Choosing a Dog Part One: Adopt or Buy?

adorable lab puppy

Choosing a dog can be tough, whether you are an experienced dog person or a potential first time dog owner. There are both ethical and practical implications. During the next few weeks I am going to go over these issues and provide you with some advice and homework (for when you are looking.)

Buy or adopt?

Buying a “pure breed” dog as opposed to adopting from a shelter or rescue can be a contentious issue. I think a lot of this contention comes from not fully understanding why someone might want one instead of the other. I also think people conflate getting a “purebred” dog with getting a puppy mill dog.


I am going to leave the ethics of breeding out of this post and stick with what’s relevant to someone who wants to get a dog. Why would you buy rather than adopt?

If you can find a reputable breeder and if you can find the right dog through her, you may have a better chance at getting a dog that suits your lifestyle.

Those are two big ifs, and only an average-sized may. There are no guarantees, but if you are working with a good breeder, you and the puppy should have a good safety net. Two healthy dogs with solid temperaments have a good chance of producing a healthy litter with solid temperaments.

If the above reads a little more lawyer-like and cautious than I normally sound, that’s because it’s supposed to. I think the “predictability” of purebred dogs is oversold, and there is no sign that health problems from overbreeding are going away as breeders pile on more and more genetic tests. (I’ll curb my rant there.)

What is a reputable breeder? To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, you’ll know it when you see her. Rather her than try to define one, I’ll tell you how to find one: talk to local trainers, groomers, and veterinarians. Find an obedience club and talk to the people there, since they are probably working with primarily purebred dogs, and they’ll know where the good temperaments come from. A “reputable” breeder should have a good reputation.

Reputable breeders don’t sell online and don’t ship you a dog after taking your credit card number via a web page or over the phone. They may have a web site, but buying a puppy should be a process, not a transaction. Buying a puppy from a good breeder should be more time-consuming than buying an automobile.

No reputable breeder sends her dogs to a pet store to live in crates or cages. Don’t believe it. A reputable breeder also doesn't use eBay, which has recently reaffirmed their intention to help puppy mills sell puppies online. Check out Mary Haight's coverage of eBay's puppy mill aid over here.


Adopting is generally easier and cheaper, if that’s a consideration. There are many, many, dogs and puppies in need of homes, and finding one is as easy as going to the local big box pet supply store or browsing to Petfinder.

The risk, especially with rescue puppies, is you know even less about their temperament or health issues than you do with a purebred. This isn’t to say that rescues aren’t a good option — in the next post I’ll explain one of the best ways to stack the deck in your favor.

Here again, doing your homework can help. Talk to local trainers, groomers, and veterinarians about rescues or shelters in the area. Find one that is willing to take a dog back if things don’t work out. Not because you think you might have to do so, but because if they are willing to make this guarantee, then chances are they will make an effort to match you up with a dog that suits your lifestyle. Rescues and shelters that are willing to (many of the best ones insist upon) taking the dog back if for any reason you no longer want or can keep her truly care about their dogs. (This by the way, is true of the best breeders too.)

You may be able to find a “breed rescue” that rescues the breed of dog you are interested in, or you may get lucky and find a dog that is close enough to your favorite breed in a rescue.

So Which One?

I feel this really is a personal decision. While I favor rescues myself, I can see why some people may want the (relative) security of a purebred dog or wish a specific breed badly enough that they wish to get one from a breeder.

Next week: puppy or adult dog?


For many years, I never understood why someone would ever buy a purebred dog from a breeder when there are so many wonderful dogs already waiting for homes.

But after about 20 years with 2 different "dog reactive" dogs, I was ready to stack the decks in my favor. Just once, I wanted a break from managing situations and to start off on the right foot--to raise a dog from the very beginning to be comfortable with other dogs and people because she was well-socialized from the beginning.

This would open up doors for me to do fostering, or puppy raising, or helping other people with their pets. So I decided to find an excellent breeder that would give my new dog her best start in life. And I chose a breed whose characteristics (although not a guarantee) indicated she would be friendly to all--a Golden Retriever.

So far, I'm very pleased with the results. And I have so many opportunities open to me that weren't with previous dogs (as much as I loved them, they were not easy dogs to have in the city).

I wrote about my experience finding and working with a responsible hobby breeder as part of my reaction to Ebay's classified ads for puppies. I know some people don't like to see self-promoting links in comments so feel free to strip this out. But I thought some folks who have never adopted from a breeder might like to see how it's supposed to work.

Honey will probably be my first and only dog from a breeder. But I'm glad for the experience. Having an "easy" dog has been an excellent learning experience for me.

