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Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

How Do You Find A Responsible Breeder?

Recently, I’ve had a lot of people ask for a list of questions to ask a potential breeder before you buy a puppy, and for some reason I’ve had a really hard time with it. If you google “Questions to ask a breeder” there are a lot of lists available, and they all have similar questions.  I felt like any list I made was a bit of me reinventing the wheel, but as people kept asking and I kept running into situations where the lists I recommended weren’t exactly what I would say, I realized there was more to my hesitation.

The problem with cut and dried lists is that everyone’s priorities are different. Something that is an absolute non negotiable for you, may not be as important to the next person and vice a versa. What I want to do with this post is help you figure out what your priorities are and what you are looking for in a breeder.

I also want a list that is fair to responsible breeders. Some of the lists you see online were actually written by anti-breeder activists who made the questions so unrealistic that even the most responsible breeder may be hard pressed to make the cut. A good portion of the questions were designed to merely weed out commercial puppy producing operations (puppy mills), but they don’t really tell you much about how that breeder is going to work with what you’re looking for.

 

Responsible Breeder Definition

There is a lot of ways this can be interpreted. The key is to find a breeder who shares your priorities.

The other thing to consider about these lists is that puppy producers have internet access too. They can read these lists just as easily as you can, and with the right prepping, it’s not hard to give the right answers with just enough technical jargon to convince the average puppy buyer.

For this next part, I wrote a lot of things, then deleted them all. The issue I’m having with writing any type of list is two fold. One, so many terms have loose definitions.  Different people’s idea of terms like “socializing puppies” could give you vastly different results.  Second, is the average puppy buyer going to understand the answer enough to tell if it’s going to work with their priorities?

For instance, a puppy producer may think that letting the puppies play with their five year old is plenty of socialization, so when you ask “Are the puppies socialized” They’ll say “Yes! Of course!” What you’re not seeing is that the rest of the time the pups are kept in a kennel outside and have never been inside a house, seen a vacuum cleaner, or walked on carpet.

If you ask a different breeder, “Where do you keep your puppies?” they may respond with “Outside in a kennel”. What you’re not seeing is that the kennel is well constructed, has heated floors, and the puppies are taken out daily for hours and introduced to new people, smells, noises, and new experiences are approached with close supervision to ensure they’re age appropriate and positive.

 

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Every moment of a puppy’s life is a learning experience.

So I do have a list, but it’s a different type of list. I’m going to go through the stages of finding a breeder and buying a puppy. I guarantee if you follow this outline, your chances of ending up with a responsible breeder will increase exponentially. Having a plan for getting the dog, and doing your research will help you know what questions to ask and how to interpret those answers.

Prep:

Decide you want a puppy of a certain breed(s). It’s ok to start with a couple breeds you’re interested in and narrow it down from there. At this point you should have done some extensive reading on each breed and have an idea of what health/temperament issues they’re prone to.

Have very clear reasons why you want the puppy. Do you want them only as a companion? Do you want to do Search and Rescue? Are you interested in showing in conformation? Do you want a guard dog? What does that mean to you?

Be ready to take at least a year to actually have the puppy in your hands. Be ready to drive across state lines for the right breeder.

If at all possible, meet some dogs of the breed you’re interested in. Dog shows or competitions can be great places to meet dogs of different breeds.

If you have a specific activity/sport in mind for that dog contact people who are already involved and ask for recommendations. Your local competitive obedience group or agility club may have someone who can point you in the right direction.

Contact a parent breed club and ask for breeder referrals. A parent club is a breed specific club like the Spinone Club of America or the Lowchen Club of America. They usually have the words “club” “association” and/or “America” in the title. If you’re open to a rescue dog, these clubs occasionally know of purebreds that need rehoming.

Shotgun approach. You may start out talking to five different breeders of three different breeds. Be honest when you start talking to breeders. Let them know that they’re on your list, but don’t pretend they’re the only one you’re talking to.

 

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If you’re getting a dog for a specific hobby, be aware of what they hobby is going to entail. A hobby might last a few years, a dog will often live for over a decade.

 

Narrow down your choices:

Write down your priorities. Do you personally feel that it is important for the breeder to be a part of their parent club? Do you think both parents should be AKC champions? Make sure to write those things down. If you don’t have an image of what’s ideal in your mind, then you won’t know whether or not you can compromise on an issue or not.

