Breeder vs. Rescue for Your Service Dog Candidate

If a person decides to owner train a service dog they can either go through a breeder or a rescue. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options. I’ll outline what those are below.


  • Benefits
    • The greatest indicator of a puppy’s temperament is what their parents’ temperament is like, specifically the dam. When you work with a breeder you can get to know both the dam and sire to make sure they will produce puppies who are compatible with service work. 
    • A good breeder knows their puppies and will be willing to do temperament assessments to help find the right puppy for you and your needs. 
    • Good breeders can put you in contact with other people who have their dogs. This can help give you an idea of what your adult puppy’s temperament and personality will be like.
    • A good breeder will provide lifetime support for all their dogs so if in a year or two years you have concerns or need help they will always be a resource for you. 
    • Ethical breeders all have clauses that state the dog will be returned to them if for any reason the new owner isn’t able to keep or care for it. While that’s a terrible situation to contemplate it is something that can happen, especially if your disability were to become more severe. Knowing the dog will always be cared for and loved no matter what happens is a good insurance policy.
    • A good breeder will health screen their dogs before ever considering breeding them. This means you are less likely to have unexpected health issues. This is especially important if you are needing a dog to eventually do mobility work. 
    • Good breeders only breed dogs with sound temperaments so you shouldn’t run into genetic behavioral issues.  
    • Many breeders provide health guarantees. 

  • Drawbacks
    • The expense up front is more than getting a rescue dog.
    • Some breeds have genetic health issues that you should take into consideration. 
    • You may need to travel to find the right breeder.
    • You will need to do extensive research and make sure you are working with an ethical breeder. 
    • Some breeders will not place their dogs in working homes. 
    • There may be waitlists, this is actually pretty common among good breeders. While it’s hard to be patient, a waitlist is actually a really good sign that you’re dealing with an ethical breeder.
    • The breeder may have an interview process that you have to go through. 
  • Recommendations
    • Do as much research on the breed as possible. Be familiar with any genetic health issues. Have a good understanding of the breed standards so you can make sure you’re working with an ethical breeder. Understand the mental and physical needs of the breed and honestly look at your lifestyle and ability level to make sure it’s a good fit. 
    • Contact a lot of breeders, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to be extremely picky. If you aren’t sure what questions to ask or what to watch out for read my article on selecting a breeder.
    • Find a breeder who has successfully placed service dogs before. 


  • Benefits
    • The cost is usually less upfront.
    • Some people have strong ethical feelings about adopting rather than going through a breeder.
    • You can get an adult dog who may already have some training and you don’t have to go through the puppy stage. 
  • Drawbacks
    • Genetics are usually unknown and you most likely will not be able to meet the dam and sire.
    • For mobility work a dog needs to be at least 2 years old and they need to have their hips and elbows checked. Most shelters aren’t going to let you take a dog and have those tests done before adopting. Since you have to wait until maturity to do those tests the safest option is knowing that the dog’s parents had joint checks done before being bred.
    • A dog’s behavior in the shelter can be drastically different from their behavior in a home environment. It can take several months in a home before certain behaviors present and by that point you’ve already bonded with the dog.
    • Rescue dogs may have past trauma you are unaware of. In a service dog this can cause real problems if you are out with your dog and something happens that triggers memories of that trauma. 
    • Sadly, many rescue dogs have some type of behavioral issue or issues that will need to be dealt with. Behavior problems are one of the leading reasons dogs are surrendered.
    • Because the genetics of a rescue dog are unknown it’s hard to know what future health or behavior issues may come up. 
  • Recommendations
    • If possible try to work with a rescue and tell them what you’re looking for. Consider volunteering so you can get to know dogs as soon as they come in. 
    • You may want to consider breed specific rescues or talk with breeders to see if they have any adult dogs they think might be a good fit for you. 
    • Remember the 3 day, 3 week, 3 month rule. The first three days a dog is still very overwhelmed and unsure about it’s new environment. After three weeks a dog is typically starting to adjust. After 3 months a dog’s personality and behavior is likely apparent and they’ve often started to settle into their new routine and home. The most important thing to remember is that it takes time for a dog to decompress, just try to stay patient and consistent. 
    • If you decide to go with a rescue or shelter I would encourage you to get an adult dog whose temperament is fairly set. Even with temperament testing it’s hard to know what a puppies mature personality will be and in this case an adult dog is a safer bet.
    • When considering a rescue dog it can be helpful to find one that is in foster care. Dogs who are in a home environment are going to give a much more accurate presentation of what their behavior is truly like. They’re also getting individual attention and frequently living with other animals. If you decide to go with a dog in a shelter or rescue talk with the staff about if they do behavior assessments and find out how the dog did on theirs. 
    • Seriously consider what you would do if the dog washed from service work. I personally wouldn’t adopt a dog for service work without planning to keep them as a pet should they wash out. It’s incredibly hard on a dog to be adopted and returned. The obvious exception to all of this would be dangerous behavior issues that you feel you can’t safely manage. 


Going with a breeder definitely stacks the odds in your favor. If you are inexperienced with dogs or this is your first service dog I would strongly recommend going with a breeder. However, if you have worked in a rescue, have experience training dogs, or you foster dogs, a rescue may work for you. It’s important to remember that selecting a service dog is not an emotional decision, you need to look at it as a job interview. 

Resources & References

Featured image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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