backyard breeder’, but I knew nothing about this at the time. I will be responsible this time – but the other problem is that people adopt dogs somewhat infrequently – due to the life span of an animal – so most of us are not aware. Please use this forum to educate people, like myself, instead of scolding someone who went through a terrible experience. I need to know more, so I would genuinely appreciate information from you. Please tell me where I should start looking to adopt a small adult dog? I looked on petfinder but I am not sure if that is responsible, since they have dogs from all kinds of places? Thank you for any information. I will continue to read articles.

  14. DO NOT BUY A PUPPY OFF CRAIGSLIST

    We purchased a goldendoodle puppy a week ago in a Petco parking lot near Eastvale CA for $1100. We were told it was a girl. 2 days later we took it to the Vet and were told it was a boy and only 5 weeks old. A few days went by and he got violently ill, throwing up and diarrhea non-stop. We spent over $1000 trying to save him. He ended up dying after owning him for just 6 days.

    GO THROUGH A BREEDER, YOU WILL NOT ONLY SPEND MORE $ BUYING A DOG OFF CRAIGSLIST BUT YOU WILL BE TRAUMATIZED BECAUSE IT WILL DIE IN JUST A FEW DAYS.

  15. Most ads for dogs on craigslist and elsewhere are scams of some kind or ads by people who do not care about dogs.
    Many are “backyard breeders” that think there is money in puppies. There is no profit in selling pups. I have been around the business and these kind of people. True breeders are very knowledgeable and do not advertise. The money from a AKC champion stud fees is about the only good income. Most breeders who show dogs do it as a hobby, an expensive hobby. Purebred are inbred and are showing all sorts of problems with health and behavior.
    People who have a pet that “needs a home ASAP” and want money are to be avoided. Period.
    Then there are the “fad” dogs, the breed that is popular for a few years and everybody it seems has one.
    The cost of keeping dogs and being knowledgeable about dogs is something most do not consider. I recommend that people watch Cesar Milan’s shows to gain an education. I have about 50 years of experience and Cesar is the most insightful about dogs and so many “trainers” will disagree. Trainers are mostly reward givers for proper behavior and do not address the real ways of a dog and how to live with one.
    Rescue people are often hoarders of certain breeds and do not “home” them but have a group of volunteers unaware that they are enabling a neurotic person. Time will tell though.
    I advise to not pay for a dog that needs a home even from “humane” shelters, you only are supporting executioners. All charities spend the donations on themselves and very little on the subject.

    1. Hi Bob,
      I’m glad I read your comments as we are looking for a dog (puppy) for my daughter and are trying to learn about the subject. The problem is that it’s very hard to find good breeders, especially if they don’t advertise. Do you have suggestions about where / how to find a good breeder? By the way, my daughter wants a Maltipoo which is not even on the list of AKC, and extremely difficult to find a breeder. We (parents) are suggesting golden retriever to her but not very successful yet.

      1. Hi Han – From Craigslist recently I got a wonderful Maltipoo (3 yr old & $350, MUCH less than the typical small dog on Craigs. or elsewhere.) She was located 100 mi. from my home, was dirty & flea-ridden, & appeared to have been bred excessively; I will have her spayed ASAP. I was “buying on the rebound,” having just lost a beloved old dog to seizures, but I made a diligent search & came up a winner! As I am old, I wanted a small dog (not necessarily a M’poo) that I can easily pick up in any emergency situation (such as seizures – lesson learned the hard way;) & healthy small dogs are rare finds in local shelters. To find (good??) local breeders, just google Maltipoo in your area – if it’s similar to my location, expect to pay $2000+ & be placed on a waiting list.
        Thru dumb luck, my new Malti is a total delight – well- trained, lovable & gorgeous. If you are careful, you can find a great pet on Craigslist.

  16. I am a foster dog mom with a breed-specific rescue group. I occasionally browse Petfinder and Craigslist in case there are any of my breed out there in need. Over the past couple months, I’ve seen multiple postings by the same person for the same nearly year old puppy. I wrote to this person to indicate that I may be able to help if they are simply looking for a good home for the dog, but I believe they are interested in the re-homing fee ($500 for an originally $1800 puppy). I am not interested in supporting the practice of selling animals on craigslist, but I am concerned for this dog’s welfare (if he’s been ‘for sale’ for months, I can’t imagine he is being treated as kindly as he should be) and have considered purchasing him to be adopted out through my rescue group. What are your thoughts on buying a dog through Craigslist for ‘rescue’ purposes?

    1. My name is Sharon I saw your comment on line I don’t know if you can help me or not but iam looking for a recuse dog a poodle not a puppy iam checking out shelters if you can give me any information I surely would appreciate it

      1. Hi Sharon,
        If you are looking to rescue a poodle, we suggest calling around to your local shelters / rescue organizations. Best of luck!

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