Updated: Nov 28, 2022
If you’re planning on bringing a new dog into your family, you have some choices as to where to obtain one. Your decision should be based on knowledge as far as what the advantages and disadvantages are for each source.
Pet Store with Puppies for Sale
Most puppies sold in a pet store come from commercial breeders (also known as Puppy Mills). Many times pet stores will state that their puppies come from “local breeders”, which may or may not be true. But just because a breeder is local, doesn’t mean it’s a good breeder.
Pet store puppies will most likely have come from extremely stressful conditions. Research shows that stress during gestation and early development have impacts on a dog’s ability to learn, properly socialize, and are at an increased risk for anxiety, fearful behavior and aggression.
Additionally, commercial breeders do not treat their breeding stock as beloved members of their family. By purchasing a puppy from a pet store, you are allowing a business that treats their dogs like factory equipment to continue generating revenue and remain in business.
There are some pet stores that work with rescues to help place their dogs. This would be the one exception to not purchasing a pet store puppy, but be sure to investigate the rescue before moving forward with an adoption.
Dog Rescue Adoption
Rescue organizations are all independent nonprofit organizations. There is no umbrella organization overseeing them. There are some really fantastic rescues, and there are some that aren't that great.
Some rescues are made up by dog loving people who desperately want to help dogs find homes. Unfortunately, the volunteers running the rescue may not have a background in dog training and behavior, and might be unable to make sure that dogs and families are matched correctly.
Other rescues are very well organized, and will include volunteers or paid consultants who are qualified to work with dogs that have behavior issues, and can make a good evaluation as far as what kind of home that dog should go to.
Because rescues are all independent, their requirements for adoption and their fees will vary. Some rescues will require an extensive adoption application, references, and even a home visit. Some rescues will just require an application.
An advantage of getting a dog from a rescue is that most rescues house their adoptable dogs in foster homes. This is fantastic because you can get great information from someone who has lived with the dog for a period of time.
A downside with working with rescues is that most of them are run by volunteers. So, if you're used to communicating with businesses that will respond ASAP, a volunteer-run organization may not be able to communicate as quickly.
Adopting a Dog from an Animal Shelter
Just like with rescues, shelters typically are independent organizations and are not overseen by a large umbrella organization. This means that adoption requirements, adoption procedures, and other parts of the adoption will vary from place to place.
A huge trend right now is to only adopt from a so-called no kill shelter, and avoid going to a so-called kill shelter. This trend is very unfortunate because the general public does not understand what these words actually mean.
A No-kill shelter is not a never kill shelter. The industry-standard dictates that a shelter can be designated as no-kill, if 90% of their animals leave their building alive. Animals at a no-kill shelter can still be euthanized for such things as health reasons, or even severe behavior that does not make them appropriate for placement in a home.
There are also no kill shelters that take their names literally. These are shelters that will house animals for years and years regardless of their health or behavior status. These No-kill shelters are extremely inhumane. Animals only know what is happening in the moment, they don't know to look forward to the future. To house a family dog in a cage for not only months on end, but years on end is not adequately providing for their needs.
Shelters really hate the term kill shelter, which is something that the general public uses as a description. Most shelters that have a euthanasia rate of over 10% do so because they literally don't have a choice. Most of these shelters are what we would call open-admission shelters. They don't turn people away who need to give up an animal, even if the shelter is already full.
Shelters that have a euthanasia rate of more than 10%, are usually located in an area where It isn't common to spay and neuter pet animals, and where perhaps there is a different outlook in the community on what a responsible pet owner is.
Many of these shelters are involved in some type of transportation program, where animals from their over-full facility are transported to shelters that are under full. It's not uncommon in the northern states for the dogs you see an animal shelters to have been transported from another area.
When choosing a shelter from which to adopt, look for one where it seems the animals are treated well. Are the cages fairly clean? Are the animals given beds or at least a comfortable place to sleep? Do the dogs have toys in their cages? The better a shelter does at trying to meet the needs of their animals, the less stressed their animals will be.
Most shelters will ensure that the dog you adopt will be either spayed or neutered, be free of parasites such as fleas and ticks, and be up-to-date on vaccinations. Most will also make sure that the dog is microchipped, and some may provide a discount voucher for a checkup at a local veterinarian and/or local dog training classes.
