Puppies vs. Adult Dogs and Breeders vs. Shelters/Rescues

I am often asked, (actually, “criticized” and “chastised” might be more accurate terms): 1. Why most of my seminars, articles, books and DVDs focus on puppy raising and training rather than adult dog training? and 2. Why I promote (which I don’t) buying pure-bred puppies from breeders instead of adopting adult mixed-breeds from shelters?

1. Why Puppies? Basically, because every adult dog was once a puppy. More specifically, every adolescent/adult dog with difficult-to-resolve behavior, temperament, or training problem was once a puppy that was literally begging for an education to learn how to live with people without upsetting or irritating them. Moreover, all shelter dogs waiting for second homes were once puppies, most of which had first homes but for some reason, it didn’t work out.

My focus has always been preventing utterly predictable behavior, training and temperament problems during puppyhood, so that adolescent/adult dogs don’t develop problems and are not surrendered to shelters and rescues. Prevention is quick, easy, extremely effective and often, lots of fun, whereas rehabilitation can be complicated, time-consuming and not always effective.

From a personal viewpoint, back when I was teaching nine puppy classes a week, I felt good that in any given month, I was helping 80–100 families and their puppies get started on the right paw, or, very quickly get back on track. Off-leash puppy classes are an amazing temperament test for locating incipient problems of fearfulness and aggression and then, nipping them in the bud. Even Week One, it was easy to identify puppies that were likely to become fearful towards other dogs or people and no doubt be confined when visitors come over and never taken for walks, or to parks. Similarly, likely adolescent/adult biters stood out like a sore thumb, as did their potential victims, e.g., children, men, and/or strangers. All of these adult dog problems were so easily prevented in puppy class.

On the other hand, I could have devoted that 36+ hours of instruction per month to work with just a couple adult dogs that were excruciatingly fearful and/or dangerous (Level 4+).

Behavior and training problems may be resolved at any time in a dog’s life (it’s just quicker and easier during puppyhood) but from a practical viewpoint, temperament problems must be prevented during puppyhood because for fearful and aggressive adult dogs, the prognosis is both protracted and guarded. I would much rather work with families to prevent predictable problems in oodles of puppies, than try to change the temperament of a couple of adult dogs. Yes, this is doable but it takes a considerable amount of time — and a time-investment that would not be necessary if only we (dog professionals) did a better job with puppies. Confidence is the Greatest Gift that gives puppies quality of life in adulthood.

2. Buying a Pure-Breed Puppy vs. Adopting a Mixed-Breed Adult Dog:

In the past 10 years, I have lived with 10 dogs — four acquired as puppies (all pure-bred) and six rescued or adopted (just one pure-bred).

I have never recommended buying a puppy from a breeder over adopting an adult or puppy,  mixed breed or pure breed from a shelter/rescue, or vice versa. Instead, I talk about: 1. The pros and cons of getting a puppy vs. an adult dog and the pros and cons of getting a pure breed vs. a cross- or mixed-breed, 2. How best to educate prospective owners to find and choose the best fit and 3. How best to raise and train their new companion, i.e., by rank ordering items in the puppy’s/adult’s educational agenda in terms of urgency and importance.

Why do I talk/write about pure-breed eugenics? Since all cross breeds and mixed breeds inherited their genes from pure-bred dogs, pure-breed eugenics is a huge issue that affects the longevity, health and quality of life of all dogs (pure-, cross- and mixed-breed) and their human companions. This is why I spent the first part of my career educating breeders and now, am trying my best to reach prospective puppy-buyers, to let them know that they have a choice — a huge choice — one that will affect their quality of life for a decade or so. For more information, check out my two latest articles in the Dog Breeder Behavior & Training Program in the Free Course Collection at DunbarAcademy.com — “Eugenics or Dysgenics?” and “Litter Longevity Index”.

