Should I rescue a dog or adopt a puppy from a breeder?
This is a hot topic with strong opinions on either side! At Red Paw Farm, we have extensive experience with both adult rescued dogs and with raising puppies so we hope to offer an unbiased guide to help you make your decision.
We want to make a strong disclaimer before you read any further. When we talk about the benefits of adopting a puppy from a breeder, we are assuming an ethical, reputable breeder whose goal is to better the health and temperaments of their breed. There are no benefits of adopting from an unethical/backyard breeder. Please see our post on identifying an ethical breeder (HERE) if you need help identifying a good breeder.
Benefits to Rescuing an Adult Dog
The reasons to adopt a rescue are often obvious… there are many homeless dogs who need a forever family. Shelters and rescues are bursting at the seams and unfortunately, overpopulation at shelters can ultimately lead to euthanasia of otherwise healthy, happy dogs. Anyone with a love for dogs must at least give pause here and consider how they can help.
Besides the tug on the heart strings, there can be benefits to adopting an adult dog or even a senior dog. They are typically less energetic than puppies or adolescent dogs, which is ideal for many families who don’t have the time or desire to exercise their dog daily.
And many rescued dogs make amazing companions and transition easily into a new family. Some even come already potty-trained and/or knowing basic commands. If you’re adopting from a rescue organization that utilizes foster homes, there is the possibility of learning a great deal about your new dog’s temperament, quirks, and preferences before even bringing them home.
Finally, in most cases, rescues are a less costly option than a well-bred puppy. If you are adopting a dog from a reputable rescue, you are getting a dog who is up to date on vet care and already spayed or neutered!
Possible Disadvantages to Adopting a Rescue
Still, it’s important to note that adopting a rescue is not without risks. There are inherent temperament and health risks when adopting a rescued dog. By default, dogs in rescues are almost exclusively not from reputable breeders. Reputable breeders work hard to place their dogs with families who are well-prepared to care for them and in the unlikely event that one of their pups does need to be rehomed, any reputable breeder will take that puppy/dog back at any time during his lifetime. Sure, there could be some odd exceptions out there, but for the most part, dogs that end up in shelters and rescues are not well-bred. Careless or accidental breeding raises the risk of certain health and temperament issues.
Let’s start with temperament
We have plenty of anecdotes to share from people we know in the rescue world— ranging from moderate temperament annoyances to near-death attack incidents with average people fostering and/or rescuing dogs. The moral of these stories are that dogs (just like any animal with a set of teeth) can be dangerous, and an unknown history and genetics increases the risk. In fact, most of the private rescues we are familiar with will not adopt out to families with young children due to the level of unpredictability of both rescue dogs and young children… often causing the “perfect storm” which can result in the dog having to be rehomed yet again.
A closer look: Nature versus Nurture
Temperament has a strong genetic component for dogs particularly with issues like resource guarding and dog aggression. (https://demarinisdogtraining.com/resource-guarding-in-dogs/)
We aren’t here to argue this age old question. We are operating from the assumption that a dog’s temperament is affected by both elements of nature and nurture. In the case of a rescued dog, the nature side (or the genetics) are typically unknown. Genetics matter… this is how we end up with different dog breeds to begin with. Border collies are very different from English bulldogs both in physical appearance and in temperament— their brains are just wired differently to do different jobs (i.e. herding versus some light guarding/loafing on the couch!). In a lot of cases we don’t know a rescue dog’s exact breed makeup- let alone his exact family tree. He/she could have come from a line of extreme resource guarders or a variety of other both positive and negative temperament traits.
Now let’s look at the nurture side of things. Ideally, a puppy receives lots of intentional socialization from his breeder and then goes to a home that continues him on this path — puppies need consistent exposure to other dogs, different types of people, and a variety of environments to develop into confident adults.
Many rescues have socialization deficits… a lot of them are in rescue due to negligence on the part of their past owner. We have seen rescues coming out of hoarding situations or otherwise cases of neglect where they were isolated in a kennel. These dogs have missed the critical socialization window as puppies and while we can make up for some of this lost time but intentional socialization as adults, some dogs never fully recover this socialization deficit and may struggle with being shy or reactive.
As far as the nurture side, we as trainers, do feel strongly that even a dog with a rough start (i.e. neglect, lack of socialization, etc.) can make huge strides. However, while we expect any dog we work with to make significant progress, we can also expect what we refer to as “sticking points.” For example, we have had a few fosters who HATE their crate with a fiery passion… we do not know their past history with crates (Were they over confined/neglected in a crate?). They may make incredible progress with learning manners and becoming more socially confident, but is possible things like hating a crate will be a ‘sticking point’ where it is tough to make much improvement because they have already had such a defining experience with it. With a puppy, you are starting with a blank slate in many ways so can typically avoid such ‘sticking points’ on the front end. Continuing with the crate example, crate training a puppy can be done in an appropriate way so as to build a positive association with the crate from the very beginning.
Next, let’s look at health…
Unfortunately, rescues can be a bit of an unknown with this category as well. An ethical breeder tests both of their parents for hundreds of genetic diseases as well as potential orthopedic or other physical issues like hip dysplasia, patella luxation, and cataracts. The list is *nearly* endless in terms of what a good breeder tests for. And they are typically familiar with their lines several generations back so even untestable issues like certain autoimmune conditions are often avoided by careful breeding over several generations.
Without a family history or appropriate health testing, there is definitely a risk when it comes to the health of a rescue dog. Many health issues will be apparent by the time a dog is an adult (around age 2), but some may not pop up until later on. Hip dysplasia, cardiac issues (like Canine dilated cardiomyopathy) and certain eye conditions are among the more prominent issues we have seen in our rescue.
