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Puppy or Adult - Which is Better?

Have you fallen in love with a particular breed with which to do IPO? Perhaps it is a German Shepherd, Malinois, Doberman, Rottweiler, or maybe something more unique like a Giant Schnauzer or Bouvier. Now that you are smitten, you face another decision: puppy or adult?


Do you start with the cute, spunky 8-week-old puppy, or the 8-month-old puppy that has outgrown the annoying “puppy” stages? Or should you look for an older dog that’s a year old or more? Each option has benefits and drawbacks, and much depends on your preferences, goals, and lifestyle. For this blog, we’ll lump these options into ‘young puppies’ (8-20 weeks old), and ‘older dogs and older puppies’ (one year+ for older dogs, 6 months-1 year for older puppies).

Benefits of Young Puppies

  • Clean slate – The puppy comes without previous training experience, without ingrained bad habits, and without any negative associations toward training. They are eager and ready to learn!

  • Greater control – You control the socialization, training, and raising of the puppy. You can tailor these to your environment and your needs.

  • Build your own foundation – You build the early foundation that sets you up for success. You know what your dog has been taught from the beginning, leaving out the guesswork of “maybe he learned this behavior from his other owner”.

  • Easier bonding and transition – Young puppies come ready to bond with their new owners. Trust is built quickly as the puppy looks to you to help them navigate their new life. Puppies are also quick to adapt to their surroundings, and may be easier to integrate into your lifestyle and household.

  • Less Expensive – Puppies cost less than young or titled adult dogs, usually around $1,500-$2,500.

Drawbacks of Young Puppies

  • Whirling dervishes of energy – Working breed puppies may be cute, but they can be little Tasmanian devils. Don’t let the cuteness fool you; they will be bundles of trouble-making energy.

  • Time-intensive – You must dedicate a large amount of time to the raising, socialization and foundation training of your puppy in that first year or more. Additionally, you must wait patiently for your puppy to mature before starting some of the more formal parts of IPO training.

  • Heartbreaking gamble – You may invest time, money, heart and soul into this pup, only to have x-rays reveal orthopedic problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. Right now, you cannot fully determine what that young pup will be like when he gets older; it's possible that he may not have the proper temperament for the work once he matures.

  • Impressionable – This can be a benefit if you are training things correctly, but if you lay an incorrect foundation or provide negative socialization experiences (such as repeatedly overwhelming the young pup with strangers in an attempt to "socialize" him), you can be fighting problems you created for the rest of your dog’s IPO career.

  • Fragile – Working puppies don’t seem that fragile, but they are. From 8-16 weeks, the puppy is most at risk for disease, even if vaccinated. Additionally, their bones and joints are still growing, requiring that the owner prevent the puppy from catapulting off the couch or leaping off the top of the porch stairs. One bad fall or bad landing at a young age can potentially create lasting joint damage, as can repetitive stress on the joints (i.e. forced jogging, jumping, etc.).

Puppies are wonderful, but there is no guarantee that the puppy will actually work out for IPO, even if he comes from IPO/Schutzhund-titled parents with great hips and elbows. Puppies are, in the words of many veteran breeders, a “crapshoot” or a gamble. You will need good parents, good genetics, good puppy-raising, and a bit of good luck.

Benefits of Older Dogs and Older Puppies

  • More Information – You have a better idea of the dog’s drives, ability, temperament, and desire for the work. You also have the benefit of preliminary hip and elbow x-rays on older puppies, or certified hips and elbow x-rays on the older dogs.

  • Existing foundation – With an older puppy or adult, the dog may have a preliminary foundation on which you can build. Older titled dogs have an entire foundation with more advanced training, plus trial experience.

  • Faster training progress – The older puppy or adult has grown out of the most time-intensive puppy stages, allowing you to progress with training faster once you have bonded. If the older dog is already titled, you can focus on learning how to communicate with, handle, and trial an experienced dog, rather than starting at square one where you must teach the dog everything.

  • Less obnoxious – You avoid the extremely annoying and obnoxious puppy stages, such as endless biting and nipping, potty-training, screaming and barking when crated or separated from you, trying to eat everything they find on the ground. Of course, if you get a young adolescent dog, then you still get to experience plenty of obnoxiousness!

Drawbacks of Older Dogs and Older Puppies

  • More expensive – An older puppy may cost upwards of $2,000, and an older dog may be $6,000 or more, especially if they have had some training. Titled dogs are even costlier, and if you are bringing the dog in from overseas, count on additional expenses.

  • No control over early experiences – You have no control over the initial raising, socialization, and training of the dog. Socialization may have been minimal or non-existent, requiring that you invest much time and effort to overcome a potentially poor start.

  • Ingrained habits or poor foundation– Older dogs may come with bad habits that can be hard to break, such as constant pacing, spinning, barking, or chewing food bowls and kennels. Or they may have a poor foundation that is full of holes, requiring extensive retraining.

  • Extended bonding time – The bonding period can take longer with an older dog. Some dogs show hesitancy, suspicion, and caution when first arriving to their new home, and you must patiently give the dog time to adjust, bond with, and trust you. The full bonding process can take anywhere from several months to a year. Dogs are not cars that you can just take out and put through their paces when you first get them!

  • Scams – You run the risk of a young IPO "prospect" or titled dog being pawned off due to poor temperament, training or health problems. You must verify ID, temperament, titles and health certificates on older dogs before and after you buy them, particularly if importing a dog. You have to make sure that dog in the crate really is the one you bought.

Purchasing an older dog gives you a better idea of the dog’s existing drives, ability, and desire for the work. But while older dogs or older puppies may seem like less of a gamble, you must have reliable connections in order to ensure a quality dog. The puppy buyer has to find a good breeder, while getting an older dog requires that you find a good, honest broker.

Coming up in future blogs: male vs female, import vs domestic, where to find a good breeder, and more!

Photos by: Louise Jollyman


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