Understanding the Different Types of Dog Breeders
By Lynn Stacy-Smith
Today is the second day of the Westminster Kennel Club show, a prestigious event that celebrates breeding stock of purebred dogs and my favorite sporting event of the year. With a pet overpopulation problem that results in 2.4 million innocent and healthy dogs and cats being euthanized each year, there are sometimes critics who say that we don’t need anyone breeding dogs and bringing additional animals into the world. I disagree, though, and feel that our purebred dog breeds are all an important part of the dog world that should be preserved for future generations.
To make that assumption that all breeders are responsible for homeless pets is unfair, and I think it is important to educate people that not all breeders are the same. In fact there are vast differences between responsible breeders and puppy mill operators. This is a topic that I cover in detail in my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner in Chapter 5: Breeder or Rescue, Where to Get Your Next Dog. Rather than re-write the wheel, here is an excerpt from my book:
“The words ‘dog breeder’ can elicit some very negative responses from individuals in the dog community. The truth is that there are a variety of different types of dog breeders ranging across a wide spectrums of levels of care, and it is neither fair nor accurate to lump them all in together. Some breeders love their dogs as if they gave birth to them, and they put care and love into each litter. Others are unscrupulous and inhumane to their dogs and help contribute to the pet overpopulation problem in two ways: producing more dogs than they have a need for and not sufficiently screening puppy buyers to ensure that they are committed to caring for the dog humanely for its entire life.
Unfortunately, too often good breeders are lumped in with bad breeders, but the fact of the matter is that there are many wonderful breeders who operate in such a way that if everyone who bred dogs followed their lead we would not have the heart wrenching pet overpopulation problem that we do in this country and across the world. While I agree with the ‘don’t shop, adopt’ concept, it is important to note that good breeders of purebred dogs are important to the world of dogs and to maintaining the breed standard of the breeds that we love so much.”
Here’s the difference:
Large Commercial Breeders: Large commercial breeders breed and house puppies in a manner similar to raising livestock: in large quantities in cages. These operations are known as “puppy mills” because they breed in large quantities. There are many horror stories of puppy mills in which dogs are undernourished, dehydrated and kept in cages too small where they bred over and over and over again. It is not uncommon for puppy mill dogs to never touch grass, run around or live a normal life.
These puppies are usually sold through pet stores. Because of the lack of attention to care, genetic issues, temperament or socialization from the puppy mill operators, many puppy mill puppies have substantial health issues. Adding to the tragedy is the fact that most pet stores do not full screen buyers sufficiently, if at all, to ensure that they are making a lifetime commitment instead of an impulse buy.
Backyard Breeders: The term “backyard breeder” typically refers to people who breed their own dogs but do not offer the same health guarantees and health checks as Hobby/Professional/Show Breeders. Some backyard breeders will breed just one litter because they have a beloved female dog and want one of her puppies to keep for their own, or because a friend or family member wants one of her puppies. In this situation it is quite possible that the parents and puppies are well-loved, quite healthy, and receive the utmost care and socialization.
Other backyard breeders are less scrupulous and breed their dogs for profit without the same high quality care and treatment. Backyard breeders who fall into this category often neglect their dogs and simply view them as a way to bring in income, similar to puppy mill operations but on a smaller scale.
Hobby/Show/Professional Dog Breeders: Professional dog breeders, sometimes called hobby or show breeders, breed for love of the breed and usually possess extensive knowledge of genetics, their bloodline, and common health problems of the breed. They are dedicated to maintaining the breed standard in all areas: health, appearance and temperament.
Professional breeders will ensure that all of their stud dogs and dams pass the standard tests for their breeds with the OFFA, also called the OFA, which is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. For example, with the Labrador Retriever, you should look for breeders who test for hips, elbows and eyes. Their females lead regular happy lives and only produce a few litters in their lifetime before they are spayed and retired. Some hobby/show/professional breed multiple litters a year and rely on that income and others breed just once or twice a year or when they would like to add another dog to their own dog family.
This type of breeder is the type involved in conformation shows like the Westminster Kennel Club show. They also participate in common sports and activities for the breed. For example, our friend/breeder from whom we purchased Jackson and Tinkerbell is actively involved in Hunt Tests, Conformation, Obedience, works professionally as a dog trainer and runs a boarding kennel in her community. One of her labs is in agility and another has worked as a reading dog, going into classrooms where children read to the dog to help their confidence and reading skills. Her dogs all live in the house with her and are beloved pets.
What type of breeder can make it to Westminster?
Often the Westminster coverage includes information on the day to day lives of some of the dogs in the competition. To debunk the myth that show dogs are only “good” for shows, many of the dogs who compete also participate in the sports and activities for which they were bred. For example many of the sporting breeds also hunt birds and have other jobs outside of the show ring as well as being beloved pets and companions.
The Westminster Kennel Club Show website has a great page called Find the Right Dog for You and includes this paragraph,
“As we have for many years during our televised broadcast, The Westminster Kennel Club will continue to make the following announcement: “If you are planning to add a dog to your life and have come to look over the best of the best, please note, no dog you have seen here (yesterday or today) came from a pet shop, or was the ‘product’, if you will, of a puppy mill. If you want a dog, go to the people who care – the dedicated specialty breeders who have made dogs like those you see here – a lifetime effort. Talk dogs with dog people who care and understand.”
Watch tomorrow for a related blog about tactics professional/show/hobby breeders use to help prevent pet overpopulation.