It’s ok to not like a breeder. If you have a conversation with them and you don’t like them for any reason, even if you can’t put your finger on it, just cross them off the list and move on. Be polite, though. Mainly because it’s the adult thing to do, but also, the purebred world is small and breeders talk to each other.

If you’re talking to breeders of multiple breeds, open with that. Let them know which breeds you’re thinking about and why. By this point you really should have narrowed it down to two or three. If they know what type of dogs you’re looking for and why, they’ll have a better idea of if their breed is the right fit for you.

Ninety Nine times out of a hundred, the breeder is going to know more about the breed than you. If you hear them say something that doesn’t match with your research, you can absolutely ask them about it, but again, be polite.

Keep in mind, this is someone you need to be prepared to have a relationship with for the length of your dog’s life. They should want to help you and answer questions just as much as you need help and have questions that need answered. As long as you’re polite and respectful of their time, a responsible breeder will absolutely show their inner “dog nerd”. You don’t become a passionate, responsible breeder because you hate talking about your breed.

Be ready for them to tell you “No.” Dog buying is wildly different than buying pretty much everything else in life. This is a situation where just having the cash in hand and the desire for a dog does not guarantee you’re getting one. A responsible breeder will not sell a puppy if they don’t believe it’s a good fit. If you’re dead set on getting a Tibetan Mastiff  and the breeder says they don’t think the breed is a good fit for you, really sit back and reevaluate your choice. The breeder might not  know you as well as you do, but chances are, you don’t know the breed as well as they do.

It may take a few conversations before you’re sure that this is the breeder for you. That’s ok. But start narrowing down your choices right away. As soon as you realize you’re not interested in a puppy from a certain person, let them know politely so they can cross you off their own list and move on to other potential buyers. Something like “Thank you so much for your time, your dogs are lovely, but I think we’re going to go with another breeder.” You don’t have to give a reason, just let them know so they’re not surprised when after weeks of talking you just ghost them.

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Don’t feel pressured to make a decision quickly because a breeder has puppies available right now. Take your time.

Talking to a breeder :

When you start talking to a breeder start out big picture and move into details as you go. Please do not start out the conversation with “How Much?” If you really develop a connection with a breeder and believe in their breeding program, you may be willing to wait and keep saving up.

The best thing to do when you’re contacting a breeder for the first time is let them know about you and what you’re looking for. Their reaction to that will tell you more than any checklist. By this time you’ve put hours of time, energy and research into this process. Does the breeder appreciate that? You’re telling them what breed traits drew you to the breed, are they giving you feedback about your expectations  or are they just trying to get a puppy sold?

My first contact with a breed will often go something like this: “Hi my name is soandso, and I’m really interested in a Flat Coated Retriever. I’m looking for a family dog whose coat is low maintenance, isn’t too energetic, but  is still excited to go backpacking with me in the summer. Right now I’m torn between the Flat Coat and a Labrador, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on which might be a better fit for us.”  Give some details about your family life, how many kids you have, if you own your own home, have other pets etc.

As I said above, their response to this will tell you a lot. If they sound like they didn’t read/hear a word you said and just jump straight to “The puppies are ready to go home in three weeks and they’re $500”, run. Run fast. That is the opposite of a responsible breeder.

If you are talking to them on the phone, keep a pad of paper and a pen close by. If something doesn’t make sense or seem right, write it down and ask about it later, or do some research.

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Asking a breeder how old all their dogs are can tell you a lot.

Health

Let them know your priorities up front. Start with something like, “Health is really important to me, and I know that this breed can suffer from XYZ issue. What do you do in you breeding program to minimize that risk?”

When you start asking questions about their dogs’ health you should not feel like they’re getting defensive. If there is a health test available and the breeder states they don’t test for it, don’t immediately dismiss them, ask them why. They may have an informed reason for their choices, or they may just be cutting corners to save money.

Health testing is very different from going to the veterinarian and getting a clean bill of health. If the breeder says the dogs are health tested, but cannot provide certificates from a nationally recognized organization like OFA or Pennhip, they’re not health tested.

If  someone has been breeding long enough, they’re bound to have run into some health issue. A breeder who says “I’ve never had any health issues with any of my dogs” either hasn’t been breeding very long or is lying. It is ok for them to have some issues, but again context is important.

