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Searching for a Dog... Rescue? Breeder? What's the Best Option?

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Being a dog trainer has many pluses and only a drawbacks. On the plus side I'm never short ice breakers and I am surrounded by dogs and dog lovers.

On the down side, I can't seem to get through a cocktail party without being approached by a tipsy acquaintance, proclaiming the possible pitfalls of their puppy's potty schedule. I stare on, mouth usually agape, while I swirl my Chardonnay and wait for their diatribe to end. It's actually pretty humorous. I hand them my card and tell them to call me in the morning.

There is, however, one question I welcome -- one I am happy to weigh in on anywhere, anytime. It's the question of breeder versus rescue adoption. As there are truths and warnings that circulate from both camps, it's often hard for the lay person, who knows little about dogs beyond their adoring eyes and wagging tail, to understand the implications of adopting either.

I myself have four rescues that run the gamut. Two are purebred rescues, while the other two are mix breed dogs; three of my dogs are large, one is very small; I have two males and two females. In the course of my lifetime, however, I've loved my share of finely bred puppies too. When you're a dog, it really makes no difference where you come from as long as you have someone to love.

The question I'm asked most frequently goes something like this: "What's the difference between adopting a rescue versus adopting a purebred dog? Is there a best bet? A sure fire guarantee for adopting the perfect pet?"

Unfortunately, no. Adopting a dog is a very personal quest. The answer depends on who you are, and what you can tolerate. Before addressing the question, I'll layout the options: breeder vs. rescue dog, and the realities of both.

A Mindfully Bred Puppy or Dog

First a word about breeds. Dotted across the globe are over 450 different breeds of dogs, many that can trace their lineage back decades, sometimes centuries, to a time when their ancestors aided man in sport or survival. There are dog breeds created to guard estates or livestock, others bred to herd or pull loads, and others still that were developed to serve as companions for their people. In a parallel turn of evolution, people across the world simultaneously recognized the dogs could be selectively bred to enhance our every desire. We needed dogs to find the birds we killed, to haul produce, dogs to protect the fields we harvested. Of course, fast-forward to today and few of us need our dogs to work for a living, but don't tell the dog.

When you select a purebred companion you're adopting more than fur and bone, you're bringing in a new and vibrant family member whose passions can be predicted long before their arrival.

If your heart is set on a purebred dog and you've found a breed with passions that dovetail into your lifestyle, you have another decision in front of you. Should you buy your puppy or dog from a reputable breeder, go to a pet store, locate a possible candidate online, or investigate purebred rescue groups? It's only slightly more challenging than ordering a cup-a-Joe at Starbucks.

What does a dog breeder do?

There are individuals whose respect for a specific breed of dog goes far beyond a fanciful whim. These people-known as breeders, are individuals who devote themselves to their dogs, mindfully choosing breeding pairs and traveling to weekend events to showcase their dogs in confirmation or intelligence categories. When these breeders breed a litter of puppies, they are selective about who takes them and firm about their convictions concerning their puppy's care. If you do not respect their astute supervision, and choose to look elsewhere for a dog, perhaps from a less demanding breeder or pet store or online, you may pay the price. Poorly bred purebreed dogs are more prone to ailments and/or congenital disease that will cost you in expense and heartache.

Which is healthier -- purebred or mix breed dogs?

There are a lot of similarities between purebreds whether you're discussing dogs or humans! Do you know anyone whose descendants are from one country? We often use well-refined stereotypes when talking about human heritage. Italians are said to be romantic, English reserved, and Germans disciplined. There are also congenital diseases that run in accessorial lines. The same holds true about dogs. Breeds can have very consistent personality traits -- Chows are suspicious of strangers, Border Collies are obsessive, Golden Retrievers eternally cheerful. Similarly there are genetic abnormalities that can run in breed lines, such as cancer in Boxers, heart murmurs in Caviler King Charles Spaniels, and hip dysplasia issues in German Shepherd Dogs. When one purebred dog mates with a different breed, however, their genes intermingle, and what generally results is know as hybrid vigor -- the healthy genes pass onto the progeny and a more durable generation survives.

Rescue-Shelter Puppy/Dog

There is a tremendous rescue movement for people considering a dog or puppy. There are over six million dogs euthanized in the United States yearly, which is about 100 times the amount of attendees at the Super Bowl. It is a crushing reality, especially for the dogs who want little more than someone to love. I've devoted my life to rescuing dogs, often settling for ones who are otherwise un-placable or abandoned. Rehabilitating my dogs is a long but satisfying road that I am happy to travel knowing their emotional capacities once they learn to trust again.

There are some people who think that they will surpass the initial cost of pet ownership and adopt a kid friendly, problem free pet when they choose to rescue an adult dog. Though that can happen, the reality can prove otherwise. It is best, I advise my clients, to consider that any pet you adopt will need time, loving reinforcement, and patience to fit into your lifestyle and schedule.

Many of the shelters here in the Northeast United States are transporting their dogs and puppies in from others areas of the country where the dog may never have set foot in a home or experience the entrapment of a fence or leash. While nearly every dog comes programmed for a human connection, if these dogs have not been socialized to a given lifestyle, it will take a few weeks for them to feel comfortable with new routines.

And while many adoptables are mix-breed dogs whose lineage can be guessed with varying accuracy, you'll see many purebred dog rescues as well. Before you choose your dog, consider what breed, or mix there of, aligns most closely with your personality and habits.

A rescue puppy is another matter. It is ideal to search out a puppy who has been kept with his mother and littermates until eight weeks of age or longer. Dogs, like children, need the reflective nurturing of their mother to feel secure. When selecting a puppy, consider the breed possibilities, for while you'll see little drive in an eight-week-old puppy, his life patterns will emerge within months.

In my follow-up articles, I will explore the rescue process, from how to choose a dog or puppy from a shelter line up, to common rescue behavior problems. Please upload your experiences, thoughts, and questions. There is much we can learn from each other's experiences!

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