Should You Buy or Rescue a Dog?

Podcast - Should You Buy or Rescue a Dog

Podcast Episode 48: Should You Buy or Rescue a Dog?

This episode discusses the advantages and disadvantages of rescuing a dog from a shelter vs buying a dog from a breeder. We review what you should consider in making the right choice for your family. This includes the different risks and considerations going into this decision. It’s not about what is better in abstract but how to approach this decision for each person or family.

Related Article: How to Rescue a Dog from a Shelter


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Podcast Transcript: Should You Buy or Rescue a Dog?

Hello, this is Ralf from Happy Dog Training. And welcome to another episode of Dog Talk. Today we’re going to talk about rescuing versus buying a dog. What should you do? Should you rescue a dog from a shelter? Or should you buy a dog from a breeder?

Obviously there is a lot of compassion and a lot of heated arguments on the side of rescuing a dog. Of course you should rescue. You should be a good person. You should save a dog’s life. There’s so many dogs in shelters, they get put down and so on. And all of that is true. I’m not saying it’s not. But, if it is the right answer for your family is a different question than all of these external factors.

Rescuing From a Shelter

Looking at shelters and rescue dogs first, obviously, unless you’re getting a puppy, but even actually, if you get a puppy, you don’t really know anything about the genetics of that dog. You don’t know anything about the background, any kind of behavioral issues that may have existed in the parents or grandparents of that dog. You don’t necessarily know the breed makeup, the genetic makeup, any health conditions the dog may become genetic factors later. All of these things are unknown. This is something to keep in mind as you rescue a dog from a shelter.

None of these are exclusionary factors, so you should not, because of these risks, not rescue. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you should be aware of those parameters and go in it with open eyes. You can absolutely go to a shelter and rescue a wonderful dog. I rescued most of my dogs. My personal dogs were all rescues. You can rescue wonderful dogs. I rescued my dogs from the shelter and they were German Shepherds.

My Rescue Dogs

Then later I ran a DNA tests and it showed they were actually purebreds. The ones I rescued, one was a stray. No, two were strays, two other ones were from shelters and one was directly surrendered to me from a person. And another one was, surrendered by his previous owner the day before I found him. And that was actually my dog, Sylvester. It was an owner surrender, the day before I saw him at the shelter, and it was a purebred German Shepherd.

You can get amazing dogs at shelters? Absolutely. But you’re going in with having to potentially deal with behavioral issues. When I rescued Sylvester, he definitely needed training. He was untrained, and that’s why he was surrendered, which was really not fair to him, but ended up great for me because he was an amazing animal. The best dog I’ve ever had. He was lucky pick, a lucky find. My other dogs I also got from shelters over the years. They came with other issues, some had behaviors that could be modified and changed, some that could not.

Preparation Matters

You’re entering into a world of the unknown to some degree. You may or may not be able to address all the things you come across with a rescue dog down the line. That doesn’t mean you’re completely spared from any of this when you go and purchase a dog, but we’ll get back to that later.

Risk Factors

There are some risk factors associated with it. If you’re prepared to spend the money on training, if you’re prepared to set money aside for potential health issues, and do health screenings, maybe do a DNA test. I like using They have a lot of health checks and are more comprehensive. You can figure out a lot of those things once the dog’s part of your family, and you can prepare for a lot of those things, but it’s just something to keep in mind, especially on the behavioral side.

If you rescue a dog that is a little bit older. We’re talking a couple of years maybe, and you have no information how it ended up there. The dog was picked up as a stray or she was picked up as a stray, not an owner surrender. There is no way of finding out what the background of this dog is. It’s a 50/50 chance it won’t go so well. Definitely plan on training with an older rescue dog and it’s never too late to train a dog.

All Dogs Are Trainable

Somehow people still seem to be ask me this question regularly, so there still seems to be a thing that people think you cannot train older dogs, but that’s clearly not the case. You can. Age doesn’t matter. As long as the dog can do the things you’re asking him to do, it doesn’t matter if he’s eight years old, it’s fine. But definitely spend some thought on. We probably have to train this dog. Maybe we have to deal with some behavioral issues. We may have to evaluate and assess this dog for a little bit longer before we can trust it more. It’s just something to go into with open eyes.

