Whether you already have a dog or you are preparing to get one, chances are you are very aware of the debate about whether purebred dogs or rescue dogs are better. Truthfully, each category has perks and drawbacks, and one is not necessarily better than the other if the breeder or shelter is reputable and appropriately cares for its dogs.
The process of finding the perfect canine companion can be difficult, and the question of whether to get a purebred dog or a rescue dog can be a challenging one to answer. That said, if you do your research ahead of time, develop an idea of what you are looking for, and are prepared to be patient, that process will go a lot more smoothly.
Purebred dogs have a known lineage and are of one recognizable breed, as opposed to mutts, or mixed-breed dogs. While rescue shelters may also have purebred dogs, generally when people refer to “purebred dogs,” they are referring to dogs purchased through a breeder.
It is worth noting that most people looking to purchase a purebred dog are doing so because they want a puppy and are looking for a specific breed. Some people may also want a purebred because they are looking for a low-dander dog because someone in their household has allergies, or perhaps they are looking for a working dog that has been bred to excel at certain jobs or sports.
Search and Rescue, agility, hunting, tracking, and herding are all activities where dogs bred for that specific purpose will generally have a better chance of success. Mixed breeds are certainly capable of succeeding in these endeavors as well, but with the investment of time and money required for training, most will opt for a breed known to possess the necessary traits.
Occasionally a breeder may have adult dogs for sale, but generally they specialize in selling purebred puppies of specific breeds.
No matter the reason why you might be looking for a purebred dog, it is important that you thoroughly research the breeder before spending money on a pup. You should make sure that the breeder has a home you can visit in order to meet the puppy or, at the very least, its mother. Breeders may not always have puppies available, but if there is a specific mother dog you like, they may be able to put you on a waitlist for a puppy from a future litter.
If you do not visit the breeder’s house, you may miss out on important information like what environment the dogs are kept in, whether the place is clean and safe, and whether or not the mother dog has a personality you like. While a puppy may have health or behavioral problems that cannot be predicted, a healthy environment and a well-socialized mother will increase the chances that the puppy will be more well-adjusted than a puppy coming from an unsafe, unhealthy environment.
Also, visiting the breeder will give you the opportunity to ask them any questions you might have. While you may also be able to ask questions over the phone, through email, or via social media, that in-person contact is also a good opportunity for you to learn more about the breeder. In addition to answering your questions, they should be able to inform you about any health problems to which the breed or particular dog may be susceptible.
The COVID-19 pandemic may rightfully have caused some breeders to be unwilling to have potential buyers in their homes. If they are a breeder you would like to work with, try to be patient and maintain a relationship with them over the phone or online until they are comfortable having visitors over to see the dogs and puppies.
Remember, a reputable breeder will be open about their dogs and will not hide information or bar access to the dogs. If you at any point feel uncomfortable, you should go with your gut and consider seeking out another breeder or rescue instead.
Rescue dogs are dogs that have been rescued, abandoned, or surrendered. They can be purebred or mixed breed; puppies, adults, or senior dogs; and fully-abled or disabled. Some dogs may have temperament problems or be unruly, while others may be very social and fully trained. Some rescue dogs do well with children and other pets, while others may need to be an “only pet.”
There are so many different types of rescue dogs in shelters with all kinds of unique backgrounds and various needs. Some will be more high-maintenance than others, but most shelters will have a good idea about what each dog’s needs are, especially if they have been in the shelter for a while.
Many shelters and rescue organizations post pictures of their available pets on their websites or social media pages. Although this is a great place to start looking at available dogs, you should always try to meet the dog in-person before you decide to adopt it. Most organizations will require that before you can take the dog home, but even if they do not, it is a good idea both for yourself and for your potential pet.
