A dog in a cage waiting to be adopted from a rescue shelter.

Adopting vs Buying a Dog: Which Is Better?

Many soon-to-be pet owners wonder if they should buy or adopt a dog, and they're often met with passionate opinions on both sides. We'll explain the difference between adopting and buying a dog and help you determine which is better for your entire family.

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The maxim “adopt don’t shop” exists for a reason. If you’re able to adopt, you can give a rescue dog a new home, a second chance at life, and help prevent pet overpopulation. I would urge most people to adopt a shelter dog rather than buying a pet.

However, as with most things, it’s not a black-and-white situation. There are some valid reasons for certain people to buy a dog, and there are also some people posing as online rescue shelters who aren’t as altruistic as they seem. So, whether you’re buying or adopting a dog, the most important thing is that you do your homework before acquiring a pet from anywhere.

In this guide:

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What is the difference between adopting and buying a dog?

Adopting a pet refers to bringing home a pet from a not-for-profit rescue or kill shelter. Buying a dog refers to purchasing one from a breeder, pet shop, or puppy mill. The main differences between adopting and buying a dog are the origins of the animals as well as the total cost.


The pets at shelters are usually rescued strays, unwanted or unexpected litters, pets that were abandoned or surrendered by owners, or pets that were rescued from inhumane conditions. Once admitted to a shelter, these dogs are usually spayed or neutered, vaccinated, dewormed, checked for fleas and certain diseases, and given a thorough veterinary examination. Shelter pets are also microchipped to help locate them if they ever get lost again.

All of this medical care would cost an individual pet owner thousands of dollars. Yet, if you adopt a dog, you’ll only have to pay a nominal adoption fee that usually ranges between $50 and $350.

No matter where you live, you can almost certainly find an animal shelter in your approximate area. These shelters are always looking for new, loving homes for their animals, as well as volunteers or donations to keep the shelter running.


You can purchase a dog from a number of sources, and they’re not all equal.

Reputable breeders carefully mate dogs with meticulously documented medical histories to maintain bloodlines, eliminate hereditary diseases, and often to produce show-worthy dogs. They are often registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) or other major associations.

Buying a purebred dog from a reputable breeder can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the breed. And you’ll have to pay hundreds or thousands more to have a vet complete the medical treatment above, which shelter pets have already received.

Backyard breeders are typically unregistered and less experienced. The quality of the care and attention they provide to the animals they breed varies widely.

Puppy mills and pet stores are the worst places to buy a new pet. These businesses are designed to produce new litters at an irresponsible rate, considering the already overcrowded animal shelters and euthanasia rates in the U.S. Little care goes into ensuring the animals bred aren’t passing on hereditary conditions, and the mothers are often overbred to the point that their own health suffers.

Puppy mills often operate online, but they also provide pets to pet stores. Although they may be cheaper than a reputable breeder, they are solely designed to turn a profit, rather than to nurture generations of healthy puppies.

Do not trust any pet seller who won’t allow you to visit the place where the animals were born, see the mother, and see proof of veterinary examinations.

>> Read more: How Much Are Yorkies? Yorkshire Terrier Price Range & Other Considerations

Why adopting a pet is better than buying

We already explained above how adopting a pet rather than buying one can save you thousands of dollars. But more importantly, adopting a pet is better because it may save the dog’s life.

According to the ASPCA, approximately 6.3 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters every year. There are many reasons a pet may end up in a shelter. Some may be the former pet of a senior citizen who passed away, or who is no longer physically able to care for the animal. In other cases, owners may have failed to anticipate the energy levels of young pets and the amount of care they would require. Sometimes people fail to account for the allergies of everyone in the home before purchasing a pet. And, tragically, some may have been abused by previous owners and could require unique care as a result.

All of these abandoned or surrendered pets end up overcrowding limited shelter space, which is why, according to the ASPCA, approximately 920,000 shelter animals are euthanized every year (390,000 dogs and 530,000 cats). Bringing just one of these animals home makes room for another, so that pet won’t need to be put down prematurely.

And who is to blame for this overcrowding and unnecessary euthanasia? Greedy puppy mills and irresponsible pet owners who either don’t get their pet fixed or who buy a pet before doing their homework and ensuring they can provide the animal with a lifelong home.

Be suspicious of online “rescue shelters”

When I was doing research to find my own dog, I came across several online businesses that posed as rescue shelters in nearby suburbs and states. These businesses claimed that they were rehoming pets from southern states, where animal regulations are more lax.

However, the prices they charged gave me pause. They asked for less than a legitimate breeder would charge, but hundreds of dollars more than even the most expensive shelter fees I had ever seen. They also denied my requests to visit their shelters to see where the animals are kept.

I quickly realized that these “rescue shelters” were simply online fronts for inter-state puppy mills. If you’re doing research online, be extremely cautious about this type of business. Whenever possible, visit a local shelter in person and verify that they’re registered with your state.

>> Read more: Pumpkin Pet Insurance Review

Should I adopt a dog?

