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Shelter vs. Breeder: What’s the Difference?

by Irene Hislop

07 October 2019

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Adopting a dog vs. buying from a breeder is a topic that can divide dog owners. Some feel strongly that with so many dogs in shelters, adoption is the most ethical option. Others insist that a purebred puppy who has never suffered abuse or neglect is a safer, lovelier pet. People tend to believe that however they got their dog is the best way. Both sides have valid points, but they also veer into stereotypes that are simply untrue. Shelter dogs are not vicious rejects likely to turn on you, and you absolutely can find puppies in shelters. Purebreds are not weak, neurotic dogs. Responsible dog breeders are nothing like puppy farms; they often have a real passion for dog welfare. The truth is that either route will bring a wonderful, lovable dog into your home.

But it helps to understand some key differences when you are debating adopting a dog vs. buying from a breeder. Both options have pros and cons. And both require that you do some homework and prepare well for your new arrival.

Buying from a Breeder

The main two benefits of buying a pup from a responsible dog breeder are that you do indeed get a young pup, free of bad habits and traumatic experiences, and you can pick exactly the dog breed that will best fit into your life. Being able to pick a purebred is not a purely snobby desire! It’s critical for people who need a hypoallergenic dog to know their pup’s ancestry. Dog shows are a fun, wholesome hobby and a great pastime for young people who love dogs. And some people have a real love for a particular breed based on their past experiences. It is perfectly fine to want a dog like your first childhood dog, for example.

The critical thing when buying a puppy from a dog breeder is to use due diligence to make absolutely sure they are an ethical, legitimate breeder and not an abusive puppy mill with a good front. The first step to finding the right dog breeder is to see if that breed has a club. If it does, contact the club and ask for a list of responsible breeders. Always check to see if the breeder is registered with the Irish Kennel Club (or the Kennel Club in Britain). These associations have standards breeders must meet for registration. Always meet the mother dog and see where she and her pups have been living. If the breeder offers an excuse for why you can’t, this is a major red flag. Puppy mills are notorious for excuses and will often offer to bring a pup to you – another large red flag. The mother should be confident and friendly, although she might be a bit reserved. If a breeder tells you the mother is nervous or overly protective of her pups, stop right there and find another breeder. A healthy, well-cared-for mama dog should not be uncomfortable with people meeting pups old enough to go to new homes.

How to Find a Super Shelter Dog

white dog laying on grass

Dog shelters are overflowing with wonderful, affectionate dogs who need families. It is easy to see all those sweet dogs in need and want to take them all home – but this is a major commitment and you need to be careful to pick a dog that you can live happily ever after with. First, research breeds just as you would if you were buying from a breeder. You probably won’t find a purebred dog at a shelter (although you might), but having an idea of what breed qualities a mixed breed dog might have can help you make an informed choice. Think about what age range you want, but also understand that it is impossible to verify a dog’s age if that dog has been abandoned. Think in terms of pup, young adult, mature dog and senior, and accept that a dog that seems initially like a two year old might actually be five.

Resist the urge to get the first dog that tugs at your heart. Establish your criteria before you set eyes on a dog and stick to them. That dog might be in the shelter precisely because someone else failed to do their homework or abandoned their selection criteria and wound up with a dog that needed more exercise than they could provide. (This is exactly why so many Border Collies, Huskies and German Shepherds are in shelters. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.)

The Process

The process of picking a dog and bringing it home is different when you are adopting a dog vs. buying from a breeder. But the main goal of each should be to ensure that you are prepared and understand the commitment you are making.

A good shelter will usually have some kind of screening process for people seeking to adopt dogs. This rubs some people the wrong way, but remember that tragically there are people who abuse dogs and the shelter has a duty to ensure the dogs are going to good homes that are appropriate matches for them. Shelters will normally also ask adopters to sign an agreement that if anything goes wrong and you cannot keep the dog, you return it to the shelter rather than trying to rehome it yourself. This is to ensure the dog’s well-being. Expect to pay a fee, and remember that the shelter has provided boarding, food and medical care for this dog. The fee adopters pay is sometimes less than what has been spent on the dog. It also helps care for the dogs who are harder to place and spend longer in the shelter.

Breeders might also have some kind of informal screening in place. When you purchase a pup from a breeder, you should get documentation including a contract of sale, microchipping certificate, vaccination and medical records, and for purebred dogs, Irish Kennel Club registration papers. You should also get advice on feeding and training your puppy.

Once you’ve decided what type of dog, decided about adopting a dog vs. buying from a breeder and selected your new friend, you get to move on the really fun stuff – naming your dog and discovering all the ways to have fun together.

Irene Hislop

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