While honest shelters and rescue organizations will be open about a dog’s known health issues, it is always possible that a seemingly healthy dog from a shelter may have undetected health problems. This is a risk you should be aware of if you are considering adopting a rescue dog. Though they will not cost anywhere near as much as a purebred from a breeder, these dogs may have additional unexpected medical or training costs that come up after adoption.
Purebred Rescue Groups – An In-Between Option
Purebred rescue groups are exactly what their name implies: groups that primarily rescue purebred dogs. These groups generally focus on one breed, or dogs that are mixed-breed but primarily one specific breed: for example, a group may rescue Australian Shepherds and dogs that are part Australian Shepherd. Although these groups may have websites, sometimes they only exist as social media pages that pass along information from other breeders or rescue organizations that are looking to find homes for their dogs.
Reputable groups will do all they can to help foster and rehabilitate dogs with health or socialization issues, but it is important to keep in mind that some groups are acting more as aggregators than as the party directly responsible for the dog. Thus, it is extremely important that you know where the dog is coming from and can meet it before committing to adopting it.
Things to Keep in Mind – Purebred Dogs
- Dogs available from breeders are usually puppies.
Sometimes a breeder may be looking to sell an adult dog – usually one that can no longer be bred, for various reasons – but generally they make their living selling puppies. If you are looking for an adult dog of a particular breed, you might have more luck looking at shelters or rescue groups instead.
- Purebred dogs are not immune from health problems.
In fact, certain breeds are known to have a propensity to suffer from certain health problems, some of which may be attributable to incestuous breeding practices.
This is another reason why it is important to do thorough research before getting a dog. If you would be unable to pay for vet bills that may be incurred from a heritable health problem common in the breed you are interested in, you may want to consider other breeds or try to find a rescue dog that is mixed with that breed.
- Find out if the breeder has a return policy.
A good breeder will want to make sure their puppy is going to the perfect home, and in the unfortunate case of a poor fit or an unexpected illness or occurrence, a return policy or some sort of contingency plan needs to be in place before you have bought the dog.
Things to Keep in Mind – Rescue Dogs
- Rescue dogs are usually older than purebred dogs.
Although it is certainly possible to find puppies, many shelters have a majority of adult and senior dogs. When puppies are available, not much may be known about their health and socialization backgrounds, so be aware that these puppies may need extra love and care.
- They may lack social skills or have been abused.
Not all rescue dogs have been abandoned or have suffered trauma, but it is not unusual to find dogs that have come from difficult backgrounds in shelters. That being said, workers at the shelter or organization should be able to find you a dog with a personality that best fits what you are looking for.
- They may have unexpected health problems.
Sometimes the shelter or rescue organization will be aware of the dog’s health history, but this is not always the case. Be aware that the dog may have unexpected health problems, and have a financial plan ready for that possibility before you adopt.
Things to Keep in Mind – Purebred Rescue Groups
- Depending on the structure of the group, it may be difficult to spend much time with the dog in-person before adoption.
If the group primarily aggregates information from other sources, it may be more difficult for you to actually meet the dog. That being said, it is not a good idea to adopt a dog without meeting it first, so if it does not seem like you will be able to meet a particular dog, you may want to wait until one becomes available that you can meet.
- Dogs from purebred rescue groups may have been rescued from puppy mills or other difficult situations and may have health or socialization issues.
As with rescue dogs from shelters, purebred rescue groups may not know much about the backgrounds of their dogs. When it is known that the dogs came from difficult situations, it is important that you fully understand what to expect before adopting a dog with potential or actual health or socialization problems.
- The rescue group may not have a website.
Some rescue groups only have a social media presence. While this does not make them illegitimate, it may mean you will need to do extra research about the group and jump through extra hoops to make contact.
A Note About Online Pet Scams
Online pet purchasing scams have been becoming more common lately, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some of these scammers may have websites that appear to be very professional, it is very important to do thorough background research if you are not familiar with the breeder.
These scams often end in buyers either not receiving the dog at all, being strung along for more money, or receiving a dog that is clearly not the one they thought they were buying.
