Shelter vs Breeder


Photo by Mandi Pratt |

One of the biggest decisions you will make is whether to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group or buy a puppy from a breeder. Please choose not to support pet stores by purchasing a puppy from them – learn more about pet stores and puppy mills.

For those of you who are still undecided, find below the benefits and downfalls of adoption versus purchasing a puppy.

Adopting a Shelter or Rescue Dog
The stigma that all shelter dogs are unpredictable and come with behavioral issues is simply not true. Many dogs are surrendered to shelters because of a change in family situation, not because of the dog’s behavior, and may shelter dogs have already had some training.

The Benefits:

  • You are saving two lives – the life of the dog you adopt and the space that opens up for another dog in the shelter or rescue.
  • Most dogs will already have all of their vetting completed, including a microchip and spay/neuter.
  • If adopting from a rescue group, they will be able to tell you all about the dog’s personality so there are no surprises when you bring the dog home.
  • Many adult dogs are already potty-trained, saving you a lot of time and training.
  • Private rescue groups will generally take the dog back if the dog is not a good match.
  • Mixed breed dogs tend to have less inherited genetic health problems.
  • The love and gratitude you will receive from a shelter dog is unlike any other.

The Challenges:

  • If adopting a dog straight from a shelter, you may not know much about how they will act in your home. It is very important to know how to pick the right shelter dog.
  • You may not know exactly what breed the dog you pick is mixed with, although there are many purebred dogs in shelters.
  • The cost of adopting from a shelter is much lower than the cost of purchasing a puppy from a breeder.

Buying a Puppy from a Breeder
If you are considering buying a puppy from a breeder, it is important to choose the right breeder. You need to be sure that your entire family is prepared for the 15-20 year responsibility of raising a healthy, well-balanced dog.

The Benefits:

  • You will be able to see your puppy’s mother and see the environment they were raised in.
  • Reputable breeders will provide genetic health testing to make sure your dog is not likely to carry any inherited genetic problems.
  • You will have the opportunity to mold your puppy into the perfect pet—as long as you are patient and consistent with positive training.
  • You know exactly what you are getting in terms of breed—make sure you find the right breed for your family.

The Challenges:

  • There are millions of dogs dying in shelters each year. Rescuing a dog will save one of those lives.
  • Puppies are a LOT of work. Are you prepared for the guaranteed puppy woes--cleaning up accidents, whining, and chewing?
  • You are responsible for training your puppy, and an untrained puppy quickly grows into an out-of-control adult dog.
  • Purebred dogs tend to have more health problems.
  • Buying a puppy from a breeder can be extremely expensive, and you will be responsible for all its vetting.

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28 thoughts on “Shelter vs Breeder

  1. Bill Buell

    I'm sorry, but, genetic testing for heritible maladies is still science fiction for most breeds and the vast majority of inherited or potentially inherited problems....

  2. Tegan Whalan

    When people adopt from a no-kill rescue, then the dog was never destined to die. So does that mean that people should adopt from kill-rescues? It's frustrating to see 'to save a life' as a reason. There are many far more valid and positive reasons to adopt a dog from rescue - the threat of death is not one of them.

  3. Meticula Pedanta

    Completely untrue.

    Sorry Bill - even five years ago, you might have been correct. But there are now literally dozens of tests for specific genetic disorders available to responsible breeders.

    Please do not forget, cross-breed dogs WILL have just as much chance of inheriting a genetic disorder... of course, their chances are increased in comparison to purebreds, because they could inherit disorders from any of the breeds in their heritage.

  4. Meticula Pedanta

    Not that I want to control what choices people make... but I am a little concerned that this article has a bias towards promoting shelter dogs over purebreds.

    There is a study in the UK, conducted using the veterinary records of over 50 000 dogs, that interestingly provided the information that pure breeds are no more likely to be affected by a wide variety of disorders than mixed breeds - and concluded that unfortunately, mix-breed dogs are *more* likely to have some disorders (specifically, hip dysplasia and luxating patella) than their contributing breeds.

    It is a fallacy to claim that mixing breeds increases the health of the offspring... just to begin with, that is illogical, since each puppy has the same statistical possibility of inheriting the problematic genes as it would if it were purebred.

    You are actually statistically increasing the chances of inheriting a problematic gene, since now the puppy has *two* gene pools (with all the attendant 'good' and 'bad' genes) to inherit from.

    It is also a fallacy to claim that a shelter/rescue dog will be able to recognise it has been rescued, and therefore will be forever thankful to the new owners.

    To claim, "... the love and gratitude you will receive from a shelter/rescue dog is unlike any other..." is romantic and has emotional appeal, but given the behavioural science foundation of the Positively movement, I would suggest a correction is mandated.

    Further: neither of your pro/con lists warns prospective dog owners of the need to *thoroughly* assess the organisation/breeder from whom they are contemplating purchasing a dog. It is a given that they will encounter egotistic, somewhat unbalanced individuals in both these areas and forewarned is forearmed.

