In Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this segment, I’ve touched on the “adopt don’t shop” movement and popular anti-breeder sentiment. I completely understand where that movement started, and harbor no ill will towards anti-breeder people.
I have friends whom I love dearly, who believe that there is no good dog breeder – that anyone who has a dog who has puppies is contributing to the shelter problem. I also have friends whom I love dearly who are dog breeders themselves and who consider themselves “responsible”. I hear both sides of the argument and believe that both sides have merit.
Responsible dog breeder.
The problem with this term is that much like parenting, dog ownership and breeding styles differ considerably. For instance, some people believe that all it takes to be a responsible breeder is getting a clean bill of health from the vet and making sure you’re careful about where the puppies go (whatever that means).
Other breeders are meticulous about adhering to their breed’s recommended health tests and only breed dogs that have been titled in a well respected kennel club. Some believe you can only be responsible if you breed purebred dogs. What is the standard? Is being a responsible breeder even possible?
Well, I think of it as similar to being a responsible business owner. That means conducting business in an ethical manner and treating your employees well. But what does that mean? Some people would argue that unless every building was powered 100% by renewable energy the business could never be considered “responsible”. Others would say that to be responsible the employees shouldn’t have to pay a cent for health care. Still others would argue that the business shouldn’t be allowed to make a profit at all and should donate all proceeds to charity. We’re in a similar position with dog breeders.
Imagine that a person is breeding purebred, titled Belgian Malinois from working lines. They are health testing the dogs, keeping the puppies clean, and in general, abiding by the minimum guidelines to be considered “responsible”. But, they live in a densely populated area and are flooding the local puppy buying market with high drive dogs who are not well suited for city living. They’re not emphasizing to their puppy buyers that these puppies are going to grow up into high energy dogs that need to be given intense amounts of physical and mental stimulation.
Are they responsible breeders? The parents are health tested! They’re AKC registered puppies! The parents have TITLES!!!!
Now imagine that less than half a mile away from the Malinois breeder is another breeder. They’re breeding Cavalier King Charles but are mixing Shih-Tzu’s into their breeding program because they’re concerned about the heart issues that can be genetic in the Cavalier breed and are trying to introduce genetic diversity. The parents are health tested, but the litters are not registered with a kennel club and the parents have no titles. They too are raising the puppies in a clean environment, and aside from not breeding purebreds, they’re abiding by minimum “responsible” guidelines. But before they sell their puppies, they make sure each family is well aware of how long the dogs live, how much they will be spending on grooming each month and give a portion of the deposit back when the new family completes a training course with the dog.
Are they responsible breeders? They’re selling mix breeds! They’re calling them Cava-Tzu’s for Pete’s sake! How could they possibly be more responsible than the registered, titled, Malinois above?!
But think about it….which one of these breeders is more likely to have puppies end up in the shelter? Which one of these breeders is helping dogs as a whole?
Now that was a bit of an extreme example, but my point is that just like in parenting, while there are some minimum requirements you must meet to ensure you’re not causing harm, the definition of “good” and “responsible” is subject to interpretations. Really as far as hard fast rules, all we’re left with is minimum requirements.
To me, this is the least you can do for a litter of puppies and their parents without being considered neglectful or abusive.
- Are the parents old enough to be bred without causing physical harm?
- Do they stop being bred before they’re old enough for the breeding to cause physical harm?
- Is veterinary care provided to avoid pain and suffering?
- Are the dogs’ physical needs met? Food, water, shelter, exercise etc
- Are the dogs’ mental needs being met? Mental stimulation, training, rewards etc
- When the dogs are no longer useful in the breeding program are they treated humanely? Keep in mind, this could include humane euthanasia – not my preference, but we are talking about minimum requirements here.
- Are the puppies being given basic socialization to help them transition into life with a new family? Have they been inside a house? Have they had positive interactions with humans? Walked on various surfaces including grass and carpet?
- Are the people in charge of the litter vetting the potential families and making sure that the new families are willing and able to do the work involved with purchasing a puppy of that particular breed?
And…. That’s it.
