Adopting a Dog vs. Buying from a Breeder

There’s a huge debate nowadays over adopting versus buying dogs, with pro-adopters taking the moral high ground. Do you want a dog but feel pressured to adopt rather than choose one from a breeder?

Fact: According to the ASPCA, some 3.3 million dogs enter shelters in the United States every year. Only some 1.6 million of them get adopted, and some 670,000 are euthanized every year.

Can you help by adopting a dog? Should you? Is it wrong to buy a dog from a breeder? Rather than prescribe a simplistic solution to the dog overpopulation problem, we’re here to help you make the right decision for yourself and your family. And it begins with good old Socrates’ adage: “Know thyself.”

The main advantage of adopting from a shelter is helping a traumatized and injured dog to find a new home. The advantage of buying from a breeder is that you can get the exact breed you want. On the other hand, if money is a main concern the adopting a dog from a shelter is the best choice.

If you can’t directly help by taking a dog out of the shelter, the next best thing is to make sure you won’t add to the problem yourself by getting a dog you’ll have to give up later.

Whether you buy or adopt, as a responsible and knowledgeable owner you’re making sure that’s one more dog with a permanent, loving home and one less dog that will end up in the shelters.

Is a Dog Right for You?

The dog was our very first domesticated animal, and so is the best-adapted to living with us of all the species we keep as pets.

They can understand our emotions and even many of our words, have an uncanny ability to read our health and have saved lives. They can feel love and love us right back.

They’re also far from being an endangered species, unlike many of the parrots, reptiles, and fish in the exotic pet market.

But is a dog right for you, and are you right for a dog?

Statistics show that many pet purchases, including dog purchases, are impulse buys. Don’t be surprised if the rate of dogs entering shelters spikes as soon as the pandemic ends.

Before purchasing or adopting a dog, ask yourself:

  • Why do you need a dog? What kind of dog is most suitable to answer your needs? For example, if you’re a retiree with a disability, some dog breeds will be easier for you to handle and keep happy. (link to best dogs for seniors article)
  • Do you have the means to maintain the dog? It averages $400-700 a year to maintain a dog’s food, supplies, medical expenses, and training.
  • Do you have the spare time and energy to meet the play and exercise requirements of a dog?
  • Do you have the space to keep the kind of dog you want? Be realistic, larger breeds do need more space, and often more exercise too. 
  • How receptive to a dog will your family, neighbors, and existing pets be? What breeds will present the least problems? What dog behaviors could cause you the most problems?
  • Are you better off with a puppy or an adult dog? Are you ready to train and socialize a puppy on your own, or can you afford a trainer to do it for you? If the answer is no, you’re better off with an adult dog.
  • Can you commit to taking care of your dog for the rest of its life?
  • Will the breed you chose adapt easily to daily separation for a whole workday? Some of the cutest breeds, like the Maltese, tend to get separation anxiety easily and may suffer a lot when you return to your regular work routine.

If you end up concluding that a dog’s not right for you, after all, that doesn’t make you any less of a person. It’s just a matter of lifestyle compatibility. If your needs are best served by keeping a tank of goldfish, that’s fine. We won’t judge you. Even if you decide to get a cat.

Pros of Adopting from a Shelter

dogs in shelter
Image credit: Canva

Given the size of the homeless pet problem nowadays, there’s no doubt you’re doing a good turn by adopting the dog. Not just for the dog’s sake, but for yourself as well – you get to feel good about it, and you save quite a few bucks.

Let’s go over the advantages of adopting a dog:

  • You save a dog from being euthanized. About 99% of all shelter animals are healthy enough to be adopted. Many of the dogs that are euthanized every year could have made perfectly good pets.
  • You make room for another dog at the shelter. Most shelters are already at full capacity.
  • Not all shelter dogs are problem dogs. Many were given up or abandoned by their owners due to financial difficulties, inability to take the dog with them when moving, divorce, inability to care for the dog due to the owner’s age or disease, and so on.
  • You can save money. Adopting a dog usually costs between $50-150, and this often includes a medical checkup, vaccinations, sterilization, and microchipping.
  • Some shelters will also give you an adoption kit that includes some dog food and basic supplies.
  • Some shelters will give you a voucher for a free or discounted veterinarian visit, or other incentives.
  • Adopting a mixed-breed dog from a shelter may save you money in the long run, as mixed-breed dogs are usually free from the genetic diseases prevalent among certain breeds.
  • You can get an adult dog. This is ideal if you don’t have the time to train and socialize a puppy, or have young children that can’t be trusted yet to properly handle a puppy.
  • Most adult shelter dogs have already been housebroken, which saves you from having to teach the dog potty manners and from having to clean up smelly messes.
  • You can consult shelter staff about the dog’s personality and quirks before acquiring it.
  • Some shelters allow a trial adoption period of several days so you can see first how your relationship with the adoptee works out.

Cons of Adopting

Not all shelter dogs are there for behavior issues. However, it’s true that adopting from a rescue or shelter can sometimes be more challenging than raising a puppy.