Temperament

Temperament

Temperament is how the dogs acts and reacts. Each breed has an acceptable range of behavior and response that is typical for the breed. Guardian type dogs will generally be more aloof with strangers than say a Golden Retriever. Beagles are more likely to put their nose to the ground and run off than a Border Collie.

A responsible breeder will be able to tell you what the breed’s ideal temperament should be, and where their dogs fall within that range. This is one of the main reasons that knowledgeable breed experts will absolutely not allow puppy buyers to choose their own puppies based on color or whether or not they were the first pup to run up to them.

If they were listening and asking questions during your conversations, they will have an idea of what type of puppy you’re looking for. If you want to do agility, one of the pups may have the drive that will make them a great fit. If you’re specifically looking at their breed because of their reputation for being calm, they will want to make sure you don’t end up with the feisty puppy who is always on the go.

If a breeder doesn’t want to pick a puppy out for you, or asks you to do the picking, it’s a indication they are not invested in the dog’s temperament. Even if they say something like, “All the puppies from this dog are perfect for herding” that’s not generally the case. Both parents could be star herding dogs, but there’s going to be one or two puppies who’re a better fit for you than the others.

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Neither one of these dobermans have correct structure. This leads to inefficient movement and can cause injury.

Conformation/ Structure

Even if you’re “just getting a pet” your dog’s structure can have lasting impacts on the rest of their life – and yours! A properly put together dog is going to have efficient movement that doesn’t overly stress their joints or muscles. If a dog is too short in the front or too long in the back, it will absolutely affect how they move and can increase their chances of injury or arthritis. You want a dog that is built the way it should be, and so should your breeder.

Talk to your breeder about this. You want to see photos/video of each parent if possible. Seeing them in person is even better, but it’s often unrealistic to expect to see the sire. Many breeders use studs that don’t belong to them, or ship collection from the male dog and have it artificially inseminated.

Stay away from extremes. At first glance if the dog looks like an extreme version of the breed, ask some questions. Why is this dog soooo short. Why are they soooo tall. I know it’s typical for boxers to be brachycephalic, but this dog’s nose seems to be really short – whats up with that?

If you’re getting the dog for something other than conformation showing, there is a good chance you’re not going to get the dog with the stunning structure or perfect movement. That’s ok, not every puppy out of a litter is built to win Best of Breed. But if both parents are quality dogs with good structure, chances are your dog is unlikely to have severe issues that will cause injuries down the road.

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Responsible breeders are interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them

Questions

I do have three questions I recommend you ask every breeder:

1. “How did you first come across this breed?”

2. “What made you decide you wanted to breed?”

The answers to those two questions should spark a wonderful conversation filled with passion and a tangible love for the breed. That’s not something you can easily fake. .

3. “Why did you decide to breed these two specific dogs together?”

Again, you’re looking for that inner dog nerd to come out and start going on about stuff you might not one hundred percent understand. When I ask this question, it’s a bad sign when the person seems like they’re not invested in this pairing in particular. To a responsible breeder, every pairing is a step closer to their goal. They should have something they’re trying to achieve or improve with each litter.

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Finding the right breeder is a personal journey just like finding the right dog. http://www.potrerocanecorso.com/

Every human being is an individual with their own interpretations of what’s best. The right breeder for me may not be the right breeder for you. Everything I wrote above hinges on you doing your own research and knowing what your priorities are. It does no good to ask someone a list of questions if you don’t really understand what the answers should be.

Don’t let yourself be pressured by a breeder who has puppies to sell right now. You’re not finding a puppy, you’re finding a breeder. Find the right breeder and the right dog will happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Do We Need a National Purebred Dog Day?

Today is May 1st, which recently became National Purebred Dog Day. All across social media and even offline, you’ll see people posting photos of their purebred dogs with “I ♥ Purebred Dogs” signs and celebrating their dog’s heritage.

You’ll see breeds from Australian Shepherds to Ibizan Hounds and everything in between. Heck, I knew I had a lot of friends with purebred dogs, but I didn’t realize just how many until May 1st.

But there is a bit of push back from the other side of the canine world. “Adopt don’t shop” believers are not thrilled with a day dedicated specifically to purebred dogs.  In fact, some people are down right nasty in their response to the day. You’ll hear things like “All breeds came from mix breeds to begin with so breeds are just a man made construct” (read my response to that here) and “Purebred dogs and breeders are the reason the shelters are full!” and “Every time you buy a dog from a breeder you’re KILLING a shelter dog!” (read my response to those two here).