That’s the minimum. To me personally, this doesn’t seem nearly enough. Legally, this list is actually a little bit more than required. Remember, the producer vs breeder distinction is more of a gradient than a hard, fast line.
In relation to the picture below, someone who abides by the absolute minimum requirements to not be abusive or neglectful of their animals starts about in the middle and responsible is on the far right.
That’s a lot of grey area in between, and all of that is subject to interpretation.
Here is my interpretation:
Responsible Dog Breeder: (noun) A person who breeds dogs with the improvement and well being of the entire canine species as their main goal with a priority on health and stable temperament.
One of the key words in this definition is “improvement”. Taking the same two dogs and breeding them together over and over does not improve anything. It merely produces puppies. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you probably noticed that I use the term “puppy producer”. That is my way of distinguishing between responsible breeders who are working toward a goal and people who merely produce puppies.
Notice that I didn’t say “A person who breeds dogs with the improvement and well being of their breed as their main goal” I said “improvement and well being of the entire canine species as their main goal”. If breeding your particular breed of dog is not good for dogs as a whole, stop doing it. I’m going to come back to this in a different post.
Now let’s talk about health. If your breed is generally very healthy and has low likelihood of ending up with hip dysplasia, are you going to completely write off a breeder because they didn’t get the parents’ hips tested? The number of health tests available today is mind boggling and if every breeder tested their dogs for everything, the cost would be prohibitive.
But – and now I’m going to start picking on some breeds very specifically – if your breed of choice has a specific issue, certain health tests may be a very high priority. Higher even than titles, registry in a kennel club etc.
Over 61% of Golden Retrievers in North America die from cancer. If I was buying a Golden, you can bet your hat that I wouldn’t give two shakes if the dog’s dad won group in Westminster. What I would care about is how long every recorded ancestor of his lived, and what they died of.
According to a recent study, 58% of Dobermans suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). There is screening available that is very accurate – again, I don’t give a rat’s rear end if the breeders feed their dogs steak and caviar….. I want to know if my puppy’s parents have been screened and what the results were.
There are plenty more breeds I could point out, but I’m going to stop there for now.
Why would I spend money to buy a dog, fall in love with him, enjoy him as my daily companion, just to see him get sick and die before his time? Dogs are our best friends. Let’s keep them healthy.
You cannot seek to improve a breed if you are not also improving their overall health and longevity.
And last but absolutely not least, temperament. I would rather have a leggy, dome headed Labrador who would make the judges at Crufts double over in laughter than a beautiful well balanced Grand Champion if it meant that he had a temperament that was consistent, stable, and correct for his breed.
To me, this is really where the rubber hits the road in the purebred vs. mix breed argument. I absolutely believe that while they are few and far between, people can and do breed mix breed dogs responsibly. And that statement right there will result in about four more blog posts!
But, how do you improve a dog’s temperament if you do not have a goal or a starting place? If your dog does not have a purpose or a standard, how do you know if you’re moving forward or backwards? You can absolutely work towards creating a new breed, or mix an existing breed to introduce more genetic diversity, but to just breed random dogs together willy-nilly does nothing to improve. It is stagnant.
If you take a dog who is aloof with strangers and breed their lines to be open and friendly with everyone, is that an improvement? If you’re breeding Labradors maybe, but definitely not if you’re breeding livestock guardians!
A well bred dog has a consistent, predictable temperament. A responsible breeder knows what that temperament should be and will not use dogs in their breeding program who do not meet those requirements.
A herding dog on a farm needs to be determined, tenacious and independent. A family dog in the city needs to be gentle, patient and look to their owners for decision making. The same traits that make each of those dogs excel at their specific purpose would make it difficult for them to switch places.
So, instead of giving you a list boxes to check off when deciding whether a breeder is responsible or not, I just ask:
Are they improving the entire canine species by choosing to bring more dogs into this world? Are they educating themselves on the issues that are pertinent to their choices? Are they ensuring that their puppies have the best start possible? Are they doing everything they can to ensure that their puppies turn into healthy, stable adults? Are they contributing to the shelter population or are they educating people and helping them become responsible dog owners?
Remember, we as puppy buyers drive the market. Let’s create a demand for responsible dog breeders not puppy producers.