Disclaimer: When I use the term “quality” when discussing a dog, I do not mean how worthy the dog is of love. Every dog deserves to be happy. Every dog deserves to be loved. What I mean by quality is health, temperament and structure. These three things directly affect you and your pet’s quality of life.
When I was in my early teens, my parents decided they wanted to get into Golden Retrievers. They had no breeding or showing experience, but they were excited to do both. They bought two female Golden Retrievers for what we thought was an outrageous price of $900 apiece.
What we didn’t know was that at the time, the average show prospect Golden Retriever sold for closer to $2,000…. and that was reflected in the quality of the dogs. This knowledge did not make me love our dogs less, BUT….if showing and breeding was really our goal, they really should have done our research and spent that $1,800 on one dog.
Another red flag was the fact that though my parents were clear that their intention was to breed the dogs, the puppy producer did not require a co-own or offer to mentor them. There was absolutely zero effort made to ensure my parents were planning on being responsible breeders.
When I stepped into the show ring with my Golden Retriever for the first time, the difference was painfully obvious. The breed standard was not something that we really even considered when making the determination to buy our dogs. We looked at the parents and said, “Yep, they’re Golden Retrievers!” And while winning in the breed ring is not the most important thing, when the breeder advertised that the dogs were “Show Quality” we expected them to look like the other dogs in the ring.
Neither dog ever got her championship, and we ended up spaying one girl because she did not pass her eye tests and it was clear she would develop cataracts later in life. She also ended up having terrible allergies to EVERYTHING. It was a nightmare to deal with, and her chronic ear infections made her miserable. I ran into her producer years later at a show and mentioned her issues. The producer’s response was, “Oh yeah, her mom had that problem too!” Clearly, her goal was not the improvement of the breed, or she would never have bred that dog!
Our other dog was healthy and active, but she had reproductive issues. When my parents bred her, she only had one puppy, and he ended ended up being monorchid. That ended our attempted at breeding dogs, thankfully.
I recently came across a Facebook post advertising a “Show quality” Australian Shepherd puppy, it raised some red flags for me and I couldn’t help but ask some questions.
As you can see, the puppy is absolutely adorable, and the parent in the photo is a beautiful dog. But, my question is, what makes this dog “Show quality”? My sources in the Australian Shepherd community tell me that the average show prospect Australian Shepherd on the west coast of the US sells for between $1,000 – $2,000. At $750 is this puppy a steal of a deal? Or is some unsuspecting puppy buyer going to spend $750 on a dog that they could have gotten for $200?
Responsible breeders want the puppy buyer to go into the arrangement with both eyes wide open. They will tell you if they think their breed isn’t a good fit for you. They will tell you if they think the puppy is a good show prospect, or if they think he will be better as a companion. Their goal is to have a relationship with you that will last the length of that dog’s life. So when you see certain phrases or tag lines in puppy ads, be sure to ask about them and figure out if the person is merely producing puppies, or if they’re breeding responsibly.
A couple of points:
Just because a dog is a “Registered Purebred!” does not mean they are well bred, healthy or show quality. Also, not all breed registries are considered equal. There is one dog registry in particular that allowed someone to register a goat….Not exactly the most discerning of kennel clubs.
Every single purebred dog is related to a Champion dog. That’s how it works. Pretty much every purebred Rottweiler is related in some way to every other Rottweiler. So every single purebred, registered dog has “Champion Lines”
“Show quality” is really a misnomer. The reason responsible breeders say “show prospect” instead of “show quality” is because as much as an experienced breeder can make an educated guess at what a pup is going to look like as an adult, there is never a guarantee they will turn out. Also, be very suspicious of anyone selling “show quality” dogs who does not actually show their dogs. How does this person know they’re show quality if they’re not active in the show circuit themselves?
And, just because a dog’s parents have titles does not mean that every dog in the litter will be a show prospect.
Tag lines like, “Exotic Colors!” “Rare Breed” “Teacup!” “Old Italian Blood” really are just empty phrases that don’t really mean anything.
- “Exotic Colors” usually means colors that are not allowed in the breed standard. Some of these colors are disqualified because they’re associated with various health issues. Others do not occur naturally in the breed, they can only be the result of mixing a different breed.
- “Rare Breed” usually means that the dog is either a mix of two known breeds, a version of an existing breed that is outside of standard, or it’s a breed that actually is rare… though using its rarity as a selling point is usually a red flag. Not in every case, but in most.
- “Teacup” the AKC does not endorse any “teacup” sizes. So if someone says they have an “AKC registered teacup Yorkie” for sale, it’s unlikely they’re staying within their breed’s guidelines. The Yorkshire Terrier breed standard specifically states the dog should not exceed seven pounds. That’s pretty stinking little – no need for a teacup version!
- “Old Italian Blood” Many breeds have a country of origin other than the US, and producers often say their dogs are “Old World” or tout the sire and dam as being from the country of origin to inflate their quality. Just because a Cane Corso’s grandpa was from Italy, or a Schnauzer comes from “German Lines” does not mean they’re higher quality. Every country has high quality dogs and low quality dogs.
- “Health Tested!” Be very specific when you ask for proof of health testing. Taking your dog to the vet and having them say, “Yep, She’s a healthy dog!” does not mean she’s been health tested. Every breed has recommended health testing. On the above ad, it took me about five seconds to Google the Australian Shepherd Club of America’s list of recommended health tests for the breed. Health tests are expensive, which increases the price of the puppies.
There are a host of other terms puppy producers use to reel people in and make puppy buyers believe the dogs are worth outrageous amounts of money, but I think I’ve covered the main ones. Keep in mind that puppy prices vary by breed and location, so it is important to do your research and contact multiple breeders before deciding on a puppy.
If most of the breeders are in the $1,000 range, and one is asking more or less than that, you can absolutely ask them why. They may have had complications with the litter that resulted in higher vet bills, they may have opted not to perform certain health tests due to the puppies’ grandparents having already testing clear, which brought down the cost of the litter. But do your research and ask informed questions. I cannot tell you if a breeder is right for you, only you can make that determination.
As always, a key difference between a puppy producer and a responsible breeder is whether or not they’re contributing to the shelter population. Are they screening their puppy buyers to ensure they’re responsible? Are they letting puppy buyers breed the dogs without oversight? Are they willing to take back a dog if the buyer can no longer keep it?
Keep in mind, price absolutely does not dictate the quality of a dog. Just because someone is asking what seems like a lot of money, and throwing around fancy terms does not mean you are getting the healthiest, most even tempered, structurally sound dog. Do your research, and don’t let the cute photos of adorable fluffy puppies drive your decision making!
Tips for finding a responsible breeder: How Do You Find A Responsible Breeder?
Related Post: What Do I Look for in a Breeder?
What is a responsible breeder: Part 4 – Responsible Breeders