You should adopt a dog if you want an adult dog or if you don’t have any specific restrictions on the pet you get. Even if you do have some requirements, shelters can usually accommodate them. For example, people with allergies can find non-shedding dogs at a shelter. Likewise, you can choose from a variety of sizes, breeds, ages, and temperaments.

Why should I adopt?

The main reason people encourage adopting over shopping is that puppy mills and pet stores churn out puppies at an irresponsible rate. They contribute to overpopulation, overbreed the mothers, often fail to maintain safe environments for the dogs, and ultimately send a lot of unsold animals to the kill shelter. You should never, ever, purchase a dog from one of these sources.

Likewise, be wary of online “rescue shelters” that charge significantly more than the local pound, but less than a legitimate breeder. Some of these are little more than middlemen between puppy mills and the customer, and they prop up the whole system while taking a slim profit.

And aside from all of that, adopting will cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars less.

Is there a responsible way to buy a dog?

Yes. There’s a stark difference between puppy mills and reputable breeders who are registered with the AKC or other well-known institutions. Responsible breeders produce very limited numbers of dogs and often find homes for their pups before they’re even born. They take meticulous care of the mother, get the pups all of the necessary veterinarian attention, and keep documented records of their litters.

These breeders also welcome visits to see the mother and the litter’s home conditions.

If you’re able and willing to adopt a rescue pet, please do so! But if you decide you want to purchase a dog for one of the reasons below, you may decide to go with a reputable breeder.

You want a puppy

If you have the time, energy, and desire to raise a puppy from its youth, a reputable breeder may be the best choice. You can often find a relatively young puppy at a rescue shelter—and if you do, you should snatch it up—but these opportunities don’t always come along. While it’s wonderful to rescue a needy dog, some families want to nurture a dog from its infancy, and that’s perfectly reasonable. Be warned, though. Raising and training a puppy is a lot of work.

You can’t get approved for a rescue

It might surprise you to find out that some people can’t get approved for a rescue dog. In fact, I was one of them.

I tried to adopt several dogs through local shelters, but I was denied each time because I lived in an apartment and didn’t have a fenced-in back yard. I also couldn’t provide explicit landlord approval to own a pet, since I rented through a management company that failed to respond to all of my attempts to communicate. (Never mind the fact that there were multiple dogs in my building, or that I lived within walking distance of multiple dog parks.)

Eventually, after being turned down several times, I chose a puppy from a responsible breeder whom I got to know, showed me the puppy’s parents, where they lived, and proof of veterinary care.

Of course, if you can’t get approved for a shelter dog, you should pause and ask yourself why. There may be a good reason you shouldn’t have a pet in your current living situation. But in my case, it was simply the result of local bureaucracy.

You can’t risk an unknown dog

Some—but not most—rescue pups come with behavioral issues. After all, there’s a reason they needed to be rescued. I know several wonderful rescue pups who seem just like any other dog. I know several others who have a hard time getting along with certain animals, men, and even children.

The history that comes with each rescue dog is part of its story, and if you can help give that story a happy ending, that’s wonderful. But if you have small children, you’re elderly, or otherwise not able to care for an unknown dog, you may need to choose to get a puppy from a breeder.

Of course, by adopting an adult dog, their general disposition will already be visible. When you purchase a puppy, you can’t know what their personality will end up being. But much of the dog’s future behavior will come down to how well you socialize and train them at a young age. 

However, you shouldn’t write off adopting just because you have concerns about a rescue dog’s personality. Tell a shelter representative what you’re looking for and ask if they know of a good match. All dogs are unique, and most shelters will allow you to spend some time with a dog before you make a final decision. In some cases, you can even foster them for a couple of weeks.

You want a purebred dog

Most shelter dogs are mixed-breed dogs. And mixed breeds are often more likely to be passed over for adoption when pure breeds are available. However, you shouldn’t trust pet shops or puppy mills promising a pure breed, either, since they lack the quality control necessary to track the generations of dogs they breed. I’ve seen many dogs whose owners swear they’re purebred, but whose coats, colors, and size clearly indicate they’re a mutt.

You absolutely can find purebred dogs in the shelter, so it’s worth a look—especially is you just favor a certain breed and don’t have any specific need for a proven lineage. However, if you want a purebred dog for one of the reasons below, the shelter isn’t a great option.

>> Read more: Purebred vs Mutt: Are Mixed Breed Dogs Healthier?

You want to participate in dog shows

I’ll be honest—dog shows aren’t really my thing. But if they’re yours, and you don’t just want to compete in the Best Rescue competition, you’ll need a purebred dog with AKC documentation to participate.

You want to become a breeder

Obviously, if you want to become a breeder, you probably don’t take issue with buying from them. But it should be stated—dog breeders need to know exactly where their dogs come from. If you don’t know your dog’s lineage and health history, you don’t want to proliferate their genes, or you could be contributing to health issues that will spread to future generations.

Odds are, if you’re reading this post, you’re just interested in giving a dog their forever home, not becoming a breeder. If that’s you, I urge you to visit your local shelter!

How can I assess my budget, needs, and lifestyle to determine if I’m ready for a dog? Why is this important?

