Adopt or “shop”? Some things to consider whichever path you choose

In the past couple of months I’ve seen an increasing number of questions from people wanting to get a dog or a puppy on diferent Facebook groups. Without fail, the majority of comments simply state “adopt don’t shop”, and it seems that many people equate the choice to be a shelter adoption or a puppy mill. That’s not the case at all, and there are good reasons why it might be the right choice for someone to get a purebred puppy rather than adopt. 

I have nothing against adopting a dog – we considered it when getting a second dog but it wasn’t the right choice because of our existing dog’s temperament, I have also fostered a dog that needed re-homing and I’ve watched several friend’s experiences with rescue dogs.

Getting a dog is choosing a partner in life, and it changes everything – I believe that choice should be made with a solid understanding of the pros and cons of the decision, whichever way you go, so I’ve compiled some information for people considering a dog. It’s difficult to explain everything in a single comment and these questions are now so frequent I thought it might be useful to do it like this. 

Warning: this is a LONG post, because it’s a complex question. If you want to skip to any particular part, here’s what you’ll find below:

  1. The adoption stories you don’t hear – the less rosy side
  2. Adopting a dog is not without risk – aka how things could go wrong
  3. What a good breeder does
  4. The benefits of a good breeder in a nutshell
  5. Signs of a good breeder
  6. Some questions to ask from a potential breeder
  7. Whether you choose adoption or purebred puppy, start by considering the breed
  8. If you choose to get a puppy, this is how you can find a good breeder

The adoption stories you don’t hear

Many, if not most, adopted dogs settle well into their new homes – these are the stories you’ll hear when people say adopt don’t shop. What you don’t hear about is stories like this:

  1. A friend of mine adopted a staffie mix who was so badly abused as a puppy all the other puppies were euthanized, and she was only saved by being so frozen in fear she looked sane. Fast forward 3 years, she did not visit her home country in that whole time because the dog cannot be looked after by anyone else due to fear aggression – only one dog daycare will accept her because of her issues, and my friend had little social life and limited career opportunities because she could not travel or even do overnight work trips. She walked her dog at 6am and late at night to avoid meeting people. 
  2. A friend adopted a hunting spaniel who had been kept on a chain in a yard for the first 2 years of his life. He wasn’t house trained, and it has taken 2 years of work to calm him down, and he is still reactive towards strangers. 
  3. Another friend rehomed a setter who had been used as a hunting dog – the most beautiful dog and gentle character, but she had NO idea how to behave in the house and no recall whatsoever. It took my friend more than two years to get to a point where living with her dog was a pleasure. Of course, the work was worth it, but if she had not been an experienced dog trainer it would have been a different story. 
  4. A friend of a friend adopted a street dog rescue from abroad – a year later, she was on the verge of a breakdown because of the amount of money she had spent on behaviourists to manage various problematic behaviours.
  5. I also rehomed a dog, and although he was the sweetest dog when staying with us, he had serious issues with reactivity and possession with his new owners who needed to consult 2 separate trainers to work on the issue – it took them 4 months to get to a good place. The reason he was fine when staying with us was probably due to a different dynamic – 2 other dogs in the house meant he knew his place, but as the only dog he behaved differently. He had a great start in life at the same breeder as our puppy (he was the same litter as our puppy’s mother), the first owners made many mistakes that now need a lot of work (money,  time, skill, effort) to be fixed. 

Beyond personal anecdotes, the dog behaviourist we have worked with has commented on a couple of occasions that foreign rescue dogs keep her in steady business because they have so many issues. 

The question is not whether adopting is a good thing to do or not – it absolutely is a good deed.

But no one should make that decision simply based on virtue, you need to be prepared for what might come your way and seriously consider if you are up for the job – do you have the time, money and interest if you need to do a considerable amount of work with your dog? It’s not the right choice for everyone, and the reasons are varied. 

Adopting a dog is not without risk

A dog may look healthy at the time of adoption, but you do not know what their background is and they might get serious health issues later. 

