Rescues vs. purebreds: what's right for you?

August 23, 2023 - 5 min read
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About 3 million dogs enter animal shelters each year, and only 2 million are adopted. The remaining million continue waiting for a loving home. And tragically, many are euthanized. For the pup you bring home, adoption is a dogsend.

Nonetheless, perhaps you’d prefer to purchase a purebred dog from a breeder. Maybe you’ve got your heart set on a specific breed or on a pedigreed puppy. Maybe you have allergies and need a dog with a hypoallergenic coat. Or perhaps you’ve got your sights set on the Westminster Dog Show. As long as you buy from a responsible breeder, you don’t deserve a guilt trip—all dogs deserve loving homes!

One thing’s for sure: If you’re still deciding between adopting a rescue dog or buying a purebred pup, you need to make a choice that aligns with your needs and lifestyle.

Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog

All too often, rescue dogs emerge from challenging backgrounds. Many are former stray dogs who spent untold hours wandering the streets, desperate for food and shelter. Some emerged from brutal puppy mills or even dogfighting rings. And even when they’ve come from a loving home, they’ll still be grappling with disorientation and a profound sense of loss.

With patience, dedication, and understanding, you can help them turn the page toward a new chapter filled with love, healing, and hope. And by bringing home a rescue dog, you'll be freeing up vital resources for the animal shelter, enabling them to provide essential support to other animals in need.

And perhaps most importantly, you may be saving a life—more than 10% of shelter dogs are euthanized.

There can also be practical benefits to choosing shelter adoption. Compared to purchasing a puppy, it’s easier to get a precise sense of your rescue dog’s temperament and behavioral tendencies before they come home with you. That’s because shelter staff members spend days and weeks observing the behavior of the dogs in their care, which means they can help match you with a dog who suits your preferences.

And sure, training a rescue dog can sometimes carry special challenges, especially if your pup has experienced abuse or neglect. But in other cases, rescues may actually need LESS training than an average puppy! In fact, you might be able to find a shelter dog who’s already been through house training, recall training, leash training, socialization, or all of the above.

So if you’re not eager to train a puppy from scratch, adopting the right dog could save you lots of aggravation.

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What to Consider Before Adopting From a Shelter

Adopting a shelter dog is a commendable choice, but it requires careful thought and preparation.

  • Shelter Compatibility: Research and visit different shelters to find one that aligns with your values and goals. Each shelter may have its own policies, adoption procedures, and available dogs. Ask the shelter workers about their approach to animal care and get a sense of their transparency. You can review information about the shelter online and even reach out to previous adopters to seek feedback.

Choose a shelter that clearly prioritizes the well-being of animals and offers a supportive and transparent adoption experience.

  • Health and Behavior Evaluation: Ask about the shelter's health and behavior assessment processes. It’s crucial that you understand the dog's medical history, temperament, and any potential challenges that lie ahead of you.

FYI, some shelters provide post-adoption behavioral support or other resources to help a dog adjust to their new home.

  • A Matching Lifestyle: Don’t adopt a dog whose needs and energy level are completely incompatible with your own. Take a good look at your home and lifestyle!

If you live in a small apartment or if you don’t have time for lengthy outdoor exercise sessions, you probably shouldn’t adopt a large, hyper-energetic dog in your prime of youth. But a smaller, lower-energy pup—or perhaps a senior dog—might be perfect for you.

  • Consider existing pets or family members: If you have any other pets or family members, you’ll need to consider their needs and preferences when you choose a dog. Where applicable, be sure to pick a dog who can get along with children or other furry family members.

  • Previous Training and Socialization: Ask the shelter about the dog's previous training, socialization, and behavioral history. This information can help you understand the dog's background, potential areas for improvement, and whether they’re the right pup for you.

  • Spaying or Neutering: Your adoptive dog might already be spayed or neutered—and you should ask! Otherwise, most shelters will spay or neuter your dog before you adopt them, and you should take them up on the offer. Widespread failure to spay or neuter dogs is a big reason why so many pups wind up in shelters in the first place.

  • Veterinary Care and Vaccinations: Ask about the dog's medical history, vaccinations, and any ongoing medical needs. Confirm that they’re up-to-date on vaccinations and routine care. You’ll want to secure any paperwork the shelter has regarding the dog’s veterinary history. (Psst…this is very important for pet insurance.)

  • Meet and Greet!: If you can, spend time with the dog you're interested in—many shelters offer meet-and-greet sessions! It’s a great way to gauge your compatibility and forge a connection before you bring them home.

  • Adoption Fees and Paperwork: Make sure you understand the shelter’s paperwork and requirements and provide the correct documentation. You’ll likely need to pay an adoption fee. Usually it’ll be in the low hundreds of dollars at the very most. This helps fund the shelter, and it’s typically much less expensive than buying a puppy from a reputable breeder.

