Breeders get a bad reputation, and sadly, it’s not hard to see why. Due to diverse histories, temperaments and drives, prospective dog owners occasionally opt for a purebred puppy. Suppose you already know which breed is right for you, what are your options? There is so much information available on ‘adopt, don’t shop’, many buyers end up uneducated on how to responsibly buy a purebred puppy if it hasn’t come from a shelter.
If you’re reading this, chances are “you just want a pet”. Being “a pet” is one of the highest callings a dog can have – we ask for a lot from our pets. We ask that they be well-tempered companions who warm our beds, love our kids, watch over our homes as loyal protectors while miraculously accepting our friends without question. We ask them to run with us, play with us and explore bustling cities with us.
In addition, we hope (for their sake and ours) that they live long, healthy lives, free of pain and suffering. Every owner wishes this for their dog, but not all breeders make the effort to improve those odds.
This post is aimed at individuals who have decided to pursue a purebred puppy and want to do it right. Even if you want a dog ‘just as a pet’, you will learn why reputable breeders, rescues and shelters are the only places you’ll ever want to get your new family member from.
What is a breeder?
According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, a breeder is “a person who breeds animals or plants”. With such a broad definition, it’s easy to see why the bar for calling oneself a breeder is so low.
What is a backyard breeder (or BYB)?
Backyard breeders can encompass a large group of individuals, ranging from owners of accidental litters, well-meaning homes who bred their two family dogs together because they thought they were “great pets”, to operations that are verging on commercial territory.
These are the easiest traps to fall into, especially if you’re “just looking for a family pet” because, for all intents and purposes, everything looks rosy. Perhaps you’ve met the owners, and they seem like good people, with a lovely family to boot. You’ve met the dogs and they appear purebred enough. What more could you ask for? Proof.
What is your idea of a great temperament? How do you envision your ideal family dog? Chances are, you want a pet who loves you and your family, is easy to train and doesn’t exhibit unnecessary aggression.
To some people, “he’s got a great temperament” means “he’s bitten visitors a couple of times, but he lets our kids ride on his back.” Or, “she’s really protective, just like the breed should be! She barks at people on walks all the time”.
Being someone’s pet, unfortunately, does not prove that they have a great temperament. Ask any professional dog trainer – there are plenty of much-loved family pets with behaviour issues.
While exposure, socialisation and training go a long way to creating a happy, balanced dog, genetics plays a huge role*. If you see behaviours in the puppy’s parents that make you uncomfortable, don’t assume that it won’t crop up in your pup just because you’ll raise it differently.
If a good temperament is such a subjective thing, how do you ‘prove it’? Through dog-related activities: service, therapy, conformation and sports, like obedience, agility, herding, hunting, weight-pulling and protection. These pursuits require years of dedication and showcase the dog’s ability to not only work as it was always intended to, but go through advanced training and remain clearheaded and comfortable in a number of high-pressure environments. Think gunfire, other dogs, perceived threats, strange surfaces, huge crowds and more. Dogs are evaluated under strict rules by hard judges.
Aggression, nervousness, shyness and fear are simply unviable in many of these pursuits, and only the temperamentally stable can succeed. The titling process goes a long way to weeding out unpredictable and weak-tempered dogs.
Titles do more than proving a dog’s temperament, they also exhibit the dog’s sound structure and ability to perform the tasks required of them. While you may have no intention of doing agility or hunting with your dog, getting a puppy from structurally sound parents means that you are more likely to have a strong healthy pup of your own.
“Vet checks” are simply not enough. A 30-minute checkup tells breeders nothing about their dog’s underlying health and genetic diseases. It only shows that the dog was superficially ‘fine’ in that moment. In addition, some dogs are carriers for awful conditions (which means it doesn’t manifest in them, but they could potentially produce puppies with the issues) and if bred with other carriers, future puppy owners can face thousands of dollars in vet bills and years of heartache.
For most breeds, extensive (and expensive!) screening is necessary to clear them of common genetic ailments such as eye problems, heart defects, blood disorders, joint issues and susceptibility to certain cancers.
Backyard breeders have no way of knowing whether they’re bringing healthy pups into the world, and they don’t offer support or compensation to owners who have bought one of their sick dogs.