These dogs may have unpredictable reactions to being taken into a new home so be prepared to cut them some slack. Better yet, learn some dog training tricks yourself.

The usual disadvantages and inconveniences of adopting a dog include:

  • Some shelter dogs are badly traumatized or maladjusted, and so have behavioral problems such as aggression, destructiveness, excessive barking, and so on. Some shelter dogs have been insufficiently socialized and so are hostile to other pets.
  • Not all problem behaviors get detected in a shelter. If the shelter doesn’t have what triggers the problem behavior, the staff likely won’t know about it because they’ve never observed it.
  • Behavior problems account for as much as 55% of all adopted dogs being returned to shelters, with aggression to humans accounting for up to 23% of these returns, and aggression to other animals another 14%.
  • Problem behaviors are usually correctable through training. However, this will require either a lot of time and effort on your part or hiring a professional trainer or dog behaviorist.
  • Some shelter dogs are pair-bonded with another dog in the shelter. It’s part of how they cope. If you adopt only one of a bonded pair, both these dogs will be miserable. If you’re prepared to adopt them both, however, they’ll help each other adjust much faster to you and their new home.
  • Shelter dogs may be prone to separation anxiety. You can help them get over this however with training.
  • You will have to go through the shelter’s screening process, and there can be quite a bit of paperwork.
  • You may be rejected if you don’t meet all the shelter’s requirements. Every shelter sets its own, and some set their standards quite high. If you didn’t meet the shelter’s requirements, think again. Did you apply to adopt a dog with greater needs, such as more space to run?
  • You may have to wait for a minimum holding period for dogs newly brought to the shelter. This rule is meant to give owners sufficient time to recover lost dogs. (link to article how long does owner have to claim lost dog)
  • If you adopt a stray dog from a shelter but the original owners want it back, you may have to fight a legal battle for it. The shelter however should be able to help you there with proof that they kept the dog for the mandatory holding period required by state law. Failure of the owners to reclaim the dog within that time may be used as proof that they abandoned the dog.
  • Because shelters are so full their thin resources are stretched to the limit, they may not be able to provide you as much information about the dog you’re adopting as you’d like.
  • The shelter may not have the breed you want. But if you’re looking for a companion dog, breed matters much less than temperament. If you want certain qualities in your dog but want to adopt, make a list of the breeds that fit your requirements instead of fixing your heart on just one breed.

Studies have found that adopters who sought professional help for problem behaviors were much less likely to return their dogs to the shelter.

If you find yourself in need of a trainer to help with your adopted dog, be sure to hire a trainer that will not further damage your dog.

More and more trainers and behaviorists are recommending that you only go with trainers who use positive reinforcement techniques exclusively, which results in better-adjusted and more strongly owner-bonded dogs, while training with punishment was more likely to aggravate aggression and loosened dog-owner bonds.

How Much Does Adoption Really Cost?

To help you calculate the cost of adopting a dog, here’s a table of expected expenses:

One-time ExpensesCost
Adoption Fee$50-150+
Spay or Neuter$50-300 if not included in adoption fee
Initial vaccinations$50-100 if not included in adoption fee
Dog license$20
Microchipping$50 if not included in adoption fee
Home supplies (crate, bed, etc)$150-300

The continuous expenses will be the same for a purchased dog of the same breed, or a little higher as the breeder you buy from will likely direct you to the better brands of feed and medications.

Continuos ExpensesCost
Dog Food$200-up a year depending on size/breed
Veterinarian Checkups$600 for the first year
Monthly deworming and other medicines$50/month
Kennel or pet-sitter/dog walker$20-40 a day

Pros of Buying from a Breeder

Buying from pet stores supports the horrible puppy mill industry.

Responsible breeders, however, are the exact opposite of puppy mills. They are dog lovers and enthusiasts of their breeds first, and businesspeople only second. Good breeders care where their dogs go, and screen buyers carefully to make sure they’re a good fit.

Image credit: Canva

Responsible breeders do their best not to contribute to the homeless pet problem.


Only 25% of all shelter dogs are purebreds. Of these, most are pit bulls. Whether they deserve their bad rep or not, pit bulls are sadly the least-wanted breed by adopters in the United States.

Purebreds of more desirable breeds on the other hand are easily sold, or accepted by friends and relatives, or taken back by their breeders when their original owners have to give them up.

Let’s look at the advantages of buying from a responsible breeder:

  • You get exactly the breed you’re looking for. This is important if you’re buying the dog for a specific purpose and conditions, such as for a senior, or you need a hypoallergenic dog.
  • You get a puppy that conforms to the breed’s standards of appearance and temperament. This is not just for show. If you’re buying a Rottweiler to guard your home, you don’t want one that’s as immediately friendly to strangers as a Golden Retriever! Breed standards ensure that these dogs can do what the breed was meant to do.
  • You get the pleasure of raising and playing with a puppy.
  • You get to see the puppy and its mother beforehand, allowing you to assess their temperament.
  • Good breeders will spend time matching you with the most suitable of their available puppies.
  • Good breeders are enthusiasts of their breed and will be able to give you plenty of information and tips on how to care for and train your puppy.
  • Good breeders carefully research their dog’s pedigrees so they can avoid excessive inbreeding, and have their puppies’ health screened. They will only sell you a sound puppy. That said, there are some breeds with so little genetic diversity that they’re all quite inbred and likely to have inherited medical conditions. Do avoid these compromised breeds, or get healthier crossbreeds, such as a Retropug or Puggle instead of a purebred Pug.
  • If ever you have to give the dog up, the breeder will likely take it back, or you can easily sell it or give it away to someone who wants it.

