Breeder Vs. Rescue – Valuable Lessons Learned

You’re thinking about getting a dog.  Maybe you’ve never had one before, maybe you have, maybe you want a companion for a dog you already own, or possibly you’ve had several dogs in your time and consider yourself a “dog expert”.  You might be considering a purebred dog or a mutt, contacting a breeder, a shelter, or a rescue.  Kim and I have plenty of experience when it comes to this decision and its outcomes, and it is my hope this will help you make the right decision or find a good starting point for your search.

Let me preface this with a short scenario:  Kim and I recently had to euthanize a dog that we got as a puppy from a supposed “reputable” breeder.  After three and a half years with her as a member of our household and countless hours of training, schooling, and a ton of love, she turned into an unpredictable, aggressive dog that we could no longer have in our home.  After many hours of consultation it was agreed by all that she had to be euthanized.  Several indications pointed to genetic issues bred into her and not necessarily any medical conditions that brought on her sudden and unpredictable attacks against her owners.  She was a purebred Bullmastiff and toward her end, she didn’t exhibit many of the traits Bullmastiffs are known to have.

If you are looking into getting a dog, whether as a puppy or a mature dog as a rescue, please pay attention here…

There are advantages and disadvantages in getting a puppy from a breeder or a more mature dog from a rescue.  If you split those two approaches in half, you come up with the same methods for both except for one difference.  You can get puppies from breeders, shelters, and rescues.  But it’s rare to get a mature dog from a breeder.  So let’s break this equation into two halves and find some advantage either way.

BREEDERS – Good Vs. Evil

When it comes to dog breeders, there are two types.  You have the responsible breeder that has spent the time not only doing their homework on a particular breed but also breeding dogs to exacting standards already established for their breed.  These standards are formulated from hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years of assessment.  These breeders are registered with several organizations and have a long-standing record of producing bloodlines that are proven to be stable, predictable, and within the guidelines established by such organizations as the American Kennel Club.  They are compassionate about the breed and every dog they produce.  They will carefully screen each potential owner and sternly follow-up with visits after their pups are set in their new homes.

Backyard breeders are people who breed dogs with the sole intent of making money.  They don’t care about meeting breed standards, researching the bloodlines of their studs or bitches, or even following up with those they sell their puppies to.  They are strictly a machine to produce dogs for sale.  They run what are called puppy farms or puppy mills.  Many dogs found in pet stores come from these types of breeders.  For this reason alone, it is inadvisable to buy a dog from a pet store.

When you buy a dog from an established, well-known, and reputable breeder you should know exactly what you’re getting in your dog up front.  You will know that the dog will meet the breed standard.  This in turn means you will know how the dog will behave at any given age.  Purchase a dog from a backyard breeder, and you’re rolling the dice even if the dog has papers and an established parental history.  Remember, the backyard breeder’s sole desire is to make money, not necessarily provide you with a pet that will enhance your life.

The Puppy Vs. a Mature Dog

The Puppy

The differences in getting a puppy versus an older dog are obvious in the amount of work and time you have to invest.  When bringing a puppy home, you’re faced with several challenges.  Housebreaking is the first test that usually isn’t difficult to master.  Puppies also tend to chew on everything in your household, from furniture, shoes inadvertently left within their grasp and anything that can find its way onto the floor at any second.  The first thing any responsible dog owner can do with a puppy is to enroll it into an obedience program.  If you don’t do this, you are doomed to a lifetime of unpredictability with your dog.  Puppies are a handful and if you don’t have the time to invest in their proper upbringing you shouldn’t get one.  Plain and simple.

The most important aspect of getting a puppy is to leave your emotions behind.  Some people are in such a hurry to get a dog they fail to do the proper research first.  There are literally thousands of web sites out there that offer in-depth information on every dog breed on the planet.  The first order of business is to figure out what type of dog is right for your current or soon-to-be living conditions.  Decide this before you begin to think about which breed you’d like to own.  If you live in an apartment, you obviously don’t want a breed that tends to be loud.  If you don’t have a big yard or a dog park nearby you don’t want a dog that needs to run or get a lot of exercise.

When you’ve decided on a type of dog that’s right for you, then make a decision on a breed to pursue.  Research the temperament and traits of that breed.  If you entertain a lot or have children, you’d want to find a breed known as being friendly.  If you have other pets in your home, find a breed that has a reputation for getting along with other pets.  If you already have a dog and are adding to your pack, do the proper research on breed compatibility and typical gender combinations that work between breeds.

Once you’ve done all your research you then need to find a source you can trust.  Like I said before, never buy a puppy from a pet store.  Most of these dogs don’t have proper breeding behind them.  If you’re going to buy a puppy I would recommend a breeder, but you MUST do the research on the breeder.  Find out what organizations they belong to.  Get a list of phone numbers of people who have purchased pups from the breeder in the past and CALL THEM.  Find out how their dogs are doing, what their temperament is, overall health of the dog, etc.  Do not take this step for granted!  The breeder should also be able to provide you with documentation of the bloodline and if possible, you should meet as many members of the puppy’s family that you can.  At the very least, its mother and father should there on site and you should have access to siblings.  If you can meet the pup’s grandmother and/or grandfather, that is even better.

