Where to Get a Dog

By kleo

Posted in

Where you get your dog from matters a lot. It matters for two very strong reasons:

1. The health and well-being of your dog will depend on where your dog is from – including behavior and health issues.

2. Ethics. There are good people doing good work rescuing and breeding dogs, and there are backyard breeders and pet stores making choices that hurt dogs. Support the right people and help do good for the world.

Listed below are the popular sources for getting a new dog, starting with great sources (rescues/shelters and reputable breeders) and moving on to the sources you’ll want to avoid (backyard breeders and pet stores).

Rescues and Shelters

Rescues and shelters are both organizations that take in homeless dogs and help them find homes. Typically, a shelter is a publicly funded organization where any individual can drop off their dog for any reason. Dogs at a shelter are usually kept at a physical location in cages. Some shelters are no-kill and others have high euthanasia rates (usually due to space constraints).

Rescues are slightly different in that they are typically privately funded, no-kill organizations. Usually rescues will pull dogs out of shelters that are at risk of euthanasia and put them into foster homes. The foster home will care for the dog until the dog is adopted. Rescues help take the burden off of publicly funded shelters so that more dogs can be adopted.

In general, it’s a bit more predictable to get a dog from a rescue because the dog is already living in a home and the dog’s behavior can be more easily observed in the home environment. Dogs in a shelter might not show their full personalities because they are living in a cage and kept cooped up for much of the day. These dogs might be stressed out and might be acting out because they are not getting enough exercise. However, usually shelter workers and volunteers spend a good amount of time around shelter dogs and can still give a very good idea of the personality you will get.

Both rescues and shelters are great places to adopt a new pet because so many dogs are euthanized every year. You will be saving a dog’s life, and quite possibly another life because you will free up space in a shelter where another dog can be taken in. Pet overpopulation is a huge problem, and you can help out immensely by supporting the efforts of shelters and rescues.

Here are some common myths about shelters and rescues that sometimes prevent people from adopting from them:

MYTH: Shelter dogs are dogs that nobody wants because they have behavior problems.

FACT: Here are the top 10 reasons dogs are given up to shelters (source is’s assessment of a NCPPSP study):

  1. Moving (7%)
  2. Landlord not allowing pet (6%)
  3. Too many animals in household (4%)
  4. Cost of pet maintenance (5%)
  5. Owner having personal problems (4%)
  6. Inadequate facilities (4%)
  7. No homes available for litter mates (3%)
  8. Having no time for pet (4%)
  9. Pet illness(es) (4%)
  10. Biting (3%)

As you can see, the top 8 reasons make up 37% of the reasons owners give up their dogs, and none of them have anything to do with behavior or health issues. While it is true that some owners give up their dogs for health or behavior issues, the percentage is quite small, and oftentimes these are issues that can be corrected with common veterinary care or training techniques. The percentage of dogs at a shelter with issues that cannot be addressed are very, very small. Shelter and rescue workers and volunteers will be able to help guide you to a dog that is a good match for you, and will be able to tell you if a dog has any behavior problems before you adopt.

MYTH: Shelters don’t have the type of dog you are looking for (purebreds, puppies, etc).

FACT: Shelters get all kinds of dogs. Typically 25% of dogs coming into shelters are purebred dogs. While the type of dog you are looking for may be more uncommon, if you wait long enough one will usually turn up. There are also breed-specific rescues that can help you find a rescue dog for that breed. Shelters also get puppies very frequently, because many owners don’t realize how much work it takes to raise a puppy, or because the owner never spayed their dog and now has unwanted puppies. Even if you are looking for a purebred, ask yourself why. Many shelter dogs are just as cute and have the same personality traits you would be looking for in a purebred!

Reputable Breeders

There are many breeders out there that are breeding dogs according to health and temperament in an attempt to better the breed. These breeders care deeply about dogs and put a lot of time and effort into ensuring they are breeding high quality dogs and finding them exceptional homes.

The main benefit of buying from a breeder rather than going through a shelter or rescue is that dogs from breeders are likely to be healthier, because breeders do health tests on their dogs. However, be prepared to pay much more in the beginning to buy the dog, because health tests are expensive. You will save more money in the long run from vet bills. It’s also not guaranteed that your dog will not have any health problems, because something could always come up that is unexpected. It’s just much more likely the dog won’t have any of the health problems that were tested for.

If you are thinking about adopting a puppy, there is another benefit of going through a breeder, because the puppy’s adult personality is much more predictable. Note that there isn’t much of a benefit with adult dogs because rescues can give you lots of details on the personality and behavior of an adult dog. However, with rescue puppies, the personality and behavior can change over time and it’s less predictable what the adult dog will be like. With a breeder, the puppy’s personality will be very predictable, because the puppy is coming from lines that are carefully tracked and observed.