Dogs affect almost every aspect of our lives. They require daily physical exercise. They need supervision. They cost money to feed, groom, and keep healthy. And they probably won’t shy away from your friends and family members, whether they’re allergic to dogs or not.

Assess your life and ask yourself if you can keep up with all of the responsibilities of owning a pet. Do you like to take weekend trips or frequently spend long nights away from home? Then you’ll have to have someone on hand who can watch your pet. Have you saved up a few thousand dollars that you can tap into if your dog has an emergency? 

Taking these steps will help ensure you can provide for your dog.

What are some factors I should consider before deciding to adopt? How might this vary with a dog’s age, history, and health?

Here are three factors to consider:

Does the dog shed?
If you have a family member, roommate, or close friend who is allergic to dogs, you would be wise to adopt a dog that doesn’t shed. This will help keep your home a comfortable place for others.

Can you afford a dog?
Dogs cost money to feed, vaccinate, medicate, and groom. If you can’t afford a surprise bill of several hundred dollars, you probably aren’t in a great position to own a dog.

Do you want a couch potato or a marathon runner? 
Look at your lifestyle. Do you want a high-energy dog that you can take on hikes and runs, or do you want a cuddle bug who lays with you on the couch all day? Different breeds have very different energy levels, so you should talk to a shelter employee about what type of dog would work for you.

Is it okay to adopt a dog based on breed alone?

It is perfectly fine to have a specific breed in mind when you adopt. Different dogs have different personalities and needs, which will suit different pet owners. However, pet shelters get dogs in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and most of them are an unusual mix between breeds. If you aren’t picky about what dog you want, you’ll have far more options, and you may be able to provide a home for a dog that other people overlook because they’re not the right breed.

How can I make an informed decision on which dog to adopt? Where can I get help?

You should make every effort to adopt from a reputable, state-registered rescue shelter. Puppy mills have created an overpopulation crisis, and the dogs in shelters will be euthanized if not adopted. Beware of pet stores or people posing as a shelter online but still charging more than the usual adoption fee. Pet adoptions from a legitimate shelter will typically only cost between $50 to $350, and you should be allowed to visit the shelter in person.

If you have a good reason to purchase from a breeder, make sure you do your research to find a reputable breeder licensed with the AKC or a similar institution. They’ll follow ethical guidelines to ensure the pets are bred responsibly.

Why should I choose a rescue dog over buying from a breeder?

I explained the difference between adopting and buying a pet earlier in this article. But to summarize:

There’s a pet overpopulation crisis, and hundreds of thousands of animals are euthanized every year. Adopting a dog from a shelter literally saves its life. Buying from a breeder doesn’t have this impact. However, if you do adopt from a breeder, the one you choose matters. Legitimate, licensed breeders follow ethical guidelines that puppy mills ignore, so do your homework.

Adopting is also much cheaper. Buying a dog will usually cost $1,500 to $4,000, but adopting will usually cost less than $200.

How can I ensure that the rescue dog I’m interested in is healthy?

Talk with the shelter employees about the dog’s needs. Generally, all shelter pets are examined by a veterinarian, so you should be able to get a record of their current, known health. You should also ask if you can spend some time with the dog to get to know them. This will help you get to know their physical and psychological state, as well as if they’re a good personality match for you.

Of course, shelter employees can’t know if a dog might develop certain health issues in the future.

How can I get to know a dog’s personality before adoption?

Most shelters allow you to spend time with an animal before adopting. They want a successful pairing as much as you do because they don’t want the animal returned after a failed adoption. Ask if you can spend a couple of afternoons walking or playing with the dog. Sometimes you can even volunteer to foster dogs waiting for adoption, which often leads to “foster fails” where the family decides to keep the dog.

Where can I find rescue dogs available for adoption?

Research pet shelters in your area to see available dogs. Many of these shelters hold adoption events where you can interact with available pets. Petco has a pet shelter tool to help you find legitimate shelters in your area. You can also look up your local ASPCA to learn about adoption events and shelters.

How much does adopting a dog cost?

Shelters do not sell dogs for a profit, but they do charge a modest adoption fee to help keep the shelter running. These fees usually range from $50 to $350, and they help cover the cost of microchipping, vaccinating, and spaying or neutering pets. These procedures would all cost you much more than the adoption fee if you had to pay for it yourself.

Conclusion: is it better to adopt or buy a dog?

Adopting a dog helps reduce animal shelter overcrowding and may literally save the dog’s life. Additionally, adopting is much cheaper than buying a dog. Shelter dogs receive medical treatment before you bring them home, and you only have to pay a small adoption fee. Buying a dog from a breeder can cost thousands of dollars, and you’ll have to pay out of pocket for vaccinations and spay/neuter procedures unless you have a pet insurance policy that covers these expenses.

>> Read more: Lemonade Pet Insurance Review

Lemonade Pet Insurance

Lemonade Pet Insurance

  • Protect your pet in seconds
  • Accident & Illness + Optional Wellness coverage available
  • Policies start at just $9.99/mo
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