    Human nature being what it is, there are questionable practices to be found among either group; those looking to purchase a family pet will need to be very cautious in accepting any claims unchallenged.

    For example *some* shelters/rescues have ridiculous terms and conditions prospective purchasers must comply with - as do *some* breeders - and attempting to fulfill them can have a negative impact on a family's enjoyment of their new pet.

    *Some* shelters/rescues overstate a particular dog's qualities, and understate its problems - as do *some* breeders - usually from an altruistic attempt to place an animal in a happy family environment; but occasionally from dishonest motives.

    In summary: I am uneasy that this article makes some claims about shelter/rescue dogs that are incorrect; and that in addition there are favourable aspects of purchasing a purebred that are not mentioned at all, which results in inadequate information being provided to those thinking of adding a new member to their family.

  5. Bill Buell

    Wrong, genetic testing for heritable maladies are not available to all breeds. The test for PRA is available initially only to PWDs. The genetic testing is a "breed specific" issue. And yes, less than .02% difference in mixed breed incidence vs. pure bred dogs in regards to heritability issues.

  6. Joy Windle

    While most of your advice is good, I cannot ignore your repeating the old myth that mixed breeds are healthier than purebred dogs. The statistics may make that appear to be the case only because no one keeps statistics on health issues of the mixes. And a lab X GSD mix will not magically be spared something like hip dysplasia (a known genetic problem for both breeds) just because he's a mix. Additionally, the producers of the 'designer' dogs (aka mongrels) ask & get $2000-3000, not to mention the commercially-bred pups one finds in pet shops. None of them come with proof of genetic testing or health warrantees, as would carefully bred purebreds. Additionally, those breeders have evaluated & assessed the temperament & personality of the pups they produce and can guide the buyer to the right pup from those available. More & more breeders microchip & register pups before they leave their premises; many breed parent clubs (Borzoi Club of America, for one) include that in its Guidelines for Breeders and Code of Ethics. It's good conversation; keep it going!

  7. Meticula Pedanta

    PRA is a breed specific issue, you are correct, and it does occur in a range of breeds... but it seems you are stating the PWD is the only breed with a test available?

    There are several breed-specific PRA tests available, it is a useful strategy to contact a range of breed clubs, both in one's own country and elsewhere, to find out what research is being done and what tests have been designed.

    The various breed clubs - internationally - are sponsoring research into the specific disorders associated with their breed. New tests are available all the time, especially as more and more funding is allocated by the various interested parties.

    An American study of over 25,000 dogs* has the following Conclusions and Clinical Relevance statement:

    "Prevalence in genetic disorders in both populations was related to the specific disorder. Recently derived breeds or those from similar lineages appeared to be more susceptible to certain disorders that affect all closely-related purebred dogs, whereas disorders with equal prevalence in the 2 populations suggested that those disorders represented more ancient mutations that are widely spread through the dog population."

    And in a study of the Electronic Patient Records of not quite 150, 000 dogs in England** the most common disorders treated were otitis externa (an inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal), peridontal disease (inflammation of the fums and damage to the bone that anchors teeth int he jaws), and anal sac impaction (blockage and/or infection of the anal glands).

    The authors comment: "The most prevalent disorders identified in dogs within the current study were complex disorders that have multiple interacting environmental and genetic casual factors... It may be useful for canine health research to move away from viewing individual disorders as necessarily either inherited or non-inherited and towards an acknowledgement of relevant roles for both genetic and environmental components in the majority of canine disorders."

    Of course, even studies with really quite large data bases raise the question of the impact of basing a study upon only the proportion of animals requiring veterinary care, rather than the total population - which the English study quite rightly explores in some depth.



  8. Meticula Pedanta

    This list has a date of 2011 on it, Bill?

    Also - there are a number of different patents out on a range of genetic tests... I have found that looking around (and asking on the various purebreed fora what is newly available) will provide you a wider number of options than just going with one laboratory's offerings.

  9. aussie mom of 2

    Sorry never adopted a dog from a shelter I don't think I ever will, nothing against them but I have a mixed breed dog along with two full breed Australian shepherds. My mix has more health issues then the pure breed. I like knowing what in my aussie I pride myself in them, shelter dogs are awesome unless it's my neighbors she nuts. It's a personal choice. It's my choice to pay what I pay to a breeder for the dog I want and vetting yes I'll pay that, it shows I can pay for the dogs throw it's life. Many shelter dogs are returned because of moving babies money, no time. Also training is going be both ways, it would also be why I went to a breeder I wanted a puppy not a older dog.

  10. aussie mom of 2

    There is a lot of testing for breeds my aussie get mdr1 testing and shelters don't test for that because they have no clue. Mdr1 test could mean the life or death of a dog. They could be giving the dog a medication that they are allergic to and can cause damage or death.

