There are a number of things to consider when looking for a dog. First, spend some time researching different breeds that are available, and get to know the breed characteristics and requirements so that you can find a dog that fits your lifestyle. This is a really important point because it's easy to fall in love with a puppy – but what happens when that puppy is an energetic, 80 pound youngster bounding around your house? The majority of dogs who are in rescue programs are there because the dog's temperament and requirements do not match the owner's lifestyle – not because they are bad dogs in any way. And if behavioral problems do occur, they are often due to the same reason, that the dog's basic needs are not being met (and possibly also a lack of basic dog training). Talk to dog owners, read about breeds you are interested in, and talk to breeders. Visit dog parks and observe dogs with their owners and talk to them about their dogs. Do you want a dog you can train easily? Go jogging with? One that gets along with children or other pets? One that will guard your home? One you can keep happily in a small apartment? One you can carry with you in a handbag?
One good source for basic breed information and breeder listings in the American Kennel Club or AKC website. If you are adopting a dog, find out about her temperament from the owners or foster caregivers. If she's a mixed breed and you know the breed of either the sire or dam, or both, research their breed characteristics. Check the American Canine Hybrid Club if you are interested in a recognized hybrid dog that you can register. This site contains photos of all the recognized hybrid dogs with links to information on the characteristics for each breed that makes the hybrid.
The second point to consider is whether you can commit to raising a puppy, which requires more energy and attention than adopting a dog such as a rescue dog. If you are interested in a purebred puppy, bear in mind that you may have to wait for litters to be born and you might be waitlisted for a pup. If you are looking for an immediate companion, there are rescue or adoption programs for almost every recognized breed – and of course there are many fine cross-bred dogs available.
Finally, make sure you are prepared to give your dog the attention he or she needs – regular exercise, playtime, nutritious food, regular grooming, and a loving environment. Make sure you educate yourself on the breeds you choose so you know what to expect, and know you can make a commitment to giving your puppy or dog a good life, and have your life enriched by your canine companion!
I highly recommend staying away from "puppy mill" dogs. This kind of breeding facility is often impersonal and the health and genetic soundness of puppy mill dogs is often circspect. A reputable breeder knows the genetic weaknesses of the breed and does his or her best to breed out those weaknesses, whereu puppy mills breed for quantity instead of quality. A reputable breeder or kennel will also have fewer breeding dams, will not over breed their dams, and give their dogs and their pups lots of attention so they are well socialized when they come home with you. Serious breeders will be able to give you information on the lineage of the dogs and allow you to spend time with the sire and dam (if both dogs are available) as well as the pups before you are ready to take your puppy home. By staying away from puppy mill puppies you are in effect pulling your support from breeding programs that are often inhumane, unhealthy, and basically unintelligent.
Once you've found your puppy, depending on the breed and the breeder, you can expect to take him home between 8-12 weeks, though sometimes as early as six weeks. No decent breeder will separate a puppy from his dam and litters before 6 weeks, and many people consider 8-12 weeks the minimum release age. Although this timeline is considered optimal for every aspect of the puppy's development, its physical health is probably the most obvious reason because puppies are not born with an immune system – instead they receive antibodies from the mother's blood in utero and from her milk after birth. These antibodies are active for only a short period of time, however, and vaccines against common puppy diseases need to be given in the first few weeks of life. Your breeder will give you the puppy's custody history and you should go over this with your vet to determine the right immunization schedule going forward, and what other immunizations your puppy might need.