Check the quality of the breeder’s documentation.  Being a registered breeder in good standing, they have access to the medications and inoculations puppies need as they grow.  Check the breeder’s records for accuracy and timeliness in delivering these vaccinations.  Pay close attention to the pup’s environment.  Is it clean?  Does the puppy have the necessary room to exercise?  If there are other pups on the premises, does your puppy prospect get along with the other dogs?  Is the puppy shy or aggressive?  Does the puppy approach you eagerly or does it tend to shy away from you?

Assuming you’ve paid attention to these steps, sign the paperwork and bring your little bundle home.  Breeders will usually have you sign a contract of some sort.  Some will stipulate that you are not allowed to breed the dog, some will mandate spaying or neutering within a certain amount of time, some will (should) outline visits by the breeder to your home to periodically check up on the pup’s progress.  If your dog is a purebred, the breeder should give you papers proving such.  If that’s the case, have some fun and pick out a really cool AKC name for your pup and register him or her with the American Kennel Club.  Doing so opens you up to a whole world of information and resources provided by the AKC.

The Older, Mature Dog

Getting an older dog can have several advantages over starting fresh with a puppy depending on where you go to get one.  Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to rescue a dog.  My reason is, if you get them from the right place, they come with a track record and they have already learned the things that puppies have to be taught.  Also, any chance you have to offer a dog a new home really makes a difference for both you and the dog!  There are plenty of books available about dog psychology and most agree that dogs do think, to a certain degree, on the same level as humans.  Regardless, I believe that when you bring a rescue dog home, they actually know they’ve been rescued.  They know they have a new lease on life, and they do actually show their gratitude to you in a way that almost defies explanation.  Think about this – when a child is orphaned and new parents aren’t found for that child within a certain amount of time, the child isn’t euthanized, but unfortunately in most cases, dogs are.  That’s just the way it is, and saving the life of a dog that hasn’t done anything wrong and giving it a good home is just plain good and everyone wins.

Like I said before, do your research on which dog type is best for you and then narrow down the breed you’re interested in.  Then, check out rescue organizations that deal specifically with that breed.  Only deal with those rescues that are part of a registered association.  If you must deal with a typical shelter, consider many things.  I don’t advise getting a dog that doesn’t have a documented history.  Remember, some dogs are placed in shelters because of aggression issues.  This is irresponsible, to say the least.  If you can find a dog in a shelter that is there because of, say, someone losing their home or something along those lines, then definitely consider the dog.  But it is imperative you get as much background as possible on the dog before bringing it into your home.  The bottom line is you don’t want to take over somebody else’s problem!  If a dog has a history of biting, pass it by because your safety and liability shouldn’t be compromised by any dog.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on getting a mature dog from an associated rescue organization.  When an associated rescue takes a dog in, they follow several steps.  They get as much background history as possible.  They do this because they have certain standards they follow when attempting to place their dogs.  They should do a complete medical examination and spay or neuter if needed.  When the dog has been processed, they are placed in foster homes.  This is one huge advantage over shelters where dogs are kept in three-by-five foot cages.  Dogs placed in foster homes have yards to exercise in, shelter from the elements, and generally much better living conditions than those offered by a shelter.  These dogs also receive rehabilitative services if necessary and loving attention from their foster parents.  I don’t think I have to explain how important that is. 

 Again, I prefer breed shelters based on my experience.  Regular dog shelters offer critical services and sadly, there will always be a need for them to exist, along with such organizations as the ASPCA.  My experience doesn’t stop me from donating to local animal shelters and you should consider doing so, too, even if you don’t own a pet.  It doesn’t cost much to get some paper towels, dog treats and food or even a few toys and take them to your local shelter.  Everyone appreciates it, more so those who can’t speak up and say “thank you”.

Back to our breed rescue.  Set up an appointment to come to the foster home and meet the dog.  Talk with the foster parents to get the dog’s background, temperament, any special needs, etc.  Do this before actually meeting the dog if possible.  The foster parents don’t want to place the dog just anywhere – they will be interviewing you as much as you’ll be interviewing the dog.  When you meet the dog, interact with it and see how it responds to you.  If you have kids, bring them along to meet the dog.  If you have a dog, bring it with you to meet it’s prospective new playmate.  You don’t have to settle on just one meeting.  Visit the dog several times if you feel that’s necessary.  Also, the foster parents should visit your home to make certain you have adequate housing and a yard suitable for your promising new pal.

If everything feels right between the foster parents and you, you and the dog, the dog and your family, the dog and the other dog, then you have a new family member you can bring into your home and feel confident and comfortable with.  The foster parents should set up a visitation schedule especially during the first year so they can come to your home and check in on the dog from time to time.

The Sum of Experience

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Kim and I went with getting a puppy from a breeder nearly four years ago and that gorgeous, sweet, wonderful puppy turned out to be an aggressive force that we couldn’t live with anymore.  It was a difficult decision to make, but it was the right one.  But what we are left with is Cheli, our four-year-old male Bullmastiff whom we got from a Bullmastiff rescue two years ago.

Cheli is the epitome of what a Bullmastiff should be.  We knew who he was when we got him from the shelter.  We knew when he came into our home how he would behave.  He responded to all our commands, fit in right away, and he has been an excellent dog to share our lives with.

Kim and I are very educated when it comes to our K9 friends.  Our experience just goes to show that you can’t control everything when it comes to owning dogs, and all you can really do is minimize your mistakes and risks.  Take the time, do the research, and hopefully you’ll end up with a dog that is right for you and your family.  Hopefully you will find a dog that makes you proud, a dog that stands by you, and a dog that enhances your life.  After all, that’s why dogs are here.

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