Shelter dog or responsible breeder?

Susan's picture

  It is that time of year when folks start thinking about adding a dog to the family. Schools almost out, the weather is nice for potty training a puppy and nothing is more fun than watching the kids romp around the yard with the family dog.

 Most of you know that I am a big fan of adoption. Every dog that gets adopted saves a life, even if you adopt from a no kill shelter, it opens a cage for them to pull a dog from a high kill shelter. I am not going to debate no kill vs kill shelters here. That's another blog.

 I also don't use the term RESCUE dog. Once you bring the dog into a loving home, the rescuing is done. I feel the term rescue dog implies the dog is some how a victim and while a few dogs in shelters may have been abuse cases, MOST are simply family dogs that were surrendered for behavior issues that could have been prevented with early socialization and training. That is one reason people are reluctant to adopt from a shelter. You will be taking on some one else problem. That doesn't mean it's a bad dog or that he/she can't be a wonderful addition to your family, just that some where in the past, someone decided they didn't want to or could not do the work required in owning a dog.

 Now lets talk about buying a dog from a breeder. Surely, getting a puppy will give you a clean slate and you are dedicated to raising your puppy right. Breeders usually love their breed and many have 'quality' show dogs with ribbons and titles and silver trophies. They will come with papers that 'prove' that they are of good quality blood lines and the breeder will tell you all about the wonderful aspects of owning this particular breed. Most people do some research on the breed that they like and believe the descriptions to be accurate portrayals of what their pup will be like. Some traits are general to the breed, but keep in mind each animal is an individual. Nature vs Nurture.

Where do breed standards and descriptions come from anyway? They are created by the breeders and judges who decide which elements they desire within each breed. How they look and what the personality, temperament is supposed to be, depending on tradition and current trends. Dogs that have those characteristics are then bred to dogs with similar traits and so all purebred Labradors are supposed to be great retrievers and swimmers, all purebred terriers should be tenacious hunters of vermin etc etc. The other consideration here is that these standards are based on the adult dogs, therefore your puppy may inherit some things but will need to be taught others to grow into the perfect example of the breed standard.

 What about mixed breed shelter dogs? Will they have one parents traits over the other? A blend of both genetic tendencies? If it looks mostly like a beagle, will it bark all day and chase rabbits? If it looks like a border collie, will it make a great disc dog or agility dog? Not necessarily and certainly not without training!

So what questions should you ask a breeder when considering buying a dog?

Can I meet Mom & Dad? your pup will have genetics from both parents, so you want to meet both and be sure their personalities as adults are similar to your expectations of your breed choice. Remember ALL puppies are cute, but some grow into monsters!

Look around!! How many dogs are there? Are they living in a clean house as members of the family or stored in kennels in a separate building? ASK how much socialization the pups have had and to what? How many humans handled the pup? kids? Men? women? Has the pup been exposed to dogs besides it's parents & siblings? Cats? Any other types of animals? How many and what types?

ASK if the pup is potty trained. By 8 weeks, it should be! Yes, in a new environment an accident may happen when you get the pup home, but if the breeder has done a good job, the pup should prefer to eliminate on the grass, not the carpet. What vaccines has the pup had so far? Read your contract carefully and be weary of any breeder that offers you a discount if you buy two pups together.Siblings are extremely challenging to raise and if they can discount the price, then the pups aren't worth the asking price any way! ASK if there is a return policy is if the pup doesn't work well in your family-will they take the dog back?

What should you ask when adopting from a shelter?

Shelter puppies are difficult because you can't meet both parents to determine what the dog may grow up to be like temperament wise. Some of the shelter pups may have been born in the shelter system. ASK if they were! Most shelters rely on volunteers, so ASK how many people have handled the pup and if it keeps it's cage clean.

Adolescent & Adult shelter dogs are easier to judge behaviorally mostly, what you see is what you get. The shelter environment can be loud, scary and distracting so be sure to visit with whatever dog you are considering in a quiet room or outdoor enclosure. If you are adding a  second dog to your family, make sure the dogs meet and get along well. ASK what the shelters return policy is if the pup/dog doesn't work well in your family-will they take the dog back? ASK what type of temperament testing program they use and what it entails. Have they tested the dog around children, cats and other dogs? Even if you don't have children, cats or another dog, the world is full of those things and your dog will need to be able to live around all these things and more!

Finally, ask if the shelter has other resources, like a training program, spay/ neuter or vaccine clinics or other support that can benefit you and the dogs of your community.

Where NOT to get a dog

Avoid craigslist or any other online dog sales sites. Never buy a dog that you have not met!!

Petfinder can be a great way to find pets available thru your local shelter.Never adopt a dog that you have not met, No matter how cute the picture is!!

Avoid buying that pet store puppy!!! Responsible breeders DO NOT sell to pet stores. Those puppies are produced in puppy mills under horrible conditions, the only way to stop it is to not buy and run them out of business. Finance a car, but never a living creature! Mill puppies raised in cages with no option to go on the grass are extremely challenging to potty train and have not been socialized. Many have genetic defects. Most will end up in the shelter system by their second birthday.