What is a puppy mill?
Puppy mills, also known as puppy farms, breed dogs on a commercial scale. Every aspect of running the “business” is intended to maximise profit, invariably at the expense of the health, temperament and welfare of their dogs.
Conditions are unsanitary, dogs aren’t health tested and females are bred as often as possible until they die. Dogs often live in cages to maximise space for more breeding bitches and puppies undergo no socialisation or positive exposure to the real world. Puppy mill pups are notorious for severe behavioural and health defects while looking pretty as a picture on the outside.
Knowing this, it seems impossible that anyone in their right mind would purchase a puppy from a puppy mill, right? Sadly, it happens every day, largely because well-meaning owners don’t realise what they’re supporting.
Those who run puppy farms are savvy and know how to paint themselves as sound, reputable breeders to uneducated buyers. They offer ‘papers’ on their pups, which are actually sourced from irreputable organisations in exchange for cash, and they never allow prospective buyers to see their breeding programs or breeding stock. Instead, they tend to sell through second and third parties like pet stores and puppy brokers.
What makes reputable breeders different from anybody else? They’re still making money from breeding dogs.
First, let’s start with a few misconceptions about reputable breeders:
Myth #1: Reputable breeders are more expensive
While puppies from reputable breeders can cost more than those from BYBs or classified ads, this isn’t always the case. A well-bred pup often costs between $1000 and $3000 (depending on the breed, and the expenses associated with whelping and raising them). Brokers and puppy mills know that in buyers minds price = quality, so they’re happy to charge high amounts for their puppies too. BYBs see what others charge for their puppies and follow their lead without considering their own signifantly lower expenses (Profit $$). This means that you could end up paying $1500 for a well-bred puppy just as easily as a poorly bred one. Given a choice, which breeder would you sooner support? Try to remove the association between price and quality, as they don’t always go hand in hand.
Myth #2: Reputable breeders make ungodly amounts of profit from their pricey pups
Funnily enough, the ones who actually make a profit from puppies are the backyard breeders and puppy mills. Puppy farms and BYBs spend the lowest amounts of cash on whelping, health, vaccinations, screening ($$!), worming, quality food, training, transport, socialisation, titling and sports – sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes to cut corners.
In contrast, reputable breeders fork out for the best quality products and services that they can, often choosing not to even put a price on own their time, let alone make a profit. It’s not uncommon to discover that reputable breeders failed to recover all of their expenses from any given litter. If they’re lucky, they break even. Good quality breeding is certainly not a money-making venture.
In addition, good breeders offer a lifetime of support, at no cost to the buyer. Questions, concerns, suggestions, training tips – they’ve seen it all and done it all, and they’ll only be too happy to help.
Myth #3: Reputable breeders are the reason why there are so many pets in pounds and shelters
This is one of the saddest myths associated with good breeders, because those who are reputable do the most foundational work of all breeders to keep dogs off the streets. They invariably have ‘buy back’ or ‘take back’ clauses in their contracts which means if for any reason you can no longer look after your pet (or simply don’t want to), they will take the dog back at any point during its life – no questions asked. Many will offer a full refund of the purchase price depending on the circumstances. This means that the dog will never see the inside of a shelter.
In addition, reputable breeders tend to have waiting lists of puppy buyers, so that most, if not all, of their pups will have a home lined up before it’s even conceived.
BYBs, pet stores and puppy farms have no such policies. In addition to breeding indiscriminately, they do not take back past pups. If your circumstances change suddenly, and you’re forced to give your dog up, you may have to relinquish your pet to a shelter or rescue. When puppies don’t sell and start to get older, they’re often abandoned or dropped off for humane societies to deal with. Furthermore, dogs from puppy mills and BYBs have the highest occurrences of temperamental, behavioural and health problems that result in owners abandoning their pets in the first place.
To put it bluntly, reputable breeders make minimal contribution to the state of overflowing shelters. Many are associated with rescues themselves and help rehome dogs that were never theirs to begin with. BYBs and other indiscriminate breeders are doing the most harm, and allow the highest numbers of pets to end up on streets and shelter steps.