Thank you for posting on this topic, Eric. I expect you'll get some push back because people are very passionate on this issue.



i stand firmly in the adoption camp for myself, and recommend it for most others. unless you need a purpose bred dog:you own sheep and need a well bred border collie; you hunt and need a proven gun dog or tracker, etc, adoption has all the options. there are too many happy, healthy dogs out there that deserve good homes, many of them "purebred".

 when i became addicted to agility, i wanted the ferrari of dogs. ( i had been running my mixed breeds for 3+ yrs. and yes,  i still run 1 of them) i went to the dark side- a border collie. i was able to adopt form a breed rescue a wonderful yearling. i would do it again in a heartbeat. for almost any breed i can think of, there is a breed rescue. you just have to do your homework. i know i'm pretty much preaching to the choir here, but for most of the american public, adoption should be the choice.

and just to start a firefight, i  believe the security of a purebred has been reduced to myth as the akc is no longer for dogs.

I have always in the past preferred rescues - but this time, my husband & I opted to purchase through a breeder. I took a fair amount of flack for it - but it was the right decision for us at this point.

We had specific needs and considerations - we travel between 2 homes, 1 with a large yard and lots of room to run and the other in a city with a postage stamp sized lot (and tenants sharing the house, to boot).  Plus, we have different tolerances for behaviour - I am willing to put up with/work through/deal with a lot more than hubby is... but he's the one that's home more... so to take a rescue with a good possibility of issues of some sort because I wanted to - but then to expect him to deal with them - just would not have been smart.

In an ideal world, we would have found a dog that would suit through a shelter - and we did try - but when there wasn't even a single possibility in several weeks of visits....

I couldn't keep going to shelters - it was breaking my heart to leave all those poor dogs behind.

Hi Eric:

I know that most feel very strongly about this topic.  For me, it's hard to even consider buying a dog unless I'm buying one as a rescue.

I've rescued all of my dogs from shelters and breed sprecific organizations.  I've had two dobermans - one came from the shelter at the age of six and lived to be a whopping 14 and she was a big girl with long legs.  My current dobie was 2 when I rescued her from the dobie rescue locally and although I never pursued it, there is no doubt that she would have been great at agility. 

My personal opinion is that <b>all</b> dogs are a product of their environment, hoever, this doesn't mean that they can't be reconditioned though. 

My feelings are that breeders can't match up a dog to anyone's individual personality or lifestyle -- the bloodlines of their parents and the history of the breed are the only reliable factors when getting a dog from a breeder, nothing more.

25% of dogs that arrive in shelters are pure bred.  Again, I have always adopted and rescued dogs and every one of these dogs has adjusted to our life style.  Dogs are so in tune with their owner's emotions and they react to those emotions alone.  They're always looking to us to see what we want from them

~ Janie


My husband and I had thought long and hard about this topic and I had initially mixed feelings about adopting, having purchased dogs in my past as puppies and not really wanting one with a "history".  Clean slate preferred, I thought.

We visited a shelter that I was referred to by a pet store one morning, just to check out dogs and I came across a 10 month old Chihuahua that (of course) I fell in love with.  We didn't rescue him straight away but arranged a meet and greet and after a little consideration (being condo dwellers), we came back the following week because we liked the fact that he didn't seem like an obnoxious barker, didn't seem snappy and was closer to being past the puppy stage.

Adopting this dog has proved to be the best decision we could have made, pet-wise.  He has responded very well to training classes, is not snappy with our neices and nephews and has is honestly, the perfect lapdog, easy to train.  We got blessed with a fantastic rescue.

I'd heartily recommend those skeptical about adoption to seriously consider it because you may be missing out on a fantastic family member.  To this day, my husband and I still talk about how happy we are that we chose to adopt from a decent shelter.    

congrats chi on your new friend. i'm so glad you were able to step out of your comfort zone and give a great home to a needing dog. you did a good thing. that's the beauty and the sadness of shelter dogs. i'd venture to say 80% or more are there through no fault of their own and would go on, if adopted, to make wonderful and loving companions. but through people's laziness, ignorance and sometimes because if dire circumstances, they have ended up in a shelter. thanks.

I personally am a huge supporter of adoption.  However for me it was not an option this time.  I'm a first time dog owner because I'm terribly allergic to dogs.  However, I discovered the American Hairless Terrier and am now the proud owner of a beautiful hairless terrier who's given me joy.  Yes there are sometimes adoptable hairless terriers, but when I was looking there were none anywhere within driving distance of me.  And as a first time owner, I wanted to have the assurance of having my breeder there as a backup for info if ever needed; and I have needed her excellent advice.  A good breeder is worth their weight in gold.  However it doesn't mean you're going to be able to bring home a puppy and have the perfect dog.  It still takes time, training and nurturing. 

Brilliant post.  Thanks for sharing the information.  I hope you don't mind but I've linked you into my latest blog which is about the same subject.  I've just spent the day with an 8 week old puppy and, after taking on two of my own rescue dogs (both with a plethera of issues including seperation anxiety and dog aggression), I was thinking long and hard about my next experience.  Thanks again.  And the link to the blog, should you wish to read it is:



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