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Shelter or Breeder?: Part 2

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Building on the last post, we will look at whether you should adopt from a breeder or a shelter. We will go through some of the pros and cons of each.

There are many people who think that adopting a puppy from a breeder is denying a shelter dog in need of a good home. Although rescuing a dog can be very rewarding, a rescue dog may not be right for everyone. Families with young children, other pets, or individuals with special needs will have to keep in mind that not all rescues will be safe for themselves or their families.

Often times the shelter staff doesn't know the history of the dog. They could be a stray, a run-away, or surrendered by previous owners. Even if the previous owners are there to surrender the dog, they may not always be honest with the staff about the history of the dog and its issues. Most shelters do their best to screen the dogs and test how they are around other dogs, cats and people, if they guard food or toys, if they are okay with handling, and if they have any obedience issues. However these tests are not always accurate and you might end up with a few surprises.

Many dogs come out of a shelter with reactivity issues or separation anxiety. A shelter is a stressful place for most dogs. They are in unfamiliar surroundings, constantly being handled by strange people, have other stressed-out and barking dogs around them, and have strange people coming by and staring at them in their cages or kennels. Although some reactivity issues can resolve themselves in a few weeks once the dog is removed from the stressful environment, there are a lot who need special training to get over their reactivity or separation anxiety. Be prepare to have to take a reactivity course or hire a trainer who specializes in separation anxiety to help your dog. Courses and trainers can be a bit expensive and the training takes a lot of time and patience, but the relationship and bond that you can develop with your dog while working through their issues can be extremely rewarding.

You should also keep in mind while looking at dogs in a shelter environment that you may not see their true personalities and dispositions if they are under a lot of stress. It can take weeks or months after being adopted to see their true personalities. Some dogs shut down and seem to be really calm in the shelter, and then turn into hyper and active dogs once they adjust to their new homes. Others may act out and misbehave under stress, then become docile and sweet when removed from the stressful environment. This is what happened with our rescue, Sophie. She jumped on us, pulled like crazy on-leash, and apparently was very mouthy with the shelter staff. After 3 days, she was calm, didn't jump or mouth and was very lazy around the house (and still is 4 years later).

There are a lot of advantages to adopting from a shelter as well. You are giving a dog-in-need a home. There are a lot of dogs in shelters that are well behaved, well socialized and have great manners. A lot of adult dogs have already been house-trained and chew-trained. Mixed breeds often have less health issues than purebreds and have better constitutions. Shelter dogs are considerably cheaper than adopting purebreds, and are already fixed and come with updated vaccinations.

You can adopt a mixed-breed puppies from shelters as well. You can usually avoid the serious issues that sometimes come with the adult shelter dogs by socializing and training them yourself from a young age. They are considerably cheaper than adopting a purebred puppy, and usually come with their first set of shots and are already fixed. However it is difficult to predict how big they will get or what their temperament or disposition will be since the shelter usually doesn't know what mix of breeds they are.

However if you are someone who has young children, allergies, or special or specific needs in a dog, a purebred dog may be the way to go. There is nothing wrong with adopting from a reputable breeder who does the proper screening and testing to keep their lines healthy and treats their dogs well. Purebreds temperaments, intelligence, size, coats, and energy levels are often very predictable which can help you pick out a dog who is perfect for you.

The draw-backs to adopting a purebred dog are that they tend to have more health concerns and shorter life expectancy than a similar sized mixed-breed. You will almost always have to adopt them as puppies, which comes with its own pros and cons which will be covered in the next blog. They are a lot more expensive: not just the initial cost of purchasing the dog, but they also usually need their vaccinations and need to be fixed. There are usually a waiting list with good and reputable breeders; you may have to wait a year or two before you actually get your puppy. 

I don't want to discourage people from adopting a rescue. Giving a dog with a rough start in life a good home is one of the most rewarding endeavors, even if (and sometimes especially if) they need some special care or training. However I do want people to really consider if a rescue is right for them. It can be more harmful for a shelter dog to be adopted by someone who isn't prepare or willing to deal with their special needs and are surrendered again a short time later, then to stay a few more weeks or months with shelter staff that know how to care for them till they find the right home. I also don't want people to feel guilty for adopting a purebred if it is the right choice for themselves and their families. The most important thing is to do your research, make a list of things you want in a dog, and take your time to find the dog who is right for you.

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