Adopt a Mixed Breed or a Purebred?
By Elizabeth Wasserman
The fundamental question when deciding to welcome a canine companion into your home is whether to adopt a “mutt” or a purebred dog. Mixed-breed dogs often populate animal shelters and need good homes. Purebreds can be purchased from a breeder and are sometimes available for a small fee through dog rescue organizations.
“This is a very important decision, especially for first-time dog owners,” says Lisa Peterson, communications director for the American Kennel Club (AKC). “Regardless of what you decide, you first need to look at your own lifestyle when deciding to get a dog.”
Questions to Ask Yourself
Before you select a dog, Peterson suggests asking the following questions:
- Do you have time to walk the dog for about 30 minutes, twice a day?
- Do you have financial resources for unexpected veterinary bills?
- Do you have the time to train and socialize your dog?
- How much time can you spend grooming your dog?
- Do you have space in your home or yard for a large dog?
Now that you have a better sense of what size dog you want, what activity level you can live with and what type of temperament you seek, you can take a better look at the attributes of purebred dogs and mixed breeds.
Purebred vs. Mixed Breed
The great thing about rescuing a mutt from a shelter is that you’re giving a home to a dog that otherwise may never be adopted. Second, you don’t have to pay the $500 to $1,500 that many purebred dogs will cost. Adopting a mixed breed from an animal shelter can run at $50 or less, usually to cover the cost of vaccinations or spaying or neutering. Third, mixed breeds have more genetic diversity, which can help them avoid some of the hereditary defects that plague purebreds.
The great thing about purebreds is that they are very predictable in terms of what you can expect when a puppy grows up. These canines were developed as a result of selective breeding, meaning that dogs with certain traits or genes were bred, and other dogs with less desirable traits were not. As a result, the 161 different breeds recognized by the AKC have specific genes for physical traits, such as color, coat and size, as well as temperament. Also, you are more likely to be able to see the parents of your purebred dog and make visual assessments.
Here’s how mixed breeds and purebreds stack up on key attributes:
- Size Most purebreds have standard size ranges, which you can review on the AKC Web site. So if you only have space in your apartment for a small dog, you can select a breed that just grows to 20 or 30 pounds. With mixed breeds, you’re often more likely to be rolling the dice. “A mixed breed that you thought would be 20 pounds might end up at 200 pounds,” Peterson says.
- Coat Purebreds are also predictable in terms of what type of coat to expect in your adult dog. If you have lots of time to brush and groom your dog, you may do well with a collie. But if you don’t want to be bothered by finding clumps of dog hair around your home, you may be better off with a short-haired dog, such as a Weimaraner. Unless you know for certain what your mixed breed’s parents were, it is hard to predict what type of coat a puppy will have as an adult.
- Behavior and activity level “Purebred dogs were developed usually for a specific purpose. There are hunting dogs, pulling dogs, cattle dogs, guarding dogs and so on,” says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. The Labrador retriever, for example, was bred to retrieve game for hunters, and as a result, is a very “mouthy” dog, prone to chewing in a domestic setting, Dr. Beaver says. You may not know the parentage of your mixed-breed pup and therefore you may have little idea about its likely behavior and activity level.
- Health Because of inbreeding, certain purebreds have become subject to hereditary health defects, some of which can be crippling and potentially fatal. These defects include bone and joint disorders, eye diseases, heart disease, cancer and more. Mixed breeds have greater genetic diversity, so the chances are better that both parents did not have the same defective genes.
There may be ways of getting around the unpredictability of a mixed breed. “In terms of mutts, we see so many cute ones,” says Sophia Yin, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist in San Francisco. “If you’re adopting them when they’re 6 or 8 months old, you will have a good idea of what they’re going to look like, including their size, and you can observe them a little to evaluate their temperament.
Whatever your choice is, the most important factor is making sure your lifestyle includes giving lots of love.
Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.