Credit: Herwig Kavallar

I got this email the other day from a friend who had told me she was getting a new dog — in response to my query: What kind?

We’re getting a yellow lab. We went back and forth on purebred vs. rescue and it was a really tough decision. My dog is a rescue and my husband brought a purebred chocolate lab into our relationship. The lab passed away a couple of months ago, so we’re looking to get some company for my neurotic little rescue dog… we ultimately decided to go with a breed that is for the most part really good with kids.

It sounded to me like my friend already made a commitment to a breeder, and I’m not a (private) nagger, so I didn’t pursue it. But I’ll say it here. You don’t have to choose between getting the breed you want and getting a purebred dog. According to the Humane Society of the United States, one out of every four dogs in the United States is purebred.

You read that right: One out of four.

And the fact that they’ve been given up doesn’t mean they are loser representatives of their breeds. Most dogs end up homeless because of circumstances that have little to do with them — including the sudden homelessness of their owners.

The American Kennel Club lists rescue organizations for more than 150 breeds. There are even rescue groups devoted to designer hybrids like Puggles and Labradoodles. Ask your local shelter if they know of rescuers in the area that specialize in the breed you’re seeking, and also check sites like Pets911, Petfinder, and Craigslist (if I’ve missed any major ones, please share).

One last thing: that neurotic rescue dog vs temperament-tested purebred dichotomy? Nuh uh. Some purebreds are pure nutcases. And some mixed breeds from shelters are the nicest dogs, ever.

And of course there’s training, for nutcases of every type… But that’s another topic.

16 thoughts on “Breed vs Rescue? No! Breed Rescue? Yes!”

  1. I got my sweet dog Kelly from a Cocker Spaniel Rescue. When you see her, however, you realize she’s not really pure cocker spaniel. Her face and sable coat resemble a long haired dachshund, but her legs are longer like a cocker. I’m so glad that they rescued this dog, whatever part cocker spaniel she may or may not have in her, and I’m even more happy that I adopted her!

    1. You’re right, Peggy — I forgot to mention that breed rescues sometimes fudge in their zealousness to rescue dogs. Frankie was rescued by Arizona Schnauzer Rescue even though he’s probably a terrier/poodle mix (although one schnauzer owner swore he had schnauzer characteristics). But as you said — once you get the dog, who cares?

  2. Well, I can certainly attest to the fact that paying lots of money for a purebred dog even from a super responsible breeder is still a crap shoot. Take my Sadie for example. She has lots of fear issues. We’re working on them daily, as you know. But, I think one of the reasons I have struggled so much with accepting Sadie for who she is is because I thought, stupidly, that by getting a dog from a good breeder (the same one I got my last dog from and she was perfect) I could avoid the very problems with which I ended up. I could have given Sadie back to the breeder and gotten my money back. But, I didn’t. I couldn’t. And, now, of course she’s the love of my life.

    1. I’ve got to admit I thought of you and Sadie, Deborah, when I was writing this but would never have named names (or used the term “nutcase,” which is rather rude — and hyperbolic).

  3. YES! Exactly! Thank you so much for pointing this out. I really think that 9 times out of 10 people choose purebreeds for reasons they think make sense but really aren’t founded (we want a breed that is good with kids, sound temperment etc). Like you said, purebreed does not guarantee anything- understanding your particular dog will get you much further.

    I don’t get it- 2 really calm, easy going humans can produce a cyclone of a kid. Why do people think dogs would be any different?

    1. Probably because we don’t think of ourselves as animals… I suspect that, instinctual things like sniffing and burrowing aside, dog breeds really aren’t as different as we are led to believe.

    2. I’m not sure that’s an accurate comparison. The reason being that humans haven’t been artificially selected by uhm… humans?!!

      If I went around collecting humans with certain traits (oh God this is sounding like Nazi Germany, but bear with me) and set up a special breeding program for lets say 10 to 15 generations- I’m not sure that two really calm adults, if that was the trait you were selectig for, would be as likely to produce totally hyper chilren- they may produce some, but odds are in the “breeder’s ” favor of producing calm kids- that is afterall what they’ve been selecting for.

      People being people and free to mate with whom ever we please have a lot of hybrid vigor, meaning a lot of heterozygous genes. Mom might give the “hyper” gene or the “calm” gene. If the “calm” gene is dominant- she would present with calm behavior while the child may recieve the recessive “hyper” gene from both mom and dad and end up hyper.

      The point of breeding programs in dogs is to get rid of that variability on certain traits- most of which at this point are physical – which has extremely averse affects on behavior.