Who Should Adopt a Rescue?
If you are a person or family who is up for not having total predictability when it comes to owning a dog and/or adopting an adult/senior dog past the most energetic part of their life appeals to you and fits best with your lifestyle, then adopting a rescue is for you! If you are simply wanting a family pet and willing to take on a little bit of risk and be prepared to help the dog adapt to your family, then a rescue dog is likely a great fit! Keep in mind, while there is some risk involved, there are many rescue dogs who have an excellent temperament and health!
If you are a family with young kids, a first time dog owner, or need a dog for a specific purpose or job (i.e. service work) then you may consider a puppy from a reputable breeder.
Benefits to Getting a Puppy from an Ethical Breeder
The main benefit of adopting a puppy from an ethical breeder is the level of predictability when it comes to temperament and health!
Genetically Sound Temperament
“It’s all in how you raise them!” is a statement often made to help people feel better about the level of unpredictability with a rescue, specifically with certain breeds that are thought to be more reactive.
But this isn’t entirely true- a simple look at the huge level of variety in the purebred dog world will show us this is not the case. This is how we have gotten the many different breeds we have today, each was originally bred for a specific purpose and many still are today. A shih-tzu is going to make a lousy police dog and a Belgian malinois would be a nightmare for an older couple wanting a lap dog! This is an extreme example, but even with the same breed, there are big differences based on what the breeder is selecting for. A Golden Retriever from a breeder who has working/hunting lines (i.e. a field golden) will have a very different temperament than a pup from a Golden Retriever breeder who has generations of therapy and service dogs.
A good breeder has a purpose for their breeding program and will be very careful to select the right parents. If you, too, have a specific goal/purpose for your dog beyond just being a family pet, then finding a breeder who aligns with this same goal will give you your best chance of success! Furthermore, good breeders will not allow any dogs with obvious behavioral issues to be in their program. Dogs with resource guarding issues or various other reactive/negative behaviors will be washed from the program and not allowed to pass those genes on.
So can a rescued dog have the right temperament to become a service dog (or other higher level working dog)? Yes! But, put simply, the odds of success are much higher when starting from a puppy that was specifically bred and raised for this purpose. So if you have a need for a dog to perform a specific job with anything from herding sheep to being a certified therapy dog for a retirement home, then you will want to find a breeder who selectively breeds puppies for this purpose!
On the nurture side of things, an ethical breeder will raise their litters with a huge emphasis on socialization and exposure to a big variety of sights/sounds. The goal is to have a puppy that is a confident “blank slate” when it comes to training. A well-bred puppy won’t come with any “sticking points” as mentioned previously, so you as the owner can shape his behavior and build positive associations with things like crates, skate boards, and other dogs from day one!
When it comes to health, a well-bred puppy is almost guaranteed to be a healthy for a long time, at least with the more common, testable health concerns. In fact, good breeders will offer a health guarantee/warranty. So while the cost of a well-bred pup is initially higher, the financial risk of potential future health issues is mitigated by a health guarantee and health-tested parents.
Puppies LOVE kids!
A final reason to get a puppy is that they tend to naturally connect with children. Puppies often gravitate toward kids because they sense the playful energy that kids have as they have more of the same! So it can be a natural bond that then extends as the puppy grows into an adult. If you have children and really want the dog to be bonded with them, starting with a young puppy is a great first step.
This certainly doesn't mean that an adult can't bond with children, just that it seems to happen more easily on its own with a young puppy.
Possible Disadvantages to Getting a Puppy from an Ethical Breeder
We mentioned that a positive of getting a well-bred puppy is that they are a blank slate… this is also a negative! They don’t know anything! They are wobbling into your house with a silly, baby brain ready to chew and flop and pee all over everything. You are starting at square one with basic training, so it can be a daunting task. The first year of a puppy’s life can be full of cuteness… and chaos as you are trying to teach them many things at once!
The first year is a lot of work. People who have chosen to buy a puppy from an ethical breeder because they want the dog to fulfill a specific purpose like being a service dog have even more work cut out for them as the first year is such a critical time for socialization. You will want to be training your puppy at home and taking him/her out in public several times a week.
If you don’t have the time or energy to devote to training and exercising a young puppy, then you should consider a middle-aged or senior rescue dog!
Flexibility versus predictability is really what the rescue versus purebred decision comes down to!
Who should adopt a rescue?
Someone who is relatively flexible on general temperament traits like energy level, prey drive, etc. They have some prior dog experience and feel they have the bandwidth to work with a trainer and/or navigate some minor training issues or behavioral problems on their own. They are prepared for some possible health concerns down the road as well.
They prefer the lower-energy level/exercise needs of a middle-aged or senior adult dog!
Who should adopt a puppy from an ethical breeder?
Someone who feels that they need a greater assurance regarding the health and temperament of their dog. This could be a family with young children who wants to prioritize their kids’ safety. This could also be somebody who needs a dog for a specific job and/or service work. A farmer who needs a border collie to herd his sheep is simply not going to have this need met by a bully mix at the shelter- even with a lot of experience and training. Similarly, those looking to have a service or therapy dog, might be able to find the right fit at a rescue, but the overall odds of success will be higher when getting a puppy from a breeder who has specifically selected for certain temperament traits related to the type of service work they need.
Buying a puppy from an ethical breeder does NOT mean you can’t still support rescue. You can support a rescue financially or through temporary fostering! Ethical breeding and rescue are not at odds with each other- in fact they can work together to both support a better future for dogs (Read More on this subject: HERE).