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Rescue vs breeder: which is right for you?

There are a million places to get a new dog if you’re in the market for one. Some, like petstores or huge kennels, are never a good idea. But when it comes down to the simple question of do I get a puppy from a breeder or do I get an adult dog from a shelter or rescue, there are definite pros and cons to consider so that you can make the best choice for your household. Pros and cons are not universal— some people are more flexible and have a less specific vision of what works for them while others need predictability; some people do not want to deal with puppyhood while others can’t imagine bringing home anything but a puppy.

Sometimes there is no clear-cut answer, but lets lay out some of the pros and cons.

First let’s look at breeders. There is a world of variation in quality of breeders out there, but for the purposes of this post, let’s just talk about people who are breeding with quality in mind– people who afrank081209bre health-testing their dogs before breeding them (hip certifications, eye certifications– whatever is appropriate to the breed), who are doing their research before breeding and who care where their pups are going and what happens to them.

The pros of buying a puppy from a breeder:

  • You’ll have an idea of the genetic lines behind your dog including temperament and health. If you’re looking for a mellow house-dog Golden Retriever, you probably don’t want to buy a pup from somebody breeding high-energy hunting dogs. And you always, always want to know the family of dogs that your pup is coming from are healthy.
  • While genetics are always a bit of a wildcard, you’re doing everything you can to stack the deck in your favor. If you breed a dog with good hips to a dog with good hips, chances are pretty good that you’re going to get dogs with good hips. If you’re buying a pup of a breed that is prone to seizures, knowing that none of his immediate relatives have had seizures is a big plus. Nothing is absolute, but the odds are with you.
  • You’ll get a lifetime of support. A good breeder is invaluable in the assistance and knowledge they can provide. Plus, it’s nice to have a cheerleader sometimes, especially through those teenage months.
  • You get a health guarantee. Good breeders stand behind the pups that they’re producing. But be careful to read the fine print to see what exactly the guarantee is.
  • A good breeder will have already started the oh so important process of socialization. Pups will have been exposed to different sounds, different textures, different people. Some will have already been started on crate training. They’ll be on their way to being well-adjusted, happy dogs.
  • A good breeder will take back a dog at any time, no matter what. Your pup will always have a safe place to land if something happens that you can no longer keep him, or even if he is simply not a good match for your family.

So what about the cons?puppy4

  • Good breeders don’t breed often (a litter or two a year) so you will likely have to wait.
  • It takes time and effort on your part to find and reach out to breeders to find one who is a good match for you and your family.
  • Good breeders can be hard to find, especially if you don’t have connections in The Dog World.
  • The pricetag. No getting around it. It costs money to do things right, so your pup will cost a bit more. Although the purchase price is still a drop in the bucket compared to the price of caring for a dog for his lifetime, the initial layout of cash can still feel a bit painful.

On the flip side, there are tons of good dogs out there in shelters and rescues who are there through no fault of their own. It’s a common myth that dogs in shelters are there because of behavior problems, but in this day and age, money, housing, and job changes are huge reasons for dogs not staying in their homes.

What are some benefits of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue?

  • Adult rescues are often very “what you see is what you get”, especially if they’ve been in foster care. You can get a good idea of what kind of dog you are bringing home, which takes some of the mystery out of adopting. You’ll know simple things such as size and coat type (it can be so hard to predict what mixed-breed pups are going to turn into when they grow up), but you’ll also get a good idea of temperament– is this dog good with other dogs? cats? kids?
  • Many dogs in shelters have already lived in somebody’s home and are housebroken and come with some basic skills. Training a new dog is important regardless because it is such a huge relationship-builder, but I’m always a big fan of pre-housebroken dogs, myself.
  • Most rescues will take back dogs that they’ve placed, again, for any reason, so if something should happen, the dog has a safe place to go.
  • You’re saving a life. Whether you adopt from a shelter that does put dogs to sleep due to overpopulation or you adopt from a no-kill rescue, you’re opening up a spot for another dog in need. Plus, there are simply some great dogs in shelters, and one of them might just be The Dog for you.

But there are also cbaltoons to adopting:

  • There are a lot of unknowns. You have no idea what kind of health issues the parents and grandparents of your new dog may have had. You get no health guarantee, and there’s no accountability.
  • With a puppy, you’re bringing home a complete wildcard. You might adopt a “Chihuahua mix” puppy and have it grow into a 30 pound dog. For some people, that’s part of the fun. For others, not so much.
  • You’re not getting a blank slate. When you bring home an adult dog, you’re bringing his history home with him. While a lot of behavior issues will be readily apparent before your pooch comes home, some are not. While a dog may not show issues in a highly structured foster home, for example, he may have some issues in your more relaxed home environment.
  • It can be a lot easier to teach manners to a puppy than to an 80 pound adolescent Labrador. Bad habits can be hard to break; it depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it.
  • Some rescues can be very inflexible in their screening. They want the best homes possible for the dogs in their care, and they have a very concrete vision of what that is. It can take some time to find a rescue that you mesh with. (Shelters tend to be much more flexible, but you lose the benefits of seeing what a dog is like in a foster home environment.)
  • If you have your heart set on a certain breed or type of dog, you may need to be very patient and persistent in your search. Some breeds are a dime a dozen in rescue, others are in much higher demand. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

 

 

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“It’s all in how you raise them”

How often do you hear this phrase uttered? As a pit bull owner, it’s one I hear all the time, and it drives me crazy. Because it’s not true.