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One of the more tame comments regarding NPDD

Many organizations such as HSUS and PETA  have spent millions of dollars on advertising the concept that breeders are reason that dogs end up in shelters. In many parts of the country (my own included) it is socially unacceptable to advertise your support of purebred dogs and breeders. When I first began interacting with the local shelters and rescues through my job, much of the staff viewed me with suspicion and judgement when they found out  I not only had purebred dogs, but that they weren’t spayed or neutered.

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Some of the original National Purebred Dog Day observers making a statement in front of a PETA building.

When I interact with people in relation to their dogs, one of the first things out of their mouth is usually “I rescued him!”. It’s easy to see the pride they feel behind that statement.  To them getting a dog from a shelter wasn’t a choice they made after researching their lifestyle and the dog’s temperament, size, energy levels and grooming needs. Whether or not they have the ability to give the dog the care it needs is besides the point. It was an ethical statement. They rescued the dog.

So with that in mind, at first glance, its easy to see all these posts of beautiful, well groomed purebred dogs as a status symbol and elitist brag. But if you look closely, it’s not about that at all. Let’s look at things from the perspective of responsible breeders who love their dogs and are dedicated to their breed.

Responsible Dog Breeder - defined text

Responsible breeders devote their lives to their breed. They spend years learning everything they can about how to invest in the breed responsibly, and do  everything in their power to ensure the best for their dogs. If for any reason a puppy buyer cannot keep the dog, the breeder will take them back and rehome them. Their goal is to create the healthiest, happiest dogs they can.

According the their website, “National Purebred Dog Day®,  May 1,  celebrates the heritage, diversity and predictability of the purebred dog. Each breed is a living legacy of the culture that created it for a reason, each breed indelibly etched in that culture’s history just as surely as its music, art, and language.”

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Photo is of Otterhound Ch. Belle River Dixieland Jazz from the Dog Breed Info Center webiste.

While every single day seems to be “National Rescue Dog Day”, many people do not realize that some beautiful, purpose bred animals are on the brink of extinction. There are fewer Dandie Dinmont Terriers in the world than tigers. People are buying laberdoodles by the drove, but ignoring the fact that there are only about 600 Otterhounds in the world right now. Many people are ignoring excellent family breeds because they just don’t know about them. Our shelters are full of mix breeds bred by puppy producers, and people are still impulse buying puppies off craigslist. We need more public education and we need to stop vilifying the people that are keeping our world full of beautiful, wanted dogs.

So yes, we need National Purebred Dog Day.

National Purebred dog day is not about lifting up one type of dog over another. It is not about feeling like a better person because of where you got your dog.

To me, National Purebred Dog Day is about celebrating the history and purpose behind each individual breed. It’s about appreciating the time, work and love that responsible breeders put into each litter. It’s about educating people on how to research their pets and make the choice that is right for them. National Purebred Dog Day is about loving all dogs and ensuring they all have a day in the spotlight.

April 16 2018 - Emmy.jpg

 

 

Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

What Are You Paying For?

Recently, I’ve written a few posts discussing some of the reasons a puppy from a responsible breeder can be worth a considerable amount of money. Considerations are health, temperament, breeder support and so forth. But like many things in life, more expensive does not always  mean better.

If you were to see a fancy, new sports car for sale your local craigslist for $6,000, the first words out of your mouth would likely be, “What’s wrong with it?” The likelihood of a brand new, fancypants (yes, that’s the technical term) sports car in good condition being sold for that extremely affordable price is very low. It would likely have a salvage title, or some sort of mechanical issue.

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Fancypants sports car

Conversely, if you found a 1999 Geo Metro with 200,000 miles for sale for the same price of $6,000 you may raise your eyebrows a bit.  The car is really nothing to write home about and the seller must be delusional to think they would ever get that amount.

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Geo Metro

We use this type of critical thinking all the time in our daily lives. Any time we are buying something, we ask ourselves, “What am I paying for? Is this worth it?”

We need to start taking that same mentality and applying it to dog shopping. Just like used car dealerships sometimes try to bamboozle buyers with technical terms and flashy sales techniques, there are puppy producers who have found buzz words to increase the perceived value of a sub par product.

