You’ve finally made your decision! It’s time to hear the pitter-patter of little toenails on your wood floors again. You’re excited to expand your family and add a new fur kid to your brood.
Now that you’re ready for a new pup, your next step is deciding on where to start. Should you go to a shelter or a breeder?
Many people fall into one camp or the other on this question. I tend to stay somewhere in the middle.
You see, I’ve had dogs from reputable breeders and I’ve had shelter dogs. I honestly have to refrain from taking sides; since I’ve had successful, loving members of our family come from both origins.
For example, I had a shelter German Shepherd protect me like a top police dog when a bad guy showed up with evil intentions when I was home alone.
I also had an American Staffordshire Terrier that I adopted as an adult from a responsible breeder become my top therapy dog.
During her career, she brought joy and emotional therapy to hundreds of children in the hospital and had one of the most solid temperaments that I’ve ever seen.
A great dog can come from anywhere!
However, to help you become the most informed pet parent possible, here are some considerations on where you should focus your search for your new friend.
QUICK RECOMMENDATION: If you’re thinking about adding a new puppy to the family I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Puppy Primer. This book was required reading before we raised our service dog puppy, Adelle.
Contents & Quick Navigation
Getting A Puppy From a Breeder
While I got my dog from a breeder as an adult, this is rarely the case. Breeders normally are in the business of selling puppies.
Getting a puppy from a responsible breeder can be a great way to add a new furry friend into your home.
You just have to make sure that you find a good breeder who cares more about furthering the breed than making a quick buck.
Pros of Buying from a Breeder
- You can see your puppy’s parents and have a good idea what your puppy will look like as an adult. You’ll also be able to see the environment where the pup spent the first few months of life.
- You know exactly what you’re getting in terms of the dog’s breeding and lineage. No surprises!
- You will have the opportunity to mold your puppy as it grows.
- If you’re buying from a good breeder, the puppy will already come socialized, be comfortable with household noises and traffic, and may even know some basic training commands.
- Many breeders offer genetic health testing to confirm that your puppy is unlikely to develop any inherited diseases.
- Most breeders not only breed for conformation, but for solid temperaments. While this doesn’t guarantee your dog won’t grow up to be a nut, it improves your chances they will be a solid adult.
- Breeders are essential if you plan to take your dog to the show ring. They must be papered to compete.
Cons of Buying from a Breeder
- You’re buying a puppy. They are a lot of work, just like a human baby. Prepare for the perils of potty training and corralling little life forms whose sole purpose is to poop, pee and chew all over your home. They will also need to be fed multiple times per day and taken out at all hours.
- You are responsible for the training of your puppy. They are a blank slate; be sure that you know what to write on it.
- Breeders are usually much more expensive than getting your dog from a shelter. Depending on the location and breed, most breeders run from $500 to $1500 for a pup.
- Puppies need multiple vet checks and vaccinations during their first year of life. In addition to this expense, you will need to cover the cost of sterilization. This means that you could pay higher upfront costs just getting your puppy to adulthood.
- Finding a truly reputable breeder that cares more for about quality than quantity can be difficult.
A Word About Backyard Breeders
Anyone can throw a male and female dog together to produce puppies. This doesn’t mean that they should. When dogs are bred without the proper knowledge of genetics, you often get unhealthy dogs with issues.
Most backyard breeders don’t do any research on breeding. They just think that two dogs would pair well together and take it from there.
Novice breeders are also unprepared for the amount of work required to care for puppies and the cost of vet care.
They may want to watch the miracle of birth. However, once they have ten extra dogs running around making messes and chewing up the carpet, they get overwhelmed. These puppies often end up in shelters.
If breeders aren’t breeding to improve the breed standard, they are just adding to the huge pet overpopulation problem.
Puppy mills are commercial dog-breeding facilities where dogs are simply tools to run a business. I wouldn’t even put them into the category of “breeder.”
However, it’s important to understand this awful practice in depth so you don’t unknowingly support it.
It is estimated there are over 10,000 puppy mills in the US. Sadly, fewer than 3,000 are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. This means that a lot of abuse goes unchecked.
Many puppy mill owners keep their adult dogs in cramped, soiled cages standing on wire so that the urine and feces can fall through the openings.
They usually deny them adequate mental stimulation and physical exercise. Many never leave their kennels except to be bred.
These dogs are also not given decent veterinary care. They live truly awful lives devoid of kindness or empathy.
While the puppies from these dog factories come out looking pristine by the time they reach the customer, they start life in horrible conditions. Many puppies die before they are weaned.
Often, since there is no genetic guarantee, you will find some issues that develop as the puppy gets older due to irresponsible breeding practices, such as bowed legs or hip dysplasia.
The adult dogs often never escape; and may eventually be allowed to starve or are killed when they are no longer able to produce puppies to cut down on the cost of feeding them.
This practice is illegal. Yet, if you look at past cases of these operations that were blown open by under-cover agents or whistle blowers, it is sadly all too common.
