“Responsible Breeding” an Oxymoron?

I’m working on a column for Bark magazine, in which I’m going to talk about one way to decrease the number of dogs needing adoption from shelters and rescues. Right now the two primary efforts to decrease the number of dogs killed in shelters are 1) encourage spay/neuter & discourage breeding and 2) encourage adoptions of dogs from shelters and rescue groups. I say Here! Here! in general to both of those, and it is heartening how successful both of those efforts have been.

However, there is one important aspect of this issue that is missing, and that is encouraging responsible breeding. Ah, some would say, responsible breeding?! Isn’t that an oxymoron? Breeding is a dirty word in some circles. After all, aren’t there too many dogs out there already? How could anyone justify breeding a litter when so many dogs in shelters and rescues need homes? But if you look at the data, the picture becomes a tad less black and white. Based on the extensive research of Gary Patronek & Andrew Rowan, there are about 7.3 million dogs acquired by households in the U.S. each year and about 6.2 million puppies produced every year by breeders, amateurs and puppy mills. Hmmmm…. Interesting math here, yes? So where do those 1.8 to 2.1 million dogs killed in shelters every year come from?  They estimate that about 4 + million dogs enter shelters every year, 400,000 from amateur breeders who don’t find a home for the litter, 2,2 million strays (.6 million are reclaimed) and 1.8 million owner surrenders.

There is little controversy about the fact that most dogs end up in shelters because of what owners describe as “behavioral problems.” Many of these problems could be easily handled if owners in the first place acquired the right dog for their households, and had someone to act as a coach as their dog matured. And that is why, I would argue, we need a third leg of prevention efforts to keep dogs from dying in shelters, which is based on keeping dogs out of shelters in the first place. And that’s where responsible breeders come in. I don’t think we have a good communal idea of what responsible breeding means, and I think we need one as a country.

Many members of the general public have no idea what a responsible breeder would look like. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who said things like: “Oh, I can’t tell you about the behavior of the father, because we couldn’t get anywhere near him.” (Oh my, this is a dog who was bred?) I’ve had clients who competed in Conformation who wanted me to help get them a title on a dog who was insecure, shy, or behaviorally unstable ever since youth. They wanted the title so that they could breed the dog.

If I was queen, we would have a universal understanding of what a responsible breeder is, and reinforce them for their good work. As someone who bred BCs years ago (Lassie had 2 litters), I can tell you that doing it right is very, very hard work. If you carefully select a mating based on genetics, physical and behavioral health, care for the dam and the litter as they should be cared for, provide an enriched environment for the maturing pups, sell only to the best of homes and act as a resource (and possible home) for the rest of the dog’s life… well, that’s a huge commitment. And yet, when doing all that years ago, I’ve had people treat me as if I was a social pariah.  Breeders, even the really good ones, tend to be castigated in this country, and yet, shouldn’t we be reinforcing responsible ones?  A truly responsible breeder maintains responsibility for every pup he or she raises, which means that the number of dogs going into rescues or shelters would drop so significantly that they would have to redefine their job. (And wouldn’t that be great!)

I’d love to hear what you think about all this. It’s true that I’m not completely objective, having bred litters from 4 females in the past, and am considering getting another BC from a breeder sometime in the future. (Criteria = “bomb proof” thank you very much. One Willie is enough!) But it saddens me that truly responsible breeders are so often castigated (while the irresponsible ones don’t care), and that so many dogs enter shelters and rescues because no one was there to help the owners solve what are often minor behavioral problems, or direct them to the right dog in the first place.

Meanwhile, back on the farm: Babies everywhere, there’s just no getting around it. My bottle babies from Truffles are getting more milk from her (yeah!), but not enough for triplets, so Jim and I visited Ann Topham of Fantome Farm fame (her goat milk is internationally known, and for good reason) and picked up 5 gallons of goat milk. It took 2 refrigerators to hold it, but it should last the babies a good long time. When I was at Ann’s earlier, I stumbled on her own birthing drama.  Here’s a doe who was 2 days late and was clearly in labor. When they start looking at their own bellies, you know something is up!

Ann called our mutual vet, the good Dr. Jeff Kunart, who came out and helped the doe deliver two HUGE twins while I was there. Here you can see the two front hooves just starting out. The nose was right behind, and once the shoulders were through, the kid flowed out like water.

Here he is, just seconds after being born.


  1. Carla McAlister says

    What a terrific post! Thank you very much for speaking out on what a “responsible breeder” should be doing. My two older dachshunds, who were both adopted from shelters, should never have ended up in the shelter if each “breeder” had taken any responsibility for them at all. So glad I found your blog. I absolutely love hearing about the lambs.

  2. Lynn U. says

    Thank you for this post, Trisha. It seems that there is more and more of a social assumption that breeders are somehow immoral, and that everyone should just stop breeding dogs. I’m not a breeder, but I have two wonderful dogs from excellent breeders who were not only committed to seeking the finest in health, temperament and type, but who also have been supportive throughout the lives of the dogs. Rather than saying that breeding is bad, I think that we should be using eduction to create an expectation that if you breed puppies, you are responsible to them for life. You make sure that they go to people who are ready to care for them, and you provide resources for training and socialization. If the puppies have genetic health problems you take them back. If the owner gets sick or transferred overseas you take them back. Heck, my Terv’s breeder will even keep him for a week while I go on vacation! I, for one, am extremely grateful that there are people out there who are willing to spend vast amounts of time and money on making a positive contribution to the genetic future of the dogs (and breeds) they love.

    Blessings on the people who take in and work so hard to rehabilitate troubled/reactive/out of control dogs, but blessings as well on the folks who work so hard to bring dogs into the world who are stable and emotionally and physically healthy for life.

  3. Alexandra says

    As the owner of one obviously random-bred stray who surely would have been euthanized for behavioral issues had we not decided to keep her (Izzy), I cannot stress enough how incredibly important I feel it is for the responsible breeders out there to continue to breed dogs for good temperment, health, and working ability (and even beauty if the first three criteria are first met). I am not sure how much of Izzy’s issues are genetic vs. environmental, but based on what I have observed and read about fear, I suspect she has a strong genetic contribution. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but she’s cost me many hundreds of dollars in professional trainers in order to get her to where she was not a train wreck of nerves. That said, I love her dearly and she’s taught me so much, but now that I know what it takes in the future I would foster/rehabillitate then rehome another dog like this because she is (sorry Iz) really not suited to my lifestyle because of her temperment. We make it work, of course, but there are a lot of rough patches with owning a reactive dog.

    In contrast, Copper, my lab who I bought from a breeder I respect and carefully researched, has been a DREAM. His temperment has always been rock solid, and that gave me a wonderful starting point for his socialzation & training. His breeder still keeps in touch with me. My in-laws also own a dog they purchased from a breeder, and her temperment has been fantastic, too.

    I know there are a lot of WONDERFUL rescue or random-bred dogs out there, please don’t take my comments to mean that I think there aren’t. But I strongly believe there will always be a need for good breeders who select for desireable traits, regardless of what breed or crossbreed they focus on.

  4. Alexandra says

    I wanted to clarify that I use the term “working ability” pretty broadly to refer to any job the dog might be bred to fulfill depending on breed, ranging from seeing eye dog, sheep herding, or family companion, etc.

  5. says

    I think some local legislation could help here. This is not likely to be a popular idea and it certainly has its own issues, but I would be in favor of laws that required breeders to become licensed in order to breed animals. Breeders would pay a nominal fee and be required to take classes that explain responsible breeding practices. In return, they’re operations are sanctioned by the local authority and listed in a directory of responsible breeders. The general public then has a singular resource to go to find responsible breeders. The fee paid by breeders would reflect the number of breeding adults they have and would scale exponentially to discourage mills. Licenses would be tied to physical addresses as well as an individual names. Breeders would be required to neuter/spay pet quality animals and show animals would be required to have papers.

    Of course, problems and abuses will abound. Nothing is perfect and I’m sure those who are currently responsible would feel they’re being punished under such a system. However, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen signs taped to traffic lights declaring “Yorkie Puppies For Sale!”

  6. Alexandra says

    Oh I am going on forever, but I wanted to add one more clarification that I would give up on a dog just because her temperment wasn’t what I’d hoped for (case in point, Izzy), but that I’d rather lend my skills as a foster home for a rescue organization in the future.

  7. says

    Yay for speaking up for responsible breeders. I don’t breed dogs myself, but I do performance events and a little conformation with my dogs. I just got a pure-bred puppy. I selected the breeder, who carefully planned this breeding, does all the health tests indicated for our breed, and provides great enrichment for the pups. I went to look at and play with the litter, but I totally let the breeder pick my puppy for me. He’s just what everyone would want, smart, good-looking, amazingly bombproof. We go to two puppy classes each week, and he’s already (at 15 weeks) been to two rally trials, an agility trial, and a seminar. He’s taken it all in his stride, and been cute and sweet, although he does whine a bit when he gets left behind while his auntie competes. Oh well, it will be his turn soon enough. And I needed a new couch, anyway. Nobody’s perfect.

  8. says

    As a person that competes in stockdog trials, responsible breeders are were my future puppies (Border Collies to be specific) will be coming from. These responsible breeders are breeders who bred dogs for working ability, whether it

  9. says

    Unfortunately, in our throw-away society, I don’t think behavior problems are they main reason dogs end up in shelters. People buy them as an impulse, keep them through the cute puppy phase, and then, when it becomes “inconvenient” to have a dog, they toss them away to the shelter. “Inconvenient” can be any number of reasons, like getting a new boyfriend/girlfriend, a great vacation opportunity, simply moving to a new apt/house, a new job, the puppy is no longer so cute as an adult, and the all-time best, having a baby so the dog’s gotta go. These are usually the same people that invested little to no effort in training/socializing their puppy, so of course behavior problems are probably present as well, making it that much easier to let the poor dog go.

  10. Vicki says

    I love this blog and completely agree with you! Being a breeder myself (although I breed rarely and haven’t had a litter in 4 years), I have spayed/neutered champions and/or dogs who were really structurally nice because the temperament wasn’t what I thought it should. I had other breeders tell me I was nuts, and to breed them. In my mind, it’s unethical to breed a dog with a poor temperament.

    As a professional trainer who specializes in positive training for show dogs, I also see a lot of people wanting to finish fearful dogs. I have fired clients who insisted on forcing fearful dogs into the show ring and failing to recognize that their dog just shouldn’t be show or for caring more about titles and winning than the dog’s safety and well being.

    Again, this is a great article and needed to be said.

  11. Nelson says

    Another important factor to limit the number of animals left in shelters is TRAINING! Ideally, dog/puppy sources would emphasize the importance of training to those receiving puppies/dogs – perhaps including classes or at the very least a source to get started. So many new owners assume dogs come out as “Lassie”, creatures that instintually know “proper behavior.” New owners frequently don’t realize the amount of effort, time, and consistency required to have a well-behaved dog – and “well-behaved” can be used very loosely. Most of the dogs at the shelters are surrendered during their adolescence, when what was originally seen as cute for a puppy is now “out of control” and “irreparable”.

    If I were Queen (not to usurp your crown), I would require future dog owners to spend some time fostering dogs or working at a shelter before they adopt so that they could get an idea of the amount of work a dog needs. As a 4 time adopter of “out of control” adolescent shelter dogs, I would be the first to say that it’s well worth the dedication, and any more it hardly seems an effort for all the furry wags and licks I get in return.

  12. says

    It is terribly unfortunate that all of the cruddy breeders out there have made such a bad name for breeders in general. Those cruddy breeders exist, though, because people buy from them — generally because they are cheaper. Being a responsible breeder COSTS MONEY and there is reason why their puppies cost more. The parents are generally health tested up the wazoo, receive the best health care, have been shown in the conformation ring, possibly have multiple sporting titles, etc. I don’t know any responsible breeders who make money from breeding. It is a labor of love.

    I am all for rescue — one of my dogs came from the local Humane Society, and another one from a Border Collie rescue. I do feel that rescue dogs can easily meet or exceed the needs of the general pet person — and even prime athletes have come out of rescue.

    But I can’t and won’t villify those who choose to buy from a responsible breeder. My middle dog came from a breeder because his breed (Alaskan Klee Kai) is simply not one that tends to come through rescue or shelters very often. I was captivated by the breed and didn’t have much choice if I wanted one any time soon. I did my research and purchased a dog from one of the first known breeders of the breed, a woman well respected in the Klee Kai community.

    When I was searching for a Border Collie, I followed many breeders — I found that the dogs from the “good” breeders were easily twice as much as the dogs from breeders who were a bit more “hobby breeders.” I crossed many breeders off my list for various reasons — one that sticks with me in particular is the one who started to breed “BorderDoodles.” Uh, no thanks. I don’t call any Doodle breeder a responsible breeder.

    I always kept an eye on the Border Collie rescues in my search and noted that there were several phenominal dogs going through on a regular basis. Several caught my eye, but there was one I couldn’t say no to, so she ended up with me.

    I will never stop looking at rescues as an option, but odds are that I’ll go with a responsible, proven breeder of sporting & working dogs for my next Border Collie. I like the idea of knowing a bit more about the history and background of my dog’s parents, so that their future isn’t quite so much of an unknown.

  13. Susan says

    A big cheer for reminding people that behavioral issues are a necessary component of keeping dogs out of shelters! I just finished writing a post suggesting this alternative to someone who had written in to YA about a dog she was considering relinquishing due to resource guarding and fear issues (I suggested Jean Donaldson’s “Mine!” and your “Cautious Canine” as well as contacting the shelter where she got the dog for help, as finances were tight and she is getting laid off.)

    If responsible breeders don’t breed, then I think we will lose something precious in our relationship with another species. Breeds serve certain functions, and our relationships grow as we work towards a common end, whether that end is cheering up people in a nursing home, bringing home the sheep, capturing the bad guys, finding the lost, hunting the ducks, helping a disabled person live a more fulfilling life, or whatever. Without careful breeding, being able to produce dogs that are good candidates for these various functions becomes much harder, if not impossible.

    Which isn’t to say that I agree with the what the vast majority of people consider a responsible breeder to be: someone who only breeds dogs who have conformation championships and genetic clearances, and sells the pups on a spay/neuter contract. I’m much more in favor of dogs being bred who are capable of the work they need to do, whether that is proven by some sort of working title, or by doing the job everyday. Yes, clearances need to be done, but genetic diversity is also important, so don’t throw the baby (or puppy?) out with the bathwater by eliminating dogs from the potential breeding pool who have a carrier status or very minor issue- or no issue at all except they weren’t the pick of the litter. The way we decide breeding status is often backward- the breeder keeps a puppy he/she thinks will be great, and then needs a major reason to NOT breed, whereas the other puppies in the litter have all gotten neutered/spayed, although might well be the better choice for breeding.

    For anyone interested in reading up on canine genetics and diversity, http://www.canine-genetics.com has some great articles.

  14. says

    HERE HERE on the responsible breeders issue. I’m not a breeder (although I have one intact boy I’d hoped to, just wasn’t in the cards and he’s the only intact dog I own) but I have gotten pups from responsible breeders as well as shelters, rescues, etc. I can say that responsible breeders aren’t the only ones alienated by many, so are the people that are getting pups from them.

  15. Frances says

    I’m so glad to read your sensible words about dog breeding. After a great deal of thought and research, I decided to mate my papillon bitch on her most recent season. I am fortunate in having an immense amount of support from the owner of the stud, who is a very experienced breeder, show judge and trainer and behaviourist, and who will not only hold my hand through the whole (possible!) pregnancy, but keep one puppy herself and help to find the very best homes for the rest of the (possible!) litter. I have been very wary of who I tell that I am planning a litter though, as I know there will be the knee-jerk reaction of “Oh how can you when there are so many dogs in rescue!” I have rescue animals myself, and I tried very hard to find a small, suitable rescue dog when I decided it was time for a second dog; the fact is that, in the UK at least, the vast majority of dogs needing rehoming are large – typically Staffordshire Bull Terriers, GSDs, Greyhounds, Akitas – need considerable exercise – Border Collies, etc – or are feisty terriers with attitude. I am getting older – I can’t handle the needs of a big, boisterous dog, and I live surrounded by cats, sheep, children, etc, etc whose safety must be my first priority. I have small dogs because I love them as dogs (NOT fashion accessories!) – they are very happy with a couple of miles roaming across country every day and silly games at home, and have been thoroughly socialised into good behaviour around people, pets and livestock. I want to breed really sound, healthy, happy puppies that will give other owners the same joy I get from my dogs – and I am prepared to put a lot of work into making that happen over the coming years!

  16. s says

    I agree responsible breeders are a key, but I also think that encouraging adoption from rescues/shelters is not enough or at its base is just too simply approached. There needs to be really good support from those of us who do adopt – the rescue I worked with was great during the process (as time consuming as that process was) but when I ended up (surprise surprise) with a behaviorally damaged dog, they provided no support, at least not support that was helpful. Without that key support/resources these rescued dogs are going to get dumped right back into the system. Don’t get me wrong, I love my 2 rescues and can’t imagine giving them up, but there are days where that temptation exists and I’d be lying if there aren’t times (fleeting but true) when I want to give it all up because of the many problems presented that have changed my life and my family’s life for the near future (ie cannot cannot cannot leave our home for more than 5 hours for almost a year now). We’ve come very very far in a years time, but its still frustrating. On one hand, I am learning so much as are my children through this experience which has many many benefits, but I think its easy to push adoption and encourage adoption but when it comes down to it, its a) a very difficult and timeconsuming process – being vetted by a rescue org isn’t exactly painless or cheap – a puppy would have been easier to obtain and b) support after the fact was minimal to null – again a puppy would have been easier in terms of going to classes, reading books, etc because that is such a “normal” path. For those of us who have tried to do the right thing, its not an easy path. And its a little disconcerting when the road to adoption and the road afterwards is so difficult – tough to reconcile with the nice ads and such to encourage adoption (they don’t mention the rejections from rescues – you have kids, no fence, etc , the lack of support, the time consuming steps of disclosure WE go through but don’t get full disclosure on the end of the rescue who likely had an inkling of issues a particular dog faces… so perhaps responsible rescues/shelters is also key – the rescue I used is well known and highly recommended, yet I see so much room for improvement (and believe me, I understand they can’t solve it all due to the volume of dogs they are helping to rehome – they are heroes for sure, but I have to wonder sometimes if rescues really help or is it a revolving door of sorts)

  17. Bridget says

    I bred and showed Norwegian Forest Cats for 14 years. All my kittens were sold already neutered, all shots, blood tested negative for FeLV & FIV, and microchipped registered back to ME. I have NEVER been contacted by any pound/shelter to date about any owners turning their pet over. My contract stipulated should the need arise to place that the cat came back to me first. 2 divorces surrendered cats and 1 owner death required me to take the cats back. When my adults stopped breeding at 5 years of age I frequently called kitten buyers and offered them or their family the adult cats. In 14 years I only sold 4 cats to new breeders under a contract that I help them with showing and breeding, these people are still friends today.

    I stopped breeding because the quality of homes were not what I wanted for my cats 7 years ago. Today I get about 2 calls/3 emails a year from people who had kittens from us and want another, there are only 3 breeders stateside that I recommend because of similar philosophy to maintain the best attributes of the breed and their health.

    Those breeders who had my breed of cat that I did NOT want to support I didn’t bad mouth, I simply told people that I didn’t have cats from that cattery and to read into it whatever they liked. The best breeders happily give you their veterinarians phone number and insist you call them up for a reference. I also warned people to question the vet to be sure that they weren’t only seeing the healthy kittens. My vets are AAHA certified and I always tell people about why this is important. Self policing and demands for improving their methods and education.

    In my NFC we had encountered HCM and GSD in the breed and I was a LOUD MOUTH telling everyone what lines I found carried these genetic issues. This did NOT ingratiate myself to other breeders, oh well.

    Responsible breeders are not rare. Pet owners that are responsible are not as common though. I interviewed people and NEVER sold a kitten to anyone who I didn’t feel was a good fit. The breed in my experience was NOT happy if the owner was a work-a-holic. They need companionship and more attention than a potted plant. People came over for an interview and IF a kitten picked them out then we worked out details.