“Exotic!” “Champion Bloodlines” “Original Bloodlines” “Old World” “Rare Colors” “Wooly Coat” These are all terms that can seem appealing to unsuspecting puppy buyers. As humans, we all want something rare and unique. We want to be able to say, “Oh, he’s a double dapple” like it’s something special. Or say, “Oh no, he’s not a malamute, he’s a Woolly Husky!

If it’s not the fancy color or coat that’s appealing, maybe it’s the fact that you can say, “His grandpa was a champion!” or “His bloodlines go straight back to Italy, where the breed is from”

To go back to the car analogy, it’s much like going to a car lot, seeing a car that’s a cool color, having the sales person talk up the car, but never looking at the statistics on the car, not checking the miles, and never considering the MPG. You might drive off the lot having spent a considerable amount of money on a car that is not worth it, merely because you like the way it looked. $6000 is a lot of money, but it’s nothing compared to the nightmare of a money pit you might end up with if you buy the wrong car.

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I’m going to pick on huskies in this post, but the concepts hold true for every breed. The photo above is a screenshot of a puppy producer who regularly sells puppies for upwards of $1,300. For some breeds, that’s a steal. But for a husky in my area, it’s very steep. Why are these dogs worth so much? I have no idea! Based on their facebook posts, it’s clear that they’re breeding their dogs young (under two years old), don’t health test, and breed for traits that are not correct in the breed such as a woolly coat and being oversized.

An AKC registered, health tested Siberian Husky from a responsible breeder in the US generally sells for $600 – $800 for a companion dog and closer to $1,200 for a show prospect. Their health tests are from nationally recognized organizations and they dedicate their time, money and love to ensuring they’re doing what’s best for each individual puppy. They have strict standards for potential puppy buyers and take their dogs back at any time for any reason if the buyer can’t keep them. They strive to educate puppy buyers on the challenges of owning a husky. The breed is known for being vocal, digging and roaming.  While the breed is a good fit for many, these traits can be a deal breaker for some.

Correct Husky
A husky bred by a responsible breeder in keeping with the breed standard. Photo used with permission.

A well bred, correct Siberian Husky is valuable for many reasons, and none of the important ones have anything to do with a show ring. First of all, a responsible breeder is specifically breeding for correct temperament. There’s going to a certain predictability to the dog’s behavior, so if you’re buying a husky because you  did your research and are looking for certain traits, buying from a responsible breeder is going to increase your chances of getting the dog you’re looking for.

Everyone wants their pet to be happy and healthy, so health testing is another very important part of the breeding process. You want to know if the dog is genetically predisposed to certain issues, and you want a breeder who not only has health tested, but also has records of your puppy’s parents’, grandparents’ and siblings’ health. Keep in mind that your dog’s health is dependent on a variety of factors and genetics is only part of the puzzle. But getting your dog from a responsible breeder will give you as good a start as you can hope for.

Correct structure is something that is vastly underrated when people are looking for a pet. A dog that has correct structure is going to be built in such a way that they’re not putting unnecessary stress on certain joints. If their chest doesn’t have the right angulation, every time the step forward they will have to overcompensate to gain enough reach. That overcompensation puts strain on the shoulder joint and ligaments increasing chances of injury.  That’s not to say a well bred dog can’t get injured, but a balanced dog moves with ease.

Along with important physical aspects, a dog from a responsible breeder comes with breeder support. Whether the dog is ten months or ten  years old, a good breeder will want to be kept up to date on how they’re doing. Have a serious life change and can’t keep the dog? The breeder will either take the dog back or help you re-home him. You have questions because your 6 month old Bernese Mountain Dog won’t stop eating….EVERYTHING? Call the breeder! They’ve raised a significant number of not only the same breed, but your dog’s relatives! They will be able to tell you if the behavior is normal and give suggestions.  You don’t know how valuable this type of support is until you have it.

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Part of breeder support is also having a breeder who is involved with the local dog community. They will have personal knowledge of the trainers and groomers in your area and if you don’t live near your area, they will have contacts in the national dog community and often be able to recommend someone. They’re main goal is your puppy living a long, happy, healthy life.

So if a person can buy a well bred husky for $600-$1,200, why are people paying well over that for poorly bred ones? There are a number of reasons for this, but the two main reasons are 1) people are often too impatient to wait for the right breeder and 2) pure salesmanship. This goes for any breed.  When a puppy producer’s main goal is to make money, they will spend the time and energy to get flashy websites with high quality photos. They often have a very big presence on social media with many followers and use certain phrases to increase the “perceived value” of their product. There are  responsible breeders who can have flashy websites and the like, but many of them are spending their money on health testing, dog sports, and training. They’re “out with the dogs” so to speak and don’t always prioritize sales.

