The puppy vs dog debate can complicate things when you’re planning on getting a new addition to your family.
Puppies tend to cost a little more, and their adult size, appearance, and temperament can be unpredictable whilst they are young. But, owners can control their training and socialization from a young age, knowing they have no previous negative experiences.
Adopting an older dog is cheaper. They are usually already trained to an extent, and you know exactly what you’re getting in terms of appearance and general temperament.
But, their history, health, and past experiences can sometimes be a mystery! Let’s explore which is best for you.
Puppy vs Dog Contents
Here’s a quick glance at everything that we will discuss in this comparison between a new puppy and an older dog.
- Early life and history
- Temperament and risk of behavioral problems
- Appearance and size
- Prior and future training
- Exercise needs
- Upfront and long term cost
- Health issues
- Puppy teeth vs dog teeth
- Finding a specific breed
Puppy vs Dog: Early Life and History
One important factor that a lot of people forget to think about is the early life and histories of puppies and older dogs.
Early life experiences can be vital in shaping our adult dogs. Particularly in reducing fearfulness and aggression.
Puppies are allowed to go to their new home from 8 weeks of age. So, you’ll know almost everything that’s happened to them in their early life, especially if you’ve chosen a reputable breeder and visited your puppy lots before bringing them home.
You will be around in the crucial socialization stage to ensure your puppy gets used to lots of new experiences and things, reducing the risk of fearfulness and aggression later in life.
However, with older dogs, things can be a little different. Dogs get taken to rescue centers or shelters for a large number of reasons.
And this means that shelters may not have detailed records about each dog’s history.
Why This Can be Problematic
Many shelter dogs are given up through no fault of their own, and make loving new pets. But, some are given up because of behavioral issues stemming from a lack of early socialization, poor training, or even abuse.
Without knowing the older dog’s history, you must accept the risk of potential behavioral issues caused by early life experiences. We will touch on the specifics of this a little more in a moment.
You will have much more control over the early experiences of a puppy compared to an adult dog who has been raised by someone else.
This is why it’s important to find out everything you can about an older dog’s history. Shelter staff will be happy to help you as much as possible.
Puppy vs Dog Temperament
Another key consideration when choosing between a puppy and a dog is their potential temperament.
This can vary depending on the breed you are choosing, but also on the individual dog’s early life experiences, as we have just touched on.
With puppies, you can socialize and train them from the moment they get home. You can also visit the breeder before committing to a puppy and view the pup’s parents to try and predict what the puppies could turn out like.
However, adult dogs from shelters and societies may not have been socialized to encourage the best temperament.
Staff at shelters and rescue societies will have a brief idea of the dog’s temperament in the time he has been with them. But, they most likely won’t know how the dog will respond to experiences encountered outside the shelter environment.
Socialization should happen to puppies before they reach 16 weeks of age, ideally even before they are 12 weeks.
This can be hard, as many puppies won’t receive their full vaccinations until this socialization window is closing.
However, you can still socialize an unvaccinated puppy by carrying them everywhere and not letting them interact directly with any dogs who haven’t been vaccinated.
Socialization involves introducing your puppy to as many new experiences, people, animals, and things as possible. The aim is to build your puppy’s confidence with these things to reduce the risk of fear in the future.
Studies have proven that proper puppy socialization helps to reduce behavioral problems in adult dogs.
But, whilst you can control this for a new puppy, it’s a little harder to do in older dogs.
Consider Others in your Home
Older dogs who haven’t been socialized properly can show fear or aggression to surprising things.
So, if you’re choosing to adopt an older dog, consider everyone in your home. This includes other pets.
Ask staff about the dog’s history with other dogs, people, children, and other animals, like cats. If you have any of these at home, make sure to let shelter staff know. They’ll be able to help you find a dog who is known to be friendly and happy with these things.
Behavioral problems caused by a lack of socialization can take a long time to work through. So, make sure you’re prepared to dedicate plenty of time to helping your older dog if this issue does rear its head.
Bear in mind, puppy temperaments won’t necessarily be the exact same when you bring them home compared to when they are older and emotionally mature.
Puppies are usually very playful and excitable. This can include lots of biting and rough play – which many people confuse with aggression.
Adult dogs from rescue centers will usually be past this boisterous stage of life, although it will depend on their age and breed.
So, you can see there’s pros and cons to both puppies and dogs when it comes to their potential temperaments.
Will a Puppy Love me More than an Older Dog?
Lots of people lean towards puppies because they think a puppy will love them more than an older dog. But, this isn’t necessarily true!
Older rescue dogs can form bonds with you that are just as strong as puppies.
Plus, it can be really rewarding to watch an older dog become comfortable with you in its new home.
If you are bringing home an older dog, just remember that it will usually take time for them to become comfortable. They might not show affection like you expect them to, especially not straight away.
This is particularly true of dogs who have had troubled pasts.
Puppy vs Dog Appearance
You might not think appearance is very important when choosing between a puppy and a dog. But, for some people it can be!
Older dogs usually won’t change very much after you’ve brought them home. Other than growing a few silver hairs as they get older!
But, puppies can change quite dramatically.
Chubby young puppies often look very different at 8 weeks to their full grown selves. This can even include slight changes in their fur color and patterns.
So, if appearance is really important to you, you may prefer the more predictable older dog.
What About Size?
Size, once again, will depend a lot on the breed you are choosing. If you’re looking for a small dog, it’s better to simply choose a small breed.
Adult dogs may be quite a bit bigger than puppies. But, puppies have a lot of growing left to do.