Even if the puppy mill follows the rules, they are not required by law to treat these dogs as pets. They are only regulated – often very loosely – by the government to provide for their basic physical needs.
If you take issue with dogs not being able to live with a family, but simply living their entire lives in cramped cages used as tools to create a product, then please don’t use your dollars to support this practice.
Sadly, most pet store puppies come from puppy mills. Please do some research on this before buying your puppy from a pet store to ensure you aren’t supporting this abusive system.
If you buy dogs that are bred by people more concerned with turning a quick dollar than furthering the breed, you also contribute to that problem by rewarding the behavior.
If enough people stand up to this practice and they can no longer make a profit, they will stop this abuse.
Puppy mills are a horrible place for dogs to spend their lives. We should demand better for these poor animals than simply being puppy factories for the greedy.
What To Look For in Reputable Breeders
Thankfully, just as far as the pendulum swings left into the abusive puppy-mill practices, it swings to the right to the responsible breeders.
Some breeders I’ve met claim my highest respect due to their knowledge of the breed and their love for their dogs. To them, their puppies represent their passion and life work; they are not simply a product.
Good breeders won’t breed their dogs unless they believe they are improving the overall breed. They stand for high quality, not quick quantity.
A good breeder will have the following characteristics:
- They will encourage you to come to their facility and meet the parents and see where the puppies are raised.
- When you come, the premises will be clean, spacious and well maintained. Their dogs will be happy, friendly, well groomed, socialized family members.
- The breeders should be raising the puppies in their home and interacting with them daily.
- Good breeders should also have you sign a contract that you will spay or neuter your dog unless you plan to actively involve them in dog shows or working trials.
- They will ask you to sign a contract saying that you will return the dog back to them if you are unable to keep the dog at any point in their life.
- They continue to help after the sale by answering questions and providing support.
- They offer a written contract and health guarantee.
- They are very knowledgeable of the genetic issues found in that particular breed and show proof that the puppy’s parents and grandparents have been professionally evaluated in an effort to eliminate these issues from the gene pool.
- They are only breeding one or two breeds of dogs, and are very knowledgeable about their particular breed.
- They don’t always have puppies on hand. You don’t want a breeder pumping out puppies like a factory and not giving their dogs a break from parenthood. Good breeders will have a waiting list for their next available litter.
- They provide breed-specific enrichment for their dogs in the form of toys, activities and environment. They meet both their physical and psychological needs.
- They have good references from not only a local vet, but from other families who currently own one of their puppies.
- Responsible breeders are either actively working their dogs in sports such as tracking, hunting, obedience trials or agility, or showing them in conformation in the ring. They make their dogs prove their prowess at their desired event before they breed them.
- They will only sell their puppies to people that they meet in person to ensure they get quality owners. They won’t ship them off to pet stores and an undetermined fate.
- They should question you about your experience with dogs and your home environment before agreeing to sell you a puppy. They don’t just sell their pups to the first person with cash. They truly want their pups in good homes.
- They will be active with top training and show agencies like the AKC, and will often be on their referral lists.
While it may take some time to find a reputable breeder, it is worth it to support someone who is working to further the breed standard, not simply creating more puppies at high prices to fill their pocketbook.
QUICK RECOMMENDATION: While the information in this article can apply to any dog breed we do focus on Labrador Retrievers. If you’re interested in a Lab we highly recommend purchasing The Complete Labrador Handbook.
Getting Your Dog From a Shelter
In an ideal world, there would be no need for shelters and every pet would have a loving home. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats that enter US animal shelters each year.
While many of these animals go on to find loving homes, 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats are not so lucky and are euthanized each year because there is no space or money to house them.
Shelter Dog Myths
Before we go into the benefits and challenges of adopting a shelter dog, I wanted to address some common misconceptions about shelter dogs in general.
All Shelter Dogs Are Mutts
While it is true that many shelter dogs are of a questionable gene pool, this is not always true. Many people buy papered dogs from breeders or pet stores, only to decide later that they can’t keep them.
The Humane Society estimates that purebred dogs make up about 25% of shelter populations.
There are also breed-specific rescue organizations that focus on rescuing their chosen breed, such as Labradors, from shelters. You can also do breed-specific searches on general internet searches such as Petfinder.
Shelter Dogs Are There Because Something is Wrong with Them
While some dogs end up in shelters because of behavioral problems, most are victims of divorce, evictions, job loss, overseas deployments, or their families are simply unwilling to move with them or no longer have time for them.
Many owners are also unaware of the veterinary costs associated with keeping a dog, and turn their dog in after they become ill with a very treatable issue.
Some dogs end up in shelters when their owners pass away and the family is unable to take the dog in.
Shelter Dogs are Too Old
Yes, there are many adult dogs in shelters. However, there are also plenty of puppies. Dogs of all ages are waiting for their forever homes in kennels across the country.
Also, don’t discount senior dogs. If you have a lower-energy household, the constant attention, potty-training and chewing from a puppy can be a much greater hassle than a fully-trained senior dog content to lie quietly at your feet.
Also, the old adage isn’t true – you can teach an old dog new tricks!