      A better comparison between human breeding and dog breeding would be with street dogs aka mutts and then- you’re totally right, It’s a crap shoot! My therapy dog Penny, had puppies before I got her. Her puppies looked like chows, shepherds, and labradors- none looked anything like her! One even looked like she had Malinois in her- crazy!!!

      Crystal Saling, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP

  4. Amen Edie!!!! Having volunteered for many years in a shelter I can attest to the fact that we do get A LOT of purebreed dogs. I wish people would take a look at them.

    As testament to the fact that purebreed dogs are available, just look at my two: Jasper (a purebreed Shetland Sheepdog) and Daisy (a purebreed Yellow Lab – although she looks more white than yellow).

    And if you want a dog good with kids wouldn’t you want to know beforehand? Getting a puppy does not guarantee the dog will be good with kids (no matter the breed). Purebreed dogs at our shelter do come from families with kids. Why not adopt and know what you are getting?

    1. Oops! I even called miniature schnauzers “undercover terriers” in my book. The process of forgetting has begun…

  5. You can add to the above list, and also a cautionary note about Craigslist and puppymillers–they don’t police the people that put these ads in so be aware.

    My precious and lovely in every way Shih Tzu came from a shelter, my English Springer Spaniel would have landed in a shelter had I not interceded thanks to a trainer friend, and an Afghan Hound came from a Vet who needed the bill paid. The Shelter Pet Project advertising program is driven by the mission to change people’s perceptions about shelter pets. They are not “bad dogs”, they just didn’t fit with the people who gave them up. You can also foster dogs for a shelter – just as Lake Shore in Chicago…seems 95% of the foster parents adopt the animals they are fostering! Good for dogs, bad for foster program:)))

    Thanks Edie, for reminding everyone of these important facts!

  6. We chose the Hovawart breed because they suit so well with our personalities, activity level, etc. I got Kenzo as a pup from a breeder, because he was my first dog. Hovawart breeders attached to the Danish version of the Kennel club test on personality too. Not only on looks. That gave me some kind of security of what to expect. Most Hovawarts in Denmark come from a Hovawart puppy mill and they are know for their mental problems, next to their health issues. The chances of a Hovawart in a rescue coming from this puppy mill was fairly high. As a first time owner I was not sure if I could handle such a dog.

    Now that I feel more comfortable with my dog skills (thanks Kenzo) we did adopt Viva who has her share of health problems and mental issues. Honestly I don’t think I could have handled Viva as a first time dog owner. I would simply not have been prepared and educated enough for a dog like her. On the other hand, the rescue would almost certainly not have given Viva to me as a first time owner.

    So … I am guilty. I took a shortcut with Kenzo. What I should have done is wait until the Hovawart suitable for a first time dog owner came by in a rescue. Selfish thoughts. And risky, as there was no guarantuee I was the right person to socialize Kenzo.

    I am almost cured. Almost because one thing is still bothering me. Breeders show interest in Kenzo just because of his great personality and ask me to show up in shows, so we get the correct “external” papers. And the little devil in me is talking again … wouldn’t Kenzo be a great …

    I think it is the love for the breed that makes me think that way. Help!

    1. First of all, remember that this is a guilt free zone (which doesn’t mean it isn’t a place to vent those feelings — giving them air is a way to see how irrational they are). We do the best we can do at any given time in our lives, and then vow to do better next time.

      You clearly gave the decision to get Kenzo a LOT of thought -and went to a good breeder that didn’t support puppy mills. You couldn’t have done any better at that time. And in fact, I oversimplified the getting a breed vs breed rescue dichotomy because I wanted to make a point. The friend I used as an example had a far more complex situation than I made clear (as she explained to me afterwards) and her decision was based on a lot of agonizing over the issue.

      I don’t see anything wrong with showing Kenzo. I gather you think this is giving in to a system that focuses on the external? But you already have him and you are proud of him. And if there’s no inbreeding that’s being encouraged — it doesn’t sound that way — why not? Except if you think Viva will feel bad 😉

      1. Happily the Danish Hovawart Kennel Club thinks the exterior is less important, though a certain minimum is necessary. Inbreeding is also not an issue, blood lines are checked at least 4 generations back.

        But, Yes, the whole showing thing gives me a bad taste. Other breeds are not that lucky, where health and mental stability is of less importance.

        On the other hand it makes me happy Kenzo has been spotted by breeders for his great temperament. And wouldn’t that be great genes to pass on, better then the perfect color or other exterior characteristic.

        I will ask Viva what she thinks about it, after her upcoming sterilisation 🙂

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