Speaking of giving dogs away, it’s great if you can give your dog to someone whom you know can take good care of it and is committed to doing so.

Giving dogs as an impulse gift without being sure of the recipient’s commitment, however, is likely to end in grief for the dog.

About 30% of all shelter animals were given up by their owners, and 32% of those were presents from a friend.

That’s over 316,000 dogs every year.

Cons of Buying from a Breeder

Unfortunately, there are a lot more puppy mills and amateurish backyard breeders than there are truly responsible breeders.

Finding a good breeder can be a challenge, and the costs of acquiring from them can be eye-popping. You may find your ideal breeder, only to discover that shipping your new puppy from another state can double or triple the hit to your wallet!

Let’s go over the usual disadvantages of buying from a reputable breeder:

  • It can be a challenge to find good breeders. These enthusiasts are much less visible online, usually working by word of mouth referrals or through breed clubs. Be prepared to do some research, especially if you’re looking for one of the rarer breeds.
  • The price will be high, from $500-$1,500 up. Good breeders spend a lot for good breeding stock and studs, feeds, medicines, and prioritize quality over quantity, so their prices have to be high. Beware the seller of purebreds who charges much lower than the market average.
  • You may have to wait. Good breeders usually have a waiting list for their puppies, because they space breedings to spare their dogs’ health and they don’t wean pups prematurely.
  • You may be rejected. Don’t take it personally. If a breeder rejects you, chances are it’s because you don’t meet the requirements for the breed you were trying to buy. If that happens, review the reasons the breeder turned you down, and maybe choose a breed more suitable for your circumstances and lifestyle.
  • You will get a puppy, with all its accompanying challenges: crying, potty training, chewing, and so on. They will need to be fed multiple times a day, and taken out for potty at the strangest hours.
  • You will be responsible for your most of your dog’s vaccinations, veterinary checks, and sterilization. Most breeders will only cover the initial round of vaccinations. Expect around $600-$1,200 in veterinary expenses for the first year of a puppy’s life.
  • If you don’t take the time to check and research carefully, you may to end up buying from an amateur backyard breeder or a puppy mill.
  • Because many backyard breeders don’t keep track of pedigrees, they’re more likely to produce inbred puppies with a higher chance of developing an inherited disorder.
  • Puppy mill dogs are raised in terrible conditions, making them unhealthy and possibly traumatized which leads to behavioral problems.

How to Tell a Responsible Breeder from a Puppy Mill

The approaches of responsible breeders and puppy mill owners to their dogs are worlds apart.

Many responsible breeders aren’t in it for the money but instead came to it first as owners then as enthusiasts and advocates for particular breeds.

Some may be in it to compete in dog shows, while others just want to help preserve a rare breed, or just believe their favorite is the best of all dog breeds and will tell everyone about them.

Here’s a comparison between responsible breeder and puppy mill practices:

Responsible BreadersPuppy Mills
Good breeders are dog lovers first, and businesspeople second. If your breeder offers guarantees and solid after-sales support such as refunds or replacements for listed health problems, a guarantee to take back a dog if you can’t keep it anymore, and breeds for temperament over looks, you’re in good hands.Puppy mill owners tend to know much less about their specific breeds. To them, a dog is a dog is a source of dollars.
Good breeders sell directly. They want to know a lot about you because they want assurance their precious puppies will go to a good home. If the breeder has turned down buyers before that’s a good sign.Puppy mill owners cater to pet shops and online pet stores.
Good breeders will be proud to show you around so you can see how their dogs are kept. Their facilities are clean, spacious, and the dogs are free to roam and play instead of being cooped up in cages.Puppy mill owners don’t want you to see how they’re keeping their dogs.
Good breeders are eager to stay in touch. They’re interested in how the puppies you got from them are doing and eager to share their specialized knowledge of the breed whenever you need it.Puppy mill owners offer limited after-sales support or none at all.
Good breeders keep only one or two breeds of dogs and don’t maintain a big inventory of puppies for sale. This shows they’re not overbreeding their dogs for profit. If you’re waitlisted for a puppy, that’s a good sign.Puppy mill owners will often keep multiple breeds and have puppies ready for sale most of the time.
Good breeders will only sell you puppies weaned at sufficient age to be healthy and well-adjusted.Puppy mill owners are willing to sell you puppies less than eight to twelve weeks old.

If for some reason you’re not ready to adopt a dog, help control the homeless dog problem by not patronizing puppy mills. Get your dog from a proper, responsible breeder and not through online ads or a petshop.

Read Next: Pros and Cons of Adopting From a Kill and No-Kill Shelters

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The Pet Rescue.

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