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Adopt or shop?

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

The discussion as to whether you should adopt a dog from a shelter or shop from a breeder is an extremely polarising conversation amongst dog owners. People can be very passionate about this topic and rightly so - there are a huge number of unwanted dogs in this country and as a nation of dog lovers it is very concerning that we cannot seem to resolve this. I used to be firmly in the "adopt don't shop" camp and both my dogs are rescues. However, after having worked with both rescue dogs and dogs who came from a breeder, I can tell you that it is definitely not that simple. This blog discusses a couple of common arguments made in the adopt/shop debate in an attempt to come to some form of common ground!

"I want a dog from a puppy because it's a blank slate"

It is very true that many rescue dogs come with baggage, whether that be health problems or behavioural problems, and it can be extremely difficult to know exactly what you are getting when you adopt a dog. Whilst ethical rescue centres will have thoroughly assessed their dogs and should fully disclose any health or behavioural issues to you before adoption, new or unknown issues can develop when you take the dog home. Obviously, with a puppy there are very unlikely to be any existing behavioural problems and so you can go ahead and shape the behaviours that you want from an early age. This includes things like getting your dog accustomed to living with children, which is an extremely important consideration for many people. When buying a puppy you are also more likely to know the parents' history and temperaments, which are a good indicator of what your puppy might grow up to be like.

Getting a puppy might therefore seem like a sure-fire way of avoiding issues. However, first of all, puppies are NEVER blank slates and they will always be genetically predisposed to certain behaviours depending on what purpose they were originally bred for. Shepherds will always have the genetic predisposition to herd, retrievers will always have the genetic predisposition to retrieve items and terriers will always have the genetic predisposition to go hunting for small animals. The exact strength of these traits will often depend on the dog's breeding, but they are inherently rewarding for the dog and they will always be there to an extent. Whereas an adult dog that has already been able to practice these behaviours will likely have been reinforced by the enjoyment that they feel from it, raising a dog from a puppy can certainly help prevent issues because you can build a relationship and shape the behaviours that you want as they grow up. However, particularly with puppies that come from working lines or parents with strong genetic traits, these characteristics will show through regardless of any efforts to stop them, and the aim should not be to remove that drive but rather provide an appropriate outlet.

Furthermore so many things can impact them early on in life, whether that be their Mum's health during pregnancy, interactions with their Mum and littermates or input from us humans. A great example of this is puppies that have come from puppy farms. It goes without saying that most people would never intentionally buy a puppy that they know to be from a puppy farm, and unscrupulous individuals that breed dogs for profit will often fool you into thinking that the puppies are well-loved members of the family. However, not only will these puppies had little contact with and the big wide world, the stress that their Mum will have suffered during pregnancy will also impact on their behaviour as they grow up.

In addition, the parent's temperaments are extremely important. A puppy born from unstable parents is very likely to grow up to display similar traits, whilst a puppy born from stable parents is more likely to grow up to have that same stability. A responsible breeder will not breed a dog without having thoroughly assessed it's temperament and carefully matched it with another dog. Problems often arise when people breed dogs for the sake of it, for example because they are cute or popular breeds, or they think they should have at least one litter. For example, when the cockapoo became popular there was a huge increase in people breeding theirs, and we started to see cockapoos with less desirable traits due to the lack of health and temperament testing. The same can be said of Dalmatians when they became popular after the release of 101 Dalmatians.

"Older dogs cannot be trained"

Many people believe that you have to have a dog from a puppy to be able to train it properly, and this puts them off adopting an adult dog. However, this is simply untrue. Yes, the older the dog the longer they might take to learn something, but they are absolutely capable of being trained to the same standard as any other dog. Nathan and Charlotte's most recent addition, Mario, has been taught all of the basic commands such as "lets go", "relax", "sit", "bed" and "come" at the grand old age of 11! Equally, many overseas rescue dogs have never lived in houses before but they are able to adapt to a completely new way of life over here. Dogs are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

The same can be said of dogs with existing behavioural issues. We are often asked if it is too late to fix a problem that the dog has had for a long time, and the answer is that it is never too late! It may take slightly longer because you need to break a pattern of behaviour that the dog has been allowed to practice (and which has worked) for a long time, but it is definitely possible. In some ways, getting an older dog can also be easier than getting a puppy - puppies are hard work and have absolutely no training, whereas most adult dogs already have some form of basic training such as toilet training and lead walking.