    Today I run my Beagle and my Australian Shepherd in agility. I have inherited my mothers BC/lab and placed her Cairn “Terrorist” with the aid of Cairn rescue because her energy was not a good fit for our home. In my neighborhood when I encounter people walking an unruly dog I will offer to help them learn more about dog communication and clicker training for free.

    I had so much JOY from breeding kittens that delighted people. The gift of a healthy pet as a new family member was a type of art-form my breeding practiced. Getting emails and cards with updates of the impact that these pets helped enhance a family assured me that I was doing a good job. I enjoyed showing with my female cats especially well because the standard was more written for the males. The cats enjoyed being admired in the shows and bounced all over many hotel rooms pleased to be on a weekend adventure. My life was enhanced by the breed and I truly enjoyed the work of 9 litter boxes twice a day. I would love to someday breed Beagles but only if I could insist the new owners would come back for training with me. Beagles are most frequently surrendered because of digging, howling, and the need for more exercise than owners believed. I have yet to figure out how to educate reality and responsibility into dog owners… So for now this idea is a dream.

  18. says

    As someone who spends almost every free minute with rescue/shelter dogs, I know first-hand the large number of dogs being euthanized every day. And since I live in the puppy mill capital (Missouri), the majority of my experiences with breeders have been poor, to say the least – so I do understand how the word breeder got such a bad name. The fact is, the majority of animals being euthanized here do not have major issues. They are friendly, stable, healthy animals, both mentally and physically. Yet they are euthanized simply because someone didn’t want them, and there are not enough homes. I realize that is not true in all parts of the country (hooray!) but here it is very easy to get a healthy, stable, intelligent dog or puppy from a shelter. So when I see people selling puppies out of the back of their truck at the area flea market, I cringe. I am all for responsible breeders, and I have no problems with people purchasing dogs from responsible breeders – especially if they want to do something specific with their dog, more than just as a household pet. But for those people who are just looking to get a pet as a companion, there are so many sweet, happy, wonderful dogs out there needing homes, and I wish they would be considered instead of just automatically going to a breeder. That being said, I love breeders who take back their dogs if they don’t work out (as long as they don’t then turn them over to a rescue group!) If all breeders do rescue, or at least take responsibility for the dogs they breed, that would definitely help. The mass producing breeders (puppy mills) are really what needs to end, and unfortunately that is where the majority of puppies come from.

  19. says

    With all of the bad press breeding has gotten in recent years, a good guy (responsible breeder) vs. bad guy (puppy mill) paradigm was inevitable. Problem is, there is no one, single, carved-in-stone definition of what constitutes each. There is a long, sliding scale between the two extremes.

    “Puppy Mill” is one of those terms, like “Porn”, that is at least a little bit subjective. And it doesn’t help when you have one show/hobby breeder refer to another show/hobby breeder as a “puppy mill” simply because he doesn’t agree with the other’s breeding philosophy. I’m sure we can all watch the Oprah expose of dogs living in horrible conditions and agree that THAT is a puppy mill. On the flip side, you have “commercial” breeders who do follow USDA standards regarding sanitation, health, etc., that most show/hobby breeders would consider “puppy mills,” but whose dogs are healthy and well-fed, even moderately socialized. Do I want a puppy from one? Heck no. But I can’t in good conscience call them a puppy mill.

    Anti-breeder legislation in the form of state licensing is NOT the answer. There are ALREADY laws governing animal welfare. If THOSE laws were upheld, the puppy mill-type breeders would already be put out of business and awaiting animal cruelty/animal endangerment charges. Legislation aimed at putting limits on breeders bases its system on numbers of breedable animals, because it is one of the few factors involved in breeding that can be quantified. But is the person who breeds one litter a year automatically more “responsible” than the person who breeds four? No. Anti-breeder legislation just makes him pay more money.

    And what about the guy on the corner whose Cockapoo accidentally got knocked up by the neighbor’s Beagle? Will the law require him to get a breeding license?

    How about:
    – Instead of debating to death what constitutes a responsible breeder, we start talking about what constitutes a responsible OWNER?
    – Instead of penalizing someone for breeding a dog, how about we start penalizing the people who are dumping those dogs in the shelters?
    – Instead of creating laws and licensing fees that punish people for having intact dogs or, God forbid, breeding a litter, the state requires that all breeders microchip their puppies and report the identification numbers to a state registry, along with the names and addresses of the purchasers. That way, the state can: 1) directly bill the puppy buyer for their licensing fee rather than relying on the buyer to be honest and report that he even has a dog; 2) Keep track of state mandated rabies vaccines; and 3) Levy fees appropriately if that dog is found wandering stray.
    – Instead of, or in addition to, charging a fee for adopting a shelter dog, shelters charge a fee for surrendering a dog; Double that fee if the dog is found stray and taken to the shelter by someone other than the owner. Easy to do if you’ve microchipped the dog and recorded the owner!
    – Instead of focusing on “How to Buy a Dog” articles that lay out what a good breeder looks like, why not also get articles out there that talk about who should — and who should NOT — own a dog?

    Given the numbers that Patronek and Rowan found, the number of dogs being produced each year is not the issue; the number being surrendered by owners who “could no longer be bothered” IS. Cross the irresponsible owners with the irresponsible breeders who do not take their dogs back once they cash the check, and we wind up with the number of dogs in shelters today. It doesn’t work to only educate and/or penalize one side of the equation; we need to address both.

  20. says

    you know, i couldn’t agree MORE with ‘responsible breeding’ for so many reasons. When i first read one of your books you mentioned how a dog came back to you via contract. i can’t remember if the owner died or was incapcitated or whatever, but you were so relieved to have the dog safe and back with you. And that really hit home for me. My dogs should ALWAYS have a place to land if something should happen to me. My family are NOT dog people and would probably surrender them. both of my rescue groups put in contracts with me to take the dog back at ANY TIME for the rest of its life. How’s THAT for responsible rescue? when I was looking for a “dingo” (carolina dog) because i had once had a dingo mix and loved her, i found a breeder and i asked for her policy. she said she didn’t have a policy. i never regreted not buying a dog from her. and in fact rescued both my GSD/Formosan dog mix and my Siberian Husky.

    Another reason I love the term responsible breeding: i feel there are so many amazing working breeds out there that do specific jobs. has anyone NOT noticed how many labs are awesome SAR dogs? GSD’s have been shamefully breed for looks and have lost their working temperments here in the US. to the point that it’s caused health issues and unstable temperments overall. that’s sad to me because i’ve seen stable working GSD’s who are amazing. What about service dogs? seriously. Breeding dogs for a medical or health service based on temperment and health can be a noble and such a worthy cause. And dogs who really work farms like BC’s and herding dogs. I just think stopping breedng all together when in fact it has become a beautiful thing to do when done properly for a beautiful symbiotic working relationship between human and canine would be a sad thing.

    Responsible breeding to me involves a contract from the breeder that takes the dog back but also the breeder makes really hard decisions on matching a dog with a life partner to ensure the dog never ends up in a shelter. So there’s THAT part of the work that can be labor-intensive too.

    As for dogs for pets, yes, there are plenty out there. i think people looking for a ‘pet’ can find wonderful pets in rescue. People searching for a specific dog for a service, or heaven forbid, a “SPORT” then, a responsible breeder is the way to go. and as a buyer, doing your homework and committing not to buying a dog or puppy from anyone who does not have a contract and money back policy.

    I personally would like to see more laws surrounding breeding but it NOT being eliminated. I’d like to see it harder to do and policed for puppy mills. I’m not sure if licensing would be the right step for breeding or not as I’m not a breeder and I don’t walk in their shoes so far be it for me to make it “impossible” for a good breeder to do his/her job but I certainly would like to see a reward program or policed actions from kennel clubs and the like.

    The foster I rescued my GSD/Formosan mix from had said to me: yes i breed dogs but i also foster and rescue hundreds of dogs. I do my diligence in breeding AND rescuing. Makes sense to me. Maybe having breeders take in so many foster dogs and finding homes for them per year or per litter would be a nice solution and trade off. Or fostering rescue dogs within their breed would be a very nice trade off.

    Over the winter holidays I talked to a “almost homeless” person outside a market with a dog. his dog was very sweet and I pet her and talked to him for a while. During the conversation he told me that there were about 5 breeds in her (a mutt for sure, rottie, lab, sheperd mixed in there). She had a nice temperment, but i could tell by her body she probably wasn’t healthy, she was big and just didn’t seem properly sized. The man told me she was an adult dog (not a puppy) and she had never been spayed. he didn’t want to “cut” her because he really liked her temperment and wanted to breed her. The man could barely live himself and support his dog. And I would have loved to have lectured him, but far be it from me to tell someone what to do with their dog’s body! it’s almost as controversial as human reproductive rights! (LOL) I’m not a dog expert, but it was clear as day that he should not breed this dog. sigh.

    i can tell you I will always have a rescue dog or dogs in my life. But at some point, i would like a breeded dog or two as well, when the time is right for specific sports and fun. I don’t know. I do a lot for rescue. I don’t think its a crime to have have a breeded dog. but i wish buyers would be much more responsible as well.

  21. says

    This issue can be as emotionally charged as the discussion on the “D” word, especially for someone like me who works and volunteers with shelters and rescues who help dogs who had been breeders at puppy mills. We see the worst of the worst breeders. It’s a sad fact that all breeders are being lumped together and castigated as a group for contributing to the dog overpopulation problem as a result. In fact, we need responsible breeders to keep alive the excellent breed characteristics that we expect in our dogs instead of propagating the horrendous specimens coming out of the mills.

    I so agree that we also need to do more to educate the public about selecting the right breed for your lifestyle, the importance of early socialization and training, etc. Shelters struggle with how to do this, though. Most people don’t listen. They see a dog and like its looks and neglect to learn about it’s personality and breed characteristics. Shelters offer free seminars and low-cost training classes but the majority of people don’t take advantage of these services. Many trainers offer classes on how to pick the right dog – and people don’t show up. There seems to be a general feeling in the public, in my humble opinion, that owning a dog requires no special knowledge or preparation. The relationship “just happens.” But should it require effort, the dog becomes disposable. I know, I know, I’m generalizing! There are a lot of great people who invest the time and effort to work with their dogs, and those are the ones who are reading blogs such as this one. The problem – how do we get through to those who don’t? If someone knows the answer, I’d love to hear it!!

  22. Rusty says

    I agree with Taryn 4/20/10 at 11:13am… People need to know about the breed of dog they’re planning on getting before getting it. Person X doesn’t like their dog because it is hyper and barks a lot? Well maybe they should have thought about that before bringing home that Herding dog. Its hyper and pulls on the leash therefor its not taken for a walk, more hyper activity… Educating thyself about dogs is another piece of this puzzle. Another big one for me is socialization with people and other dogs. I know little about dogs when compared to Trisha and many of the blog readers but to me, knowing what to expect from the breed and proper socialization before and after it is brought home are also extremely important. Of course, breeding too, that goes without saying.

  23. Jeff Line says

    Thank you for weighing in on this important topic. I have never bred a dog. I own both purposefully bred dogs and rescues. There is plenty of room in the world for each. I believe there is a huge problem with people in the animal welfare community staking out a side and talking at each other instead of speaking with each other.

    I would suggest that there is no excess of healthy stable dogs. Where do people think great dogs come from? I am pretty sure it starts with great breeders. In my world, great breeders focus on breeding for temperament, not shape. I’ve read the Belayev studies I understand the two are connected. While I think we have pushed the limit of Canis familiaris plasticity past its reasonable boundary in certain cases, I think it would be a sad world that retreated to all relatively uniform village dog types.

    My local shelter ships dogs up into the New England states where successful spay/neuter laws have reduced the available rescue dog population to near zero. Those shelters are receiving very challenging animals to try and place. I am not certain that practice represents the best use of those community’s resources.

    There will always be a need for rescues. Life happens. However, if the registries and the breeders and the rescues and the trainers and the behaviorists would all meet together respectfully, best practices for breeding sound dogs could be identified and real progress made.

  24. Angie says

    What a good post! Though, I feel the need to disagree with the comment that most dogs end up in a shelter due to behaviorial problems. That may be the case in many area, but I cannot say that is the reason for everywhere.

    If you take what is going on in the economy, many dogs and cats (and other animals) are being left at shelters as families simply can no longer care for them. If you were to look at the records at our local no-kill humane society for the past 5 years, you would see that the top 3 reasons for the animal being in the shelter is: 1. Can no longer afford 2. Divorce 3. Stray.

    Yes, there are people out there who lie about why they are surrendering their dog/cat/other critter, but when it comes to behaviorial issues, people are upfront about it. I understand that many dogs are surrendered due to behaviorial problems, but I don’t think that it is the majority.

    As for responsible breeding, I don’t think people should breed their dogs just because they want others to get the same joy that the breeder got from his/her dog. That is not a reason to produce more dogs. The reason to breed is to further that particualr breed in health, temperment, conformation, genetics, work skills, etc. It isn’t because you had a good dog and you want others to have a good dog too. That isn’t fair to all those great dogs in the shelters that have been wanting a good home for months. Your dog may have been good because of the way you cared for it, not because of the genetics.

    People who want to breed dogs for other reasons are not responsible breeders. They end up just adding their name to the LONG list of “backyard breeders” who breed just to do it without any real, honest purpose. It is the fault of those people why many dogs end up in a shelter too. You don’t just put two dogs together and breed them without having a legitimate goal in mind. Spreading the love of your dog is NOT a legitimate goal. It is nothing short of being a backyard breeder.

  25. says

    It’s about time someone influential spoke out about responsible breeding! I wholeheartedly agree with you! This opinion
    needs a wider audience.

  26. Kim says

    Really looking forward to your future posts and column in WDJ on responsible breeding! I got my dogs from a responsible breeder, after a lengthy period of research and interviews and visits. During the process, I felt that I was being interviewed for worthiness as much as I was interviewing, which really was okay with me. My older dog is bombproof and wonderful. My younger, the result of errors on the part of this breeder, (and believe me, the most responsible ones can make mistakes – the real test is whether they admit it and support their puppy buyers) is reactive; many of your Willie tales could be Cricket’s story. The breeder was wonderfully supportive, and very upfront with her puppy owners that the particular line he came from had turned out more than a couple of not-so-stable dogs, and that she had spayed and neutered everyone from the particular breeding in question. Crick could have easily ended up in a shelter, and have easily been euthanized, after wreacking havoc. A big, elegant standard poodle with an over-the-top prey drive and very low self-confidence, and less resilience than one would like is a disaster waiting to happen. I have him, with the breeder’s support and advice. Four years, lots of positive loving training, and the crash course trial by fire in being a benevolent leader that having such a dog brings, and we have a pretty good relationship, with good management strategies and a liveable situation. He is not the dog I imagined he would be, but he is my dog, and I will stand by him, temperament problems and all.

  27. Shaunna says

    It’s funny that you posted on this subject because just a few days ago I was thinking about you as an amazing breeder for those wonderful BC’s and my pledge to always adopt. I personally could only have a light conscience by owning an adopted dog. Perhaps that is because I have a bleeding heart, or because I lucked out with my adopted T who is kind, smart, and fun, and I know several owners who have owned a special rescue (even though times sometimes got tough).

    If I decide to keep sheep one day and require a dog to work for me as a herder, I would buy from a reputable breeder (and thank you for sharing the stories of your doggie family to convince me so). Otherwise, my dear pets will be shelter dogs, and I will have a tough time avoiding that twinge of judgement when I hear about someone’s new, purchased puppy. But I will try my best to understand.

    Thanks for raising the topic!

  28. Marguerite says

    As an owner of two Rat Terriers, both rescues, I have learned that this terrier was developed through several crosses into a farmer’s highly efficient rat killer (my boy has a better record on mice than my three cats, combined). If you study my boy a moment, you can see the long legs and line of the spine that indicates Whippet, and if I don’t open the door fast enough for a walk, you can hear a Beagle’s bay. But my girl has shorter legs, a fearful temperament, and a luxating patella. She was bought from a “breeder” and surrendered to a shelter at age 8 months. The boy’s history is unknown–he just showed up at an acquaintance’s farm.

    All of which has made me wonder why dogs aren’t admitted to registry based on performance, conformation, and temperament rather than on pedigree.

    Those of you familiar with European sport horses have probably heard that those animals who don’t meet standards of soundness and performance aren’t admitted to breed registries, no matter who their parents are. (Or at least that’s how I understand it.)

    So what would happen if the breed registries required certificates of health and good temperament (or at least parental temperament) before allowing litters to be registered? And put forth a code of conduct and ethics, violation of which would not permit them to register any litters. (I like the idea a previous poster had of a registry of responsible breeders.)

    Almost all dog breeds were DEVELOPED, and holding onto pedigree as if you were a member of the D.A.R. doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, especially in breeds with a history of genetic problems.

  29. says

    Love it, Love it, Love it!!!! I am thinking of getting another dog in the next year and so I have been looking for the perfect breeding pair, but almost as important is the perfect breeder. I am very specific on how I want my puppy raised, most will not meet my critieria (most of the dogs aren’t either), but I spent 5 hours with a breeder two weeks ago. I couldn’t believe how time flew (5 hours is a long time), but I know everything that will be done with these puppies, and how wonderful this breeder is. She is putting so much time and effort into this litter (and choosing future homes too) that I am sure sure she will be loosing money on it, but it just shows how much she cares for the future of the dogs. She will take any one of her puppies back (she’s had three litters in the last 7 years) for any reason at any age, yet she has not had one returned. If there were more breeders like her, they would probably breed less often because you are loosing money. There would be less in the shelters, because the breeders take their dogs back and find another home, and actually take the time to find a home that is sutable for that breed, which lessons the likelihood of the dog not fitting in with the family and being returned or dumped.

  30. says

    Great post!!!!! While I love & support rescue work, I also have a few friends who I consider ‘responsible breeders’….yes, they get crap for breeding dogs, while there are so many in the shelter. But the real issue should be educating the people that WANT pure bred puppies, where to NOT buy a puppy from (pet store!) and what to look for in a responsible breeder. For starters, research the breed. I have American Cocker Spaniels, so if someone was dead set on buying a cocker puppy from a breeder, and not rescue, I would tell them to look for a breeder that: knows dogs pedigree, history, does CERF & OFA testing, as well as patella and knowing the parents have good, merry, personalities….makes them sign a spay/neuter contract and provides them a lifelong support of any questions & advice. When I get people telling me ‘I don’t want to spend $700 on a puppy when I can get it from a breeder in paper for $200’…here is where I explain to them that they can spend only $200 now, but possibly thousands later for cataract surgery, or hip dysplasia issues, temperament issues, etc.
    The key is to educate, I am still amazed at how many people have no clue what a puppy mill is. Great post.

  31. Annie says

    Your post is very timely for me. 3 weeks ago, I returned a puppy to a breeder. At 9 weeks she began to present severe fear aggression in the most innocuous of circumstances. The aggressive responses to people and other dogs escalated in the following weeks and at the advice of several very dog savvy folks and after a long discussion with the breeder, she was returned. The breeder is a friend. It was her 1st litter with a dam than has some temperament issues. She is overly reserved and her bite inhibition with strangers is questionable.I was willing to take a chance with one of her pups because I knew she would do everything right, while raising the litter. The breeder made every effort to mate her with a dog that could mitigate the temperament issues. And she did all the right puppy raising things. And while the breeder was very accommodating about accepting the puppy back and is working very hard to make her more comfortable in the world, she is in denial about the fact that her dog does not have a solid temperament. She may be successful at altering the behaviors that she presents when fearful, but she will not be able to change the dog’s temperament. Temperament is hardwired. The expectation that every puppy will be perfect is unreasonable. Like people, dogs come with congenital problems, physical or mental. And being realistic about that fact is an important aspect of being a responsible breeder. I have since had several other very small breeders take it upon themselves to tell me that they won’t sell be a dog because I returned a pup. They expect every dog they breed to go to a forever home. So now, when I talk to breeders, I have new questions for them to help me decide whether I want to purchase a dog from them. About returned puppies and puppies they have bred that have ended up in rescue or been rehomed. Thanks for a great blog.