Whilst a puppy’s small size may seem more manageable at first, they will grow very quickly, and will still have lots of emotional maturing to do.
Puppy vs Dog Training
Perhaps the most time consuming thing about a puppy is all of the training you have to do. This is everything from basic obedience and potty training to any more complicated tricks you’re keen to teach.
Puppies will learn some basic bite inhibition from their mother and siblings before they come home.
Breeders may also start to teach them some potty training. But, this isn’t guaranteed.
Most puppies that come home at 8 weeks need to be completely trained from scratch. This is time consuming. It can be stressful, tiring, and full of setbacks.
Older dogs will usually have basic training like potty training out of the way. They may even know some more complex instructions, like ‘sit’ and ‘heel’.
So, if you don’t have the time to dedicate to a complete training program, an older dog may be better.
No matter whether you choose a puppy or an older dog, you can always improve their training with an online dog training course.
Puppy vs Dog Exercise
Exercise is another thing that will mostly depend on the breed of the dog rather than their age.
Puppies generally need less exercise than older dogs. But, they will likely still be full of energy, despite this.
Some studies have found that too much exercise as puppies could lead to joint problems later in life. So, owners shouldn’t be tempted to try and burn off this energy with as much exercise as possible.
Older dogs will usually need more daily exercise than very young puppies. But, the exact amount will also depend on their health, breed, and age.
Very old dogs may also struggle with vigorous exercise.
Think About the Breed
Very small and very large dogs often don’t need a huge amount of exercise. Especially compared to medium sized breeds like spaniels and herding dogs.
So, think about how much exercise you’re willing and able to give your new dog, and choose a breed based on this.
Brachycephalic dogs like the Pug and French Bulldog don’t need much exercise, but this is because of health issues associated with their flat faces.
Sadly, overexercising flat faced dogs can cause heat stroke, breathing problems, and more.
Puppy vs Dog Cost
A huge factor that will contribute to your decision is the cost of a puppy vs cost of a dog.
Older dogs from rescue societies and shelters are a lot cheaper upfront than puppies from responsible breeders.
However, you may not know about their health history. So, they could have some expensive health issues later down the road that add up.
Puppies can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the breed and where you live. If you’re choosing a puppy, only go to a reputable breeder.
Never buy puppies from puppy farms or pet stores.
Reputable breeders will be able to show you health testing certificates for conditions that are known to affect the pup’s breed.
However, even with health testing, puppies can develop nasty health problems as they grow.
Choosing a reputable breeder will reduce this risk, as will giving your puppy the right care.
Whether you choose a dog or a puppy, expensive health problems will always be a risk.
Puppy vs Dog Health
We’ve already spoken about health quite a bit in this guide, but let’s summarize all in one place.
Both puppies and older dogs could suffer from health issues – you won’t necessarily avoid it by choosing one over the other.
Shelter dogs usually don’t have well known histories, and shelter staff may not have any health testing or veterinary records for their dogs.
They’ll be able to tell you about each dog’s health during its time with them, but often not before this.
Going to reputable breeders can help you find the healthiest puppy. But, once again, it’s not a guarantee that your pup will never suffer from health problems.
Attend regular veterinary checks and give your dog the best general care possible to minimize their risk of health issues.
Puppy Teeth vs Dog Teeth
Surprised that this is a factor you should consider? You won’t be if you’ve had a puppy before!
Puppies are adorable and cute, especially when they’re calm and sleeping. But, when they’re feeling boisterous or teething, you might think someone has replaced your puppy with a tiny crocodile.
Puppy teeth are notoriously painful. Puppies learn some basic bite inhibition from their mom and siblings, but will still have a ‘bitey period’ that can last a couple of months.
Older dogs are past this stage, so you won’t have any biting problems with them unless they have behavioral problems.
You can minimize the puppy biting period by rewarding calm behavior, but you won’t be able to avoid it completely.
Puppy vs Dog – Finding a Specific Breed
If you have your heart set on a specific breed, this may influence whether you choose a puppy or a dog.
For instance, Labs are very popular. Which means it’s easy to find plenty of puppies and older dogs looking for new homes.
But, other purebred and mixed breed dogs are much less common, so it may be harder to find either breeders or older rescue dogs.
Some breeds with less healthy conformations get given up when people are faced with pricey vet bills and increased care responsibilities. This includes breeds like the Pug, and French Bulldog.
So, if you’re looking for dogs like this, you should consider bringing home one of the many rescues available.
If you’re desperate for a puppy, you may need to wait to get the breed you want from a reputable breeder.
But, this wait is worth it when it comes to the health of your puppy.
Puppy vs Dog – Which Should I Choose?
The choice between a puppy and a dog is tough for a lot of people, but must be decided by your individual circumstances. One isn’t naturally better or easier than the other.
Puppies require a lot of training and socialization from the time they come home. Rescue dogs normally already have these basics.
But, they could have other behavioral and training issues that are just as time consuming to work through.
Can you think of any other benefits to choosing a puppy or a dog? Let us know which you are thinking of bringing home in the comments.
References and Resources
- Howell, T. ‘Puppy Parties and Beyond: The Role of Early Age Socialization Practices on Adult Dog Behavior’, Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports (2014)
- Tiira, K. & Lohi, H. ‘Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties’, PLOS One (2015)
- Krontveit, R. (et al), ‘Housing- and Exercise-Related Risk Factors Associated with the Development of Hip Dysplasia as Determined by Radiographic Evaluation in a Prospective Cohort of Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Leonbergers, and Irish Wolfhounds in Norway’, American Journal of Veterinary Research (2012)
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website