Now the other thing is in shelters, when you go there, especially when you have younger kids, and they come with you, it’s usually a good idea to preselect some dogs. If you go first without your kids, pick a couple of dogs that you think would be a good temperament fit for the family, or maybe certain breeds or a certain demeanor you’re looking for, and then only present your kid with those options that you pre-selected. So whatever your child chooses from those guys, you’re going to be fine with, no matter what. It’s probably a smart move.

Questions to Ask

There are a couple of other things you can ask shelter workers, on what their experiences have been with the animal you’re looking at. They may or may not have answers, but there’s a couple of things to consider on the rescue side.

As a general note, as I said, all of my personal pets were rescues. I think rescuing is wonderful if it fits your lifestyle, if it fits what you want to do, and if it’s right for your family, go for it. There are plenty of dogs in shelters, and you can get pretty much any breed you want; go and rescue away. It’s absolutely a wonderful thing to do if it’s your cup of tea.

Buying From a Breeder

But let’s look at the other side of the equation. If we are looking for a dog for a particular purpose. If it’s going to be a dog for any dog sport, there are so many. Example are flyball, protection sports, obviously agility, dock diving. There are so many different sports. If you want a dog for sport and you want to compete with that dog on a regional or national level, potentially, the world championship level, you need to stack the deck in your favor.

Purpose Breeding Matters

You need to understand the genetics. Having to fix any problems is undesireable. You want to know that the dog has a high likelihood of being able to do what you want to do, and just focus on the training. That would obviously be a path where you would clearly go buy a dog from the right type of breeder. A breeder that is reputable, very credible, has a lot of information, is very picky about what their dogs go to. So this would be something you would definitely consider as a sports person.

But it’s similar for the police and for the military. A lot of those dogs are actually not even from America because of the breeding here in America and the limitations of getting really good dogs in large quantities. A lot of those dogs are imported from Europe, where the breeding has higher standards and is more about maintaining breed standards. So you get a lot of dogs imported into the United States from Europe. For the purpose of military and police dog training that is a very common practice.

Demand vs Supply

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good breeders here in America, but I don’t know if they could actually deliver the quantities that the police departments and military departments across the nation need. I’m not an expert to speak on that. I just know that there’s a lot of import going on for the stated reason.

Good Service Dogs are Purpose-Bred

But for service dogs, which is what we train, we need certain parameters. So let’s say for a mobility dog. It depends on the weight and the weight range of the person and the height of the person and the task the dog is supposed to perform. We need to get the dog to grow to a certain height, and we need to know that the joints are healthy, that there is no damage, there’s no early hip dysplasia or things like that, and you can’t guarantee any of that with a rescue dog. It’s a huge gamble.

For the mobility side, we personally wouldn’t take a rescue dog in for mobility dog training or for psychiatric training. So for those types of fields, we absolutely only use dogs from reputable breeders. Because with them we can look back and we understand what parents, grandparents and even further back. For the breeder we pick, they have also a long history of producing really high quality animals, so they have a reputation to lose.

Breeders Matter

They don’t put bad dogs out. They really pay a lot of attention to the health and the breed standards, and they take care of their puppies well. They’re not just doing this for the money. They’re doing this out of a passion. And it’s very obvious if you’re dealing with a good breeder or bad breeder, simply based on the parameters and how protective they are of their dogs and what they care about and what they showcase to you and so forth. It’s important when you pick a dog for a purpose.

If the dog is going to be a working animal for a particular purpose, for someone, for something, you need to understand what genetics are at work, what exactly it is you’re working with, because that has a huge impact on the performance of the dog and the ability of the dog to function in the job that he’s going to have. If you want to go rescue that dog for that job from from a rescue pool, from a shelter, or from a rescue organization, it would be a huge gamble and quite an expensive gamble because the training of professional dogs, service dogs, military, police, sport, cancer detection, whatever the service is, right?

Purpose Training Takes Time and Costs Money

That training takes a long time, a year, two years. It’s not unusual for some training and training duration when it comes to high quality performance and the amount of money and time it takes. You don’t want to have to fix issues.