  32. Kat says

    I think part of the problem is how very successful the spay and neuter advertising campaigns have been. Even people who know nothing else about dogs know that there are a lot of them in shelters. Now that people understand that spaying and neutering are good things to do for your pet it’s time for a new advertising campaign describing what a responsible breeder looks like and why buying from a backyard breeder, hobby breeder or worse a puppy mill is bad.

    I’m glad you included the need for training and the extent to which easily remedied behavioral issues are the cause of many surrenders. My local Humane Society is developing training and behavioral classes for those who adopt from them. Their rate of failed adoptions has dropped dramatically. Knowledge really is power and the more we can teach people to make smart choices about their canine adoptions whether from responsible breeders or rescues and about how to work with their dog to teach them how to live in the human world the better off we’ll all be.

  33. Robin Nuttall says

    Your numbers say something else very important to me. 2.2 million strays and 1.8 million owner surrenders with only 400,000 litters means that it’s not a population problem at all. It’s an OWNER problem. Irresponsible, careless owners. Owners who are ill prepared and ill equipped. Owners who are impulsive then regretful. Owners who are uncaring or unwilling to take on the financial and social responsibility.

    I agree with the poster who says that TRAINING is a critical component to control populations. Training and education are not easy, which is why we still have a problem. But trained dogs are far less likely to be surrendered than untrained dogs. Certainly spay/neuter and responsible breeding are also very important. But convincing owners to invest some time and energy into training will mean a lot more dogs kept and a lot happier owners. Doing that convincing though, that’s difficult.

    At our training center, we have a culture of treating our most basic classes as simply an introduction to the world of training. We get repeat customers who advance their dogs through the classes because we engage them, we keep prices as reasonable as we can and classes small, and we surround them with other classes where dogs are doing amazing things then assure them that they too can go there. We certainly don’t get everyone, but we have a higher retention rate than many I think.

  34. says

    If we had no responsible breeders who take concern for breeding a healthy and stable dog, all we would have for genetic stock available going forward is the health compromised unstable puppymill and backyard breeder bloodlines that end up in shelters or euthanised already.
    It is a good and responsible breeder’s job to promote the healthiest dog in mind and body for the future generations of their breed.
    A great breeder is also, as you mentioned, always a resource for the owners of their pups for advice in health and training and other lifelong supports and careful vetting of adopters. This sort of breeder is never an issue for adding dogs to the shelter population as they support the best lives for these animals, and almost invariably would rather take them back or be involved in their responsible rehoming if necessary than to see them in a shelter or other less than ideal situation.

  35. Sharon says

    Thanks for bringing this up. I look forward to the article in Bark.

    I have 2 Labs – one is a rescue and one is from a responsible breeder – a woman with a small show kennel with a solid reputation. (cleared, tested, proven breeding stock who I spent time with before I committed)

    My rescue is a sweet boy with a serious medical condition – he is a 4 year old dog who has had diabetes for 2.5 years. I wish I knew who bred him – they should not repeat that breeding. He’s a good guy and we love him – but most folks would have given him up or put him down. His care is costly (not even considering the cataract surgery we did last year to restore his sight).

    My other Lab is 16 months old, very close to the breed standard, with an exceptional mellow temperament. Example – at 6 months old he walked on a leash for a 3 year old child (indoors, supervised)- never pulling – stopped when she did – so intuitive of her frailty. Did this for the better part of an hour. I was amazed.

    When you want a breed as popular as a Lab you are taking a real big chance if you don’t choose your breeder very carefully.

    Puppy mills are the biggest culprit in irresponsible breeding and the business model should simply be illegal. When you manage dogs like livestock and don’t consider temperament, health, genetics or conformation at all in making breeding decisions you are doing nothing but lining your pockets. If you don’t have betterment of the breed as your primary motive – you should get out of breeding.

  36. says

    I spend as much free time as I can volunteering for my town’s local humane association and another breed rescue. It’s amazing how many pure-bred dogs come through the shelter system. So when my mother and her sister purchased puppies from a backyard breeder, I was beyond disappointed. They weren’t able to meet the mother because she was “too protective of her babies,” and the father wasn’t one of their dogs so wasn’t on site. The puppy my mom got was from the most recent litter. He has a severe underbite and breathing problems. The puppy my aunt got was a “leftover” from a previous litter – so he was half price – and has a handful of behavioral issues, including obsessive licking. Sigh.

    Thankfully, my state recently passed legislation that will make it harder for irresponsible breeders to stay in business. While some responsible breeders were vocally opposed to the legislation, hopefully it will allow the cream to rise to the top.

    As an aside, it’s really too bad that the general public has such a bad view of the shelter system. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say they don’t want to adopt from a shelter because they don’t want a “mutt” or they’re afraid that they can only get a dog with behavioral problems. Double sigh.

  37. Dan says

    Thank you for posting this blog. I was just on our local radio station talking about finding responsible breeders. I did this as I was tired of seeing litter after litter being advertised and knowing that there is not one single breeder I would call responsible within 100 miles of me.

    I’m against legislation for controlling the problem beyond required inspections. There are to many organizations out there that want to stop all breeding. “One Generation and Out” Education is the key, if the irresponsible breeders aren’t making any money, they’ll quit.

    Unfortunately much of the problem comes down to cost. Responsible breeder get titles on their dogs, DNA test, health certification, get routine checkups on their bitches etc. This ads up to puppies that cost a lot more than what many people are willing to pay and they don’t understand that they are actually getting more for their money than getting the same breed from an irresponsible breeder. My thoughts are, if you can’t afford to spend $1200 on puppy that has champion lines, then rescue is your best bet.

    Our 2 dogs are rescue, but sometime I will have a well bred dog. We have a Golden that is about 2 inches taller than breed standard and her coat isn’t very full, but her temperament is awesome and we’re lucky for that. Our Newf is on the small side for a Newf but the worst crime was she was born to an irresponsible breeder that did no socialization at all with them and she lived in a very quiet rural area. The rescue got her at 7 months and she was scared to death of everything. A year later she is doing wonderfully, but still is scared of a quite a few things. But now she can go on walks and meet people and basically function as a dog. A year ago a plastic bag would scare her so bad she’d lock up and pee. And pretty much have to be carried back to the house.

  38. says

    I agree with Angie that considerably more dogs are surrendered nowadays due to financial problems than behavioral issues. At least where I live…

    But I also need to disagree with Angie about people being upfront when surrendering dogs who have behavior problems to shelters/rescues. I have found quite the opposite. People have a tendency to “distort the truth” on either spectrum: They will say that the dog is great in an attempt to make the dog seem more adoptable (most people don’t know about temperament testing), or they will exagerate the behavior problems in order to assuage their guilt in surrendering the dog. Both scenarios then make it very difficult to discern true statistics for why dogs are really surrendered!

  39. Scott says

    When choosing a breeder from whom to obtain my first Irish Terrier, a breed described in its own standard as “often same-sex aggressive,” I was sure to find one that valued temperament. In fact, the dog I ended up with prefers the company of other dogs to that of bitches, unless one of them is in season of course!

    While perusing blogs some months ago I came across Ruffly Speaking, the blog of a Cardigan Welsh Corgi breeder who exemplifies exactly what a responsible breeder should be. I recommend the below posts which are directly related to the topic at hand, as well as any of the others in the archives:

    Breeder Etiquette
    Puppy-Buyer Expectations
    How to Kill a Shelter Dog

    The ‘Puppy-Buyer Expectations’ post is one of my favorites; there is always talk about how to identify a reputable/responsible breeder, but that doesn’t always translate to what to expect when purchasing a puppy from that breeder in the detail that this post does.

  40. Meganwf says

    I researched rescues and breed specific breeders for a year trying to decide which way to go. Finally realized that to find a good match for our family I was much better off starting from scratch and knowing the genetic background. In my experience rescue groups are never given the whole story on a dog and rarely can they provide an accurate picture of their behavioral health. Our local shelters are even worse offerring discount days and no behaviorists or trainings to be found. Because our family doesn’t have the history and skills needed to deal with who knows what, I turned to breeders even while feeling guilty!

  41. Kate says

    I think that this is an important issue, and I agree that it’s one that seems to often be overlooked. I think responsible breeders are extremely important, and even crucial to solving the shelter pet problem. The simple fact is that if all dogs are spayed and neutered, there will be no more dogs. If no dogs reproduce, then there will be no new generation. The responsible breeders are necessary to create healthy, sane dogs and to keep those important qualities present in the gene pool.

  42. Touchy Subject says

    Another area that deserves closer scrutiny with regard to the question of “responsible breeding” is the world of assistance dogs. Many of the large, national assistance dog organizations have a graduation rate of only about 30%, which means that they are producing hundreds of dogs each year that end up in the pet population and often take the place of dogs who die in the shelters. Assistance dog “rejects” are highly coveted; people will wait 2 years or more for one because they think that they are of sound temperament, healthy, and perfectly trained (none of which is necessarily true…they are released for a reason).

    Most people assume that assistance dog organizations follow the highest standards for the breeding and care of their dogs, but there are actually few regulations or guidelines to ensure the dogs’ well-being and sometimes far too little transparency. For example, an organization that I used to volunteer for has at least one active male breeder who came from a litter where more than one of his littermates has hip dysplasia.

    Certainly assistance dogs do valuable work and can change lives in profound ways, but part of our ethical responsibility should include asking questions in the broader context about how this impacts all dogs–not just those in the assistance dog system–and whether there are ways to improve practices so that assistance dog programs are not contributing to the problem of overpopulation.

  43. Cora says

    Such a great post–it raised so many thought-provoking questions, as do the various responses! It’s truly food for thought. In my (extremely amateur) consideration of dogs and breeding, I’ve generally been against the strict adherence to breed standards. It seems to me that dogs who were once bred or evolved to do certain jobs (e.g. my great herder was crossed with your great herder to produce puppies that will grow up to be great herders, etc) have in recent years been mated strictly to achieve a certain look. Not being a big fan of beauty pageants in humans, I’ve generally thought that purebred dogs were the result of humans’ oh-so-misguided attempt at imposing ridiculous and sometimes harmful beauty standards not just ourselves, but also our “best friends.”

    Of course, Trisha (as always!) makes an excellent point about the role of responsible breeders, especially those raising working dogs with an eye toward propagating those traits for which the working breeds originally evolved. I suppose I can’t say those folks are in the ‘beauty business,’ but I do still wonder about issues of biodiversity? As I’ve often thought to myself, there’s a reason we humans don’t marry our cousins (and you don’t have to be a member of the European royal family to get that one), and it seems inherently harmful to any species to restrict the breeding pool.

    As for the issues of people having unrealistic expectations about the amount of time, energy, and training required to care for a dog, I’m not sure how well we’ll be able to educate the general, dog-adopting public on that one. As a speech therapist in a large, urban, public school system, I can tell you that many, many people are equally unprepared for the challenges of parenting human children, with equally heartbreaking results.

    It makes me appreciate my sweet, mellow, labrador/shepherd mix even more! She came to me under the best possible circumstances, as a stable, darling adult, from a friend’s loving home, for a stay that was intended to be temporary but turned out to be permanent, as it was seen by all to be ideal for everyone.

  44. says

    I read your post and the many passionate responses with great interest. I firmly believe in the concept of responsible breeding. I have been involved with Irish Wolfhounds for many years. My current IW, is 13 months old and I am just getting started in showing conformation. I am also training my girl in lure coursing, rally and agility. The Irish Wolfhound is such an amazing breed and I am fiercely protective of the breed. I eventually do want to breed, but am very cognizant of the many different issues that dog breeding raises. My first and foremost concern is temperament. My second is functionality. IWs are sighthounds and were originally bred to bring down large game (including wolves).

    There are so many breeds of dogs that have been bred only for the show ring and that is a great shame. Functionality and the ability to do the job that they were bred for should be extremely important.

    In addition to my Irish Wolfhound, I have a rescued Afghan Hound and a white German Shepherd/husky mix (also a rescue). I do support rescue but you don’t find Irish Wolfhounds too often in shelters.

    I believe that all dog people have the responsibility to help folks who are interested in adding a dog to their family to take the time to research what the ideal dog is for their family.

    So many people simple fall in love with a certain dog breed’s looks that many do not look past the appearance to discover what the dog was bred to do.

    This dialog is fascinating and will help all of us consider what is ethical and what is not.


  45. says

    Thank you for your thoughtful article.

    I am doing my best to be a responsible breeder of basset hounds. I have four nine week old puppies right now who will all be microchipped in my name, will leave very trained with crates, toys, training support, trainer recommendations and refundable training deposits, complete medical records, information on parents, grandparents and other relations in regards to temperament, health and expectations for that particular dog, visitation requirements so that the dogs will stay in touch with their dog relatives, and full money back lifetime guarantees should the new guardian need to rehome or “return” the dog for any reason, the dog must come back to me first. And yes, the two dogs I will have available will sell for $1200 a piece which is about a third of what they will have cost considering all the testing, training, purchases. and then the buyer gets back $200 in a training deposit and $300 for the spay/neuter, though they all look very good to keep their genes in the gene pool, I have one very nice pet person who must neuter for his day care so he will get the least important dog genetically. If the day care situation allowed intact dogs, then he would stay intact and have lovely temperament. just like his father, uncles and grandfathers. But this guy is a gem who saw his last basset through difficult times in the end, and I will work with him to make sure he gets a good dog. We are going to coordinate the timing of his new dog to coincide with a beginning puppy class with a top notch trainer in his area.

    I also support my local breed rescue and national efforts, along with other rescue/shelter needs.

    We can do both and work both ends to the middle for the good of all.

    Sara Watson, CTC
    APDT Member
    Member of the Basset Hound Club of America

  46. Heidi Meinzer says

    You are absolutely right about supporting responsible breeders! I have always had rescue dogs, and for the first time, I am considering getting a pure bred. My current rescue, Sophie, is a Shepherd mix with the unfortunately all too common traits of shyness, skittishness and neophobia. To offset these traits, I’m looking for a dog from a great background with a solid temperment to help Sophie along. It seems to me that the place to look is to a responsible breeder. My boyfriend had a wonderful Golden Retriever, Raoul, who just passed last month. He was from a breeder, was absolutely gorgeous, and had the most wonderful disposition you could imagine. I hope to find another dog to fit the bill with Sophie. It drives me crazy that people would even think of breeding a shy dog. I am all for not only supporting responsible breeders, but strongly punishing irresponsible ones — particularly puppy mills. I also think we need solid laws requiring spaying and neutering unless you fit the definition of a responsible breeder. And none of this will work unless the public becomes educated on these topics — thanks for the post!

  47. Sue says

    I recall reading, 15 years or more ago in Gun Dog, that breeders in Germany had to be licensed and needed to have committed buyers for potential pups before breeding for a litter. Frankly, having heard inane reasons for breeding, I think it’s a good idea. My spayed chocolate Lab developed a seizure disorder–something that should take her out of the prospective gene pool–at around 3-4 years, too late for the 2 years many people think is an adequate age for a first litter.

  48. Emily says

    Loving the post, you make some very good points.

    Mick is my first ever dog, and he is a purebred Brittany from a fantastic breeder. We spent roughly 8 months looking for the right breeder, and in the end didn’t even get one from our country. Lots of breeders never returned our communications (perhaps because he was going to be a pet first, competition dog second?), and one of the few that did basically tried to shove a five-month-old female on us.

    Through various twists and turns of the grapevine we eventually came across our current breeder. It was her first litter of Brittanies, but she has bred GSD’s prior, her family was involved with the breed, and she had solid breed stock. The only problem: she lives 1600 kilometres away! I never, never EVER thought I would be getting a long-distance dog the first time around! She was incredibly helpful with the process, and answered as many questions as I wanted to ask. I carefully confirmed all of the health testing, looked over the contract (a spay-neuter, breeder gets first surrender contract, with a health guarantee.) Mick has turned out to be exactly the dog I wanted, he is intelligent, biddable and besides a slight fear of running, screaming kids (my fault), behaviourally rock-solid.

    On the other hand, our neighbours have had some, er, questionable breeder choices. Their first dog was dog-on-dog aggressive and incredibly unhealthy, and the amount of support they got from their breeder was zero (this is called how NOT to purchase a long-distance dog). Their current dog, Ellie, is another Golden Retriever. The neighbour said that when she got to the breeder’s place the dogs all took off out of the breeder’s house and stampeded around the yard like wild things. Ellie has lived up to that completely, she is wild, difficult, more than slightly stupid, fearful of everything and has severe resource-guarding issues. Her sister (who happens to live in our neighbourhood as well) is exactly the same.

    Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that dog breed standards place a complete onus on looks, many with scarcely a paragraph on temperament. Lots of breeders, successful and respected breeders, will breed dogs with temperament problems and/or health problems because they look nice. Don’t get me wrong, breed standards are important, but if a breeder’s first priority is not the temperament and well-being of the dogs they breed, I will be turning elsewhere.

  49. deborah ryan says

    AAHH, Another great post,

    I have been “owned” by 8 dogs over the years, the first three English Setters, field bred,came from a fantastic breeder who took the time to educate and mentor me before entrusting me with my first ever dog. Dog #4 was from an oops litter, a wee golden/cocker cross. Both the mom and dad lived near me so I had lots of opportunity to observe both canine parents and the litter of babes. The puppy we chose was the Best in temperament, she raised four kids and never met a stranger. Bomb Proof. Dog #5 was adopted from our local shelter when he was nine months, a Wheaten Terrorist, too much puppy for a family with five kids, an impulse purchase from a pet store. He is my “project dog”. He has health issues,{ allergies, ortho,} and some fear issues with adult dogs he does not know well. He is now eight years old and we have added two more English Setters to our home, both aquired as puppies,from good breeders. My girl is now five and the youngest boy is three. Both setters are easy keepers, calm ,confident, healthy go everywhere dogs. Last year I fostered then adopted a senior English who was surrendered to the shelter by his family after ten years. He passed at the end of January,

    I work at the same shelter as assistant mgr. and adoption coordinator,seven years now so am surrounded by dog all day long.And I work with a couple breed rescues. Love my job, and am not afraid to share with potential adopters how I have come to aquire each of my dogs, there is a place for all, Adopting from a shelter or rescue is not always the best way to go when one is looking for a particular type,breed, age or whathaveyou.Nor is purchasing a dog from a breeder always the correct way to go for some folks, more important I think is to get to know the people who want a dog, what their expectations are, lifestyle ect, and steer them in the direction that will get them the best match. I try to Educate about all sides, rescue, shelter and breeder, the good and not so good of each, there is no one perfect way to aquire a pet for everyone as we all have different needs and expectations. We need to learn to work together and not be judgmental of each other, otherwise ultimately the animals are the one who loose out.

  50. Ann W in PA says

    Well, you ARE a brave woman, moving right from the D word to breeding.

    Yes, yes, yes! on the need for addressing the root cause

  51. Sarah says

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I live in Missouri, puppymill capital of the US, and I’ve had several mill dogs through my rescue. I agree with education, and I think we have a responsible dog owner problem more than a pet overpopulation problem. I recently bred my first litter, and placed my first puppies, an agonizing process. I think that support and keeping in touch, and checking in with new owners is key, because the new owners might feel inadequate about their training skills and not contact the breeder, but if I check in, then they feel OK to ask me questions.

    I don’t agree with the legislation and fees for breeding, because I’ve raised 6 puppies after almost 10 years in my breed. Any breeding fees can be easily absorbed by commercial breeders who have a very low expense to high income ratio. For responsible breeders, a breeding permit/fee adds one more expense to the HUGE list of expenses (health clearances, reproductive testing, stud fees, puppy vet care, etc), and may be the end of responsible breeders.

