When taking on a new dog for the first time (or any time, for that matter) you are faced with the Puppy Vs Rescue dog connundrum. What I’ve noticed over the years is that there is a commonplace idea that if you get a puppy, you will have an easier time training it from the start, as it hasn’t already got into bad habits, and isn’t bringing with it any issues. Therefore many people make the decision to get a puppy on this basis. However, while there is certainly some truth in this, it isn’t quite that straightforward. So if you are wondering yourself whether to get a puppy or a rescue dog I would take some time to consider the following points, before you make your choice.
Puppies are adorable
I don’t think I’ve ever met a person whom does not think that a puppy is the most fantastically cute sight to behold! They are small, fluffy, innocent. What’s not to love! They are so adorable that we long to cuddle and fuss them all day long. We invite friends and relatives round to show them how fantastic our new addition is. However, in all of our joy, we need to be aware of some of these considerations:
- Everything that you are doing with your puppy from the start will shape their behaviour and their understanding of their place in the pack. It is very easy to make a rod for your own back, and create behaviour that you will later need to undo. (This is undoable and avoidable in the first place fortunately). Get the right training in from the start – read The Puppy Listener by Jan Fennell.
- Lots of fussing and cuddling can result in your dog either become over confident about their role in the pack – leading to dominant or stressed behaviour, or it can make them very nervous of people constantly coming into their space. Be ready to ensure that your pup is allowed plenty of space and time to sleep.
- Your puppy will get bigger, so consider whether you want to be doing with your bigger dog what you are doing with your puppy now. E.g. do you really want your Great Dane puppy to get used to sitting on your lap? Start as you mean to go on and be consistent!
Puppies are a blank canvas
You are likely to take a puppy home at something between 8-12 weeks old. At which point you will be believing that it is a blank canvas. Compared to taking in a rescue who has been a home or two, you are correct. However it’s important to remember…
- Every puppy is born with a personality, you don’t really know what that personality is until you get it home and it’s had time to settle in. Some pups will be naturally assertive, and others will be naturally scared. You need to know how to bring your pup up to work with that personality and maintain harmony in your ‘pack’.
- Many people take on pups having read up about the likely behaviours of that breed. I can assure you that these behaviours are only stereotypes, so whether what you’ve read appears good or bad, be aware that you could be faced with anything! To paraphrase Forrest Gump “Pups are like a box of chocolates…”
- Your puppy will have been influenced by its previous environment, from it’s own mother, to the breeders, any other dogs in the area, and other people who have visited.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to put you off taking on a puppy, I just want to be sure that you are prepared for the responsibility and challenge that a young pup really is. If you give it the right messages from the start, then you can have a very rewarding and enjoyable time with your pup.
Please please please do your research on the breeder before deciding to take a puppy on though. Puppies are big business, and by creating a demand for pedigree dogs we have also created what’s referred to as “Puppy farming”. Many people I have visited didn’t realise that their dog was from a puppy farm until they arrive to pick their dog up. At which point they just wanted to get him/her out of there, so paid the money and left. This keeps these people operating. If I had my way, all breeding would be banned until all the rescue kennels were empty, but hey, that’s the imperfect world we live in.
Rescue Dogs have baggage, right?
In effect, all rescue dogs come with some history – and as you’d expect that history could affect how they behave with you. They may have learnt some bad habits, and negative associations. Often you won’t know what the full history of the dog is, and even if you have been told accurately – that isn’t a guarantee for what you can expect from them. There are pros and cons for taking on a Rescue Dog, just as there are for a puppy.
Pro Rescue dogs
- You will know a bit about them, as whomever has them in their charge will have a rough idea of some of the behaviours they exhibit. You can then make a slightly informed choice about taking them on. E.g. if the dog is described as “cannot be left” and you will often be out, then it will take a big effort to make this work.
- Often the information which is available about the rescue dog comes with a lack of understanding of the reasoning behind the behaviour. E.g. “Has loads of energy and will need to be exercised lots” really means “Is stressed and will need to be shown that you are a confident leader so they can learn to behave calmly”. So a lot of the information available can be misleading. Ask a Dog Listener their opinion before being put off.
- The expression “it’s not the dog, it’s the owner” is very true (although the dog’s personality and history does come into play), so you have the ability to create the relationship you like with your new dog.
- “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is of course nonsense. In fact I’ve helped many older dogs who were relieved that things are changing, making their lives less stressful – so they gave up on their old behaviour very quickly.
- You will be giving a dog another chance. It’s like fostering a child that has been let down by other adults. They may be challenging at first, but they do deserve a second chance.
Against rescue dogs
- Forgive this idealistic political statement, but by taking in rescue dogs we are creating a culture whereby it is acceptable for those who don’t want to do the hard work with the dogs that they choose to take in to just ‘get rid’ of their dog. A percentage of these people will blame the dog, and go on to take in another puppy… However there are of course exceptions to these rules, circumstances can change and sometimes it is sadly unavoidable (and I’d much rather we took this approach to unwanted dogs than other cultures who just dump them anywhere).
- As alluded to already, you won’t always know the full story. There may be a physical problem that you don’t know about which could result in costly vet bills. Although this can also be the case with pups.
- If you have a busy and active household, a puppy might be more suitable, so it can learn and grown in harmony with your environment (as long as it gets the right messages), whereas a Rescue dog may come with expectations of what things ought to be like (although you can of course change these).
In the subject of Puppy Vs Rescue dog, there is no right or wrong answer. And that’s the whole point of this blog! I urge all potential dog owners to set aside their expectations of what a rescue or puppy might be like (after all, expectation is the mother of all disappointment), and be prepared that both can come with an array of interesting challenges. I believe that dog ownership should be a joy for both you and your dog, and I know that it can be, whether you choose to take on a puppy or a rescue dog. The most important factor in whether it is a joy or not (for you and them) is how you interact with them. Please please please read “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell. This will enable you to see the world through your dog’s eyes, and empathise with them. You can then build a fantastic relationship of mutual trust and affection.