Well, it’s partly true.

Luce's secret: She was adopted from the shelter as an adult.

Luce’s secret: I was adopted from the shelter as an adult.

A dog’s temperament and behavior are based on a variety of things. Genetics do play a part. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have all the different breeds we have who perform the wide variety of functions that they do. We have breeds who were designed to be protective. We have breeds who were designed to hunt and kill vermin. We have breeds who were designed to retrieve birds without damaging them. We have breeds that were bred specifically to be companion animals. In order for these different types of dogs to breed true, to be predictable, there needs to be at least some genetic component to temperament.

But that’s not all there is to it. While genetics might dictate a range of traits your dog might display, each dog is an individual, and socialization and training can help dictate where in that range your particular dog will fall. A dog who is genetically prone to being shy might not ever be a social butterfly, but with careful socialization, he can learn to be braver than he would have been if he’d been kept at home and not exposed to anything else in the world.

Socialization starts on day one. Where your dog comes from matters! Being raised in a home and exposed to all the hustle and bustle, the sounds (tv, doorbell, vacuum cleaner), the people (of all ages and genders please!), and the experiences of everyday family life will result in a different puppy than one raised in a cage or a barn, segregated from real life, rarely handled, and not exposed to all the different parts of the world they are going to encounter later on. A good breeder provides all different kinds of stimulation– different surface textures, different toys, different places. All of these things will contribute to a pup who is more accepting of a wide variety of circumstances later on.

Once your pup comes home, it is important that you continue that socialization with all different kinds of people– men, women, children of all ages, men with facial hair, people wearing hats– anything you can think of. You want them to experience different textures under their feet. Different places. Different (known, healthy, puppy-safe) dogs. Puppy class can be an absolutely unmatchable opportunity for all of this, but you need to make a concerted effort to continue all those things outside of that one-hour-a-week class. You also want to choose a puppy class in which vaccines are confirmed as being up to date for all puppies.

The important thing to remember with socialization, though, is that it needs to be safe and happy for your pup. If you’re stressing and scaring your puppy, you are working against him. Do not force him to do things he’s afraid of. Take his individual personality into consideration. Reward him heavily for accepting new things. Have strangers feed him tasty treats. Be upbeat and happy so that he will follow your lead and be less likely to worry. You don’t want to give him the impression that the world is a scary place– you want to teach him that the world is a really cool place where weird and unexpected things sometimes happen.

Dave: a pup who was raised right.

Dave: a pup who was raised right.


The puppy socialization window starts to close around 18 weeks. After that point, socialization is harder and pups are less accepting. But all hope is not lost! It is just a longer, harder process. Even adult dogs can learn to be more accepting of the world around them, of things they find scary. But it is so much easier to do when you’re starting with a baby puppy.

Training is another part of the puzzle, and how you train your dog matters. Dogs who are trained using heavy-handed corrections and punishment are frequently more aggressive than dogs trained using reward-based methods. Well-respected veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin has a couple of really nice books available with a positively, dog-friendly approach both to starting your puppy off right as well as for dogs of all ages. These methods are based on the science of learning, but don’t let that scare you! They’re user-friendly and practical and both books are very easy to understand and apply.

I hate the labels “good dog” and “bad dog” as dogs are just animals and behavior is just behavior, but often times the difference between the two is the owner’s ability to recognize a problem early on and their willingness to seek help from a professional before things progress to the point of, say, biting. A puppy who tenses up and holds his head over a toy or a chewie (or his food bowl!) when you approach is a dog who could turn out to be a biting resource guarder in the future if the problem is not addressed or if the problem is addressed with punishment. Resource guarding is a completely normal behavior in animals! But it is not appropriate in our pet dogs, so we work on changing their response to being approached.

Owners who learn to recognize the signs of stress in their dogs are given a fantastic tool in heading off problems before they start. A good trainer will be able to teach you what to do after you recognize that your dog is stressed, and how to change his reaction to that stressor, but not if you don’t know enough to seek help.

Dogs are so much a product of everything– experiences, socialization, training, and genetics. No part can be discounted, and no part can be fully blamed. “Good dogs” are born and raised and responsibly owned. No part exists in a vacuum.

Need more proof? Look at the dogs who were rescued from Michael Vick’s notorious Bad Newz kennel back in 2007. Those dogs were bred to fight. They were raised in the ways that would make them the “meanest” and the “baddest”. They were not nurtured or loved or cared for like a pet dog would be. And yet a number of them went on to become certified Canine Good Citizens; several of them are even certified therapy dogs! Something about them was right even when all was wrong in their worlds. And they were fortunate enough to end up in the hands of people who were willing to help them bloom.

Learn how to help your dog bloom. Learn how to understand him, how to work with him, and how to help him be the best that he can be.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Behavior, Breeding, Dogs, Puppies, Training

 

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