    But the one thing I have not been able to figure out is how to stop the cycle. For example, there are people that I would never consider as good dog owners for one of my puppies, and people who should probably stick with a pet rock. But, they WANT a puppy, and this is America. So, they can go online, click to pay with their credit card, and voila, the next day, a new puppy is delivered to their local airport. As a responsible breeder, I could not sell them a puppy, but they got one anyway, with no support system (other than me, who they call when they can’t deal with the new puppy). The commercial breeders are very smart, one website puts such great spin, “we raise puppies in a sterile building, because a human house could NEVER be clean and sterile enough to keep puppies healthy.” They don’t mention that it’s a USDA regulation, because that would really sound like a mill or a high volume breeding operation. People buy that spin because it sounds good, and I want to ask how a human house could ever be clean enough to raise a human child, if it’s not clean enough to raise puppies. But hey, it sounds good, so it must be a good thing.

    If the market will support these impulse purchases of puppies, how will it stop? In some of the towns in MO with the heaviest population of mills, there is no economy. How do you appeal to someone who has family to feed that they should stop this practice of milling dogs? They don’t view dogs the way I do, or think that dogs should live the way mine do, and these certainly can’t make the same money raising chickens or cows. It’s like the dogfighting business, there’s no way the sick people who are entrenched in dogfighting (and who couldn’t care less about animal welfare) are going to give up the $$$ to go work at a minimum wage job.

    This is where I can’t come up with an answer, how to appeal to people to do the right thing, when it all boils down to money in their eyes, and they don’t see anything wrong with their practices.

  52. Pappy mom says

    Hi Patricia. I’m a huge fan!!! I read your books and find I always have something new to learn about how I communicate (or miscommunicate) with my dogs.

    Thanks for the post. I’m so happy that you are writing a regular column for Bark magazine. I really have mixed feelings about purebreds, and responsible breeders. My mom is also a responsible breeder. She had 2 litters and is trying to go for 3. Her dogs are wonderful.

    However, the number of diseases that are specific to her breed keep gaining in number. All the money she’s shelled out for tests for her current stud dog is outrageous.

    My sister is heavily involved in breed rescue (prefer not to say what breed) in Texas. My newest addition is a 3 year old papillon mix. My other dog is a purebred papillon. When I was looking for a papillon rescue I was told to meet with one of the groomers where I used to get Gracie’s nails trimmed. “She does rescue” I was told.

    Turns out she’s a backyard breeder. She “rescued” 2 papillons a couple of years ago and is now a breeder selling her dogs. The saddest part of this story is that she had the most adorable male papillon that was 3-4 months old that she was trying to sell. The dog had a level 4 heart murmur and he was less than a year old!!!

    I would have had to pay her and keep the little guy on heart medication and hope for the best!!

    As much baggage as George has (and believe me he has baggage) I don’t know if I can go back to buying a purebred again. I’ve asked my mom to consider getting a rescue but she wants a show dog.

    As long as the “breed standard” keeps changing from what the original breed used to resemble the eye problems continue, the nerve problems continue, the hip problems continue etc. etc. To me it’s a vicious circle. That’s my 2 cents.

  53. Pappy mom says

    “For those of us who have tried to do the right thing, its not an easy path. And its a little disconcerting when the road to adoption and the road afterwards is so difficult – tough to reconcile with the nice ads and such to encourage adoption (they don

  54. Jeanine says

    I have one very sweet rescue dog and two dogs from breeders. The breeders of both my dogs had most puppies spoken for before the breeding ever took place, to approved homes. Both dogs have excellent temperaments, safe with kids, and pretty much bomb proof — My youngest one was sleeping in her crate at agility trials from 5 months on. I will always have at least one rescue dog in my home but honestly don’t think every dog I own needs to come from rescue.

    to Dawn Small — a quick rebuttal on penalizing owners who surrender their dogs to shelters — I’ve lived in developing countries and if you make it difficult or embarassing for people to surrender their pets, then those animals will be killed or passed on to those people (perhaps fronts for labs or dog-fighters) who ask no questions. And legitimate owners will be leerier of trying to rehab second-hand project dogs. For the dogs’ sake, I think we still need open-door, non-judgmental shelters and rescues. I do agree with requiring that puppies be microchipped.

    I’m living in Germany right now, where there is temperament testing of animals. It works really well for some breeds, a bit less well for others, depending on who is running the breed club. However, pure bred puppies start at about $1300 and run over $1500-2000 depending on rarity of the breed. Most of these fees include a refundable portion to encourage the owner to do hip x-rays, eye tests, etc. There is still a really big problem with “farmers” and backyard breeders selling pure bred (more or less) puppies with no papers, who turn out to have health and temperament issues. You can’t legislate out either greed or the human tendency to want something for nothing.

  55. says

    As I’m reading this, I’ve got one eye on the screen and one on seven five-day old puppies who are nursing on my bitch Emmy. Like Sara above, I’m a responsible breeder of Basset Hounds – and I’m fortunate to be able to rely for advice and support on my mentors, who have been responsible breeders of Bassets for about 30 years each.

    I’ve also been heavily involved in rescue for the past 15 years – somewhat longer than I’ve been breeding (10 years), so have a “foot in both worlds” as it were…

    I’ve raised litters that are purposefully bred (this is my fourth), and that arrived on my doorstep because they were orphaned or the dam was very pregnant when she arrived at the shelter or rescue (five of those to date).

    No, responsible breeding is not an oxymoron. As responsible breeders, we should be and often are the guardians of our breeds. We attend to temperament, health, socialization, and yes, conformation that is so linked to working ability and health/longevity. And we screen, support, counsel and maintain connection with our puppy buyers to the extent that they will allow it/accept it.

    I recently received a bitch from my first litter, now 10 years of age, back from her owners. Very caring and devoted to her for 10 years, they decided at a slightly later age to have children, and now have a toddler and a child under 6 months. *They* exercised responsibility in recognizing that they could no longer care for their dog in the manner to which she was accustomed – and contacted me and her co-breeder. Of course we took her back. We took her in for some geriatric screening to get a good baseline on her health, and adopted her out to a new family when one presented themselves that were interested in an elder dog and seemed suitable for the lifestyle she has become accustomed to (single dog household, lots of walks, a dad who will roll around on the floor with her – she’s still a youngster in her own mind!).

    Had she ended up in a shelter, we probably would have been notified, because we are the implanters on her original micro-chip, so it tracks back to us. But I would have been really upset to hear from a shelter, rather than our owners, since our contract for sale of her as a puppy specifies that she must be returned at any time, no questions asked, that the owners cannot keep her.

    In rescue, I’ve received breeders’ dogs back occasionally that I knew were sold with similar contracts because I knew the breeders involved. I contacted the breeders, and in several cases they were happy to have me place the dogs for them, and offered support of any needed veterinary care. In another case, the breeder immediately (as within hours) met me to receive her dog back, provided veterinary care for her, and eventually rehomed the dog herself.

    Not every breeders’ dog who ends up in a shelter or rescue is from an irresponsible breeder – the owners of the dogs, who chose not to contact the breeder and instead to relinquish the dog at a shelter or rescue, are also responsible for their choices. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to tell the breeder they aren’t keeping the dog, other times it’s because they don’t want to be bothered making transportation arrangements – even just up the freeway an hour or two!

    One of the sad bi-products of the increasing tension between breeders and rescues is that the kinds of connections that I was able to make in these cases are often lost to rescue groups, because they don’t know who the responsible breeders are, or even recognize that they may exist!

    That’s mirrored in shelters as well – I recently heard from a shelter that had a particular hound breed and was asking if I might take it in, since I rescue Bassets. They said with a lot of certainty that “no one is rescuing this breed in the Northwest”. A very quick search of the breed’s national parent club site got me to the regional rescue coordinator for the breed, and an email to her resulted in an offer to take in, foster, provide vet care and place the dog in question, a five year old male. The shelter that contacted me had no idea of how to locate a breed rescue through parent club (national breed club) contacts.

    Unfortunately, in this case, the shelter had two families come in who thought that he was a very handsome dog. He is, but he’s also a breed that can be a handful to live with, and I wonder what level of screening and education the potential homes will receive, not to mention ongoing support, from a small rural shelter. My preference would have been to see him in a breed rescue familiar with the breed and its needs, and able to provide ongoing support to the adopters – the second best solution after a breeder who will be a lifelong resource.

    If we don’t work together, it’s the dogs who suffer in the end. And looking at the seven precious young lives piled together for a mid-morning rest in front of me, I can’t imagine letting that happen.

  56. Trisha says

    Thank you all so much for your comments so far. They were very helpful, and have already made my column better. I especially appreciate being reminded that I need to be clear when I say that dogs are going to shelters because of “behavioral problems.” I made it clear in the column, which I didn’t in the blog, that these “behavioral problems” are often minor ones, or normal behaviors of dogs that shouldn’t actually be problems at all. The statement that “most dogs go to shelters because of behavioral problems” is based on owner reports, not an evaluation of the dogs that you or I might make. And I also appreciate being reminded that, in some areas more than others, dogs are going into shelters because of the economy. A special thanks to those of you who work in rescues and shelters and struggle with being open-minded about breeders. Thank you for your consideration, and most importantly, thank you for all your work. I have always thought of rescues and shelter workers as being on the front lines, and I wish you all got more credit and thanks than you do.

  57. Ignacio says

    The problem is, it’s very hard as a consumer to identify a responsible breeder from one that isn’t. I know there are some obvious glaring signs that should make you turn around and run from some breeders, but you can never know if what you see is just a staged front-end of yet another puppy mill. Even if there were some kind of government certification you’d need to comply with, that included routine inspections, we all know people can find loopholes in the regulations and keep business almost as usual.

    We’re bringing a second Lab home this weekend, and she is coming from a rescue group. There is a trust issue I can’t get past, unless I know the breeder personally and am VERY familiar with them. But since I don’t know any at that level, might as well give a chance to one of the many homeless dogs out there.

  58. Nan says

    Issue near and dear to my heart. I come from a shelter (over 25 years of involvement) and rescue perspective and all my dogs have been shelter, stray, or rescue dogs so yes I’m a big advocate of both and will continue to be. That said I think it is vital that we recognize and support the importance of responsible breeders. In my part of the country spay neuter works so well with good responsible pet owners that as a practical matter we get no puppy litters (same is not true for cats) and as to adult dogs while a number of great dogs come in more and more of those that come into the shelter are high energy dogs with behavioral issues. Many will work out well with some training and support but an increasing number will work out very well in an experienced home but will be challenging placements in the more typical inexperienced, distracted and chaotic young family pet home or the much love but low energy senior home. One happy result is that we now work with areas that are still overloaded in homeless pets (e.g. Missouri as noted above) creating a win win for those dogs and for our adopters. Over time though I’ve seen the results spread and if we do not act to support responsible breeding it is not difficult for me to see the day when dogs either come from puppy mills or from inner city breedings for guarding and fighting with the result that dogs are less and less sound from a temperment and health perspective and less and less likely to be widely accepted as members of our families. One difficulty I’ve seen is that there are few practical checks on irresponsible breeding and few concrete pressures to reinforce responsible breeding. For example in labradors it is increasingly the case that labs shown in conformation are overweight (which tends to mask a lot of physical flaws). This is partly a responsible care and conditioning issue but is also leading to favoring breedings that are prone to packing on some pounds and disfavoring breedings that have a higher activity/metabolic rate. As those of us who show in performance know increasingly the “confirmation” dog is unable mentally or physically to carryout the tasks the breed was designed for. If we adopted requirements more similar to the english requirements for championship at least we would inherently reinforce that extra effort a breeder must take to ensure that the dog is sound in mind and body in addition to having a great coat, proper head shape and so forth.

  59. Ellen Pepin says

    I think that when we talk about “responsible breeders” we are all defining the term the same way. I don’t think that the average person knows what a responsible breeder is. There needs to be a lot of education done to define the term so everyone understands. Perhaps there could be a list of questions or a checklist of the qualities we want in a breeder. There are a lot of people who have a dog and think that they can make some money by breeding it. They have no idea how to breed a dog for health and temperament. I confess that I’m not to sure how to do that, but I am not going to breed my purebred collie that we adopted from a rescue group. People have to know what to look for when buying a dog. They also have to realize that they are entering a into a long term commitment, perhaps 15 years or so, which can be very expensive. We paid almost $10,000 last year on surgery and radiation treatments for our shepherd/rottwheiler mix. They shouldn’t get rid of a dog because it ate their favorite shirt.

  60. says

    How exactly can we support the exemplary breeders out there?

    It took me nearly 5 years to find one — and I was looking for working lines, not conformation. I had to weed through a TON of brokers masquerading as breeders, ‘greeders’ who felt their dog had a ‘right look’ for breeding (forget genetic testing!) and a few well-meaning, but somewhat clueless folks who were trying to do the right thing but got caught up with multiple litters on the ground at once due to poor management and/or knowledge (“oops” litters).

    One of the problems (although I personally don’t see it as one!) is that a great breeder will NOT breed a ton of dogs, but we have a TON of people wanting particular breeds. That’s where the brokers, millers, and greeders come in — they see a ‘need’ to be filled and jump in, treating dogs as a commodity.

    Would education help? Maybe the great breeders could ‘mentor’ others? I’ve seen this in action, and in some cases, it works beautifully but in others, it’s disastrous. Perhaps a structured program that checks up on the new breeders would work. Perhaps this is something parent breed clubs could develop and monitor.

    Another thought could be programs that would reward the exemplary breeders out there. You would probably have to make it voluntary at the beginning, but maybe it would start the ball rolling.

  61. Ignacio says

    Sorry, I know this is not strictly related to this post, but I didn’t see where else to ask this… it’s an interesting behavior experiment:

    One of the several tricks our dog knows (Lab/BC mix) is the “high five”. Pretty straightforward. What we’ve found some time ago, is that if you are on the other side of a glass door, he won’t do it. You can get back in and try it and it will work flawlessly, but as soon as you get back behind the glass door, even though he can perfectly see you, he won’t move a single muscle. The curious thing is, other keywords like “sit” and “down” work just fine through the glass door. Do you think he realizes he can’t touch your hand, hence it’s not worth doing it? I’m curious about what may be going on in his mind about this. Also, I’d be curious to know if this behavior can be reproduced on other dogs.

  62. Kerry L. says

    I ask everyone who brings an intact dog to our dog park if there’s a reason the dog is still intact. Most of the time the answer is because the relatively new owner hasn’t yet decided whether or not they want to breed the dog. In general, these are folks who’ve purchased their dogs at local pet shops and have little experience with dogs, they’re just hoping to make a little money. I’d love for all pet owners to understand the concept of responsible breeding. On the other side of the coin is the woman who rescued the pregnant, stray dog that became my first dog – she had all nine of the pups spayed and neutered, then placed them in homes promising to take any one of them back at any time for any reason.

  63. Debbie Schoene says

    “Anti-breeder legislation in the form of state licensing is NOT the answer. There are ALREADY laws governing animal welfare. If THOSE laws were upheld, the puppy mill-type breeders would already be put out of business and awaiting animal cruelty/animal endangerment charges. Legislation aimed at putting limits on breeders bases its system on numbers of breedable animals, because it is one of the few factors involved in breeding that can be quantified. But is the person who breeds one litter a year automatically more

  64. Ann W in PA says

    In response to some other posts:

    Here’s a good working definition (or I think so) for “responsible breeder” that could be forwarded along to people who are looking for one but don’t know what to look for. http://www.aspca.org/about-us/policy-positions/criteria-for-responsible-breeding.html

    On the recognition piece, here’s an idea: the American Humane Association has had great success with *voluntary* programs in the livestock and entertainment industries where businesses enroll in a program where they abide by certain guidelines and are open to inspection by the AHA, and in return they get one of various AHA “seals of approval.” American Humane Association are the people who confer the “no animals were harmed…” statement at the end of movies – they’re not a very flashy organization, they just get the job done. I wonder if they would administer such a program, or if someone could model a simlar program after one of theirs. The existing programs both recognize the businesses upholding higher standards than the minimums required by law, and also provides objective information to consumers – all without a bunch of new laws and fees.

  65. says

    I have my own oxymoron-type situation to throw into the conversation. I am all for responsible breeders, shelters, and specialty rescues as sources for dogs, but there seems to be a point at which these sources can be TOO responsible in who they adopt out to.

    A few years back, I was looking for my first dog – I had my heart set on a border collie, specifically to train to run in sheep trials. I was 22 years old, and a college student living at home at the time, working my way through school. I did my research, had volunteered as a dog walker for over a year beforehand at a local shelter, and was committed to being an awesome home for my future dog. However, no one would sell or adopt to me. No local shelters, rescues, or working line border collie breeders. I jumped through everyones hoops but everyone seemed to think they knew better than me – they said I should not get a border collie, that I should wait until I was done with school, and some even thought that a home with 11 year old children (my brothers) was not suitable for a high energy dog, even though they would not be involved with its care unsupervised.

    I was forced to buy from a backyard breeder.

    That said, I could understand why rescues thought I might be a risky placement – but I was not. My border collie lives a great life, herds sheep, and rides along with me daily when I go walk dogs – I started a dog walking business to support our sheep herding habbit :) I have also volunteered as a foster home for a border collie rescue – the same rescue that denied me a dog.

    My experience with rescue has been that MANY good homes are turned away, simply because they don’t fit the rescue’s specific criteria of a qualified home. It has made me wonder how many dogs in shelters or rescue could have been adopted, but families turned to irresponsible sources because they had no other choice?

    It is just another side of a complex issue that has emotions running high on all sides, but one worth thinking about.

    Who should decide who gets to own a dog and who doesn’t? A responsible breeder may only supply pups to families in similar financial, housing, and lifestyle conditions to their own, and is that ethical of them to do that, or is it their duty? In my opinion, and experience, some responsible people may inadvertently be pushing others to irresponsible sources.

  66. Shalea says

    Let me start by saying that I am absolutely in favor of responsible breeding, and though my two dogs have both been retired racing greyhounds, I am entirely unwilling to rule out the possibility of a responsibly bred puppy (or show retiree) in the future.

    I am definitely in agreement with those who have stated that no legislation nor licensing nor breeding fees will encourage responsible breeding, because a large-scale commercial breeder will always be more able to meet those criteria than a small “hobby” breeder no matter how responsible.

    That said, I feel that one of the primary criteria for being a responsible breeder is the willingness to provide a lifelong home for any lives you bring into the world and the enforcement of that with puppy buyers through microchipping, contracts, and/or ongoing relationships.

  67. Amanda & the mutts says

    THIS is exactly why I come here.
    There aren’t many places on the ‘net left where so much truly thoughtful discussion based on fact takes place.
    This blog gives me hope for the future of dogs and training on a regular basis.

    I have 2 rescues now, and will probably always have a soft spot for rescues, but I truly value my ability to buy a truly well bred dog from a responsible breeder. As other have said, I think education is the key to keeping that option open to all of us.

  68. Allison says

    As many others who have commented, I struggle with this issue, as I volunteer many many hours a week with the local shelter and see lengthy euthanasia lists weekly from many other shelters in the area – all with wonderful dogs who just don’t deserve this fate. My own dogs have all been rescues and always will be.

    My question is, should a responsible breeder also inquire as to whether a potential buyer has considered a rescue dog, and whether a rescue dog may actually be a good fit for them? Are there some people buying puppies from breeders, even responsible ones, who could find a good match with a rescue? There are SOOOOO many dogs up for adoption I find it hard to believe that there aren’t more people out there that could easily find a rescue dog, and save a life.

    I’m not talking about people who want to compete or need a service dog – I assume that is actually a much smaller percentage than those just looking for a pet.

    I’m also not saying that it is EASY to find a rescue dog that meets your needs – it does take time and patience and maybe even some help from a more knowledgeable dog person. I’m just wondering if a responsible breeder should also acknowledge that a potential buyer may actually not need purebred in order to meet their needs…


  69. says

    Great post and lots of great comments.

    I was one of those people who always wondered why get a dog from a breeder when there are so many wonderful animals in shelters. As I thought about it, I realized how “breeds” are even important when you don’t know a pedigree.

    At the local shelter, the staff try to identify what breeds may be in a dog’s heritage. They do this so you can predict likely traits–retrievers that retrieve, hounds that sniff, shepherds that herd. So even if you adopt a mixed dog, you’re probably trying to find that heritage that will clue you into likely behavior.

