So, you are ready to have a dog. The next step is deciding how to get one. Not surprisingly, there are many ways people go about getting a dog. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, except for pet stores (just don’t).
An organization that does not breed dogs, but acquires them from shelters or private individuals. It may focus on a specific breed or all types of dogs. Dogs are predominantly held in private foster homes until they’re ready for adoption. A complete history of the dog may or may not be available, but because the dogs are typically kept in a private home, more information about how the dog may respond to life in your home is usually available.
Advantages: The ability to select a dog which has been living in a foster home similar to your own, especially if you have children, small animals, or other dogs. Many times, the rescue will have an extensive history on a dog, but even if one isn’t available, basic information on such issues as house training status, obedience training, crate training status, ability to walk on a leash, and other important issues should be available. Most rescues offer extensive vetting, spay/neuter and health testing, and they may cover the costs of heartworm treatment, antibiotics, or other start-up health care as part of the adoption.
Disadvantages: Typically a higher adoption fee and a more rigorous application process, which may include a home visit or reference checks. The rescue wants to ensure that dogs go to the right home for them, and may also have blanket requirements. Some rescues do not adopt out to homes without fenced in yards, for instance. Also, rescues are run by individuals who are “dog people,” not animal people, so sometimes you can be dealing with extremely difficult people.
An organization that does not breed dogs and accepts dogs into a kennel area in a specific building and holds them until they are ready to be adopted. These may be kill or no-kill. Kill shelters are typically contracted by a county or city, and are open admittance, meaning that pets may be surrendered for any reason, and the shelter must take all pets. No-kill shelters are typically privately run, but may be contracted by a city or county. They are usually closed-admittance, meaning that they can refuse to accept pets that they do not have financial resources or space for. Shelters may house some animals in private foster homes, but they predominantly stay in a single facility. The amount of history on the dog will vary based on the admittance policy and record keeping of the shelter.
Advantages: Lots of dogs available in one place, a relatively low adoption fee, and a simple adoption application. The warm and fuzzy feeling you get from getting a dog from a bad situation and giving them a wonderful home.
Disadvantages: Many dogs do not do well in a shelter environment. Add that to an incomplete history, and it can be hard to tell what you’re adopting. Because a large number of dogs are kept together, and strays or other unvaccinated animals may be accepted, health issues are more common. This could be as simple as kennel cough, or as serious as a heartworm infection. The amount of veterinary care the dog has received will vary with the shelter, so it’s important to find out their policy ahead of time.
3. Finding a stray
This can be a dog that shows up at your back door, breaks into your fence, or that you find along the side of the road.
Advantages: The warm and fuzzy feeling you get from helping an animal that desperately needs it.
Disadvantages: You have no health or behavioral history on the dog, and you may be responsible for a lot of medical costs up front. You also didn’t pick this dog, so there is a bigger chance of temperament mismatch. Depending on your local laws, there may be legal issues if the former owners do wish to claim the dog. Typically, there is something legally required, such as advertising in the newspaper for a set period of time, to prevent this.
4. Friends and family
Typically the result of changes in life circumstances, such as moving or having children. Sometimes friends or family will need to rehome a dog.
Advantages: Dog is a known quantity, and hopefully you’ll have access to vet records and background. It’s also nice for the dog being rehomed to go to someone who knows them.
Disadvantages: Sometimes you find out that your friends and family don’t take proper care of their pets, and that can cause strain. Also, you might feel so sad about a nice dog being given up that you could agree to take an animal who is not suited for your lifestyle at all. This is especially true if you think the owners will end up dumping the dog at the shelter if you don’t step up.
5. Craigslist (classified)
This can range from casual breeders advertising puppies for sale, to rescues advertising adoptable dogs, to accidental litters “free to a good home,” to adult dogs that need to be rehomed for some reason. The potential adopter has a lot of responsibility to investigate the circumstances from which the dogs are coming.
Advantages: Lots of choices, and the ability to look at many dogs from the comfort of your own home.
Disadvantages: You’ll have to do your own research and work to avoid potential scams. While a history may be available on the dog, sometimes owners aren’t completely honest or forthcoming.
6. Pet store
Many pet stores do not sell dogs, but do allow shelters and rescues to bring adoptable dogs to adoption events at the pet store. The store is available as a space, but the shelter or rescue has their own adoption contracts, requirements, and receives any adoption fees paid. However, some pet stores still sell pure breed, mixed, or “designer breed” puppies, and these are almost exclusively from puppy mills. We are talking about the latter right now.
Advantages: Immediate access to pets if you are buying directly from a store. So many cute puppies.
Disadvantages: Practically, pet store puppies are notorious for having health problems. Behaviorally, puppies are removed from their mother and litter before 8 weeks old, and are often housed and transported in ways that have been shown to encourage the development of behavioral issues. Typically, these puppies are off to a bad start any way you look at it. More broadly, you are perpetuating a horrific system. (If you aren’t familiar with the puppy mills/pet stores issue, Google it.)
Breeders range from people who casually breed 2 dogs of untested health and temperament, to people who have extensive knowledge of dog genetics, temperament, and the skills needed to promote healthy behavior in a litter of puppies. Breeders are discussed in more detail here.
Advantages: You can have a dog that looks exactly the way you like. Depending on the breeder, you could have extensive history of the dog, which can help predict health problems. Ideally, you should be able to meet both of a dog’s parents and assess their temperament. A good breeder will offer a health guarantee, assistance training the dog, and information about the breed and its suitability for your lifestyle. Some people like designer dogs, like the labradoodle, because these breeds purport to have the strengths of both breeds and none of the weaknesses.
Disadvantages: Unskilled or dishonest breeders can con people into spending a lot of money on a pure breed puppy or dog that later develops health problems or behavioral issues as a result of genetics or an unhealthy environment in early puppyhood. Poor breeding can result in dogs which do not match the breed standard in critical ways; for instance, herding breeds which do not have the stamina, temperament, or mental ability to learn to herd. Also, there are a lot of dogs that need homes already; by having one “created” for you, you are missing an opportunity to help some perfectly awesome dogs.
So, now that you have learned these ways of getting a dog, you should decide which one is best for you. Except for pet stores, because you are not an evil, foolish person.