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?

Do you work in a dog rescue/shelter? Sign up for the Dog Shelter Behavior & Training Program – Free on Dunbar Academy