What most people don’t realize is how rare these breeders are and how much they cost. It’s not easy finding a good breeder. Here are some ways you can tell if a breeder is reputable and one you should support:

1. The breeder does health tests for the breed. Each dog breed is susceptible to certain types of health problems, and a good breeder will test these things before breeding their dogs to make sure the next generation is likely to be healthier than the generation before. A common problem in many dogs is hip dysplasia, so most breeders will perform x-rays to determine if their dogs will develop it. Some other common health tests for dogs depending on the breed are: x-rays of patellas and elbows, tests on the heart, eyes, ears, thyroid, and DNA tests for genetic disorders. A good breeder will always be willing to walk you through in detail what the common issues are for the breed, and what health tests they perform.

2. The breeder cares deeply about finding a good home for puppies. A good breeder will not care about money over finding the right owner for their puppy or dog. Good breeders interview potential owners and will not sell to just anyone. They will want you to come visit their kennel and dogs, and talk to you about your plans for your dog. They will make sure you have a veterinarian lined up and they will have you sign a contract. They don’t want their dogs to end up in a shelter, where their fates may be unknown. A good breeder will always take their dogs back if the owner can no longer care for the dog, and will help find a new suitable home. Most reputable breeders will breed 0-3 litters per year (though there are some exceptions), and many will have potential homes lined up for puppies before they even consider breeding a pair.

3. The breeder has a goal for breeding. It’s hard for some people who are just looking for pets to understand why it’s important to get a puppy from a parent that has titles. The key is that the breeder has a good reason and goal for breeding their dogs instead of just thinking that “it’s cute”, “it’s fun”, “I love puppies”, or “I have a great dog that I really wanted to breed”. There are enough dogs in the world and breeding just “for fun” contributes to the overpopulation of pets. There are plenty of dogs in shelters that are euthanized that are good pets. Showing or working dogs exposes the dog to outside judges that will help evaluate whether the breeder is truly making good choices in improving the breed and contributing something other than just more pets in an overcrowded world.

Backyard Breeders

Backyard breeders (sometimes abbreviated as BYB) include anyone who breeds dogs for pets without a goal for improving the breed or without health testing. Dogs that are bred by backyard breeders typically have health and behavior problems, because the breeder doesn’t test for these things before breeding. Backyard breeders are not motivated to improve the breed, and instead may be breeding dogs because they want the money, they think it’s “fun”, or they were too irresponsible to get their dog fixed. When there are millions of dogs being euthanized each year, there is no reason to support these breeders that are adding to the population without being responsible about it.

“Designer dogs” fall into the category of backyard breeder. Designer dog is just a fancy way of saying mutt. This includes all kinds of mixed dogs with combo names like “chiweenie” and “labradoodle”. The problem with breeding mixes is that the dogs will not have predictable personalities or health, which are the major benefits of breeding purebreds. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with a mixed breed, it’s just that there is already an overabundance of animals in the shelter, and designer dogs have no health or temperament benefits over the shelter dogs.

Most people don’t realize how common backyard breeders are. If a breeder has any one of these characteristics, they are a backyard breeder:

  • They breed dogs without health testing them
  • They breed “designer dogs”
  • They sell dogs that are younger than 8 weeks old
  • They will sell to anyone without interviewing them
  • They do not make the buyer sign a contract
  • They do not have clearly defined goals for their breeding
  • They will not take the dog back to re-home if it doesn’t work out

All of these factors make it more likely that the dog will end up in the shelter and contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.

Please don’t support irresponsible breeders when there are so many more ethical options to get a dog, like shelters, rescues, and reputable breeders.

Pet Stores

Rule of thumb: Never, ever, ever buy animals from pet stores. Pet stores get all of their animals from either backyard breeders or puppy mills. The only exception is when pet stores partner with rescues and shelters and hold adoption events, but you should be adopting through the partner organization and not through the pet stores. If you ask the pet store where their dogs come from, they will always say that they are from good sources, but it’s not true. You can never really know unless you are adopting from the source yourself. So it’s best to avoid pet stores all together.

Because pet store dogs come from bad places, some people think they are “rescuing” the dog by buying from the pet store. Instead, what this does is just give the pet store more money to buy more dogs from bad places. You may be helping out that one dog, but the company makes a profit based on its poor choices, and will use the profits to continue to support the puppy mills and just replace the dog you just helped. If everyone stopped buying from pet stores, puppy mills would stop existing. It’s a simple supply and demand question.

Here are just a few articles about pet stores and puppy mills:

Huffington Post

New York Times



Now that you have the information on where dogs come from, you know that the best choices are to get a dog from a shelter/rescue or a reputable breeder, and to never buy from a backyard breeder or pet store.

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