From the outside, it’s easy to think this may be the case, especially if you’re observing fancily dressed handlers running around a show ring with their prized pooches. The truth is that reputable breeders are no more elitist than anyone else who is obsessed with their ‘hobby’. Many are friendly, approachable and only too happy to talk about their beloved breed and dogs.
If you have a negative experience with a breeder, simply chalk it down to their individual disposition, and find someone who is easier to deal with.
Myth #5: Reputable breeders have strict contracts with ridiculous rules
This varies from breeder to breeder. Some may insist that you feed a certain food, or neuter by a certain age. Others may be more hands-off. Again, this will come down to individual breeders, rather than reputable breeders as a whole.
As above, if there is something about a breeders contract or way that you don’t agree with, simply move on to someone who’s more aligned with your views.
Myth #6: Reputable breeders only breed for fancy shows or working homes, they don’t breed for average pet owners like us
Thankfully, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Reputable breeders will often pick a puppy or two from the litter that they believe has the unique set of traits conducive to continuing and improving their lines (be it for conformation, sport, or work – ideally it’s a combination). The rest of the litter will generally be sold as ‘pets’. These puppies will still have the wonderful genetics, temperaments and health of the top picks and their parents, but may not have the edge the breeder desires.
All it takes is talking to the breeder about their goals and their lines, sharing what you’re hoping to find for your family, and seeing if the breeder believes they can offer what you’re after.
So what is a reputable breeder?
Reputable breeders, also known as hobby breeders, are responsible breeders. Above all else, they care about the welfare and sustainability of their dogs and chosen breed.
They have solid goals when breeding, selecting mating pairs with great care. Reputable breeders know the strengths and weakness in temperament, health and structure of their dogs and only choose a mating partner who would complement their bitch (or stud) – one who can offset the weakness, amplify strengths and produce a litter of pups who should improve on the generations before them. Most of the time this means finding a dog outside of their own backyard.
Reputable breeders are often active in their breed’s national club or similar equivalent and regularly work with other knowledgeable breeders, trainers and veterinarians.
They have a deep understanding of their breed’s history, health problems, genetic susceptibilities and behaviour issues and go to great lengths to breed away from them, spending exorbitant amounts of money on genetic screening and health clearances for silent conditions like hip dysplasia, and von Willebrand’s disease. In addition, they do not hesitate to remove any dogs from their programme who produce unhealthy, weak tempered puppies.
One of the major attributes of a reputable breeder is their involvement in canine-related activities that prove their dog’s character. Sports could include herding, obedience, agility, weight pulling, hunting, protection or anything else that is relevant to the dog’s history and desired abilities. If they don’t compete with their dogs, then they work them – police K9s, military, detection, search and rescue, service, therapy are just a few examples.
Reputable breeders provide lifetime knowledge and support to future, present and past puppy buyers. They provide contracts and guarantees and offer to take back dogs that they’ve bred, at any time.
What’s wrong with buying puppies from pet stores?
While this question is better suited to its own post, the short story is that unless a pet store is selling puppies from shelters, as seen in San Francisco, pet stores are buying their puppies from puppy mills and other commercial breeders.
Pet stores charge a premium on puppies who have been whelped and raised in unhygienic, inhumane conditions, and purchasing through pet stores supports the continuation of these practices, as you’re putting money right back into these commercial breeder’s pockets to continue the cycle.
What about rescue?
Depending on your goals, rescue is an excellent way to go when looking for a new addition. There are many breed-specific rescues all over the country if you have your heart set on a particular breed. The regular use of foster homes means that prospective buyers get a fair indication of the dog’s temperament in the home, and out of chaotic shelter environments, before choosing to adopt.
If I buy a puppy from a puppy mill, or BYB, I’m rescuing her too!
While it’s may make one warm and fuzzy to see it this way, the fact remains that if you are buying a dog from a backyard breeder, puppy broker or puppy mill, you are putting money back into their hands so that they can continue to exploit their dogs, as well as future buyers.
If you are aware of cruelty or neglect, the best thing you can do is contact your local law enforcement, humane society or animal control and ensure that they are shut down and never allowed to breed dogs again. The puppies and dogs can be seized and rehomed to loving families, free of dark cages, filth and fear.