This is where telling people that the dog is somehow special because he’s a “Woolly Husky” comes into play. People will pay extra because they think they’re getting something rare or special, when really what they’re getting is hours and hours of grooming and vacuuming up hair.

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And if they’re not willing to put in the time and work that it takes to take care of that “woolly” coat, it can seriously affect the dog’s health and happiness. I saw this all the time when I was grooming, and not just with huskies. “Doodle” owners would come in all the time with with a deep misunderstanding of their dogs’ coat. I have had more than one person tell me “He’s a doodle so he doesn’t shed, so he doesn’t need groomed as much as a poodle.” What? No! In some cases, I would end up having to shave their severely matted dog down to the skin.

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If you do not groom your “woolly husky” regularly it can be detrimental for their health and you may end up having to shave them down – sometimes the fur never grows back the same. Note the red, irritated patches of skin on the dog’s side.

There are plenty of breeds out there that need extensive grooming and regular coat maintenance, but what makes puppy producers breeding specifically for incorrect coat texture stand out is the lack of education they give their puppy buyers. Like I’ve said before, there’s a gradient of puppy producers, so sure there are some that explain the challenges that come with this type of coat, but the majority of buyers walk into this with no concept of the amount of time, training and energy it takes just to care for the dog’s hair.

The same thing happens with puppy producers who breed specifically for things like a “double dapple” coat, extreme brachycephaly (squishy face dogs), and other “exotic” traits. Many animals bred for double dapple coats are born deaf or blind and extremely flat faced dogs often need expensive surgery to help them breathe. In some cases, the average puppy buyer is paying thousands of dollars more for these “unique” features.

Just because a puppy producer is selling a dog for an astronomical price, does not mean they are a responsible breeder. If the breeder isn’t checking the boxes that you prioritize as responsible, you need to keep looking and researching. You’re going to have that dog for the next 10 – 15 years….I guarantee it is worth it to wait and find the right dog from the right breeder.

*Featured photo used with permission.

 

Previous Post: Why I’m Done Using The Term “Backyard Breeder” 

Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Why I’m Done Using the Term “Backyard Breeder”

Whether your involvement in the dog world is through the purebred fancy, shelter/rescue, or simply owning a pet, you’ve likely heard of  “backyard breeders”.
The term generally brings to mind various images of uneducated people breeding their dogs willy-nilly for money. Perhaps they have dirty, unkept kennels and algae infested water bowls, or maybe they’re pumping out puppies at an unhealthy rate. Closely related to this term is the label “puppy mill”with even worse connotations. Both of these phrases go hand in hand.

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The image that generally springs to mind when we hear “backyard breeder”

I’ve used this term many times, including in this very blog. But I’m starting to feel an aversion to it. At first I couldn’t place why, it was just a dislike for the term in general. Then today as I was scrolling through my facebook news feed I saw a well respected breeder’s status “We do not support backyard breeders!” and I opened the little comment box and my fingers started flying at lightspeed! I wasn’t ranting or angry at the breeder,  I was just finally able to articulate why I dislike these terms – what a break through!  Instead of commenting on the breeder’s well meaning post, I decided share my thoughts on the subject here.

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The first definitions that popped up on google

My first reason for disliking the terms “backyard breeder” and “puppy mill” is a lack of precision. If you took a poll, the average person would have range of definitions. The Wikipedia  definition of backyard breeder includes words like “amateur” “substandard” and “ethical, selective breeding” which are all arbitrary.  If you’re a professional breeder as opposed to an amateur, does that mean you’re no longer a “backyard breeder”? What’s the difference?  In my experience interacting with various calibers of dog breeders, almost none of them consider themselves backyard breeders, and most feel that they are the standard for responsible breeding practices.

My other issue is closely related to this lack of  precision. These terms create a deeply emotional response that encourages people to dismiss the accused. These words are not meant to engage people in a healthy discussion of responsible animal husbandry. They’re not communicating specific facts  about a specific person. They’re meant to evoke emotion and create a visceral response – and that response shuts down critical thinking and causes people to be dismissive.