You also may not be able to commit the 10 to 15 years needed when you take on a puppy. Adopting a senior dog will ensure you can have the joy of owning a pet, but not take on a 15-year commitment.
QUICK NOTE: We found our 10 week old Labrador Retriever Australian Shepherd mix puppy, Linus at the Carson Animal Shelter. Puppies are adorable, but a lot of work. If you’re thinking about getting a puppy make sure you first read a good book that teaches you the basics like The Puppy Primer.
Shelter Pets are Dirty
Many shelters have groomers come in and groom the dogs on a regular basis. Volunteers often also come to brush and train the dogs. Shelter workers also make sure the dogs are treated for pests like fleas and ticks.
QUICK NOTE: However, while some shelters are immaculate and keep their pets in great shape we have learned that this is not always the case. Some shelters and rescues do not have the funding to keep all their pets clean and well groomed all the time. Sometimes these dogs are the most appreciative when you adopt them and become wonderful lifelong pals.
Pros of Adopting a Shelter Dog
There are many good reasons to adopt a shelter dog.
- You are saving two lives. You’re saving the life of the dog that you adopt and the next dog that needs that space in the shelter or rescue by opening up a new kennel.
- Most adult shelter dogs have all of their vaccinations up-to-date. You won’t have to go through that expensive puppy year, unless you adopt a puppy. Also, shelters usually spay or neuter all of the dogs leaving their facility, saving you those extra expenses.
- It’s much less expensive to adopt than purchase from a breeder. Most shelters charge $150 adoption fee. This covers the cost to house and feed the dog, have them sterilized and microchipped, and have their medical evaluation and necessary medications. That’s a pretty good deal by today’s rates!
- Some shelters also give you a voucher for a reduced or free first vet visit.
- Many adult dogs have lived in a home previously and are already potty trained. Some may even have more advanced levels of training.
- Shelters and private groups often will take the dog back if it’s not a good match for your home.
- When you adopt an adult dog, you have a good idea of their temperament and size. With a puppy, their future is a gamble.
- Most shelters give a temperament evaluation before placing the dog. The staff can advise you of a personality that would best fit your family.
- Most hereditary issues show up in dogs before their second birthday. If you adopt a dog after this time period, you have less of a chance of having hereditary illnesses.
- While it hasn’t been fully proven, most vets attest that mixed breeds often have less inherited diseases. However, this isn’t always the case. Mutts can get dealt a bad DNA hand as well.
QUICK UPDATE: When we adopted Linus from the shelter his adoption fee was $37 and it included vaccination, microchip, neutering, and a couple dog toys. This was over 15 years ago. I just checked the Carson Animal Shelter website and the adoption fee is now up to $125 for a dog or puppy.
Cons of Adopting a Shelter Dog
- Just like people, dogs react differently when going through traumatic situations based on their personality. Some pooches just roll with the punches while others suffer emotional scars from their abandonment or abuse. Many shelter dogs come from very bad pasts. More sensitive dogs may require extra patience to bring them out of their shell.
- You may not know the exact breed of your dog. However, this is only a bad thing if you plan to show. Mixed breed dogs are just as smart, capable and beautiful as purebreds. In fact, one shelter is creating a fun campaign to celebrate the one-of-a-kind nature of mixed breed dogs – giving them unique breed names.
What About Puppies?
There are a few things you need to consider when deciding if a puppy is right for you. It’s a relevant consideration in this article, because you will almost always get a puppy when you buy from a breeder.
However, puppies are also found in shelters. No matter their origin, you need to be prepared for puppyhood.
Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before committing to a puppy.
- Do you have the additional money for vet care to keep the puppy current on their shot schedule?
- Do you have extra money to get the puppy spayed or neutered?
- Depending on the age of the puppy, do you have the time to take the pup out multiple times during the night, to let them out multiple times during the work day, to feed them 3 to 4 times daily, to help them through the teething process, to channel the youthful exuberance, to deal with extra barking, whining and general lack of maturity, and to invest in their training?
- Are you ready to commit to this puppy for the next 10 to 15 years or more?
- Will you accept the adult version of this puppy, even if they don’t grow into the dog you were expecting?
When you get puppies you are getting potential, but not a guarantee.
Make sure that you are prepared for the training, growing pains and costs associated with bringing a puppy up to become a well-rounded canine citizen.
There is no one right way to find a new family member. Buying a puppy from a reputable breeder or adopting a mutt from the shelter both bring different rewards and challenges.
The good news is that both options still get you to the same final place. You’ll have an amazing family member who will love you unconditionally for the rest of their life!
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: You can find a Labrador Retriever at the animal shelter or from a breeder. Whether you choose adoption or breeder you should learn as much as possible about Labs before bringing one home. There’s tons of information right here on Labrador Training HQ. And if you are looking for a good book we recommend The Complete Labrador Handbook
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Before starting her full-time writing business, Sarah worked with a top pet food company as a consultant to veterinarians conducting weekly classes on canine and feline nutrition for the doctors and staff.
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