You don’t know what their puppyhood was like, nor the mother’s health during pregnancy – if the mother is stressed, the puppies are impacted by it and tend to be more prone to anxiety, which will be very difficult, if not impossible, to fix with a behaviourist later on in life, and same goes for poor quality nutrition while the puppies are in the womb and in the first months of their life (these issues can take years to emerge). Read more here, including an example of puppies born to a street dog mother. These same issues apply to dogs bought from puppy mills, so the solution isn’t as easy as just getting a puppy instead. Here is some research on the impact of puppy mills is on what the dogs are like as adults:

A review of 7 published studies and 1 anecdotal report involving dogs born in high-volume commercial breeding establishments and sold to the consumer directly via the Internet or indirectly through retail pet stores revealed an increased incidence of behavioral and emotional problems that cause distress in adulthood compared with dogs from other sources, especially noncommercial breeders. The most consistent finding among studies is an increase in aggression, which is most commonly directed toward the dog’s owners and family members but also to unfamiliar people, and other dogs. Increased fear was also identified in response to unfamiliar people, children, other dogs, nonsocial stimuli, and when taken on walks. Undesirable behaviors related to separation and/or attention seeking and a heightened sensitivity to touch have been reported. (Full research here)

There are lots of misconceptions about what a breeder does and what their motivations are, so I’ll briefly explain why you need to “pay” for a puppy and what the price is based on. 

Before I get into that, this is what a puppy mill looks like: https://www.rover.com/blog/spot-puppy-mill-puppy-mill-ad/

What a good breeder does

A responsible, conscientious breeder is usually doing it because they absolutely love the breed and want other people to have the experience of owning one. 

Hundreds of hours of work goes into a litter of puppies – starting from finding a stud, taking your bitch to a vet for health checks several times, sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres to a stud dog, caring for the mother during pregnancy, fielding inquiries from people interested in the puppies and caring for the puppies for the first 8 weeks of their life. 

Those 8 weeks are crucial and form the basis of the health and wellbeing of the dog – a good breeder will make sure the puppies are socialised to people, used to sounds and events in a normal family home including car trips as well as take them to the vet for several vaccinations and health checks. They also need constant supervision and care – not to mention emotional toll when sometimes puppies don’t make it past the first week or two. A great breeder will also have early learning activities which are incredibly important – read more about them here:

A good breeder will vet potential new owners and will not let you choose a puppy – they should ideally choose one for you, based on their knowledge of the puppy’s temperament and the fit with your household. 

A good breeder also wants to stay in touch with you once the puppy leaves, and be available as support for the first year of the dog’s life. They should also be prepared to take the dog back at any time during its life – this is why dogs from good breeders should not end up at a shelter. This is usually written in a puppy contract which, while not legally enforceable in practice, covers a lot of things from care and liability to your agreement to return the dog to the breeder if you decide to give it up for any reason at all. 

The benefits of a good breeder in a nutshell

In theory, you should get a dog whose parents have been health tested for any conditions known to be common in that breed – you can and should ask for certificates, and do your research in advance what these conditions might be. By asking for this, you encourage good practice of breeding healthy dogs. While nothing is guaranteed, this should at least stack the odds in your favour of having a healthy dog for most of its life. 

You should also get a puppy who has had only positive experiences until that point in its life, creating a balanced and secure basis for you to start your work with them. 

You get free support from someone who not only knows your dog personally, but also knows its parents (or at least one of them) and can advise you on any issues. 

Here are some examples of a good breeder and their website (I have no connection to them, I just came across their website in my research process):

Signs of a good breeder

  • The breeder will greet you in their house and not somewhere else.
  • The puppies will live in the house and be handled often, as pet who is born into family life has a better shot at growing up relaxed and friendly.
  • The parents will be on site, and you will be able to meet them, meeting the father may not be possible, but you should certainly meet the mother.
  • The place is clean and safe, and that they’re supplied with fresh water, beds, and toys. 
  • The parents’ health clearances will be available for you and parent and grandparent dogs were tested for hereditary problems
  • The puppies will be genetically tested or come with a health guarantee
  • The breeder will show knowledge of the breed, and be honest about its advantages and drawbacks, whether that means a tendency to develop certain health problems or a temperament
  • The breeder will take the dog back if you are unable to care for it.
  • The breeder will insist on keeping the puppy until it is at least 8 weeks old with his first round of vaccinations
  • The breeder will be available for assistance after you take your puppy home and offer guidance for the care and training
  • The breeder has participated in shows or competitions, showing that the breeder is motivated by enthusiasm for the breed