You don’t want to have to deal with things you don’t want to be dealing with. The only thing you want to worry about is getting this dog trained up, ready for the job that it is going to have. Any external problems you want to avoid and push away and ideally mitigate early on. And going to a reputable breeder is the only way of doing that. So when it comes to working dogs, there’s really no discussion to be had if you have to go to a breeder. Otherwise it’s just it’s a pretty harrowing endeavor.

Exceptions That Make Sense

Now, you may have heard that for some police tasking, some police organizations have gone to shelters and rescued dogs, and for some tasking that can be okay. If they have their own training program, they have their own trainers, and they are willing to absorb those risks. Especially with scent tasks, the risk is probably rather low. A lot of those dogs that are used by the police in this regard are often used for detection tasks, and the noses of dogs are amazing, so they’re not going to be necessarily apprehension dogs or the building search dogs or some other of the more extreme tasks. They’re more for the things that a lot of dogs will be able to do rather well, and they’re usually scent driven. There’s some wiggle room in some of those areas.

Some police departments or military, I have read about a couple, are definitely taking advantage of that. And that’s a perfectly fine thing to do. But that same dog is very unlikely to be trained as a dog for apprehension, because that dog has to independently think and it needs to be proofed against all kinds of environments. For that we need to really understand what the dog can do, how long it can work, how healthy it is. So it goes back on on the genetics and the background and we can’t know that with the rescued animals.

It depends on the training effort and how much is involved in getting the dog ready for deployment. It will have a huge impact and determining factor of rescue as an option or not. Okay, but that’s pets and rescue and professional dogs. So that’s one split.

Pet Dog Buyers

But how about if you are a regular pet dog owner and you just want a puppy? You’ve rescued dogs in the past and maybe you had issues and the training took a long time, and maybe you couldn’t fix all the things you wanted to. Now, you want a dog that maybe is a little bit less risk prone to having these issues you dealt with in the past. I get a lot of clients that have ended up purchasing a dog from a breeder for exactly that reason. They rescued in the past, and they dealt with a lot of challenges.

They loved their dog, and the dog has had a great life and ended up living a long time. It passed away at some point and they’re ready for a new family member. Or they decided, well, let’s just buy one this time. Maybe, it has fewer issues down the line to train and deal with. That is an absolutely fair thing and a perfectly fine thing to do. So if somebody tries to shame you for that choice, just ignore them. It is an absolutely perfectly fine thing to do to purchase a dog from a reputable breeder, to stack the deck in your favor and reduce some of those risk factors in your life. Everybody has to know what they’re comfortable with in terms of risk and what they’re not.

Preparing For the Unexpected

Everyone has a different risk profile. Everyone knows what they’re willing to invest in, in terms of training, or health, or risk wise, absorb costs for potential health risks that come with a rescue dog. And all these are factors that you have to, as a dog owner, consider for yourself and your family. As I discussed in a previous episode, I think it was about veterinary care. What we do for buffering our vet expenses is we have insurance on our dogs. We have we have Embrace pet insurance, with very high coverage and also a higher deductible because we’re only going to use that for emergency situations.

In addition, we have a Care Credit card to absorb the instant payment at a vet because they’re not going to wait for a reimbursement. They want to be paid today, right then and there. The insurance will wipe that bill out before it comes due. So that’s how we set ourselves up. And I talked about this in the previous episode. I’m not getting money from any of those companies I just mentioned. This is just how to set up what we’re using.

The Choice is Personal

But as a dog owner, you have to know or you have to decide, what you are comfortable with. What do you want to set yourself up for? What is best for you? And you shouldn’t let other people talk you into one way over the other. If you want to rescue a dog from a shelter, go ahead. Rescue a dog from a shelter. Prepare yourself. Do the things that you’re likely to encounter, and enjoy your wonderful dog for hopefully many years or a decade or so plus to come. As I said, all of my personal dogs were rescues.

If you want to buy a dog, go ahead, buy a dog. Just make sure you pick a good breeder. Now, the thing that you cannot forfeit in any case is good training, because if you don’t train a dog from a breeder, what did you actually spend the money for? What was the point of this?