Over the past 45+ years, I’ve worked with a large number of shelters around the world and so, with lots of shelter dogs. In the early 80’s, I created the SFSPCA Animal Behavior Department and in the 00’s, I acted as Scientific Advisor when Kelly founded and designed Open Paw — an applied Shelter Dog Behavior and Training program. We came up with a variety of nifty techniques specifically for training OTT, OOC (Over-the-top, Out-of-control) adolescent and adult dogs that had been bribed or “beaten” to learned helplessness. Should you be interested in my views of what still needs to be done at shelters/rescues, check out the free Dog Shelter Behavior & Training Program.

Basically, proactive education of prospective puppy/dog owners within the community is the Key to Success and training a massive pack of shelter volunteers is the first step. In order to make dogs more adoptable during their stay, (friendly and confident with people, especially including children and men, and other dogs), the People:Dog Ratio in a shelter should be at least be parity but preferably, more people than dogs. Obviously, a staff of that magnitude would not be viable, otherwise the majority of donations would have to go towards salaries (and real estate). Instead, an army of trained volunteers is the solution.

However, volunteers training resident dogs is just the start. Far more important, the “training of the dogs” becomes the teacher, that educates the volunteers. In a sense, the shelter becomes a School for Dog Trainers, in which volunteers receive a wealth of hands-on, dog training experience. The volunteers are now better skilled at effectively training their own dogs and spreading the word (and free education materials) within the community to family, friends and neighbors who have dogs.

I’ve analyzed data from numerous shelters in terms of Input/Output: 1. Quantifying reasons for surrenders and strays and educating the community to best reduce their numbers coming into shelters and 2. Training resident shelter animals to be more adoptable to increase the number of successful* adoptions, i.e., *follow-up the following day, week, month and then after three- months, six-months and a year to check that the new owners are still happy with their adopted dog. (Volunteers again!) Open Paw-like shelters excel at educating the doggy community and making animals more adoptable. However, all shelters and rescues can do so much more in terms of educating prospective puppy/dog owners (both buyers and adopters), so they know how to make an educated choice.

First, educate all existing dog owners in the community. Given their enormous Newsletter email and snail-mail lists used to periodically solicit donations, shelters and rescues are well set to educate the dog-owing public vis a vis preventing and resolving common behavior problems i.e., problems that might prompt surrender, or give reason not to take the dog as well as the rest of the family when moving, or cause a landlord not to accept dogs. For example, errorless housetraining and chewtoy-training and how to reduce barking in order to prevent dogs from being ostracized to the back yard or basement. All the information is currently available for free, we just need to spread the word. For example, two free, downloadable eBooks, “BEFORE You Get Your Puppy” and “AFTER You Get Your Puppy” are a good start but also, any shelter, trainer, veterinarian, pet store retailer, breeder, or dog owner may use any of my articles, blogs, or posts for educational/promotional purposes just as long as they cite author (that would be me) and publication, e.g., DogStarDaily.com

Some existing dog owners may get a new puppy in the future, or more likely, will know a family member, friend, neighbor or acquaintance, who is thinking of getting one and so prospective, puppy/dog buyers or adopters will become aware that they have a choice. Prospective puppy-buyers especially need to know, they have a choice:

Either they may acquire a puppy that is already housetrained, chewtoy-trained, manners trained, socialized with oodles of people and likely to live to a ripe-old age,

Or, they may acquire a puppy that is not housetrained or chewtoy-trained, lacks any basic manners, likely to become fearful when older and is unlikely to live to enjoy its sunset years.


Products from Dr. Ian Dunbar

  • Day 3: Adult Dog Classes & Home Training

  • Topics include: Socialization. Fearful and/or Aggressive Pups. Handling. Communication. Sit, Down & Stand.

  • Children have natural advantages as trainers. Dogs like being with them, because they are playful and fun. All they have to do is learn a few simple training techniques and they’ll soon put grown ups in the shade.

  • In this DVD lecture, veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar addresses one of the most worrying behavior problems any dog owner can face — dogs that fight.

  • In this DVD lecture, veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar addresses one of the most worrying behavior problems any dog owner can face — dogs that bite.

  • When you get a new puppy, you need to meet six developmental deadlines before your puppy is just five months old. Know what they are BEFORE you get your puppy!

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