    Breeding, at its best, is another of those important intersections between human and dog relationships. It’s human beings trying to nurture dogs that will be able to enter into a specific type of collaboration or relationship.

    I fought with myself for a long time before deciding to look for a golden retriever puppy. One of the reasons I decided to find a responsible breeder and a particular breed was because two of my previous shelter dogs had dog reactivity. In the city, this can be a major headache and a difficult challenge to conquer.

    I hoped that by getting a dog with the very best start in life and with breed characteristics that made it likely she’d be friendly to other people and dogs, I would be able to foster or do other volunteer work with dogs in the future. This was never a possibility with my last two dogs.

    I found my puppy’s breeder by calling the local golden retriever club. The volunteer who answered my call very responsibly questioned me about my lifestyle and gave me a good warning about the likely negative traits of a golden.

    When I called one of the breeders she recommended, I found a great resource. Honey’s breeders are strongly committed to raising dogs that not only meet the breed standards for conformation but are healthy and have good temperament. I’ve learned a lot from them so far and have enjoyed having someone to rely on when we face questions with Honey.

    Now that I have a purebred dog, I feel the responsibility to do what our breeder and local club have done–spread the word about what responsible dog guardianship entails and to encourage people to learn more.

    I particularly worry about the golden breed. I suspect that many people hear that it’s the perfect family dog and assume it will grow up to be perfect without realizing the training, socialization, and enrichment that goes into raising a perfect dog.

    Can’t wait to see the article in The Bark. Thank you for tackling this.

  70. says

    It was interesting to read this … I would be very curious to know the percentages of dogs in shelters that originated from different sources. For example, pet store, internet puppy store, newspaper, unplanned litter, breeder (in person!). I can’t tell you how many well-meaning people we’ve had in class who got their puppy from “a good breeder” — but they mean that the pet store had a breeder listed on the puppy’s cage tag, or that the online store listed a breeder for each puppy. I had good friends recently buy a puppy from a newspaper ad. The “good breeder” had his girlfriend bring the two remaining puppies to a public park, and sold one of them to my friend. Ugh.

    My older dog (BC mix) is a shelter puppy — found stray at 10 wks with a collar on, adopted by me after her minimum shelter stay. Obviously not an “important” dog since no one called the county shelter to find their lost puppy! She has taught me plenty, but she has a lot of physical and mental issues — not an experience I care to repeat. My younger dog (BC) is from an incredibly conscientious breeder in NH — she really does every possible thing to choose good genetics going in and raise the litter to be healthy, properly stimulated, etc. She’s also “there” for her puppies (oh, and their owners) for the life of her dogs. I have a hard time imagining how this kind of breeder could be contributing too much to the pet overpopulation problem.

    I’ve volunteered with rescue groups and shelters. Some people definitely had the attitude of “rescue only” and gave you dirty looks if you talked about getting a puppy from a breeder. But, in my opinion, there is a time and a place for getting different dogs. With my older “problem child” dog already at home, I needed my 2nd dog to be stable and socially capable. I wanted a dog I could use as a demo dog in classes, and compete with in agility. I needed a dog who could live with my three young boys and the mess/clutter that goes with that. Could I have found this high order of requirements in a rescue dog? Yes … but I might have waited forever, too. Dogs like the one I wanted are easy to place, also. Instead, I chose to get a puppy from a breeder this time around. Next time? I’ll take a look at what I need & want, and what resources I have to give to train/rehab a rescue dog. Then, I’ll make a decision that makes sense.

    I would really, really hate it if overly zealous rescue/shelter advocates managed to drive the really good people out of dog breeding. I *like* that there are different breeds — I don’t want a world full of just mixes.

  71. says

    What I try to stress to my clients when they pick a puppy is that the best way to help decrease the problem of dogs in shelters is to choose an appropriate puppy, that will fit into their lifestyle and stay with them for life. Depending on their expectations, this may mean that the best fit is from a responsible breeder, an adult dog from rescue, or a dog from a shelter. I would much rather see them pass on the shelter dog that comes with baggage they are not equipped to deal with and get a puppy from a good breeder who will grow into what they envision, than recycle that shelter dog through yet another home (which is not to say that ALL dogs from the shelter have baggage or are bad fits, just again, CHOOSE CAREFULLY and thoughtfully). I think many of the shelters and rescues are every bit as guilty as the big chain pet stores of appealing to the impulsive nature of people and their desire to “save” something, whether or not it is what is best for both of them in the long run.

    And I think the one thing that would go farthest in shrinking the number of dogs in shelters would be to pass a law that it is illegal to pay for living creatures with credit cards. That would go a long way towards decreasing the impulse buys that are totally inappropriate placements and would definitely have a much deeper negative impact on pet stores, puppy mills, etc than on responsible breeders. I would much rather see this type of legislation than any of the current laws which are showing up more and more frequently which inevitably will end up hurting the small time enthusiast breeders much more than the large commercial ones.

    Unfortunately, we live in a disposable society. We can’t even get people to consistently use any responsibility and planning in building their HUMAN families; until we have a shift in society as a whole we are going to struggle with the “disposable” pets that end up in shelters. Very, very few of these dogs come from responsible breeders in the first place, because their screening process weeds out most of those owners.

  72. says

    I have read this blog with great interest because I have been on boths sides of the coin.

    Being an animal welfare volunteer and shelter advocate, I see many dogs come into my shelter. Fortunately (and unfortunately as I’ll explain) we don’t get that many dogs on a daily basis. Of those dogs that we do get – some of them are behaviorally challenged and not appropriate for the general public. That leaves very very few dogs available for adoption that would suit the average family. As a trainer in a box store, I know all too well just how inexperienced some new owners are – and that’s not a critcism – they don’t know what they don’t know. Ex – “do I just fill up this big bowl with food and that will be enough for my dog” or my personal favorite, “so what do I do with this clicker, keep clicking it and the dog will automatically come running back” I kid you not – these questions although not exactly verbatim have been asked to me on more than one occasion.

    Here’s where responsible breeders would fill the demand for behaviorally healthy dogs in my community, because as a municipal shelter – we cannot transfer from locations. Not only would having responsible breeders help with the demand, they would probably reduce the number shelter intakes because in theory responsible breeders should be producing dogs that are more stable than puppy mills dogs.

    When I first decided I wanted a dog, as a shelter volunteer – I wanted very much to adopt from my local shelters or rescues. Months and months of searching Petfinder filling out long over drawn applications yielded dismal results. I was peppered with hostile criticism and downright nastiness – after all – how dare I try to adopt a dog when I didn’t have a fence and had cats???? All this, even though I was the VP of another local rescue (for cats).

    After all this, I finally found a rescue to adopt from, got a dog and it didn’t work out, due a resource guarding issue that I was NOT prepared to deal with. As another poster mentioned – there was absolutely no tangible support to go to when these issues arose after the honeymoon period. While I think that recommending reading materials for adopters is a good practice, it should not be the ONLY SUPPORT someone receives from the a rescue group. It would have been more proactive if trainers and rescues/shelters could worked together to help adopters like me (this was before I became a trainer myself). If I was offered some in person support and a training protocol – maybe I wouldn’t have had to surrender him back to his group. The surrender was not an easy matter either – the foster parents were horribly critical and that made it even more difficult.

    Thoroughly disgusted by this entire process I was ready to go to a responsible breeder. I had decided to check rescues one more time and found Daisy my Brittany pup. She had many apps on her but I new the exec director of the shelter so that’s why I ended up with her- otherwise who knows, I might still be looking.

    Point being, I think there is room for rescues/and responsible breeders as they both serve a need for the community. If both would migrate to a more “open” adoption policy and counsel potential adopters instead of critcize them, maybe more people would turn to these groups instead of the backyard breeders/puppy mills who will let anyone and everyone adopt a dog.

  73. Mary says

    What a great thread!

    Growing up our family had 2 dogs that were most likely from puppy mills – a Beagle and a Scottie. I remember getting the Scottie at Macy’s! This was back in the late 60’s, but she had “papers”, so it must have been ok. At least that’s what my parents thought. Lucky for us, she was a great dog.

    I had 2 rescue dogs after college, and both had issues. One I kept for her entire life; the other I had to return due to work evolving into 12-14 hr days about 6 months after I got her. I could not give her the time and attention she needed.

    After marriage, my husband and I decided to get a dog. We liked golden retrievers, but felt our yard wasn’t big enough for such a large dog. Looking for a “miniature golden”, we stumbled onto Tollers. We visited a breeder in MA (Being a Canadian breed, I think there were only 2 in the US at that time) who had wonderful dogs & spent a lot of time with us. And refused to sell us a dog. Good thing, too. She carefully explained what exactly Tollers were bred for and how much energy they had. This was not going to work for us.

    So off to the dog show we went. Looked at lots of breeds. Fell in love with Corgis and found a great responsible breeder. After lots of research into the breed, & talking to lots of other breeders, we decided to get a pup from that first breeder.

    We wound up with a 7 month old that they were keeping to show but she turned out to be under the breed standard size. She was just perfect for us, and had the most amazing temperment. Yankee was with us for 16 years and was my heart dog. We got a similar contract to the one from Blacksheep Cardigans (see Ruffly Speaking blog at http://blacksheepcardigans.com/ruff/), mentioned earlier in this blog. That was when we found out what a responsible breeder was. Up until then we were clueless.

    Three years after she passed away, we went right back to that breeder for another corgi pup. But they were not breeding at that time & referred us to another responsible cardi breeder. Our Gracie is now 5 and also a great dog, both in temperment and health.

    Nothing is guaranteed in this world, but purchasing a dog from a responsible breeder certainly improves the odds. And well worth the cost. But a responsible breeder does not absolve you from being a responsible owner. Proper training, socialization, stimulation and medical care is needed to have a good dog. And while I smile over the recent flurry of commercials that feature corgis, I worry that they will become more popular. With that popularity comes more puppy mill puppies. Corgis, while cute, are not for everyone.

    Having said all that, we are considering a rescue cardi from breed rescue as a companion for Gracie. We have had 2 great corgis and we would like to say thanks to those responsible breeders that steered us in the right direction and supported us as owners over the years by giving something back to the breed. Why choose between a responsible breeder and rescue – get one of each!

  74. Sharon says

    I am pretty active in educating people about responsible dog ownership, finding a worthy breeder and various other topics via a couple of very active message boards. It’s one way to help spread info to the vast sea of people who really want to do the right thing. I can’t tell you how many times I have to explain to people that one of the reasons you are having such a tough time with your excessively mouthy puppy is because your (fool of a) breeder released him to you at 6 weeks. So – a lot of people learn a hard lesson with dog #1 that makes them a more informed consumer by the time they get dog #2. But – most don’t inquire. They dump their problem dog and snap up a new impulse purchase at the pet shop and eventually repeat that process.

    One of my biggest disappointments lately was when a “friend” on FB asked for advice and direction on finding a responsible breeder – so I did just that – provided general guidelines for things to expect of any responsible breeder and provided a lengthy list of outstanding Lab kennels in NJ (as there are several). And – after an long detailed dialog which I thought was being well met – – she bought an Eskie at the mall.

    That is what we are ultimately up against – the effort to get a well bred puppy is too often trumped by the appealing, easily obtained inferior puppy. And – she knew all about the puppy mill connection to pet shops – and her response to me was that she got a Chow 20 years ago from the same store and she was a great dog – and she does not feel responsible for contributing to the puppy mill problem as that should be taken care of via the legal system.

    She has done nothing but kvetch about this puppy and I have nevertheless helped her out with some advice. Expecting my halo any day now!

  75. Moo and Zoo says

    Personally, I think resources and training are the #1 thing that will lessen the number on animals killed in shelters. No matter if you get a dog from a BYB, shelter/ rescue or responsible breeder, you will have behavioral problems down the line and need help! I think it’s the fallow-up that needs the most work.
    The best way to keep the dogs in their homes is for pet owners to feel comfortable coming to responsible people for advice.

    Lets not forget that shelters and rescues do not always have good or existent post-adoption programs. They can also be the most judgmental people to go to with a problem. I am in no way advocating against rescues (I even run one) but I am advocating against irresponsibility.

    I also want to note that the majority of the general public understand about the horrors of puppy-mills and petstores now (although the definition of a BYB and responsible breeder is still confusing for most). However, the involved process and rejection is what keeps them in business.
    In my opinion, before we can actually fault others we need to be able to provide for the masses or give them another option.

  76. says

    I am very happy that your brought this up!

    Yes, I believe there is such term as a responsible breeder and I also believe that they are hard to come by. Whether it is because they don’t know any better, or whether it is a profit issue like with many other things such as dog food — and don’t get me even started on that.

    I believe that it definitely makes a big difference which individuals are chosen to be bred, whether it is health background or personality. Apparently it seems like a lot of personality traits (and not only instinct such as hunting or herding) indeed are genetic traits. Recently I saw a video from research done on Siberian foxes where a clear genetic link of traits such as friendliness seems to have been established.

    I also read a number of books describing how to bring up the pups and how to handle them for the earliest days to end up with happy, confident and emotionally balanced dogs.

    There indeed are breeders who will take their pup back at any time for any reason.

    Meeting the parents should be the first step before even looking at the puppies. Simply because once you see the puppies, you know you’re going to walk away with one of them.

    If the parents are friendly and happy and sociable enough, there is a good chance the puppies will be also.

    Finding such a breeder is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    So I totally agree. Responsible breeding should be promoted. Could it be legislated in any way? Legislation is of no use if there is no way if reinforcing it.

    I think it boils down to owner education. If people know what they should look for, it should eventually put irresponsible breeders out of business. It’s a form of natural control.

    It won’t be a whole lot easier, but I think probably still more successful than trying to legislate. Though potential combination of the two might be most beneficial.

    Perhaps one day, when genetic screening becomes more available and allows for testing for health issues as well as personality traits, it would make for ideal solution. Meaning that all dogs would have to be neutered/spayed by law, unless approved for breeding against genetic make-up.

    Which sounds great, but still doesn’t ensure quality of the person breeding…

    It will be a long journey. But I think prospective owner education would be a good start.

  77. says

    I have just one thing I’d like all of the folks who want spay/neuter laws to be in effect to consider.

    Most breeds have a closed stud book if you are looking at AKC registered dogs. That means a somewhat to very narrow gene pool. If you enact spay/neuter laws written by non-breeders (ie legislators), you will very likely narrow down that pool even further. If you think health problems are rampant now…..wait till you have less to choose from in breeding stock.

  78. Anne J says

    I would think very few shelter dogs come from good breeders. My definition includes someone who will take back the puppies they have bred if the family cannot keep them for any reason. Recently I have heard of breeders who will only take back intact dogs, because fixed animals are not valuable or useful to them. That is just wrong to me, and not in the least responsible.
    The only time I would expect to see puppies from a good breeder ending up in a shelter/rescue is in the case of illness or death of the breeder.

    I don’t believe legislation is the answer. There is no way to legislate morality or responsibility. Either people are or they find ways around whatever laws are made.

    I think education would go a lot further, if people took pet ownership more seriously, and considered the source of their pet to make sure they are not supporting the puppymill industry.

  79. JJ says

    I also agree that there is are clear cases of responsible breeding and not responsible — such that everyone could recognize and agree on. But as a previous poster said, there is a large gray area in the middle that is not clear. That doesn’t mean that the subject shouldn’t be worked on. It just means that we need to be careful about being overly restrictive and judgmental.

    Also, just because a puppy comes from a great breeder with stable parents going back 5 generations does not mean that the puppy will be emotionally stable and have a temperament needed by today’s humans. Thus, as already stated, the other aspect of reducing shelter dogs is education – both for the humans and dogs (called training when talking about educating dogs).

    One previous poster said something to the effect that she didn’t want all dogs to be mixes. Breeds are good to have around. I agree. I also feel that I don’t want to live in a world without mixes. Pure breeds are not the only great dogs to have around.

    Is there a way to define responsible breeding that would cover mixes? I think the elements of responsible breeding include:
    …..a) pre-breeding steps such as taking into account genetic factors and doing research on all the aspects involved in breeding and preparing physical space and materials,
    …..b) appropriate medical care after puppies are born,
    …..c) proper raising until adoption,
    …..d) proper follow-up relationship (such as taking puppy back if needed).
    Of course, the devil is in the details, but it seems to me that all of these steps could be taken by a person who wants mixed puppies as much as by a person who wants to bring into the world “pure” breeds only.

    Taking a stab at it, I would say irresponsible breeding includes:
    …..a) all unplanned pregnancies
    …..b) any breeding that doesn’t take genetics and temperament into account
    …..c) any person who does not have the time and resources needed to do it right

  80. JJ says

    I’d like to address one other issue: cost. Some people can easily afford to raise and properly care for a dog, but can’t afford a $1,000 + up-front cost – especially if that money would be needed for emergencies later on. I totally understand that “responsible breeding” is very expensive. But I think we need to find a way in this world for dog-loving people to be able to get a responsibly bread dog without having to be super-rich. Given the increasing income disparity in America (and around the world?????), the cost of a responsibly bread dog is becoming more and more out of reach. I think it is impractical to say “well, if you can’t afford $2,000 up-front, then you shouldn’t have a dog in the first place.” That’s not going to solve the real issue — that people who want dogs are going to get them and if they can’t afford the large up-front cost, then they will get one any way they can.

    I don’t have the answer to this concern. I’m just bringing it up because I think it needs to be addressed. People don’t just buy from pet stores etc. because of impulse buying. Cost is also a factor.

  81. Margaret says

    Interesting discussion, albeit one that tends to conflate individual observations with trends. (When I was lecturing under grads in methods they grew super tired of hearing me tell them,

  82. Sylvia says

    I love this post and the very informative discussion! I’m going to throw something out there that many will find ridiculous but here goes. Has anyone considered licensing potential owners to acquire a pet. this would include attending a class for owners that familiarizes them with “all things dog”. i.e. training, feeding and nutrition, time, emotional and financial commitments, etc.

    Some responsible breeders I feel are doing this already with their probing questions and reference checks, but I’m talking, even shelter adoptions. It seems that everyone wants a pup or dog NOW and IMO it’s that “instant gratification” dog, most at risk for being returned to or given up for adoption, or worse left abandoned.

    In a legal sense, dogs are still considered property in our society today. We require licensing and “education” to purchase other “property” such as guns, we have to compete education and training to drive a car. Is it so far out that we ask someone to do the same for adopting/purchasing a dog? After all consider liabilities assumed when we purchase a dog from whatever source. I know the concept is crazy, but I really feel that if everyone completed such a class (which perhaps should include some community service work at a shelter) they would have a better understanding of what “dog ownership” really entails.

    Hopefully, this would also solve the problem of dog owners who feel that everyone would love a dog like theirs, so let’s breed! Or you hear, “We want her to have one litter so the children can watch the miracle of birth”.

  83. Nan says

    another thought for your article’s focus on reducing the give up problem. I remember Sue Sternberg saying once that research indicates that by the time a person gives up a dog they have been thinking about it for, on average, 8 months. The result is that when they do come in to do the give up they are shut down on any input related to addressing the problems and keeping the dog in the home. Sadly had someone helped them see how to manage the behavior and train a better relationship earlier they might never have given up. The shelter I’m involved in, and a number of others, are trying to work this issue and become better know as resources for behavioral assistance often partnering with trainers in the area. I see this as a key piece in the ultimate solution.

  84. Gunilla says

    A very important way of limiting the dogs ending up in shelters that I think has not been mentioned yet would be not to allow puppies to be sold in pet shops. It’s just too easy to buy a cute puppy on impulse – or even think that you save it by buying it. Swedish pet shops don’t sell puppies and haven’t done so for decades, and we actually have very few dogs in shelters, and only a few shelters in the whole country. Swedes always buy from breeders, sometimes registrered and experienced, sometimes “breeders” who wanted Fluffy to have puppies – but we always go home to the breeder’s place, get to meet the dam/female etc. Sadly I guess that would be impossible in the US.