Training Matters

Now you have a healthy dog, but if you make, less smart choices down the line after you purchase the dog, you’re kind of invalidating your investment into a healthy animal. So you still want to go and find a good trainer you’re comfortable with and sign up for a training program. And you still want to set yourself up for potential injuries and with a proper insurance plan, because this can happen to anybody. That has nothing to do with where the dog comes from. You just want to prepare yourself for the things that are eventualities and the dog’s life, regardless of where the dog is actually from.

Beware of Bad Apples

In terms of breeder selection, it gets as rather tricky for dog owners just like with dog trainers. It’s very difficult for a regular person to evaluate if a trainer or a breeder is a good breeder. Now there are a couple of indicators that can help you make the determination, but ultimately you don’t really know if you’re going to be taken advantage of or not. Because a lot of people talk a very good game, that doesn’t mean they’re actually giving you what you’re supposedly buying from them, right? I’ve encountered a backyard breeder that had quite a good sales pitch but never let anybody see where she lived. It’s a red flag. But her dogs seemed good, and the people buying them seemed to be in a more affluent buyer segment.

Breed Standards Are More Than Looks

She was able to attract those buyers. There were a lot of things that kind of like, could be okay, it could be fine. But it turned out she was backyard breeder. I wasn’t aware of that initially. I figured this out at some point and cut all ties. But this was one of the scenarios where I personally wasn’t sure what I was dealing with. I kind of like thought maybe, maybe not. But there were indicators on both sides of the equation, so I just let it play out for a while before I was more sure.

It’s easier to get taken advantage of by backyard breeders and bad breeders as a pet owner than as somebody who trains dogs professionally or buys a dog for professional purpose. And the reason is that pet dog breeders are a very different bunch of people than professional, working dog breeders. Working dog breeders who care about the breed standard and keeping dogs healthy and treating dogs well, and having dogs that have generations of healthy parents and grandparents and down the line, will be able to show all of this to you. These dogs, they go into professional circles, which means some will go into sports, some will go into service work, some will go into into hunting or working, etc. And other people, other professionals, will see those dogs in action.

Working Dog Breeders Have a Reputation to Uphold

So let’s take a hunting dog. A hunting dog breeder breeds hunting dogs for a living, and his puppies go out to a whole range of people. The people who go hunting with those dogs, some of them will participate in hunting trials, and they will see the dogs from other breeders in those trials. They will see how they perform in Labrador retriever trials or so. And they will see if these dogs are good or not. So if a working dog breeder produces good dogs, those dogs go out and every professional who is in that working world sees those dogs in action. And the word gets around.

After you’ve seen a couple and they all consistently perform over a generation or so, or 2 or 3, you know that these people breed great dogs. If I want a Labrador or if I want a Poodle, I go there. Because word gets around; same the other way. If a breeder in that world produces a crappy litter for whatever reason. Crappy litter sounds horrible, but I mean a litter of dogs genetic issues or health issues or whatever. That’s what I mean. So it’s not the dogs fault. It may not even be the breeders fault. Genetics can be a funny thing. But if you if you have a litter where the dogs have some issues and those go out in the world and they end up in hunting trials and they don’t perform well, or they become service dogs and they wash out.

Bad Working Dog Breeders Will Be Discovered

The people who work with them, see them, and the people who compete with these people in those sport trials see them and say, this dog is not performing well, and that’s where is it from? He’s from breeder A okay. And then next year its the same for other dogs from breeder A; that’s not good. Breeder A apparently is not very consistent two years in a row. So dogs from breeder A don’t seem to be that great.

But the dogs from breeder B they seem to be always doing well. They’re looking good. They seem healthier. The coat is shiny, or whatever you’re looking at. And just like overall, breeder B seems to make good choices. They seem to be breeding good dogs and a couple of breeder B’s dogs actually won. So if you have this competition in the professional world between working line breeders. They can’t afford to neglect the breed standards, or the dog’s health. They can’t afford to breed two dogs they shouldn’t be breeding because they look pretty. Because that gets out and their reputation is shredded. And they’ll have a hard time recovering from that.