Here are a few red flags to look out for that might indicate that a supposed breeder might be a scammer:
- They will not talk to you over the phone and will not allow you to visit the dog in-person.
- They offer many different breeds of dogs (purebred breeders do not generally offer more than one breed, primarily because of costs and space needs).
- They ask you to pay for the dog in a strange way, such as through purchasing gift cards.
- The pictures or descriptions of the dog(s) seem suspicious.
A Note About Puppy Mill Dogs
While not necessarily a scam in the sense that you will be getting a puppy, stores that sell puppy mill dogs contribute to an extremely harmful industry that churns out often unhealthy, poorly socialized dogs. Be wary of pet stores claiming to sell dogs directly from a breeder. If you are looking for a purebred puppy, it is much safer to go directly through a reputable breeder yourself rather than run the risk of accidentally supporting a puppy mill.
You can learn more about puppy mills from the ASPCA.
Deciding Between a Purebred and Rescue Dog
Ultimately, you have to weigh the pros and cons of where you are going to choose to get your new dog. Some of the key considerations are as follows:
Pros and Cons of Purebred Dogs
Purebred dogs are generally more predictable in terms of potential healthcare needs, behavioral tendencies, trainability, and physical qualities (less dander from their coat, etc.). In theory, purebreds are part of a multi-generational breeding program that has weeded out many undesirable medical issues and traits, as well as encouraged positive qualities, including those physical and of temperament.
A good breeder is very familiar with all aspects of their breed and can advise you as to whether the breed is appropriate for your needs and, if so, which litter might produce a dog most compatible for your particular situation. For instance, there’s a big difference in energy and temperament between a Labrador retriever bred to be a family pet versus a Lab bred to withstand the rigors of field trial competition.
Purebreds are almost always costlier, and many breeds have higher instances of specific heritable health issues (for example, cancer in Golden Retrievers and Bernese Mountain Dogs). While certain amounts of inbreeding occur in all dogs (for instance, the members of a pack of stray dogs freely breed with close relatives), it is far more likely among purebred dogs. And repeated inbreeding can create a higher possibility of gene-specific health problems.
Pros and Cons of Rescue Dogs
There is obviously a satisfying feeling when adopting a rescue dog, particularly if by doing so you are saving the dog’s life. For various reasons, our society has had a difficult time controlling our pet population, and there is a consistent surplus of unwanted dogs. Choosing to spare one from death and provide it with a comfortable, healthy life is certainly a good deed.
Rescue dogs are capable of being just as loving, affectionate, and loyal as purebred dogs. They are usually older, so they have a better chance of being house trained as well as other forms of basic obedience training. From a health standpoint, there is statistically less chance of heritable medical issues.
A downside of rescue dogs can be not knowing their history, either behaviorally or health-wise. It is much harder to reverse unwanted established behaviors in dogs than it is to teach them correctly from puppyhood. The dog may have chronic health conditions that you are unaware of or ones that should have been treated earlier.
Conditions like separation anxiety are also more common in dogs that have been abandoned, though purebreds are certainly susceptible to them as well. A rescue dog can be carrying a lot of unknown emotional baggage as well that can present challenges.
Whether you decide to get a purebred dog from a breeder or rescue group or a rescue dog, it is important to be well-informed and confident in your decision. It is also important to keep in mind that health or behavioral problems may still crop up even when you have done your research beforehand, so be prepared for that possibility.
Be careful to avoid scams, and if you ever feel like something is not right, take a step back and do more research on the breeder or organization before you go through with a purchase. By acting cautiously, you will be better prepared to find your perfect dog and offer it the best possible home.
Whichever you decide, don’t let others make you feel guilty about your decision. While adopting a rescue dog is commendable, so is taking on the responsibility of a purebred dog. Bringing a dog into your home and family should be a commitment for the lifetime of the animal, so do your homework and be confident of your decision before acting on it.