For episode one, Kayla speaks to Rebecca Hintz of Wintegrity K9 in Vacaville CA about deciding where to get a puppy.
For the purpose of this episode, we are only comparing getting a dog from a responsible breeder versus a shelter. We are not discussing getting a dog from a pet store, online marketplace, grocery store lot, or backyard breeder because we do not support those venues of puppy acquisition. If you’re unsure how to find a responsible breeder, stay tuned for upcoming episodes.
Discussed in this episode:
- Lifestyle needs. Allergies, exercise requirements, size or breed restrictions on your housing, and more are all important factors. If you need a hypoallergenic dog under 20 pounds because of your lease and a roommate’s mild allergies, you are unlikely to find a match in most shelters. It’s not impossible, but it will be very tough!
- Household dynamics. Many shelters will struggle to match you with a dog if you have small children and another dog (or cat) and an unfenced yard and you work full time. Does that mean you can’t get a second dog? Of course not! But in many areas, you’ll struggle to find a shelter dog that can handle this very normal life.
- Goals. Many dog sport competitors, service dog handlers, and working dogs handlers have success with shelter dogs, myself included! However, specific goals and needs will be more challenging to meet with a shelter dog.
- Even adopting a puppy from a shelter is a big unknown because you don’t know how that puppy will mature. In fact, Kayla personally would rather adopt an adult shelter dog than a puppy because at least then she knows what she’s getting.
- It’s not all in how you raise them: puppies born to highly stressed or starved mothers or aggressive fathers are going to carry that genetic and epigenetic burden for their entire lives. It doesn’t mean that all shelter puppies are going to be challenging adults, but it’s a gamble.
- Availability. There’s massive variability across the US and around the world in what you can find at shelters. Depending on where you are and what you’re looking for, you might have no problem finding a perfect match at a shelter or it might be such a long shot it’s basically impossible.
- Budget. All dogs are pretty expensive over time. But shelter dogs tend to be a great deal. When Kayla adopted Barley, he was fully vaccinated and neutered. His adoption fee was under $100. While we still needed supplies and he’s had his fair share of veterinary bills over the year, we avoided the other large upstart costs for buying a puppy.
- As a comparison, Kayla will spend between $900-$1,200 on my next puppy and that doesn’t include all of their vaccinations and other medical checkups – plus the puppy will need all the same supplies as Barley plus we’ll need to buy different sizes of some items like a bed, harness, and crate as the puppy grows. Kayla simply couldn’t have afforded these start-up costs when she first adopted Barley!
- Other preferences. It’s ok to want a smaller dog, a certain coat type, a male versus female, etc. While the panelists urge most people not to get too picky (especially with looks), there’s a balance to strike here. If you have a strong preference and are willing to wait for the right dog, go for it!
- Health testing. Many shelter dogs are healthy – Barley has no evidence of any heritable disease and his hips, elbows, eyes, and hearing are all excellent. Of course, the flip side is true as well: even the best breeders in the world will occasionally produce a puppy that has some health concerns.
- But most breeders worth your time and money will offer plenty of health information on the relatives, health testing on the parents (and this is far more than a health checkup), and testing/screening for the puppies. The exact health testing will vary based on breed but is always more than just ensuring that the parents are healthy.
- In border collies, my main concerns are epilepsy, hearing issues, anxiety, sound sensitivity, and obsessions or fixations. Orthopedic issues are a concern in almost every breed, so look for a breeder that does the minimum health testing recommended by the breed club (simply Google “breed name” + health testing recommendations + breed club to find this). Know that if you go with a shelter dog, you may be taking a bit more of a risk on health issues.
- Kayla uses Healthy Paws Pet Insurance and personally recommends it! Using this link to sign up donates $25 to shelter pets.
- Community need. If you live in an area where shelters are overworked and under-resourced, you can do a lot of good by adopting a shelter dog! We urge most people to at least explore their shelter options to see if they can find a good match and potentially save a life. If you’re willing and able to take on a dog who needs some extra TLC or can find your perfect match in a shelter or rescue, great! Adopt them right away and get down to living your life together.
- Sourcing ability. It’s imperative that you’re able to source a dog responsibly, whether that’s from a breeder or a shelter/rescue. Purchasing a puppy online or from the grocery store parking lot often supports unsavory breeders and you don’t get the benefits of working from a stellar breeder. It’s a lose-lose!
- While you might feel like you’re “rescuing” a puppy or helping your neighbor with an oops litter, sometimes you’re actually supporting a network that preys upon your desire to rescue a cute ball of fluff. Proceed with extreme caution – if at all.
- And no matter what they say at the pet store, puppies from the vast majority of pet stores are from puppy mills. Stay away!!!
- Expect finding a well-bred puppy to take time. You won’t be able to being home a puppy next week in most cases! You need to get to know the breeder and often will need to wait for at least a few months before a puppy is ready to match with you.
- On the flip side, some rescues are extremely poorly run. In my time working at an animal shelter, we saw many cases of neglect and cruelty and hoarding from so-called rescues that got out of hand. Supporting these irresponsible rescues is harmful, just like purchasing from an unsavory breeder.
We also cover a Patreon question: “I am adopting a puppy at 8 weeks old. The breed is prone a high prey drive and I’d like to proactively socialise it with livestock. I work on a farm with fowl, goats, and horses, and I also live with cats. I’m unsure the best way to do this.”
This podcast is supported by Journey Dog Training and our Puppy Raising Blueprint course. The full course covers topics ranging from common problem behaviors and socialization to the humane hierarchy of dog training. It’s all taught by yours truly, Kayla Fratt. If you need more personalized training support, check out journeydogtraining.com – we have a variety of courses, e-books, and remote training services available. Just check out your options in the menu above.
This podcast is also supported by our members on Patreon. For as little as $3 per month, you can support this podcast and get perks like submitting questions for us to tackle at the end of each episode. Sign up over at patreon.com/pandemicpuppy.
Over the next few episodes, we’ll cover how to decide between a shelter and a breeder, then how to pick a puppy once you’ve decided where to go! Not all puppy sources OR puppies are created equal, so be sure to tune in.
For Further Reading:
- Pet allergy: Are there hypoallergenic dog breeds? from Mayo Clinic
- Pandemic Puppy Raising Support Group on Facebook
- Should I Adopt a Shelter Dog or Buy a Puppy From a Breeder?
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, as a private dog trainer, and with working detection K9s. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her border collie Barley.