Pet Dog Breeders Have Different Incentives

Contrary, in the pet dog world, what are the odds that any pet dog owner talks to another pet dog owner who got a dog from that same breeder? Those odds are small. What are the chances you’re going to run into one? What are the odds you’re going to have contact with them and see what other dogs are doing over a period of time. There isn’t really. The odds are not in the favor of that at all. It’s all kind of hidden away.

You can have pet dog breeders that simply breed for looks and completely ignore the breed standards. The dogs look pretty for a while, but they have health issues and they may die young or they have joint issues and you have to put them down because they can’t walk. So really bad outcomes, horrible for the families who buy them. And nobody will be any the wiser, because you wouldn’t know that that’s been happening for the last five years with dogs from that breeder as a pet dog purchaser, because you have no way of knowing.

There’s no way you could find out. You could ask around, but it probably wouldn’t give you the information. They would say “privacy” and not let you have contact with other dog owners. Again, unless they’re really good breeders. So I think the good and reputable ones, they have no problem with any of that because they’re proud of their dogs. They know their dogs are great. You know that their dogs live a long time. Their dogs are healthy. They’re happy to put you in touch with people you want to talk to or you see them out there in the working world. Not a problem.

Bad Pet Dog Breeders Can Hide

But in the pet world, it’s all kind of hidden. So with pet dog breeding it can be very tricky to really identify a great breeder. Indicators are obviously if you have papers about the parents and the grandparents and the great grandparents. Going back, you have a lot of genetic health checks on all these different breed lines. You have a lot of history. The breeders are very protective over their puppies. They’re very selective of who the dogs go to. That’s a great indication. Breeders that are selective, like really selective. Their dogs are hard to get. Actually, that that can be a great indication that you’re dealing with someone who really cares about their dogs.

And that is what you ultimately want if you buy a dog as a pet owner. If you are a pet owner and you want to buy, go to a breeder that seems maybe a little bit difficult from the perspective of screening. They want to screen the heck out of you. Basically, they want to make sure you’re really going to be the right fit for this dog. They’re very particular. They ask a lot of questions, and they provide a lot of information about the history of the dog and the health of the dog, and they’re very open about everything.

Indications of Good Breeders

With good breeders, you’re gonna face some obstacles in purchasing that you just have to work through and overcome because they’re going to be picky and selective of who they let their dogs being purchased by. But they also, in return, provide a lot of information about the background and health of their dogs that benefit you when you buy, so just pick wisely if you buy.

The Choice is Yours

And again, nothing wrong with buying, nothing wrong with rescuing. Do what’s right for your family and don’t let anybody shame you for whatever choice you’re making. There is nothing wrong with either one of those things. I personally have never purchased a dog for myself, and most likely, when the time comes, which won’t be any time soon because I still have a good number of dogs in my life. But when the time comes, I’ve never raised my own puppy in 20 years training dogs and having dogs. I’ve never raised a puppy for myself. I raised puppies for many other people and trained many puppies for many, many dog owners.

There’s a good chance next time I actually go and buy a German Shepherd puppy myself and raise it from ground up. I’ve never done that for myself, and I always thought I wanted to do that at some point, at least once in my life, at least once. So I think I want to do that. So nothing wrong with that. I think you should do what you feel is best for your family, make the right choice and just pick a good breeder. If you go down that route and check what you need to check, no matter which route you choose for your family.


That’s it. Those are a couple of thoughts I wanted to share on rescuing versus breeding, a couple of things to be aware of, a couple of things to think about. I think both are perfectly fine choices.

Again, professional dog breeding, there are a lot of reasons why that needs to happen for professional work, and there is no alternative to that. If we stop doing that, a lot of working professions of dogs would just disappear because we wouldn’t have the dogs for it anymore without breeding.

I’ve read somewhere that without, purpose breeding within ten years or so we wouldn’t really have dogs anymore. I mean, breeds would just kind of start falling apart. And I believe that from what I know about genetics. That makes sense. If we stopped all breeding today, that would be very, very bad. All the dog breeds we love would just cease to exist.

That’s it. That is what I wanted to say on rescuing versus purchasing. I hope you found this informative. You got something out of it, and I’ll see you again next time. Bye.


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About Ralf and Sarah

Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.


Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer

Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.