I am having a phone conversation and this is the question that is being posed to me. Well, I said: “I am bias to rescuing dogs versus getting a dog from a breeder.”
In my mind, the only exception to my bias is when for whatever reason a person is really keen on a particular breed that might not be easy to locate via a shelter. However, sometimes even obscure breeds are represented by rescue groups specific to the breed, so there goes my one argument as to when I would consider getting a dog from a breeder.
Now, if we scratch the surface a little, I think a lot of folks shy away from getting a dog from a shelter or rescue group because they are afraid the dog might have a myriad of problems – be it behavioral issues or even health related ones.
I am writing this blog shortly after I finished playing with both of my lovely rescues – which are truly problem-free. I sigh as I see them and I realize how lucky they got to being in a home and how lucky we got in having them.
I would argue that yes there are many dogs that come with some baggage. And by doggie baggage – I am talking here about poor socialization that can easily result in a dog that is afraid, anxious and resorts to displays of aggression is no picnic. So indeed, getting the “right” dog is imperative.
But what does it mean to get the “right dog”? The “right dog” is a dog that truly matches the expectations of the new family. A good match also involves the resources the family has. Time and money are always considerations. Pets are often expensive. If the dog has health or behavioral issues the cost associated with resolving these can be high.
“Expenses” also come in the form of emotional drain. Not everyone should adopt a dog that has behavioral or medical issues unless they are absolutely sure they are staying in for the game. A game that might last very well for the length of the dog’s life. In other words, if someone would ask for my opinion about adopting what we call a “project” I will try hard to dissuade them. Or at least I would try and impress on them the amount of patience, know-how and dedication that working with a dog that had less than his fair share in life requires.
Then again, I see over and over again clients of mine that have a “project” dog and how they take to the task of helping their pup with such determination and love that urges me once again to consider revising my opinion.
While I do not agree that love conquers all, it sure helps when we are bonded to an animal. It is because of that bond that we are willing to walk through fire – sort of speak, for this dog. I toast all of these folks who are committed to staying the course in helping their dog become more well-adjusted, less anxious, and thrive.
In my personal and professional experience in working as a trainer in shelters, I can attest at the phenomenal dogs that are surrendered. These shelter dogs were just dogs. Dogs ready to go out and play, to find a warm spot on deck while taking in the view of the neighborhood while sunbathing. I was amazed on a daily basis on their ability to learn, even those pups that had never had “formal training”.
I sure wish more people knew that shelter and rescue dogs are not necessarily broken. They are just deserving of a chance. I would also share that I have worked with many “broken” pure bred dogs.
Dogs that, while bred, perhaps to the breed’s specifications did not receive the socialization that they should have from the breeder. This really makes me upset. Breeders are supposed to be professionals and as such, folks buying a pup from a breeder should get the best behavioral puppy one can muster. Of course, there are also extraordinary breeders whom not only know their breed but that are truly doing a remarkable job in sending out their doors puppies that are well adjusted and healthy.
There are other considerations that are relevant. Most people when they get a dog form a breeder are getting a small puppy. Just weeks old- with 8 weeks being the minimum age at which the puppy should be removed from the litter. In contrast, most people that adopt a shelter or rescue dog adopt a much older dog.
Even though there a few temperament tests out there that claim will tell the potential adopter something about the puppy’s future temperament, the results on this claim are paltry at best. There is truly no bona fide way of knowing for certain how a young puppy will be in another completely different set of circumstances. Behavior is always context specific, change the context and now you are in unknown territory.
In the case of the adult dog, potential adopters will also see “one dog” at the shelter and then notice that the dog they selected is acting differently (sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse from their perspective) once they bring the dog home. This process is called the honey-moon period and it can last for months as the dog continues to adjust and face novel situations.
Having said this, an adult dog past the age of two years of age and even three years of age for some of the Giant breeds has a more “stable” temperament. In other words, the adagio “what you see is what you get” is much more applicable when we are speaking of a fully mature animal.
Of course, there are advantages of getting a young puppy! First off, can you think of anything more cute and fun than a young puppy? If the pet parent has done a good job of selecting a top notch breeder, they are off to a lot of work but an excellent start in the road to socializing this new puppy. Their efforts will determine how well adjusted their puppy turn out to be as an adult. Yes, of course, genetics do play a part on this. But again, if the breeder is a reputable breeder who is NOT breeding fearful dogs and among other things – then the chances of good genetics are strong.
Unfortunately, most folks that get a new puppy barely scratch the surface when it comes to the “education” of their young keep. So, I am left wondering: What is the point really of purchasing a young puppy if in indeed the puppy will not be socialized properly? And now, we have a dog that came from a breeder that had tons of possibility for being a behavioral healthy (adult) dog and has instead become a “project”.
As to my client asking these good questions, I told her to think through some of these options as she also evaluates in all honesty how much time, work and effort she is able to put into bringing either a young puppy or a “project” rescue dog. Only the new pet-parent can make the right choice but hopefully they do so more informed as to the potential challenges that each choice brings.