  85. says

    I had an experience a little like Aaryn’s when I adopted a puppy from a rescue last year. I kept asking about the herding mixes at the rescue. Not for working sheep, so I didn’t care about herding instinct (or I wouldn’t have gone through a rescue), but they had a lot of border collie and heeler and cattle dog mixes who needed homes, and I love the intelligence and energy and relationship you get with herding breeds. She’s my first dog, I’m in grad school and live in a smallish 1-bedroom apartment (in a triplex with a fenced yard) with another person, and it took email after long email for me to convince them that I actually was an appropriate person to take a high-energy, smart dog who could easily make a lot of trouble – even though I run 10-15 miles/week, helped train my parents’ dogs, and specifically wanted to spend a lot of time on training. Not having a vet reference or a previous dog made it quite a bit harder, but I don’t see how you get started having a dog if those are always required.

    I understood their reservations about me, and I bet a responsible breeder wouldn’t have sold to me at all, but the puppy seems to like it here and has become a very charming adolescent with mostly good manners (we’re still working on loose-leash walking and convincing her to ignore the chickens). It’s a good place for her. I can totally see how someone who was willing to learn but had a little less patience and previous dog experience could have ended up feeling like a backyard breeder was the way to go. People need more education about responsible breeding, but I think breeders and rescues should also consider adopting to people who don’t have experience but are willing to learn.

  86. says

    I could write a book about what a terrific breeder I had for Fenway, the border collie. The word supportive doesn’t begin to describe her involvement and availablility to advise and answer all questions. She is proud of each and every valuable and beloved puppy she helped bring into this world

    She has an active website and a very active Facebook page for the extended family (her dogs + the puppies, their grandparents and great grandparents. In other words, her kennel is an active community that shares news and is proud of one another’s accomplishments.

    It goes without saying that the matings are very carefully chosen

  87. Dana says

    Thanks for taking on this hot-potato topic, Trisha, and thanks to everyone for the thought-provoking responses.

    I once thought I’d ONLY rescue. Twelve years ago I rescued a wonderful BC, and she is the love of my life. We do competition obedience, have dabbled in agility and tracking, and she’s a certified therapy dog. Tried herding, and she has tons of interest, but ZERO talent. But I became hooked on herding. So I searched for a responsible breeder, and found one who has a healthy, sane working bitch from great lines, and had bred her to a top working dog with an amazingly level and sweet disposition, and I bought a pup. My dog is now four, healthy and sane, and working quite well on sheep.

    I am now a believer in the goal of those “responsible” breeders to maintain and improve upon the health, instinct and talent of a breed. My BIGGEST concern is those who consider themselves responsible, but have a bad case of “Breeder Blindness” and breed dogs that will not improve the breed, often simply because they really love their dogs and aren’t willing to admit the shortcomings of their breeding stock.

    Am looking forward to your article in Bark.

  88. Molly says

    Late to the discussion, but I am involved with a shelter in the South, so this issue hits very close to home. Couple thoughts:

    Education on responsible breeders is a piece of the larger puzzle, though one that I don’t think will make a large difference without several other pieces – elimination of puppy mills & Internet sales and – yes – requiring a license to breed. While it will be difficult to enforce licensing, at least some guidelines for responsible care will be codified and can be used to charge violators and remove their license. Right now in Alabama (& I’m sure elsewhere), irresponsible breeders can avoid even a citation by surrendering their animals to certain death at the nearest animal control. Then, they can start right back up. When developed in conjunction with responsible breeders, the license can also be one more way to educate pet purchasers of the standards they should expect. Due to cost & convenience, some people will always be motivated to get animals from irresponsible breeders. There needs to be a mechanism in place to keep these folks from putting unstable and unhealthy animals into homes.

    However, improving the source is only the beginning. A responsibly-bred pup can still become a “problem” in a hurry because people lack the knowledge, skills, or resources to continue raising the pup properly.

    As far as reasons for surrender goes, behavior problems is not #1 reason in anything I’ve seen. “Moving” I believe was the most common reason in the most recent survey (which I clump with the many other “dog became inconvenient” excuses. If you are dedicated to your dogs, you will find a way to keep them). It IS true that most of the dogs surrendered have not received any training. The dogs at the shelter where I volunteer exhibit normal untrained-dog behaviors – impulsive, exciteable, jumping up, barking, no leash manners. But behaviorally they are usually wonderful! Most dogs are surrendered after they are no longer cute, manageable puppies. The families have not worked with them at all and – here I’m being anecdotal but this is my experience – now don’t want to deal with the poor manners that they have allowed to develop.

    SO, a major component in tackling owner surrenders is making sure there are training and behavior resources for them when the pups are still pups (as well as for adopters of someone else’s untrained juvenile). The harsher training methods that forced people to wait until dogs are 6 months of age, and which are still unfortunately popular down here, I believe have doomed many dogs. So, breeder, shelter, and rescue support to find appropriate training and behavior resources is a significant assist in the battle to control owner surrenders (but please don’t blame shelters and rescues for not having that knowledge – they are not staffed by trainers and behaviorists. They need to network with professionals and provide referrals, tho, rather than abandoning the adopter to struggle on their own).

    [I don’t mention spay/neuter because I don’t see it as an answer to curbing owner surrenders, but obviously to curb strays and accidental litters it is THE solution.]

  89. Leo says


    Thank you for being you! Your work has been an inspriation to many of us all over the world.

    First, this is to Molly. I think that your post has been one of the most thought provoking (for me, at least) on here. That may be because I am a complete rescue/shelter dog advocate.

    Unlike a few people, I can say that I will ALWAYS adopt from a shelter. I will never get my dog from a breeder, as there isn’t a need to (for me). I don’t own livestock so I do not have a need for a BC or an Aussie. I do not need protection, so I do not need a GSD or Belgian Malanois. I do like certain breeds of dogs, don’t get me wrong, but that “like” doesn’t control me to want to go hunting for a breeder of that specific dog. For me, my dog is my family member. My heart, as does my wife’s, goes out to all the unwanted, discarded dogs whose families abandonded them, and no one else wants because they want that puppy.

    I am tired of people saying “I was FORCED to go to a breeder to get my dog”. I am sorry, but no one is tying you down, driving you to a breeder, and forcing you to pony up wads of cash for a specific breed of dog. You have a brain and consciously made that decision yourself. You decided to look away from all the homeless dogs out there and go to a breeder to get that “purebred” puppy.

    Saying that, I do NOT have a problem with RESPONSIBLE breeders that breed to further that particular breed of dog. Breeding is just not for anyone to do. You don’t just put two dogs together and then sell the pups. You need to know what you are breeding for. Are you breeding for conformation? Are you breeding for the job that the dog was created for? Are you breeding for improved health conditions? These are a few of the MANY questions that “responsible” breeders should be asking themselves prior to placing a male and female dog together.

    “Breeders” that breed just because you want a puppy from your dog or some silly reason such as that, is not a responsible breeder. Responsibility is in the eye of the beholder, of course. You may be “responsible” with caring for the dogs and making sure the pups all find a home, but that doesn’t make you a truly responsible breeder of that breed. You are just being a responsible dog owner.

    If you are breeding because your bitch is cute, or you want others to have one just like her, or because you wanted to keep a puppy from that bitch, then that is NOT responsible breeding. If you want a dog just like the one you have, go across seas, pay thousands of dollars and have your dog cloned (which I do NOT condone at all). Even then, it still won’t be YOUR dog. They are just replicas. You are just allowing a couple of dogs to reproduce, causing more dogs to be out there in a society when millions are euthanized everyday due to a variety of reasons (overbreeding being one).

    I happen to own one of those oh so terrible pit bull mixes that are all over the news. It was not my intention to adopt one, but she fit all the “requirements” that we wanted in a dog. She is now the love of our lives. Due to overbreeding, dogs getting into the wrong hands, improper training and education, and many other dispicable situations, the once treasured and valued APBT has become a demon in society by no fault of his own. It is all the fault of human beings. If irresponsible breeding continues with other species, those species may be next on the list of becoming a terrible dog. We have a problem where I live with labs and poodles making the news every week due to very serious dog bites. Sadly, they are being overbred (because they are cute) with no regard to health or temperment. That is happening to many dogs, and yours may be next. Why take the chance?

    I am just disgusted (obviously) with so many people who think it is ok to breed dogs without a true purpose. If you are breeding with a true purpose in mind to actually further the breed standards or continue a breed that is wavering in existence, then that is fine. If you are not, consider spaying and neutering your dog(s) and do the species a favor.

    These are just my opinions, of course, and I am VERY angry (and heartbroken) at this moment. I just came back from my humane society because we just had a large number of dogs that were surrendered this week. Many of them were due to people breeding their dogs and not being able to find home for the ones that they didn’t want to keep. I guess it is ok to breed and then put the problems on someone else so you don’t have to worry about it.

    Thankfully, we are a no-kill shelter, but now I have to go through the painful task of finding foster homes after the temperment tests and vet exams, as EVERY enclosure is already full with dogs. But, we do everything that we can to make sure that those dogs are never without love from all of our staff and the local community. We are grateful that we have several doggie daycares and boarding facilities nearby that will take some dogs from time to time to get them around more people for a greater chance of adoption. AND IT WORKS! To all those in rescue/shelter work, I thank you! Without you, all the dogs from irresponsible breeders and owners wouldn’t have a fighting chance.

  90. Nancy says

    I met a woman at one of those big pet dept stores. She was working with her dog, a big Golden. She told me that she is tired of “lazy” and “uninformed” owners taking untrained dogs to the pound, in hopes that somebody will adopt them. “They don’t try one thing on their own, and then expect those of us who adopt, rather an buy, to fix all of the issues. It’s frustrating in so many ways to adopt an owner-surrender dog.” She’d had that goofy Golden for well over a year and still had a lot of work left to do with her.

    Having adopted all three of my dogs, I couldn’t agree with her more. But like the vet stated earlier, until we can get humans to do better with their human families, can we really expect them to do more with their dogs?

  91. Molly says

    I finally was able to read all the comments to this blog (apologies to Trisha for not seeing her 4/21 post about “behavioral issues” being owner-defined; yeah, owners do tend to call training issues behavior issues…). I wrote a “key ideas” summary for myself, and figured I might as well share!


    Realization by shelters and rescues that they are not competing for homes with the responsible breeders. They are competing with puppy mills (via pet stores) and backyard breeders (BYB) with little or no health, temperament, or placement/adoption standards. Also, responsible breeders who take back any of their dogs at any time prevent shelter surrenders. Responsible breeders are part of the solution, not the problem.

    Widespread education about responsible breeders; perhaps a voluntary certification program for breeders agreeing to certain standards of breeding, health, early care, spay/neuter (for dogs that don

  92. Margaret T. says

    Just a parenthetical comment on rescues and foster homes lying: I’m sure some do. But most of us do not, because we want the dog to succeed in the adopter’s home. What can happen is that some of us take our dog experience for granted, and we set the dog up to succeed in our homes. For example: my current foster dog hops up on the bed. If I don’t want him there, I don’t reach over and drag him off. I simply walk away, knowing that this particular dog will follow me. I’ll tell anyone adopting him the way I dealt with it to start with, and I’ll hope they listen. I can reach over him and grab his collar, and I don’t think there is a problem there, but it’s an example of something that could cause a problem before a relationship is built, especially. Please, those of you who tried rescue, remember that because of liability we have to err on the side of safety for people, and that we consider the dog’s safety before your wishes.
    I love responsible breeders: I’m getting a puppy from in about six weeks now, and part of the price of the puppy is a check made out to breed rescue for $100.
    Thanks so much for this forum.

  93. Anne says

    Interesting discussion. I’m no expert, but I just thought I’d comment that I have a retired racing greyhound and feel I have the best of both worlds. I actually just had the long-awaited experience of meeting her breeder/racing owner this past weekend — he’s a big figure in racing in my Midwestern state and has bred countless successful racers who become great pets. One thing that fascinated me was that I commented to him how confident and adaptable my dog Beth is — also quite assertive and definitely rowdy off leash and with other dogs (not aggressive, but intense and barky in her play style in a way that I’ve learned is intimidating to submissive dogs). He smiled sort of knowingly and said “I raise them that way — I like dogs with personality,” which I found fascinating. I’ll definitely be looking to his dogs again when the time comes to adopt my next greyhound.

    It does bother me when people think first of going to a breeder when they’re just looking for a pet, seemingly not even considering shelters, or acting as if breed rescues don’t exist.

  94. Toni says

    Hi Patricia, what a great, wise, commonsense post! hallelujah!

    I bred Australian CAttle Dogs for about 20 years…and looked at other people’s litters for 5 years so I could see what they looked like at every age, did genetic testing, carefully matched my bitches to a complementary stud and paid whatever the stud fee was, and drove to wherever that stud lived..NEVER used a male because it was cheap or free or local… thoroughly counseled people and told them THIS BREED IS NOT FOR EVERYONE, gave written health guarantees, took any dog back if they can’t keep the dog..on call for advice for the lifetime of the dog…bred for TEMPERAMENT above all!
    We ended up with one dog with a really reactive, neurotic temperament, she is 10 years old and still lives here because we found no appropriate home…
    We microchipped every pup BEFORE it left here…we only ever got 2 dogs back, one because of a divorce, and one because the people were not up front with us and didn’t actually have a fenced yard and the dog started chasing bikes that came out of the woods…both were rehomed and live with wonderful families who dote on them.
    We refund a portion of the purchase price to anyone who puts a performance title on a dog they bought from us…and we work very closely with rescue groups. Anyone who wanted an older dog was a referred to rescue.
    I feel a rescue, shelter dog or a dog from a responsible breeder are all options that should be available to people.
    Thanks again!

  95. says

    The other day I was talking with one of the foster humans for our breed rescue.

    (A breed rescue for which about half the board and coordinators are responsible breeders themselves. Raises hand.)

    This foster Mom has stood a dog at stud a few times — magnificent Doberman — waiting years for just the right bitch AND JUST THE RIGHT BITCH OWNER — so that she would not only get the puppy she needed out of the breeding, but would know that all was as it should be with the rest. Yes, a stud owner is a breeder, too, and doesn’t get a pass on ethics.

    Now she’s fostering a special-needs English shepherd for us (she owned a rescue years ago), and was talking with me about buying an ES pup a few years down the road, and what it’s been like checking the Yahoo lists and starting to hunt for breeders after years of being out of the community.

    She found that one simple field mark qualifies a breeder for further consideration — do they volunteer for Rescue?

    We had a puppymill rescue of Biblical proportions last year, one that mobilized the entire breed community. When the rubber hit the road, it was clear which breeders helped, which groused about lost puppy sales (for reals!) and which cheered from the sidelines and tried to take credit. Not to mention all those whose carelessly-bred and carelessly-sold animals continue to keep our rescue busy.

    Most of the first group put off breeding a litter last summer, in part because of the impact of the rescue; those who did breed had particularly compelling reasons for that litter AND helped with transport and fostering. We all recognize that not every good home is the right home for a rescue.

    I was going to add that the second shibboleth should be a take-back guarantee for all puppy sales, but it turns out that’s unnecessary, since the set of rescue-aiding breeders encompasses those that provide that lifetime support.

    By all means, thoroughly vet all of a breeder’s practices. But if you start out with the set of breeders who actively help in rescue, you will have much less vetting to do.

    I look forward to the day when it’s demographically unnecessary for all responsible breeders to be rescuers, where rescue is truly a bare-bones safety net just for dogs whose breeders cannot take them back due to the same kinds of unavoidable misfortunes that cause a good home to have to give up a dog, when our main function is as a referral network for breeders who have taken back a pup or owners who must re-home a dog and do it directly.

    Meanwhile, if you are looking for a purpose-bred pup, the first call you should make is to the appropriate breed rescue group(s). Ask them which breeders “contribute.” There are two ways that breeders contribute to rescue. You don’t want the second way. Start with the list of breeders who help.

  96. Alison says

    Good column. One point I always think about is that, while I support adopting from shelters, if you look at the big picture it is better for each individual dog if they never end up in a shelter in the first place. So where are they going to come from? The only answer is a responsible breeder. Adopting from shelters only addresses the problem of having shelters full of dogs and needing to do something with them, it doesn’t address how to reduce the flow of dogs into shelters in the first place, as you point out.

  97. says

    A tough subject indeed.
    When I go to a confirmation event and I see Siberian Huskies that wouldn’t be able to pull a sled, Border Collies that haven’t seen sheep or cattle in 20 generations, or the one that really upsets me, German Shepherds that have rear ends so low there is no way they could run across a field and keep up with a herd of sheep or meet any service dog abilities. I ask you, where do you find responsible breeders? Personally, unless I find a breeder that has field trial credentials abound, I’m not impressed. If AKC continues to hand out awards to animals who could not fulfill the purpose for which they were originally breed, they are doing a great disservice to all dog breeds and humans. I think even top confirmation breeders are loosing sight of their breeds. I know they are not all like that, but they sure are the ones that upset me. I would love to see a dog be required to have field credentials before it could even be considered for confirmation trials.

    As a dog trainer I quite frequently am asked about potential pure breed dogs for breeding purposes. My first question to them is always, “Do you have good homes for 8-10 puppies already lined up?” If you do not, then why are you wanting to breed your dog? Usually that is the end of the discussion. If not I want to know what qualifies your dog to be breed and what qualities are you looking for in a potential mate? I know a lot of pure breed dogs that should be spay/neutered. I know some mixed breed dogs, I wished were not spayed/neutered.

    Lastly, some of the best dogs that have been in my life were mixed breed strays I rescued from a shelter somewhere. Even still I would be tickled pink if I had to pay $1200 for my next pup because the shelter didn’t have any. So I am for licensed breeding. I am for heavy heavy fines for non spay/neutered dogs that are not owned by a licensed breeder.

  98. Kellie Snider says

    Hi, Pat,

    I work in animal sheltering and obviously I believe we have to continue to stress the importance of spay/neuter and limits on breeding. It’s been suggested, however, that’s what happening is that all the great dogs are being neutered and all the problem children are reproducing like … well … like unneutered dogs.

    A big problem I see is that a lot of purebreds have problems these days. Dreadful hip problems, aggression that started pretty much at birth, big brains in little skulls, seizure disorders. Closed stud books are a terrible idea if you want to raise hale and hearty animals. Until quite recently people would breed in members of other breeds to improve the stock, but no more. Now we breed so they look pretty to conformation judges, health be damned! The people minding the store when it comes to breeding are not doing a responsible job. The show world is not who should be deciding which dogs should be bred. Breed for purpose, not form, and limit breeding. And continue to spay and neuter most pets.

  99. says

    My local shelter ships dogs up into the New England states where successful spay/neuter laws have reduced the available rescue dog population to near zero. Those shelters are receiving very challenging animals to try and place. I am not certain that practice represents the best use of those community

  100. says

    Kellie, those unhealthy purebreds coming through your shelter are not coming from the show breeders, with rare exceptions. They’re coming from the puppy mills and BYBs. It’s in the ranks of the show breeders AND performance breeders that you’ll find the breeders who do health testing and study pedigrees to ensure the healthiest dogs possible. Yes, there are bad show breeders–but there are no good puppy millers, and the puppy millers are not taking back dogs that don’t work out.

    I do agree that the closed stud book is an appallingly bad idea, and belongs on the scrapheap of history.

  101. Verjean says

    Wow,what a great thread! I thought I’d add the top ten reasons that pets are surrendered. And we spoke of behavioral issues as being one of the most popular, and I just wanted to remind you, that doesn’t mean the dog has aggression, or is dangerous. Many times it’s a dog that won’t housebreak, or that barks too much, or bolts out the front door, or digs out of the yard. Or has too much energy. Or is destructive. These are very common problems and we see these “lesser’ behavior problems all the time as being the reason the pet is being surrendered. So with that, here’s the top ten reasons animals are surrendered to shelters.

    Moving. The number one reason given for taking a dog to a shelter is moving. When a family moves and cannot find a home for the pet, they must make a decision about what to do with the pet. Often times, the solution is to take the dog to a shelter or rescue organization and hope a new home can be found.

    Landlord issues. Another common reason for surrendering a dog is landlord issues. Dogs’ behavior, such as barking, can cause problems, especially if the family lives in an apartment complex.