One downside of adopting a dog from a shelter is that often times they may not have extensive information about that dog. If the dog was a former stray that was never claimed, there won't be information about how the dog lived and behaved in a previous home. Observations about the dog's behavior while staying in the shelter may not be accurate, as the stress of shelter living will impact a dog's behavior.
Purchasing a Dog from a Breeder
Ask somebody in the dog world what a responsible breeder is, and you will probably get differing answers. Some people are adamant that anyone who breeds anything other than a purebred dog, is not a responsible breeder.
I used to think this as well, but I have fully changed my mind about this over the past couple of years. Many breeds have such a small genetic pool to choose from, and because of this a lot of breeds are at risk for breed specific genetic problems.
There is some research that shows that mixed breed dogs are somewhat healthier than purebred dogs. Increasingly over the last couple of decades, intentionally mixed breed dogs have become fairly common.
Many in the dog community disapprove of the breeding of such mixes, as they don’t feel the resulting puppies will look and behave in a predictable way. I personally don't see anything wrong with a breeder creating mixed breed puppies, as long as they are practicing responsible breeding.
So what makes a breeder responsible?
A responsible breeder considers the temperament of the breeding pair. Dogs that have aggression issues or suffer from anxiety should not be bred.
There should be consideration for the health of the breeding pair. Every breed has specific genetic predispositions to health issues, and these should be tested prior to breeding. Ask for copies of the testing.
Increasingly breeders are doing genetic testing on the parents before breeding. Ask if this has been done and if you can get a copy.
The breeders' dogs are not just inventory, they are considered members of the family and live in the home. The puppies are also raised in the house.
The breeder should only have one or two litters of puppies per year, with each female only being bred once a year. Parents should both be 2 years of age or older so that they are physically mature.
The breeder should be welcoming your visit to their home where you can see the living conditions of the puppies, and encourage you to spend time with one or both parents of the litter.
The space where the puppies are raised should be clean. Additionally, there should be items in the whelping box such as toys, and novel items so that the puppies get used to seeing, touching and interacting with new things. Puppies should not have a sterile environment!
The breeder should understand the importance of good socialization, and make an effort to expose the puppies to people of all ages, other animals, different sights and sounds and experiences.
Bonus points for using the Puppy Culture method of raising puppies!
The breeder should extensively interview you and find out what your lifestyle is, and what you are looking for in a puppy. The breeder will pick out the puppy that will fit best into your home.
The breeder should not allow puppies to go home prior to 8 weeks of age. Studies show that puppies that are separated from their mother and littermates before 8 weeks are more likely to develop serious behavior issues.
Puppies should have been given a veterinary health check and first round of shots prior to going home.
The breeder should provide a contract with a guarantee of health and the option to return the puppy for a full refund should medical problems be diagnosed. The contract should also require that if at any time during the dog’s life the owner’s need to re-home, the dog should be returned to the breeder.
The breeder should be willing to answer any and all questions that you may have. This applies whether it's before you take your puppy home, or after. Many breeders keep in contact with their puppy’s owners for years afterwards.
If someone with a litter does not fulfill most of the requirements listed above, then beware. Breeding is hard work, and when done correctly is also expensive. Most breeders aren't in it to make a lot of money; they do it because they love their breed and want to create healthy sound puppies.
Stay away from breeders that sell puppies over the internet or through the newspaper. They most likely will not have done the health testing and socialization that puppies require. A good breeder will typically have all of their puppies spoken for before they're ready to go home. Some breeders even have waiting lists!
It's also not a good idea to get a puppy from somebody who doesn't know anything about breeding, but loves their dog and wanted their dog to have puppies. You might end up with healthy puppies that have great temperaments, but on the other hand you may not.
Avoid breeders that don't want you to see the space the puppies are being raised in, and make excuses as to why you can't meet the parents of the litter. If this is the case, the breeder most likely has something they want to hide from you.
Whether you get your dog from a rescue shelter or a breeder, don't just fall for a pretty furry face. Make sure that you are choosing a reputable source, and that you are being given good information so that you can make reliable choices.
Remember, you are choosing a member of your family, and should take the time to make sure it’s the right fit!