  11. Meticula Pedanta

    Actually I *completely* agree with you in regard to the brachycephalic and other 'extreme' breeds - there are huge numbers of ambitious (and certainly delusional) show breeders who are absolutely determined to ignore the sheer bio-mechanical physics behind the outcry against such practices.

  12. Patricia Surratt

    It is cheaper and much easier to adopt directly from a shelter. Most rescues have a certain set of criteria, that prevents 70% of earth people from adopting. I have filled out several apps and never even been dignified with a response. I always adopt straight from the pound. Shelter employees generally have no problem with a prospective adopter taking a dog out for a visit or even a walk, at least my local shelter doesn't, so it is possible to see what sort of personality a dog has. I have even brought my other dog for their reactions. I don't have a problem with people who want to buy a purebred. I simply cannot afford the breeds I am interested in, from a great, reputable breeder, and I damn sure would not buy from a backyard breeder or puppy miller under any circumstance.

  13. Aardvark2000

    You make some good points. But you lose credibility with wild unsupported accusations. "PETA kills over 85% of the dogs it steals". Unless you can say how you know that it makes you sound a little crazy.

  14. jade addiline

    love puppys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Rivka

    Yes. But in my experience volunteering at a shelter, the puppies get adopted right away. While the adults are left there for much longer.

  16. Ybrik222

    I can appreciate the critical nature of your comment, but it's actually your comment that's riddled with fallacies. The so-called falacies of the original article are factual errors (if they aren't factually accurate; neither you nor the article has really presented any actual evidence to prove their point).

    For example... You say that to mix breeds would mean "statistically increasing the chances of inheriting a problematic gene, since now the puppy has *two* gene pools... to inherit from." There are a couple of possible problematic assumptions in this claim.

    First, you assume that having two pools of genes means that "bad" genes will be more likely to show in the offspring. But you yourself said that this wider genepool includes "all the attendant 'good' and 'bad genes." The assumption seems to be that the more dog breeds are mixed, the more the bad genes will outweigh the good (i.e., exponential growth). But if we consider all genes being passed on, this exponential growth doesn't work out. If bad genes had a precedent being passed on, then your point would have a precedent. However, that argument contradicts your claim of equal reproduction of genes. The other possibility is that one dog breed has more problematic genes than another, and that second dog would be better off not mixing with that breed. And I know that many matches are a bad idea; they can kill the fœtus and the mother. However, such a matter is highly variable and thus irrelevant to the abstract argument. Not to mention that animal instincts tend to lead to preferred gene matches... But that's in a natural environment, and dog breeding ain't all that natural.

    The second assumption serves as an alternative to the first (I provide this alternative because you didn't clearly lat out your argument's logic)... Uh... Actually... I forgot what that might have been, lol. Short-term memory problems...

  17. Jade

    I am looking for a specific breed. The rescues I am finding are listing dogs flown in from Asia (I think it was Thailand or Vietnam) and dogs brought over from Mexico. Is it really my responsibility to save dogs from halfway around the world? Why are the rescues here filed with numerous foreign born street dogs?That combined with the too young death from cancer and challenging behavioral/health issues of my last dog that was a rescue means now I'm looking into a reputable breeder. I have no moral obligation to rescue a dog from Asia instead of buying a local humanely and responsibly raised puppy.

  18. Amamda

    If the parent dogs are genetically tested negative then there is "NO WAY" that positive traits will appear in their offspring.

  19. JCKnight

    While I am not sure of specific numbers, it sounds like the right statistic to me. Feel free to look it up on your own, but PETA is the absolute worst shelter I have ever heard of. I love shelters and very happily work in a wonderful one. Both of my dogs, and my cat are shelter animals. I am a huge proponent of adopting a companion animal from a shelter. PETA reaps the benefit of their advertising campaigns but have actually been awful in the animal welfare field. I would love to see people look closer at their sheltering statistics. This article ( totals the number of animals they actually adopted out in the entire year of 2014 as 23 dogs and 16 cats...all year.

  20. Jasper Whiteside

    The manager at a dog shelter will have good insights into a dog's behavior and background. I remember visiting a pound once and falling in love with a dog there. We didn't end up adopting him, however. I would guess that if you could get a puppy from a shelter, it would be safe to say that they aren't there because of bad behavior.

  21. sean

    Thank you for rescuing him. It honestly brings joy to my heart and even tears to see such a sad story changed to a happy story and these animals deserve nothing but love especially by their pure, innocent, loving nature.

  22. Moe

    When you buy from a breeder, a dog that could have had a home and a warm bed is still left sleeping on a cold concrete floor and/or behind the bars of a kennel. Don't be selfish. Take your time, visit the shelters/rescues often, and ADOPT!

  23. Anna

    Thank you for this article and keeping this an open conversation. It is necessary for people to realize that there are options - all dogs deserve a home, no matter if they come from a shelter or a breeder. People become very sanctimonious and defensive regarding their personal preference, but there's no reason for that: if a person says that they will either have a dog from ___ or no dog at all, then whatever fills in the blank will give the dog a home, rather than no home at all.

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