It’s the equivalent of a coworker telling a you, “That guy’s a jerk!”. They didn’t present any facts or allow you to come to your own conclusions, they just told you essentially “I don’t like that person for various reasons and you shouldn’t either.” If instead someone said, “On multiple occasions that guy has taken credit for other people’s work.” You now have something specific to go on. You can use critical thinking in your interactions with that person to asses whether the accusation was founded or not. But if you’re dismissive of the person, you never have a chance to get to know them or their actions, for better or for worse.

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There is no black and white distinction between being a responsible breeder and an irresponsible one. It’s a gradient.

That’s why I like the term “puppy producer”. It’s a fact. This person produces puppies. Now, let’s use some other facts to describe what kind of a puppy producer they are.

This hypothetical puppy producer is breeding their dogs at 10 months old with no health testing. Their puppies were whelped on the back porch in a dog house and are left outside in the yard unsupervised. There is considerable waste in the back yard. They have stated that the only reason they breed is to supplement their income and will sell a puppy to anyone who pays. They have been seen kicking their dogs for barking.

These are all facts that can be proven or disproven. The picture I painted was terrible, and I would hope that the facts would elicit some sort of emotional response. But you decided your opinion based the on facts I presented. I didn’t tell you what emotion to have by saying “This guy is a backyard breeder!” or “That woman runs a puppy mill!”

The correct words to describe the above puppy producer would be “neglectful” and “abusive”. These words have precise definitions and still evoke an emotional response. We need to stop dismissing breeders for being a “puppy mill” and call it what it really is – animal abuse. And if their behavior is not technically animal abuse, you just don’t agree with their choices, tell us why. Respect your audience enough to let them make their own decision, and respect the other person enough to be clear with why you disagree with them.

The emotion attached to a catchphrase is markedly different than the emotion you arrive at on your own in response to facts. Which leads me to my next point.

When you have a word that provokes a knee-jerk emotional response, with a lack of precise definition it is inevitably going to be used to further someone’s agenda. Media headlines are full of the phrase “puppy mill” and legislation commonly goes after “backyard breeders”!  Die hard adopt don’t shop believers use the term whip up a frenzy of pitchfork wielding followers to go after breeders.

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And while I’m all for making animal neglect and abuse illegal, when we’re talking about making things illegal, we need to be precise. If we make it illegal to breed dogs in back yards, many hobby breeders who are the last bastion between certain rare breeds and extinction would be illegal. If we require certain standards of care that include facilities and kennels and prohibit whelping pups in the home, puppies would miss out on a much needed aspect of early socialization. Many breeders only have one or two litters a year. They can’t possibly afford the facilities required of them if certain legislation passed.

The more we legitimize phrases like “backyard breeder” and “puppy mill”, the more they will be used in a way that can hurt the people and practices we are trying to protect. I understand the temptation for responsible breeders to use these terms to distance themselves from certain elements of the puppy producing world. But being derogatory and dismissive of a vague “they” will only get us so far.

Rather than using vague terms to be dismissive of invisible “other” puppy producers, let’s instead start talking about what we do support. Instead of saying “We don’t support backyard breeders.” Let’s say, “We believe strongly in responsible breeding practices such as…. ” and give real life examples. This does two things. One, it still creates distance between responsible and irresponsible and two, it educates the reader on what to look for in a breeder.

Responsible Breeder Definition
Instead of saying, “You’re not a puppy mill, are you?” potential puppy buyers will learn to ask, “At what age do you start breeding your dogs?” “Where does the mother whelp her pups?” “Did your dogs pass nationally recognized health tests?” The puppy buyer can make their decision based on how the puppy producer answers.

Puppy buyers will sense the difference between respectful education and dismissive name calling. Let’s use our words to create responsible pet owners who are educated and want to buy from responsible breeders.

 

Responsible Dog Ownership

Dog Crates – Jail Cell or Safe Space?

A while ago I had a friend come to me for some advice. They had recently purchased an Australian Cattle Dog puppy, who while adorable, was starting to chew up important items in the house while they were gone.

Of course the first thing I did was ask why they didn’t crate train their puppy.  You can imagine my surprise when my normally easy going friend leaned towards me and hissed, “I am NOT locking my dog in a…. CAGE!!”

My friend is not alone in thinking that crating a dog is on par with locking his loved one in a cage. Technically, a dog crate fits the definition of a cage, and as an adult human, the concept of being locked in a cage is completely abhorrent. The emotion behind this feeling is shared by many new dog owners.