Some questions to ask from a potential breeder

  • Did the vendor breed the puppies themselves?
  • Can you meet the mother and father of the puppies?
  • How old are the mother and father?
  • Have the mother and father of the puppies had any health issues?
  • How inbred are the puppies? E.g. do any of the same dogs appear both on the mother and the father’s side of the pedigree? More specifically, breeders of pedigree dogs should know about co-efficients of inbreeding (COI). The more inbred, the higher the risk of health issues. You can check a Kennel Club registered dog’s COI on the Kennel Club website, which also gives the breed average COI. If a lot higher than the average, walk away.
  • What health checks and tests were done on her parents and grandparents, are they appropriate for the breed, and can this be verified with documentation?
  • Specifically, what vaccines has she been given?
  • Has she been microchipped and registered?
  • Has she been treated for parasites (fleas and worms), and what, precisely, was used?
  • Has she already been checked by a vet, and is there evidence of this?
  • How much socialisation has she enjoyed since she was born? Ideally you are looking for puppies that have been raised in a household where they have been introduced to everyday life/children/other pets. If kennelled, what efforts has the breeder made to do this?

Breeders should be willing to answer any questions you have and should ask many of you as well.

Importantly, a good and responsible breeder will also want to know about the kind of home their puppies go to, so you should ask what requirements do you have of people looking to get one of the puppies. A good breeder should also have expectations of you and will ask about your living situation, your household, your purpose for getting a dog and your experience with dogs or with the breed. 

Sources for the tips above – adapted and summarised:

Whether you choose adoption or purebred puppy, start by considering the breed

Go beyond looks and consider things like exercise requirements – but also whether you want a more aloof, independent dog or a more sociable dog that might be very attached to you. You are choosing an intimate life partner for a decade or more so choose wisely! Even if you choose to adopt, it’s important to consider

Good sources of information include: 

When you’ve narrowed down a short list of breeds that might suit your lifestyle and personality, dig deeper into each one through national kennel club websites and breed association websites. In the Netherlands, you can find them here. Their website is really good in general for information about dogs, 

If you choose to get a puppy, this is how you can find a good breeder

I will use the Netherlands as an example, but other countries are likely to be similar. Start from Raad van Beheer (kennel club) website and look up breeders – another option is to contact a breed association and ask them for recommendations. 

In general, the Dutch Kennel Club is a great source of information. For example, they keep a record of health tests on parents online, and explain the benefits of a well-bred dog. The kennel club has a lot of regulations for a breeder to be registered and they do home checks for enforcement, as well as mandatory DNA checks on puppies

These are some of the rules for a breeder:

  1. A bitch must not be mated before the day on which she reaches the age of 16 months.
  2. A bitch, from which no puppies have been born before, must not be mated after the day on which she reaches the age of 72 months.
  3. A bitch, from which puppies have been born before, may no longer be mated after the day on which she reaches the age of 96 months. * (see below the adjustment as of 17-04-2020 to 108 months)
  4. A bitch may no longer be mated after the day her fifth litter is born.
  5. A bitch may not be covered if this coverage means that there is no period of at least 12 months between the births of two consecutive litters of this bitch.

These rules and LOTS more can be found here.

If you find a breeder who is not willing to register the puppies, that should be a red flag – it could mean they have broken some of these rules and therefore the puppies cannot be registered. Information on pedigree dogs here and here.

There are also breed association specific health regulations.

Additional information on breeding of short snouted dogs – these dogs will often have health issues, and as trendy/fashionable breeds they have attracted a lot of poor breeders for the money.

If you’ve got this far… well done and good luck 🙂

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