    Cost of maintenance. Unfortunately, some people do not realize the cost of care and maintenance of animals. Once the vet services or grooming costs are realized, the pet may not seem as attractive or adorable as first thought.

    No time for the dog. Sometimes parents acquire animals for their children only to realize that the children

  102. Adrienne C. says

    THANK YOU for saying this!!! I might be selfish, but I love my breeds. I have several rescued and mixed breed dogs as well, by the way. Responsible breeders take their dogs back and arrange for a different home if a buyer can no longer keep a dog. I can’t see anything wrong with breeding dogs when it is done to create mentally and physically sound family pets and competition partners. We need to peel off the “thank you for not breeding” bumper stickers and focus on putting large scale breeding operations out of business.

  103. says

    All do respect, my sister does foster for a shelter and she takes in too many dogs and can not train or handle all of them. What she does have is a big heart and I’m sure her dogs are better off with her than in the shelter. I spent 20 minutes with a border collie rescue 3-4 weeks ago and when I left her I was disgusted that she is permitted to handle dogs. As for confirmation breeders vs BYB’s, I’m going to say it again, All do respect I walk around AKC confirmation shows and constantly ask myself why are they breeding that dog? The answer is they are breeding it because it fits the physical needs AKC and parent clubs have set. Those standards have become useless to many of the breeds entended specialties. GSD’s have been saved because of those who are breeding for service dog stock and not confirmation. Sport dogs are saved because so many of them are doing double duty in field trials. Show me how many ABCA dogs are getting confirmation titles and how many confirmation BC’s are getting herding titles. Its two different worlds. When confirmation dogs can no longer perform what they were breed to do, are they truely healthy? Especially when I see flagged tails walking around, eyes that are constantly shifting, dogs hiding behind their handlers, and the list goes on. Some need to take a look outside their own circle of friends and look at their entire industry as a whole, as much as you want to believe what you see everyday is happening, I don’t see it as so.

  104. maggie b says

    You can’t legislate responsible behavior. If you could there would never be any crimes. Responsible people don’t need legislation but they would be the only ones impacted by new regulations as they would be the only ones that would follow the rules.

    There are registries that require that an animal be sound in order for it to be registered.

    There is no such thing as a “puppy mill” or “BYB”. There are only substandard breeders or responsible breeders. Irresponsible substandard breeders can be commercial, show (called vanity by animal rights folks), or backyard amatuers. Being large doesn’t automatically make you bad. Being small doesn’t automatically make you good or bad.

    Only getting a “rescue dog” isn’t better than choosing to get a dog from a breeder. It is merely a choice. I support a right to choose.

  105. Charlotte says

    Trisha, what a wonderful blog post! The dog world can always count on you to clear the air and speak with reason and common sense. I follow your blog periodically, not as much as I would like, and have never commented before, but I need to respond to Kellie’s comments about show breeders and show dogs. This concept is, sadly, widespread, due to the sensationalized information put out on the Media, such as the Pedigree Dogs editorial that caused Crufts to be blocked from the BBC. That was a real shame, narrow and biased, edited with quotes out of context. I really appreciate Trish’s definitive description of what constitutes a responsible breeder. I put the link on my Facebook page and have gotten great feedback.

    Kellie, I have been getting my dogs from Trish’s description of responsible breeders for years, along with a few ‘inherited’ and shelter dogs to keep me busy. I recently attended my breed club’s national specialty show and attended a canine genetics lecture by Dr. Jerold Bell, Tufts University, with comments from Eddie Dziuk (sp) from OFA, and it filled my heart with hope for the future of my favorite breed. The breeders in my breed are doing a fantastic job, and although PBGVs are ‘new’ to the US, and a small population, we recently became a CHIC breed – common language: an open health registry, with vertical pedigrees and health information available on line. Your concerns “Until quite recently people would breed in members of other breeds to improve the stock, but no more. Now we breed so they look pretty to conformation judges, health be damned!” are valid in some ways, but your view of the real world today in dog breeding is out of date. My breed is NOT unusual in the amount of progress in health. I am active in my breed club’s hunt venue, and believe me, the breeders are EXTREMELY concerned that Form Follows Function. I know, I hear about it all the time, while editing the hunt rules for the club. 😉 In the show ring at the breed specialty shows, there are big rewards for people who excel in performance and multi-generational quality; Awards of Merit, Hunt Class wins, Brood Bitch/Stud Dog awards, Bred-by classes, and the ever popular Veterans class, where beautiful and healthy elderly dogs can look just as terrific as the regular class dogs.

    There are always people who take short cuts, or who care more about winning than health, but these people are truly not the mainstream in responsible dog breeding, from my experience. Even if they were high in numbers, the strength of the bloodlines that are rising to the top, from the careful people, should help to mitigate future problems.

    I hope the wide distribution of this blog piece will help to bring ALL dog lovers together – it is not news that we have a huge threat looming from Animal Rights folks who are pushing an anti-animal agenda through many state legislatures. I have given way too much of my valuable time to try to push back at these ill-conceived and ultra-restrictive laws that are loaded with unintended consequences. I’d rather be reading this blog every day. But, unless we all work together – pure-bred fanciers, rescue workers, shelter people, trainers, pet owners, breeders and vet care specialists – we will find it impossible for our kids or grand kids to have healthy pet dogs in the near future. While we are bickering, pointing fingers, assigning everyone ELSE a label like “puppy mill” or “factory farm” or “BYB” or worse, the HSUS is busily writing laws to ‘help us protect’ animals from . . . drum roll please . . . OURSELVES.

  106. Sonja says

    I’ll step in with the unpopular view. I am against breeding to a strict (and largely arbitrary) standard. I believe doing so destroys genetic diversity and is very bad for dogkind. Give me a sweet, strong mutt any day!

    I’ll be upfront and address my background. I am the child of a former shelter manager. I am a current shelter volunteer. I’ve lived with a handful of foster and/or roommates’ dogs through the years and lived with four dogs on a permanent basis. I grew up with two and live with two currently. Three of my four dogs have been rescues. Three of my four dogs have been mixed breed. The nonrescue was my first dog, acquired when I was eleven (free to good home). The presumed purebred is my most recent addition, a Beagle from a shelter. My first shelter dog was named Love. She was perfection housed in the fluffy little body of a Corgi mix. She came pre-trained and learned new things very quickly. She had one of those magical temperaments that would have made her ideal for an athlete, a couch potato, a family with kids, or an elderly couple. In other words, Love would have been an incredibly solid match for nearly anyone. She was scheduled to be euthanized the day my family adopted her. My experience is anecdotal, but Love’s eventual death a few years ago is what fueled my desire to rescue again and to become more involved in rescue as a volunteer. Love was special to me, but she wasn’t special. There are lots of Loves in shelters, and that anyone would consider buying from any breeder as commendable as saving Love’s life breaks my heart. I feel very strongly about canine rights, and I will always consider the value of a healthy shelter dog’s life, to that dog and to anyone who may eventually get to know that dog. Not every shelter/rescue dog is a good match for every person, but I see no reason why the local shelter or petfinder.com shouldn’t be everyone’s first stop when looking for a friend.

    More on topic, I think Dr. McConnell has ignored a few key points.

    First, McConnell states that most dogs in shelters are there due to behavior problems. My perspective differs. I’ve personally seen at least as much “we just can’t give him the time he deserves,” and “we’re moving” as “this puppy is driving us crazy.” Possibly depending upon the area, there can also be a large number of strays (as seen in McConnell’s stats). In this part of the country, for example, a majority of dogs are “outside dogs” and they sometimes get loose. We’re about 99% certain that’s how my Beagle ended up at the shelter. Unwanted litters are also very common in rural areas. Sometimes my local shelter gets so many that they have discount “puppy sales.”

    I could/am very willing to be convinced that a majority of dogs in shelters nationwide are there due to behavior for which impulse puppy buyers were not prepared. I do not think this is, in general, a genetic problem, that shelter dogs are, on the whole, genetically inferior due to poor or random breeding. The most “well bred” Labrador in the world will end up in a shelter if he’s undervalued (acquired for cheap or nothing) and purchased by an inexperienced owner who, for example, doesn’t know how to house train or teach bite inhibition. We could say this hypothetical Lab has behavior problems (and maybe he does), but I’d much quicker say he has “behavior” and has not been properly taught human expectations. Conversely, most mutts and puppy mill survivors will make great pets, given proper socialization and training (which could admittedly be a problem in puppy mills in particular). Bajillions of them are, in fact, living lives as well loved, fabulous pets right now.

    Second, I keep reading that responsible breeding isn’t easy, that it’s impossible to produce huge quantities of puppies as a responsible breeder, that being a responsible breeder is expensive and time-consuming, and that responsible breeders only sell to the best homes (McConnell said it herself).

    Unfortunately, all of those other homes want dogs too. The reason we want reputable breeders is because mutts and rescues reportedly just won’t do for most people, they’re too unpredictable. They generally have behavior problems or they wouldn’t be in shelters. If that’s the case, all of those unbest (or maybe just working class and looking for a bargain) homes have only two reasonable options. Puppy mills and BYBs.

    Dr. McConnell and I admittedly come from different backgrounds and points of view. If the goal is to create the perfect dog (for working or some form of competition), then I can understand the fixation on breeding and raising said dog from infancy, to gain the edge. My priority isn’t someone’s trophy or herd of sheep. Most dogs are pets, and my struggle is for the pet dog. Most pet dogs do not, and will not without some seeerious legislation (which most reputable breeders seem to oppose), come from reputable breeders. Most show dogs do not come from reputable breeders, in my opinion. Reputable breeders would not severely limit the gene pool.

    It isn’t that I think breeders are bad people. I find many of the practices associated with reputable breeding misguided. I also feel very strongly that there are too many homeless dogs and too many dead dogs (killed for the crime of being homeless). I don’t actively vilify others for their choices. To put it bluntly, “my dogs have purebred nonrescued friends.” :p Still, I fail to see how breeding more is part of the *solution.* Training and behavior resources need to be made available and the way we view dogs (as products) needs to be changed. Meanwhile, support your local shelter or rescue. Petfinder.com is the best thing since sliced bread. Please consider rescuing, even if you’ve already made up your mind to buy. That homeless dog’s life means everything TO THAT DOG. Other Loves are out there.

  107. Mary says

    It is a sad state of affairs when good, responsible breeders are labeled puppy mills. The fanatic effort to remove our animals by the AR extremists consider all breeders the dregs of society. We need to encourage responsible breeding. We also need to educate breeders who would do the right thing, but just don’t know what that is. They are out there, some of them referred to as back yard breeders.
    I’d also like to point out that if we really had an overpopulation problem, we would see thousands of puppies in shelters, and that is not the case. We see ADULT dogs that HAD homes. Until we can solve the problems as to why people give up their dogs, we will continue to have dogs in shelters. Some are ill, dying, and the owners take them for euthanizations. Yes, these dogs are counted in ‘in take’ numbers. Some have behavioral problems, which could usually be solved if the shelter offered training programs and could motivate owners to participate. Some dogs have illnesses that are treatable with fairly inexpensive meds – incontinence, arthritis, etc. But these days the economy forces people to give up their dogs instead. And there are people whose circumstances have changed and they can’t keep the dog. The saddest of these are those that are losing jobs and homes due to the economy. I wish HSUS would step up and provide food and vet care grants for these people, so those dogs could stay in their homes. Instead of spending all those millions on lobbying to take away our animals, wouldn’t it be nice if they actually helped the animals?

  108. Trisha says

    To Sonja: Thank you for your perspective, and the reminder that I need to go back to the original post and correct “most dogs go to shelters because of behavioral problems” when what I meant was “most dogs are surrendered to shelters because of what owners perceive as behavioral problems.” (See the next post for my correction on this.) I am very clear that most dogs in shelters are NOT there because they have any real behavioral problems, but Sonja is right that that’s not what I said. I’m going to fix it right now, so thank you for the reminder (and I refer you to the next post on the topic…..)

  109. Melinda Harvey says

    I have been in a particular breed for 17 years, my first litter bred 11 years ago. Since then I have had in total, 5 litters. I have only kept usually one, perhaps two pups intact (grow up homes) in each of those litters. Those homes are to allow the pups to mature and see if in fact they live up to their potential, both physical and temperament along with health checks hips, eyes, heart, etc. A drop dead gorgeous female from a litter three years ago does not have the correct temperament for our breed and so I will not use her in my little breeding program. She is a wonderful pet, in a wonderful home and smart and they love her, but she does not have the robust nature that is correct in the breed and so I will pass.
    My pups either go home on a limited registration spay/neuter contract or a co-own until the pup is spayed or neutered. My contracts stipulate for the life of the dog if the new owner cannot keep it, it comes back to me. I consider myself a responsible breeder.
    Flash forward..Connecticut. Every 6 months 500-600 puppies are brought up from the south and PR rescued from breeders and shelters to big expos for adoption. Because we have done such a good job with spay and neutering, we are importing from the south where they are from back yard breeders, irresponsible owners and puppy mills, people who do not spay or neuter, and are not responsible enough to then manage their intact dog. AND we responsible breeders come under fire?
    The more we rescue from the south the less likely they are to change their behavior (think operant conditioning). I have rescued before and am a big supporter of rescuing, but get leery when it becomes a business and the people behind the litters of pups coming north continue their irresponsible behavior. While we work at rescuing dogs and cats from shelters we ought to be coming down hard on states/people who do not enforce spay/neuter and leash laws to reduce the number of dogs going into the shelters. There is such a thing as a responsible breeder and we need to be brought into the discussion and not ostracized. Thanks for this thread and discussion.

  110. Sonja says

    Trisha, I apologize for responding before reading the followup. :) You’ve been my “go to” for behavior literature for years. We’re allowed to disagree on some points.

    Who here has read “Don’t Shoot the Dog?” One of the reasons why we don’t see thousands of puppies in shelters is because we shoot the dogs. We kill the excess. That’s one way to fix the problem, albeit an undesirable one. Yes, adults are very common in shelters. I see adolescents, by far, most of all (What?! Puppies are hard work?!). Regardless of their ages, an excess of animals is overpopulation by definition. The “age” factor may indicate focus areas for potential solutions, but more dogs than homes=overpopulation even if the homeless dogs all had homes at one time.

    I also find it very sad that so many have a knee jerk reaction to “animal rights” as a movement but especially to individuals involved in activities/campaigns/whatever labeled “AR.” AR/AW is a continuum, and we won’t all agree on all points. Still, I think almost everyone involved in animal rights and welfare is coming from a place of compassion. Some of the most compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful, and well meaning (whether you agree with them or not) people I’ve known have been involved in assorted “animal rights” efforts or would be labeled “AR” by the readership of every dog-oriented community I’ve ever frequented. I think we all need to take a step back and see one another as thoughtful human beings. I know a lot of anti-breeding people, but not a single person who thinks a “reputable breeder” and a “puppy mill” are the same thing.

    Intellectual diplomacy, anyone?

  111. Greta says

    Only one person brought up an interesting and important point (JJ – April 22nd, 2010 at 9:47 am). And that is that it is possible for a “responsible breeder” to purposely create mixed breed dogs. Other commenters alluded to the number of pure breeds that are in dire genetic straits; there are several.

    Virtually all purebred enthusiasts and breeders most of you would consider “responsible” gasp in horror at the idea of breeding mixes on purpose. Surely these are just designer breeds whose job is to have a cute made-up name and a slightly different look that can be spun as “exotic” or “rare”? And indeed, that seems to describe the majority of the intentional mixes now showing up –the Doodles, the toy breed crosses, and so on.

    But, in my sport, flyball, there are a number of brave folks who are breeding purpose-bred mixes for function. These breeders are careful to pick breeding stock with breed-appropriate health clearances, superb temperaments, physical soundness, and existing excellence at their sport; they have a working knowledge of genetics, and most take puppies back if buyers cannot keep them. One common such mix (in flyball) is the Borderstaffy — BC/Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the smaller examples of which are “height dogs”. Purebred enthusiasts imagine these dogs must be predatory nightmares, bouncing off the ceiling. Actually, they’re remarkably uniformly very nice dogs, cuddly pets when not breaking the world records. (The most recent flyball world record was set by a team of four Borderstaffies — not one purebred in the bunch.)

    I’d like to float the proposition that “responsible breeding” should not necessarily include the assumption of a pure breed. It’s interesting how many of the comments just assumed that only purebred breeding could be “responsible.” Needless to say, I vehemently disagree. If we are going to address the problem of dogs dying in shelters, and encourage responsible breeding, let’s *not* alienate the *great* breeders who don’t happen to produce purebred dogs.

    Now, I’m waiting for some horrified reader to comment that if I wanted to run flyball with a mutt, I could just go to the nearest shelter and adopt a mutt! I’ve heard this said so many times, and it astounds me that someone could so flamboyantly miss the point. I don’t want to run flyball with a mutt. I don’t want to run flyball with a purebred. I want to run flyball with a *really great flyball dog,* and if the person making the happiest, healthiest, most biddable, fastest, most affectionate flyball dogs happens to be doing so by mixing breeds, then that’s the dog I want. It honestly blows me away that I should have to explain this.

    If we are really going to think about the big picture, well, this is part of the big picture- it is outside of the box. Genetic health, breeding for function, actually meeting peoples’ needs… this means *not* preserving the status quo. The status quo ain’t working, folks. Any discussion of how to make things better needs to allow for the possibility of breeding intentional crosses for a purpose. That purpose might even be “a cuddly toy breed dog with fewer health problems than existing pure breeds.” I think a lot of the puppy mill designer toys are sought by people who want exactly this; not all the buyers are idiots who don’t realize “this isn’t really a breed” or “rare colors might not be a good thing.” The purpose should be to breed *dogs people want to keep.* Nice temperaments, trainability, good looks, health. Think about it.

  112. Greta says

    Having rocked the boat by advocating some sensible breeding of intentional mixes, I’m gong to rock it farther by suggesting that conformation showing and breeding is a part of the problem, and not part of the solution. This is a complicated topic one could write a book about, so this can’t be a thorough discussion. Briefly, conformation breeding necessarily closes stud books and narrows gene pools. Having pure breeds does this, but having a written conformation standard, showing, and breeding winners does it a whole lot more. Small gene pools and up as dead gene pools. How is this good?

    Conformation enthusiasts all justify their breed’s standards by claiming that all the details in the standard have a purpose in promoting the health and function of the breed. The ears must be really long to gather scent better. Proportions must be square because this is more powerful. Here’s the thing — if you breed the dogs because they follow scent really well, then the ears will be very well suited to gathering scent. If you breed the really powerful dogs, their length to height proportion will, amazingly, be just right to produce power.

    I’m not suggesting that we should just revert to purely working breeding; that has its own problems. A lot of working breeders are notoriously lax about health testing and disclosure, and some don’t seem to care much about temperament outside of work. So in my perfect world, if I were queen, I’d say, breed for working purpose by actually working the dogs and breeding the ones that work well — after doing all the breed-appropriate medical testing, having temperaments honestly assessed, implementing really good puppy-raising and socialization procedures, and accepting purchase contracts that always allow a buyer to return a dog to the breeder, just as good show breeders do.

    I truly believe that color limitations in breed standards should be completely eliminated. Earset standards are absurd and probably result in the net loss of quite a bit of good health, temperament and working ability from several breeds every year. I know, I know — shock and dismay! We will lose breed type! But you know… we will not. For the most part, if you breed for function, you will retain breed type. Oh, we would lose the fat Labs and extremely oversized Aussies and Rotties now gracing the show ring, but really, these dogs don’t represent original breed type anyway. We’d lose the crippled, reactive Shepherds that now dominate the breed; this is not a loss. Perhaps we could even slowly rid ourselves of cardiomyopathy and syringomyelia in one of the most wonderful companion breeds ever created, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. If we weren’t worried about a nice symmetrical mask, or a trot that looks great from the side (which is really remarkably stupid when judging a breed whose working gait is a gallop or a walk, and there are many), we could concentrate on the important stuff.