There are many amazing articles out there already discussing the advantages to crate training, but I think the general concept needs to be addressed again. We live in a society that we have anthropomorphized our animals so much that we won’t even do things with them that we do with our own children.

According to behavioral measures, average adult dogs have intelligence on par with a two year old. While dogs and humans are very different, it still begs the question, would you leave your two year old at home by themselves for a few hours? What do you imagine a two year old would get up to if they were given the run of the house?  It’s ridiculous to imagine letting your toddler run rampant while you’re at work, but we’re going to let a puppy have the run of the house, then be shocked that they chewed up your slippers?

Though a crate could technically be defined as a “cage”, it’s really not conceptually much different than a crib or playpen.

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A safe area filled with appropriate toys for your little one to play with….this bears a lot of similarity to a crate

Now, if you have a child who has never seen the inside of a crib or playpen and you stick them in one and leave the room for thirty minutes, that poor kid is going to have a heck of a time. There will absolutely be screaming, crying, attempts to escape, and potential long term mental issues from the negative experience.

The same could be said for a puppy. If that poor little guy has never been crated, and the first day home from the breeder or shelter they get stuffed into a crate for six hours, that is incredibly harmful.

That’s why a puppy needs to be crate trained incrementally. 90% of the advantages to crating come from the fact that once they’re appropriately trained, dogs have a positive, safe place to call their own.

Just because some people misuse a crate doesn’t mean that the crate is inherently bad. We need to stop blaming animal abuse on tools and start holding people accountable. Cribs and playpens can be used to neglect children, but most parents would be beside themselves trying to raise toddlers without those valuable tools.

Our human world is a big, often overwhelming place for dogs. Having a safe place to call their own can give an immense sense of security, often heading off behaviors like separation anxiety. You could make this safe space any place in your home like a closet, or under a table, but the main advantages to a crate are that it can be secured and moved.

Imagine being able to bring your bedroom with you any time you traveled. That’s what travel is like for a crate trained dog. Have children visiting that you don’t trust to treat your dog well? Crate your dog in a different room. It’s not a punitive for your dog, it’s the same as being able to go in your room and shut the door when you have an unwanted guest.

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Master suite with attached bath?

 

I love my bedroom. It’s my happy place. I’m an introvert, and often get overwhelmed by crowds, loud noises and too much action. And having a bathroom attached to my room is an added bonus! But if you were to throw me in jail, I can guarantee the idea of staying in my room all day would not be as appealing, and having a bathroom “attached” to my room would not seem quite as luxurious. It’s all in perception. How you go about training your dog can mean the difference between the crate being a place of refuge or a jail cell.

I can tell you that it is industry standard for groomers and vets offices to use crates. Imagine your dog going to the vet for an injury and needing to be held overnight for observation. Do you think that the vet techs have every single dog out and about for this? No, each animal is in a their own crate to keep them safe and secure during observation. If your dog is already stressed from their injury or illness, and then start panicking because they’ve never seen the inside of a crate before, are you doing them a favor? My older dog hasn’t been crated in the house for years. But if he goes to the vet or the groomer, and they open the crate door and tell him to go in, he will get right in and lay down. Why? Because it’s not a cage to him. It’s a familiar, safe place for him to go.

As dog owners, we need to stop latching onto each emotion that jumps off the page at us as we navigate the canine world. I’ve seen methods used that at first glance seemed so wholesome and positive I was ready to throw away everything I thought I knew about training. But as I got to know the trainer and her dogs, I realized that everyone involved was stressed and they way she was going about “positive” training was actually muddling the waters and confusing the dogs. There have also been trainers who have used methods I thought I would never condone, but when applied judiciously in the right context, worked wonders on building the relationship between dog and handler.

It’s not the tool, it’s how it’s used. The responsibility falls wholly on our shoulders as dog owners. It is up to us to put in the time and work to ensure that our dogs have an appropriate perception of the dog crate.

My friend would never lock their dog in a cage, and you know what? Neither would I. But I will give them a safe, familiar place to call their own.

 

More:

Part 1 – Where Are Shelter Dogs Coming From?

Part 2 – Rescues and Shelters’ Role in the Shelter Dog Problem

Part 3- Puppy Producers

Part 4 – Responsible Breeders