Editorial October 2012 Issue

New or Used?

Pondering the purchase of a well-bred, perfectly raised pup.

Recently, one of my friends bought a puppy. Don’t judge! She did everything right: She is familiar with the breed, she researched the breeder thoroughly (including references from past puppy buyers), and had the results of veterinary exams and xrays in hand before picking up the pup.

Nancy Kerns

It was immediately apparent that the breeder had done everything right, too. Super socialized and well-adjusted, the puppy settled into my friend’s home like he had lived there his whole life, handling his interactions with her mature dogs, cat, livestock, and human visitors with confidence and grace. Yes, grace. He is calm, friendly, playful, and inquisitive. He learned basic behaviors like “sit” and “wait” quickly and easily. His new owner is thrilled with him, as she should be.

This isn’t to suggest that all well-bred and well-raised puppies are without issues – that’s just not possible. Any puppy can have a frightening experience that undermines his confidence and sets a lifetime of fear or anxiety into motion. And even pups from the best bloodlines in the world can be born with a genetic predisposition to fearfulness or anxiety.

But the odds of this happening with a well-bred, perfectly raised pup are far lower than they are with poorly bred or randomly raised dogs. After volunteering for years in a shelter, and fostering one misfit dog after another  – and taking weeks or months to help each of them develop into a better-behaved, better-adjusted dog and find an appropriate home for each – I have to say that my friend’s smooth, joyful experience with her well-bred pup is, well, damned attractive.

And, though my dog is from a shelter and I fully expect each of my next dogs to come from a shelter, too, I have to admit: Part of me is jealous. If you know how to raise and train a “damaged” dog, do you know how easy it would be to raise and train a well-bred puppy who has been brought up in ideal conditions? Well, it might not be perfect – again, adverse events can negatively affect even the best, most emotionally healthy dog – but wow, would it ever be easier than trying to train an adolescent dog who has been rehomed three times already, or erase the fear of humans from an older dog who has been abused or neglected, or socialize a puppy who has spent his first eight weeks in a dirty garage, rarely catching sight of a human.

I’m happy for my friend; if everyone did things this well, there wouldn’t be dogs in shelters! By extension, I’m happy for all  educated, responsible dog owners who “do things right” with their dogs from day one. And I’m more than a bit jealous to hear reports about the pup’s super-fast progress. It sounds like an exquisitely enjoyable doggie dream.

But then I go to the shelter and see what we’ve got there. A perfectly mannered but grey-faced Chihuahua. A gorgeous, calm American Bulldog who is predatory to cats and other small animals. A whip-smart Border Collie who has been returned to the shelter three times for three different reasons. A litter of Lab-mix pups who barely know what a human is. A Boxer-mix who is eager to engage and play any sort of training game once she’s with a handler outside, but barks in the kennel all day, every day. And so on. I think to myself, “Could I really buy the purebred puppy of my dreams when all these worthy dogs need homes – especially homes with people who are experienced and educated enough to cope with their problems?”

So far, the answer is no. But that doesn’t mean the answer will always be no.

Comments (1)

I've come around to accepting the probability that I'll buy a well-bred puppy for my next serious competition dog. That's (hopefully) many years down the line, and perhaps I'll find the perfect foster dog before that day, but if I don't, I'm likely to go with a good breeder to help me find the right dog for that job.

I've had many wonderful, stable, friendly foster mutts who made ideal family companions after two or three weeks of work (the count's at fifteen as I write this, and I have another one coming in this weekend). I primarily foster Southern dogs from rural areas where family pets are allowed to breed indiscriminately -- which leads to an overflow of dogs in their shelters, but also means those dogs tend to be friendlier and temperamentally "softer" than most of the dogs I see in my local city shelters. They have no serious behavioral problems, and they make wonderful family pets.

They don't, however, tend to make great competition prospects. Out of the fifteen dogs I've rescued and trained so far, ONE of them had, in my opinion, the raw material to make a truly great Rally or freestyle competitor -- and although she was a border collie, I don't think she had the athleticism to compete at the highest levels of agility.

So if competition is your goal, a breeder pup is probably the best way to go. There still aren't any guarantees, but the odds are certainly more in your favor. And that's why I'll probably end up buying a dog someday, despite having spent years in rescue and knowing full well how great shelter mutts can be.

Posted by: Jennifer A | October 3, 2012 3:29 PM    Report this comment

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