How to Identify Red Flags from Craigslist & Other Dog Classified Ads

If you want a dog, where do you begin to look? Breeders? Rescues or shelters? The backyard breeder next door? Craigslist pet community listings? You can find a real gem of a dog from any of these sources. But each of these requires savvy on your part so that you do not end up with a dog that is more than you can handle or is not a good fit for your lifestyle or goals.

This post will consider “red flag” descriptors that commonly appear on Craigslist as well as other classified ad or private party sources.

Flag Number One: Dog Aggression


Sometimes dogs are aggressive because they were not taught parameters when they were young. When you see an ad that tells you that:

  • “She does tend to get nippy if she gets too excited after being in the kennel for multiple hours, so it is best to let her run around and play before letting her out to cuddle or enjoy family time.”
  • “ He should receive private training as opposed to group training because he can get easily distracted by other dogs.”

Aggression can be an issue when there is an existing pack that has not been taught to play nice with others:

  • “New puppy not working out with older bigger dogs in the home. My bigger dogs are to rough and aggressive with the puppy.”
  • “He does not like adult males, but after few days will be better if the other male doesn’t any aggression toward him.”

Red Flag Number 2: Fear-based dog behavior

Sometimes aggression does not come from drive but from fear. This might be the result of poor or inappropriate socialization, improper training:

  • “She should not be constantly around children. She is very timid and scared and that makes her vicious.”
  • “He’s not good around strangers and prefers adults.”

Excessive aggression or timidity can be the result of the ways a young puppy was handled. Or it could be the result of separating a puppy from its mother and litter mates too early.


Premature Puppy Placement

I cringed when I read these three ads:

  • “Small breed puppies. Just born yesterday. Will be ready for rehoming in 6 weeks.”
  •  “He is a 6 week old Lhasa Apso puppy. He loves to play and cuddle. I work full time and don’t have time for him.” [Obviously this one was re-homed before he even reached six weeks!]
  • “I got her when she was four and a half weeks old. She does have some separation anxiety and likes to chew on stuff. She needs to have a couple of bones and some toys to keep her busy.”

I am sure that all three of the puppies in the last three listings will have issues such as separation anxiety, destructive obsessions with chewing things, as well as problems getting along with other dogs, inappropriate behaviors such as humping people.

Too many people do not realize the enormous impact proper socialization plays on the development of the mind of a dog.


There is no Substitute for Proper Socialization

NO puppy is ready to leave its dog family until he has reached at least 7 weeks old. Ideally, a puppy is 8 weeks of age before he sets out to make a new life with his human partners.

When the underlying cause of aggression is early separation, you will have a devil of a time remediating dogs like these:

  • “It will take good 30 minutes for him to get used to you and maybe get close enough to sniff you.”
  • “She is protective of her food and when challenged by another dog she will stand up for herself.”
  • “He needs a family without kids under 16, as he is very nervous around a lot of activity.”
  • “She needs a home without kids, and without many visitors.”
  • “Allie is an alpha dog, so she is very dominant towards other dogs.”
  • “I’m having a hard time with potty training and everything he’s chewing.”
  • “Charlie is not trained to walk on leash and is very fearful of it, so he needs a home with a securely fenced-in yard.”

Shelter Dog Behavior Assessment

Shelters and Rescues rarely know the background of the dogs that arrive at their doors. Each staff will vary in their savvy of dog behavior and temperament assessment. They may or may not have a clue as to a dog’s training level or where to direct the adoptees to appropriate resources.

An experienced dog trainer who has a wide range of dog breeds he or she has worked with can usually predict the type of behaviors one might expect from a dog of any given breed. For example, most Jack Russel Terriers are fearless, energetic bossy little fireballs. If you want a nice, sweet lap dog, this is not it. If you want a dog that loves to cuddle, you’d be better off with a scruffy little Brussels Griffon.

Knowing the breed can help match a person with a dog that has the characteristics, disposition and temperament best suited to that person. Staff at shelters and rescue may not have sufficient breadth of knowledge to direct a person to an appropriate selection. Also, often people are drawn to a dog that is not particularly well suited to them because they feel a calling to that animal.


I adopted a 6 month old lab-shepherd cross back in 1978. He was a fantastic dog, and we lived together for six years before a friend of mine adopted him from me. She sobbed, when two years after his death, she told me how much she loved that dog and how much she still missed him.

Sometimes you are not the best match for a dog while another person is the dead-ringer perfect partner. It’s okay to let go of a dog you just met or one you’ve known for years if his situation will improve.

When I was taking Wil to dog class several years ago, there was a young couple there who had adopted a wildly reactive purebred Australian Cattle dog from a local shelter. The person they worked with at the shelter knew so little about dogs, he thought this was a mixed breed. The dog was sweet in the kennel, but when they got him home, they found he was so reactive, they had to keep the blinds closed. They had to walk him on a leash in their fenced back yard. And when they left home, they had to leave him in the bathroom so that he would not tear up the blinds. They were a wonderful young couple who followed the instructor’s protocols and training program to the letter. When Wil and I last saw them—a year after they had started working with that trainer—the dog was finally responsive to them and ignored most of his former triggers.

Do you want to put that much elbow grease into a dog?

It’s okay to say “No.”

And it’s okay to say “Yes.”

If you read any of my books, you will learn that Wil made that little cattle dog look like Lassie. Wil was insanely angry, aggressive and bone-chillingly dangerous. He was not a shelter dog. He was a breeder’s dog. And he was mishandled and misunderstood for the first three years of his life.


I will tell you that most dogs can be remediated in the right hands. Even a novice dog owner – like the couple with the Cattle Dog—can learn how to reshape the mind of a messed up dog, most of the time… if they are 110% committed… and give 150% of their energy to correctly implementing the strategies outlined by a talented and competent instructor.

What I hope you will do is consider your choice carefully. In our next post, I will provide you with more food for thought that will prepare you to make a choice that will serve you and the new dog in your life well for your lifetime together.