"If everyone who bought a puppy adopted a dog instead, there would be no dogs left in shelters"

I am sure that everyone can agree that the ideal situation would be for every dog to have a home and for there be no need for shelters. However, the sole act of adopting a dog rather than buying a puppy alone will not remove the need for shelters. The problem does not lie with the fact that people have bought a puppy, but rather it lies with a whole host of other reasons ranging from people getting dogs that they are then unable or unwilling to care for to overbreeding resulting in unwanted dogs/puppies, and on the extreme end of the spectrum animal welfare cases. The focus should be on how we can prevent dogs from going into shelters rather than expecting everyone to adopt a dog over buying a puppy.

Furthermore, adopting a dog does not mean that it will never be rehomed again. People return their dogs surprisingly often, whether that be due to being unable to manage the dog's behavioural problems, personal circumstances or the cost of keeping them. Sometimes this is the best decision for all involved, and so there is definitely still a role for rescues. When getting a dog, either from a rescue or a breeder, an important thing to ask is what support they provide after you take the dog home. Ethical breeders will provide support if you need it and will take the dog back if you are no longer able to keep it for any reason. Some rescues also partner with trainers and behaviourists to be able to provide advice and guide you through any behavioural issues you are facing. This in itself prevents dogs going into shelters.

"There is no need to breed dogs when there are so many without homes already"

This is a similar argument to the last point, and again, while we would love for all dogs to have their forever homes, stopping people from breeding puppies is not the way to do this. Breeders per se are not the problem, but rather irresponsible and unethical breeders are.

People who breed dogs for a purpose and for the betterment of the breed are absolutely necessary. These breeders could have their own structured breeding programmes (for example to breed a dog for a specific working role, or to improve the health of a breed that commonly suffers from a specific physical issue), or they might be hobby/show breeders who breed from their dog in order to keep a puppy with which they can continue their canine activities. These people carefully choose which dogs to breed and will not do so if either dog has health issues or behavioural concerns. They will also more likely be invested in raising the dog and providing puppies with a stable and confidence-building environment. If we stopped these people from breeding, we would lose a lot of different breeds, and along with them their predictability of character, consistency in look and characteristics that have specifically been bred in over many generations. We would also lose the stable, health-tested population of the breed and be left with the dogs bred by people who do not have the same principles.

On the other side of the coin, we have irresponsible and unethical breeders who tend not to care about the health or genetics of the puppies they are producing, nor are they particularly concerned about the type of home that the puppies are going to. These are the dogs that are more likely to end up in shelters one way or another. The aim should therefore be to reduce these kinds of breeders and shop for a puppy responsibly. This can be tricky, especially when backyard breeders and puppy mills often pose as hobby breeders. Do your research into the breeders before buying a puppy from them, and do not be afraid to ask questions. A good breeder is also likely to ask you just as many questions about your lifestyle and reasons for wanting one of their dogs. As hard as it may be to walk away from buying a puppy, it is so important that we do not support these kinds of breeders, because so long as people are buying their puppies they will continue to breed.

Adopt or shop responsibly

We much prefer the saying "adopt or shop responsibly". Both adopting and shopping can be done responsibly in ways that don’t contribute to behavioural issues and dogs going into shelters, and not one is better than the other. Everyone has different lifestyles and personal reasons for their choice, and it is important that we don't bash other people just because it is different from ours. Both my current dogs are rescues, and I absolutely love working with them to overcome any existing behavioural issues, but I am considering getting a puppy as my next dog because I would love to see what I could do with a dog that is more genetically stable to start with. Provided that I do my research into the breed, the breeder and even the specific breeding, ensure that the dogs are health tested and am prepared to put the work in myself then there is nothing wrong with choosing to shop over adopt.


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