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— February 21, 2012 —
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Thinking About A New Dog? Shop or Adopt (Part One)

As spring approaches, lots of people will start thinking about getting their new puppy. House training and obedience training is much more enjoyable in spring and a new pup gives us just that much more reason to get outside.

The first question to ask is this. Should I buy a dog from a breeder or adopt from a shelter? While we know that some people will want to buy a certain type of dog from a breeder, we strongly support rescuing a homeless dog.

The very first thing I advise people to do is avoid the pet stores. Period. There is not a single pet store I know of that operates responsibly. I dare say that pretty much every dog in every pet store came from a puppy mill; even if they say they don’t. The basis for this claim is that no responsible breeder would ever sell it’s puppies to a broker who in turn sells them to pet stores. There are responsible breeders out there, and they will want to know where their puppies end up. With pet stores, anyone who walks in with the money can buy a puppy.

You may be asking, “Is there a dog in rescue that is suitable for me?” The short answer is yes. There are probably thousands of dogs in rescues in your immediate area. We are located in Chicago, but we regularly get posts from around the country for great dogs in rescue situations. No matter if you want a purebred dog, a fluffy mutt, a big or small dog, high energy runner or low key couch potato, they are all available in rescue. If you do decide to adopt a homeless pet, there are a few things that you should consider.

The first thing I would want to know is the dog’s age. While young puppies are generally seen as very desirable, I often advise people to look for a dog over a year old. A very young puppy, while extra cute, will present a whole set of challenges that you could avoid with an older dog. Chewing, house training and play biting are pretty normal issues with young puppies. A dog about a year old may have been house trained already, making the integration process easier. Play biting may cause discomfort for a human child. A slightly older dog might be pass this stage. Destructive behavior can happen at any age, but it’s much more common with young puppies.

The most important issue related to age is temperament. A very young puppy can be friendly and outgoing, but develop into an anxious adult. If I am taking on a very young puppy, I prefer to meet it’s parents. This may not be possible in a rescue situation. A dog that’s about a year old has pretty much developed it’s adult personality. The importance of this cannot be overstated. A dog’s temperament is guided more by genetics than upbringing. I’ll explain this shortly.

Some folks have the mistaken idea that a pound puppy must be defective; that a dog from a breeder will be somehow superior. While there are some dogs in rescues that have been through horrible abuse situations, the vast majority of them were just puppies that were bought by people who didn’t know what they were getting into. They got the puppy not realizing the requirements of raising it and decided to give it up to the rescue. Also, we have gotten beautiful pure breed dogs from rescue situations. I have seen German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and just about any other breed you can imagine in shelters. If you care to own a particular breed of dog, a quick Google search will likely turn up a rescue dedicated to that breed. Of course you may not get the dog’s actual registration papers with it, but those papers won’t make your dog a better companion.

Even if a dog in a rescue does come from an abusive background, this isn’t an automatic disqualifier. I have seen many severely abused dogs recover. We have all seen recent cases of rescued fighting dogs in the media that prove this. These dogs, many of them horribly abused have developed into therapy dogs, service dogs and great companion dogs. I’ve also seen puppies that were bought from breeders and raised responsibly, become fear biters as adults. These dogs invariable came from fearful parents and the temperament was passed to the pups. While an experienced trainer can spot signs of temperament issues in a puppy, to many these signs go un-noticed. If you adopt a dog that’s about year old, things like fear or aggression should be evident.

Some folks have specific concerns regarding allergies. I recently spoke to a young lady who was allergic to dogs, but had no symptoms with Schnauzers. Right now 1,580 available dogs come up on Petfinder when you search Schnauzer.

The point I’m trying to make is that no matter what your needs are, there is a rescue dog out there for you. Please consider adopting a homeless dog. You’ll never know the difference, but you’ll make a difference.