Just make sure you’ve prepared your home for the dog’s arrival, stocking up on all the food, supplies, bedding, toys, and comfortable spaces they’ll need. Be sure to take them in for a routine vet appointment ASAP and get them caught up on any vaccinations or parasite prevention if need be.

Once you bring your new rescue dog home, be patient during their transition period! It may take some time for them to adjust to their new environment and routine.

Benefits of Adopting from a Responsible Breeder

While adopting a shelter dog is a wonderful thing to do, it’s not right for everyone. Prospective pet parents may have specific needs or preferences that lead them to purchase a purebred dog from a responsible breeder.

First of all, some pet parents simply have their hearts set on a specific type of purebred dog—and more specifically, a purebred puppy. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re desperate to befriend an eight-week-old French Bulldog, it’ll be pretty hard to find one at your local shelter.

illustration of dalmation puppy side profile holding a broken stick

How to Decide?

Breeds, Breeds, Breeds

Making a decision about the type of dog you adopt or buy is no small undertaking. There are an incredible number of breeds out there. Find out more about some of the most popular breeds' energy levels, maintenance, and more.

illustration of dalmation puppy side profile holding a broken stick

Some families may also benefit from purchasing a dog with a predictable temperament. And while all dogs are different, reputable breeders usually strive for behavioral consistency in all their pups. All you’ll need to do is research the behavioral differences between different breeds. This foreknowledge can be especially important for families with specific dynamics, like those with young children.

Purchasing from a breeder may also be wise if you’re struggling with certain allergies or health concerns. Certain purebreds and crossbreeds, like Cockapoos, can be borderline hypoallergenic. If you’re a chronic allergy sufferer, it may be impossible for you to live with any other type of dog.

By the way, there’s a reason we keep using the words “reputable” or “responsible” when we describe ethical dog breeders: These are the only types of breeders you should purchase from! Dogs who come from unethical breeding operations (like puppy mills) often endure physical and emotional hardships, leading to suffering, health issues, genetic disorders, and behavioral problems.

Now’s a good time to read our guide to purchasing a dog from a responsible breeder.

What to Consider Before Purchasing from a Reputable Breeder

Just like adopting from a shelter, purchasing a purebred or crossbred dog from a breeder requires careful thought and research. Here are some things to consider:

  • Reputable Breeder Research: You should conduct thorough research to identify responsible breeders who prioritize the health, well-being, and ethical treatment of their dogs. The American Kennel Club’s list of responsible breeders is a good place to start. You can also seek referrals and read online reviews.

And whenever possible, be sure to visit the breeder. Observe the space and cleanliness of the facility, as well as the overall treatment and condition of the dogs.

While you’re there, ask to meet your prospective puppy’s parents. You’ll gain insights into the potential temperament and size of your pup. And just as importantly, it’s important to know whether the parents (particularly the mother) are in good, healthy condition. This will tell you a great deal about whether you’re about to patronize an ethical facility.

  • Breed Compatibility (Lifestyle, Family, and Health): Research different dog breeds to find one that matches your lifestyle, activity level, and preferences. You’ll also want to make sure your choice is compatible with any existing pets or family members, including children. And if you have special health needs—say, you want a hypoallergenic pup due to allergies—only certain breeds will meet those needs.

No two dogs are alike, but it should be easy enough to learn the general traits of any given breed.

  • Health Clearances: Ask about the health clearances and certifications for the dogs being bred, and confirm that they’ve been tested for hereditary health conditions common to their breed. If they haven’t been, that’s a glaring red flag that you’re dealing with an unethical breeder. A responsible breeder should also provide health guarantees for the puppies they sell.

  • Puppy Socialization: Ask the breeder how they’ve gone about socializing the puppies from an early age. Exposure to siblings, different environments, and people—even in the first few weeks of life—can help give rise to well-adjusted, confident puppers.

  • Ask Questions: Don't hesitate to ask the breeder about their breeding practices, philosophy, and commitment to their dogs' well-being. A responsible breeder will be open and transparent. If they seem evasive, turn tail and leave.

  • Financial Investment: Understand that purchasing a puppy from a reputable breeder may involve a higher initial cost than adoption from a shelter, sometimes much higher. Take stock of your financial situation—you’ll need some money left over to take care of your dog! After all, pet parenthood can be extremely expensive, especially when you factor in the cost of veterinary care.

Purebred or Rescue Dog — Either Way, Now You’re a Pet Parent 

Whether you’ve adopted a shelter dog or a pricey purebred, now you’re in the enviable position of being a dog parent. This means a life filled with love and companionship, but also commitment, training, and healthcare costs.

Dog insurance can help with that last one. No matter how well you take care of them, costly accidents and illnesses do happen to both mixed breed and purebred dogs.

Fortunately, insurance may help ease the financial burden of treatment!

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.