For more information, read the Humane Society of the United States’ advice here
What if I can’t afford to buy one from a reputable breeder? Or don’t want to wait? I’m ready for a new puppy now!
Rescue is a wonderful option in these circumstances because costs are lower, and you won’t need to wait for a litter to be born and reared. The dog’s temperament is more or less set, and therefore less of a mystery (unlike puppies). Truth be told, these dogs would largely be from pet stores or BYBs, but the circumvention of bad breeders is purely to avoid supporting their selfish practices, and bringing of unhealthy, nervous, debilitated pups into the world – adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue, on the other hand, does not put money into bad breeders pockets.
Admittedly, purebred puppies are hard to come by in shelters, so some may be tempted to go for the $300 pup in the classifieds because it’s ‘pure’, it’s cheap and it’s ready. The truth is that having a dog isn’t cheap, and puppies are certainly no cheaper. Many argue that if one can’t afford to buy a well-bred puppy, they definitely can’t afford to buy a poorly bred one. The deck is no longer stacked in your favour in terms of temperament, socialisation, health, and freedom from hidden diseases. Consider saving for a few more months until you can afford a well-bred pup.. or don’t. The choice is ultimately yours to make.
Where to from here?
If your interest is piqued, and you’d like to learn more about reputable breeders and how to find them, keep a look out for future posts covering How to Find a Reputable Breeder, Signs of A Reputable Breeder, What to Ask When Buying a Puppy and Why are Well-Bred Puppies So Expensive.
*References and recommended reading:
- Patronek, G. J., Glickman, L. T., Beck, A. M., McCabe, G. P., & Ecker, C. (1996). Risk factors for relinquishment of dogs to an animal shelter. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 209(3), 572-581.
- E. Wilsson, P.-E. Sundgren (1998). Behaviour test for eight-week old puppies: Heritabilities of tested behavior traits and its correspondence to later behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 58(1), 151–162.
- McMillan, F. D., Serpell, J. A., Duffy, D. L., Masaoud, E., & Dohoo, I. R. (2013). Differences in behavioral characteristics between dogs obtained as puppies from pet stores and those obtained from noncommercial breeders. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 242(10), 1359-1363. doi:10.2460/javma.242.10.1359
- Korbelik, J., Rand, J. S., & Morton, J. M. (2011). Comparison of early socialisation practices used for litters of small-scale registered dog breeders and nonregistered dog breeders. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 239(8), 1090-1097. doi:10.2460/javma.239.8.1090
- Adam J. Fumarola, With Best Friends Like Us Who Needs Enemies? The Phenomenon of the Puppy Mill, the Failure of Legal Regimes to Manage It, and the Positive Prospects of Animal Rights, 6 Buff. Envtl. L.J. 253, 264-65 (1999)
- Stephanie K. Savino, Puppy Lemon Laws: Think Twice before Buying that Doggy in the Window, 114 Penn St. L. Rev. 643 (2009-2010)
- Katz, R. F. (2009). What is a Puppy Mill? | Animal Legal & Historical Center. Retrieved from https://www.animallaw.info/article/what-puppy-mill
- Canine Health Information Center: CHIC Breeds. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.caninehealthinfo.org/breeds.html
- Glengate Registered Doberman Pinschers. (n.d.). Cost of a Litter. Retrieved from http://glengate.webs.com/costofalitter.htm
- O’Mal Alaskan Malamutes. (n.d.). Cost to breed and raise a Litter (or why does a purebred dog cost so much). Retrieved from http://omalmalamutes.com/omal/littercost.htm
- Puppy Mills: Frequently Asked Questions: The Humane Society of the United States. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/puppy_mills/qa/puppy_mill_FAQs.html
- Reusche, S. (2012, December 10). “It’s all in how they’re raised.” | Paws Abilities. Retrieved from https://paws4udogs.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/its-all-in-how-theyre-raised/
- Tang, K., Jesse, A., Donohue, V., & Scarlett, J. (2017, February 14). Ban animal sales at SF pet stores to end the abusive cycle. The San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved from http://www.sfexaminer.com/ban-animal-sales-sf-pet-stores-end-abusive-cycle/