    So if we are going to define “responsible breeding,” let’s start to really emphasize breeding for function. Let’s reduce the emphasis on conformation-driven breeding. If you really believe that form follows function, then stop breeding under the assumption that function will follow form — it doesn’t work so well! It amazes me (I guess a lot amazes me) how many purebred enthusiasts proudly proclaim that form follows function and then sacrifice function to form *every single time.* Well, unless the dog’s sole function is to win at conformation shows. Ugh.

    I have three purebred dogs and I love them a whole lot. In recent years I’ve realized that in my breeds, I would tend to actively avoid buying a dog from any breeder who sought and earned conformation titles on their breeding stock. In my breeds, conformation titles mean the dog is not what I really want. I have very high standards for my dogs; I pick breeders very, very carefully now; I will travel across the country just to visit dogs before putting down a deposit (and did so for my last pup). I really care. The really great dogs, from my point of view, don’t come out of conformation lines — those dogs are functionally broken.

    (I should add that I can think of a couple of breeds where so far, conformation breeding has not destroyed the breed’s usefulness for its purpose. I can think of a Border Terrier breeder who shows her dogs and I would buy a dog from her in a heartbeat if I wanted a Border Terrier. Many other breeds are past this point.)

    So I’ll advance the proposition that making “shows the breeding stock and gets championship titles” should not be a factor in designating a responsible breeder.

    Donning flame suit.

  113. Nancy says

    I’ve been preaching (yes it feels that way sometimes) about responsible breeding, finding responsible breeders, choosing your pup carefully, getting the right dog for you and providing that ‘take a pup back for life resource’, plus day to day help if ever needed, for over 35 years now. It is a HUGE commitment particularly as along with that I’ve also been doing rescue all that time.
    Imagine my shock when I find the dog fancy and many fighting the bad legislation around the country began depicting responsible breeders as being somehow wrong and aligned with the animal rights industry (and it is an industry) because I feel the dogs are more important than just income producing livestock to me. :(
    I find the concept of responsible breeding is now being attacked from two sides. One the typical AR folks who think a random bred dog must be perfect for everyone because there are so many of them and the other the very people I believe should be promoting responsible breeding, the breeders in the breed fancy.
    I’m not sure which group is the worst anymore and I find both are shaking my believe that responsible breeding can survive the onslaught of negative publicity.
    When even AKC says to support puppy mill type volume breeding (and yes I know a mill when I see one even though its not politically correct to mention the fact) to ensure responsible breeders can continue their breeding programs there is something dreadfully wrong.
    It can get pretty tiring cleaning up after bad breeders, bad owners, and the miserable shelter systems that believe all dogs should be doormats and child playthings and seeing progress turn back on itself after such a promising start.
    Responsible breeders can only take so much – I think they are vanishing not just due to financial pressure and bad publicity but due to the lack of support from within as well as without.

  114. Stine Theede says

    I couldn’t agree more with your opinions about responsible breeding. I wish shelters and rescues would be instrumental in educating the public about this subject so they can become better puppy buyers. Only by taking away the market for poorly bred puppies can we combat puppy mills and harmful kinds of backyard breeding. Too many shelters and rescues do not see the connection, unfortunately.

  115. Sonja says

    Please understand, Margaret, that even participating in this discussion is difficult for me. I’m nonconfrontational by nature and I’m clearly in the minority here. I say this only because I reeeaaally don’t feel like opening myself up to heavy criticism right now. My conscience forced me to be a voice for rescue. That’s all.

    I know some people have very specific desires. The main difference I see between myself and the actively pro-breeder readership is priority. My newest addition meets most of my doggy preferences, but she’s a toy destroyer. Now my older dog can’t have nice things. I could have read up on dog breeds (which I have) and thus chosen a puppy who would be more likely to meet all of my preferences (to the extent that is possible), including low likelihood of destroying my older dog’s toys. I could have lived happily ever after with said dog of my well chosen breed. I simply considered my rescued Beagle’s life and happiness much more important than my preference for x, y, and z in a dog. I met her. I walked her and hung out with her in the play room. I asked if I could foster her for a couple of weeks. The shelter said I could, and by a few days in, I knew she would be with me for the rest of her life.

    I too seek predictability at times. I communicated with my mixed breed’s foster parents, for example. I asked lots of questions about what was known of her background (she was part of a litter abandoned in a box along a highway). When I finished raising my puppy, I began my search for a second dog. My Beagle was about a year old when I adopted her. I wasn’t looking for a young puppy. Adults are more predictable. Call me AR (I’d say “compassionate” myself), but I will always place a mostly well-suited dog’s potential for happiness ahead of my right to own someone 100% perfect for me.

    Maybe that isn’t enough for some, but I think most of us have it in us to love a rescued dog.

    I swear most of you wouldn’t hate me if we met at work. I’m sorry it has to be this way. :(

  116. Trisha says

    To all: I just want to again thank everyone for keeping the discussion thoughtful and considerate. I know that it brings up a lot of emotion in many of us, but that’s why it is even more important to be respectful of the opinions of others. And to Sonja, your voice is extremely welcome here, and unless I missed it I haven’t heard any one who didn’t agree that rescue is a wonderful, wonderful thing to do. My belief, which does has some data behind it, (but is still only my belief) is that keeping dogs from dying in shelters requires encouraging rescues as well as creating a strict definition of ‘responsible breeding.’ People are always going to want puppies (as did I when I bought one a few days ago, full disclosure….), and my hope is that we all can do a better job of keeping those puppies from ending up in rescues and shelters when they have lost their ‘cute’ factor.

  117. Margaret T. says

    Sonja, I KNOW I wouldn’t hate you. I’m pretty sure I’d like you. I have two rescues (but probaby purebreds) that came from a breed rescue. I work with a breed rescue–golden retrievers– assessing, transporting, doing home visits, and fostering. I am definitely pro-rescue. But I don’t think that requires you to be anti-breeder, too. Some people have specific needs, not just preferences, but needs. And I think those people should be able to turn to a good breeder. If we don’t have good breeders with good puppies available, we will lose something useful, something carefully sought out over generations. I agree, many pet people are fine with a rescue carefully chosen from a foster home with a disclosure of all known behaviors. The key here is “known.” If someone asked me if my current foster could be a hunting dog, I’d have the classical deer in headlights look on my face. He likes to carry things. But I know virtually nothing about gun dogs. If they asked how he is with small children, I’d have to say I don’t know. I have none here, and I have to keep him calm and quiet for now because he’s recovering from heartworms.
    I guess if I believed all dogs should be pets only, I’d be completely in agreement with you, but I think it’s OK to have dogs who do real jobs, not just jobs we make up to entertain them (and ourselves).

  118. says

    The following is an excerpt from a blog (thelocaldog.wordpress.com) for breeders on this exact subject that I am writing. I couldn’t agree more with Patricia’s article. I am developing an education and certification program that I hope will allow ethical breeders of any kind of dog to set themselves apart from the unscrupulous.
    – “I

  119. trisha says

    Allison: “Euthanize a breeder?” Oh my, what are people thinking? I couldn’t agree more with your articulate comments above, related to our stewardship of the domestic dog. Good luck with your blog, it’ll be great to have a site dedicated to a rational discussion.

  120. Mark says

    You would think that “responsible breeders” would endorse any form of legislation to regultate their industry. Those breeders would welcome anythign that would cull out the puppy mills that churn out closely inbred and infirm dogs that do nothing but damage thier industry reputation and lower the market price of their product. To the contrary, the most voacl opposition comes from organizations of breeders such as the AKC, American Association of Dog Breeders and their ilk.

  121. KellyK says

    You would think that “responsible breeders” would endorse any form of legislation to regultate their industry.

    Why would you think that? No one is going to support legislation that they think either A) doesn’t solve the problem it’s supposed to solve or B) creates more or worse problems (either in general or for them personally).

    It’s already been pointed out multiple times in these comments that responsible breeders are losing money hand over fist, while irresponsible ones make money. It’s much easier to absorb licensing or regulatory costs if you breed any two animals with papers, feed super-cheap food, and do no health testing than if you pore over pedigrees, take excellent care of your animals, and drive all over competing with your breeding stock.

    Someone who’s devoted to improving a breed isn’t going to support regulation that will push them out of that, because they’ll lose even more money than they already are, while it does nada to fix the actual problem.

  122. Steph says

    First, I grew up in rescue and I still work in rescue. I, along with most real rescuers, would love to not have to rescue. It’s not our job, although it is our life passion for many, and it might be nice to just have to work my paying job and not have to volunteer countless hours as well. But I do, because someone has to. For a while now I have specialized in Pit Bull rescue because it is so needed, especially where I live, and these dogs need someone to see them as dogs, like any other, just needing help. I would love to see a day when there was an end to irresponsible breeding for these dogs, because there is vastly little “responsible breeding” these days. Those that do responsibly breed actual purebred APBT and Staffies, should probably hold off for a while, do the responsible thing for the dogs they love, and let the rescues catch up …but sadly most doing the breeding are either irresponsible idiots, or backyard breeders for profit and no concern for the dogs. They are euthanized by the thousands simply because there is nowhere for them to go, and most have no real issues and would make wonderful family pets (regardless of what the media ignorantly implies).
    All that being said, I am all for real responsible breeding of pure-bred dogs. Though a quick add that I HATE this new trend of “designer dogs” and think it is the worst idea ever. Go to your local shelter and save a mutt, don’t breed them just because you can call them a stupid name and sell them for big bucks, and even call them “hypoallergenic” to people who don’t know better. Ok, back to responsible breeding. For example, I love German Shepherds and have been loved by 1-3 at a time for the last 15 years, save the last year when my last 2 died. One actually came from a breeder. I thought I was doing the right thing…maybe if he was bred well he might not die of a terrible genetic disease at a young age like some of the others. I met his family, both parents, an aunt, cousin, and even his grandmother at the ripe age of 14, still running around. At 6 years old he started dragging his right rear toes. That was the beginning of degenerative myelopathy, and the beginning of the end. He lived 2 more years and despite progressing paralysis and use of carts, he was the happiest dog ever. He lived his life as a Search and Rescue dog and Therapy Dog. Even in his cart we went hiking and did therapy visits as long as he wanted to and was able (with help). He never once gave up until that last day. I couldn’t have asked for a better dog. One of my others at the same time was a rescue, probably dumped as a puppy from a puppy mill. He was found in an area riddled with puppy mills. He was also born blind, but this never slowed him down. Like his “brother” he was a Search and Rescue dog and a Therapy Dog. He eventually had numerous diseases, all of which are listed under German Shepherd Dog in a veterinary reference to genetic diseases, most as “rare or unusual.” He needed many pills 3-4 times a day to keep him alive. Through it all he was the happiest, most loving, dependable, and reliable dog ever. I also could not have asked for a better dog. Both great dogs, both died young. One from a supposedly responsible breeder (and I think she was overall, even though she never once called or emailed to see how he was doing when I told her his diagnosis). And one a rescue from terrible breeding. Both fantastic in personality and temperament. In the end it didn’t matter that Bailey was bred well, and Trooper wasn’t. They died 2 weeks apart. Part of me died with them. They demonstrated well that “well bred” does not mean “will not have problems” and that being poorly bred is not equal to “will have behavior issues.” They smashed those concepts.
    So, what I would like to see is this…
    An actual consensus among responsible breeders to limit breeding to real quality that will enhance the breed, and have a few quality litters a year PER BREED…a joint effort to make these dogs better as a whole, rather than competition between breeders…and pay more attention to health and temperament. We need to get these breeds back on track. Breeders need to do OFA testing, and DNA testing (there is a DNA test for DM), and wait until dogs can be cleared – breeding only dogs older than 2 years when they are deemed mature enough for OFA certification and genetic diseases have had time to manifest. 5 pages of genetic diseases common to GSD’s is unacceptable. Breeding them so that their back is so slanted that they could not fulfill their original job is unacceptable. Accepting that Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will die young of heart disease is unacceptable. Breeding Bulldogs so brachycephalic they need surgery in order to breathe is unacceptable. And so on. We need to fix this. But people want more dogs than those few litters provide?…visit your local breed rescue. The average person doesn’t care about a “show quality” dog. They just want a nice family pet and good rescues evaluate their dogs well and can make the right match. Meanwhile breeders can work together and focus on restoring their breeds to true health.
    I also think we should do what Europe does and require not only confirmation titles, but working titles as well, in order to breed your dog.
    End Puppy Mills, backyard breeding, and Pet Stores.
    This would be a start….less breeding, but more quality and fix the problems. More pushing to rescue for those not interested in showing and being responsible.
    More resources everywhere to GOOD training. From breeders and rescues and everywhere in between. Help people find quality help…not just any yahoo that says they are a dog trainer because they currently have one dog (their only dog ever) and took a 2 week class and now know how to train all dogs with all problems of all kinds. The general public does not know better…we do, so it is up to all of us. My goal in rescue is always to try to keep the dog in their home first.
    We all love dogs…whether purebred or rescue they are still dogs, and we should find a way to work together and fix this.
    But I know none of this will happen. And that is sad.
    ok, sorry…off my soapbox now! ;o)

  123. Steph says

    after reading comments I would like to add…
    to the poster who does flyball (I’m so sorry I forget your name)…I don’t necessarily put that into the same category as the whole “doodle craze” b.s. While I don’t call them purebred because they aren’t, I also see it as a different thing. Flyball is a somewhat closed group with puppies going to others in the flyball community for the purpose of competing in flyball. Its not as if they are taking their puppies to Walmart and handing them out to any passerby. I did flyball with one of my rescued “pit mixes” (whom I call a dog, because he is first a dog and I have no idea what mix he really is). So, I understand. It might not be what I choose, but I understand. Though I did not breed for him and he fell in my lap…I do have a horse who is 1/2 Thoroughbred and 1/2 Cleveland Bay, who I hope will be an eventer when he grows up. This is common practice in the horse world, even among all the rescue needs horses have…I do understand purpose-driven breeding, even if I don’t personally do it.
    When it comes to working dogs…and personally my favorite is matching a rescue dog with “their” job that suits them best…I do understand people searching out the right dog for the job and sometimes that is a specific breeding. If that is their goal and objective….then they are not really taking away from anything. I just would not want it to expand so that people see a Borderstaffie (as adorable and awesome as they are) and want one without any intention of flyball or agility, and so they get added to the “doodle craze” by “breeders” looking for more profit….that would probably be a disaster for those dogs.
    My biggest issue comes when someone inexperienced acquires such a dog and then decides such a job/sport/activity is not for them…and now have an unemployed high energy purpose bred dog. Guess where that dog goes? I personally saw someone new to SAR do that. Brand new and without consulting anyone, he imported a GSD from Holland. Just showed up with her one day. This was a working dog of working dogs. Not long after, he decided SAR was not for him and disappeared. Exit uber intense high-energy dog stage right. Sad.
    All that aside. Specific job based breeding in a closed group (flyball)…has nothing to do with
    breeding labradoodles for profit, or cavachons, or shorkies, or schnoodles, or beabulls, or puggles, or chiweenies, or…you get my point ;o)

  124. says


    I can not express my gratitude for this article enough. About 2 years ago I started a FB group known as HTPCB (Health Tested Puppies from Conscientious Breeders). I started this with an idea of pulling responsible breeders together to educate and offer a resource to the pet buying population where they can go and learn about responsible breeders and all things dogs to assist in being a responsible owner. The idea grew into something so wonderful and became what is now http://www.htpuppiescb.com/ this website is full of responsible breeders that take time writing articles, talking to potential owners about breeds that will suit their lifestyles, advising trainers in the area to help and helping the pet public learn to KEEP their dog etc… When I opened your article today I cried with joy, the message is not only from us but so many more intelligent dog owners, breeders and lovers everywhere. If you were here I would HUG the air right out of you! You have always been one of my person heroes and now you just stepped into AWESOME! Thank you from all of us at HTPCB, thank you from all those wonderful owners that care enough to work and keep their pet…

    Jennifer Hartman
    Founder / Owner

  125. Dawn says

    First, let me apologize for not having the time to read through all the comments. I might repeat a sentiment already expressed.
    In many spay/neuter campaigns, they educate the public about the number of dogs killed, why you shouldn’t breed, etc., etc. However, not once have I seen any of those campaigns mention breed research before getting a dog. Or that the the buyer may not exactly know what they’re getting when they answer the $300 puppy ad in the newspaper. They’re quick to bash breeders but not to separate *why* the good is good and the bad is bad. We need a LOT more education for pet people – why it’s necessary to choose a dog that will work for their lifestyle; how to choose that breed/mix and why it’s important to train their new dog. We also need to change the general thought that pets are worth the money they cost. And, if we could hold people responsible some way for their irresponsibility in this throw-away society, that would help a very large chunk of the pet overpopulation problem.

  126. Pam Ross says

    I prefer buying from a ethical breeder than getting a dog from the pound. The dogs we did get from a shelter one had epilepsy and the other one was mentally unstable and attacked me and bit my leg when I was 7 years old. From personal experience, shelter dogs come from bad sources, they either came from a puppy mill, got a emotional hang up, aggressive, possesive or have a disease. I’m not paying $300 for a sick or unstable dog that may or may not try and attack a child or my cat. I’d rather pay $500-$1,000 for a dog that got health checks prior to breeding, careful breeding for temperament and longevity. I’m not saying all shelter dogs got issues and I’m not saying all dogs from breeders are perfect. I’m just talking from personal experience and that I’m sticking with ethical dog breeders. I truly salute owners who rescue dogs that are diseased, old and have mental problems as I can’t be that big of a person, seriously, I really think its great for people who can do that.

  127. Sharon Normandin says

    First, I wanted to say that Greta had two superb posts with which I heartily agree.

    My idea of a truly responsible breeder is one who breeds his/her dog because she or he has qualities that are considered excellent for whatever purpose, and wishes to have another dog with similar qualities to train for whatever and live with. And who also has a waiting list for puppies from this breeding. And of course sells with a contract that commits her/him to take the dog back for any reason.

  128. says

    Here here… and to add, on our posting board one of our lovely breeder-members created a ‘cost list’ to prove a point: responsible breeders by and large do not profit from litters. The sheer number of genetic tests and pre breeding tests to ensure health in many breeds is prohibitive. Aside from stud fees, registration, chipping/tattooing, vaccines/worming (if you do that), vet visits etc.

    A responsible breeder takes their dogs back, uses spay/neuter or co-ownership contracts or has other means to help curb irresponsible breeding of their offspring. Not only is it to protect *their kennel name*, but also as a way of doing their part to help keep their dogs out of shelters.

    As a person formerly of rescue, the breeders that i’ve spoken to whose dogs were released to rescue or shelter were horrified. Many times when they take back a dog, the dog is rehomed at minimal cost, if any at all.

    There are breeders out there who skirt the line between puppy mill and ‘responsible’. They can be spotted by the sheer volume of dogs they put out with no health clearances, FAKE OFA numbers (yes, seen that one) and sometimes even false representation of the dogs ability to be papered. The papers do not ensure a quality dog (ie: my dog is perfect, it has AKC papers!), but any kennel who would lie about their litters chance of health issues, registration status etc is one to be avoided like the plague.

  129. Ravensgate Border Collie Rescue says

    “A truly responsible breeder maintains responsibility for every pup he or she raises” Yes. A simple solution – if every person who sold or gave away a puppy, DEMANDED and GUARANTEED that if it didn’t work out for ANY reason, at ANY time, that the dog must be returned to them, it really would solve the problem. Plus they would interview and screen more carefully and turn down more homes that aren’t suitable for the breed in the first place. The half hearted “I will take any puppy back” is not enough, you have to make adopters/buyers understand that they had HAVE to return that dog to you per legal contract, and that you GUARANTEE that you will take it back. Every dog I adopt out has this in the adoption contract, and I have always said that any responsible breeder will have the same clause in their contract, and that the responsibility lies with the breeder. But I have to say that I am always slammed on the dog lists for saying this by breeders who feel that once the pup is off their property, that they have no responsibility for it or its offspring. This type of breeder will soon rethink their next litter when 80% of the last three litters have been returned. Not to mention keeping dogs out of the vicious circle of CraigsList rehoming after rehoming. Thank you for bringing this idea forward Dr. McConnell.

  130. says

    As a responsible owner, who loves her-well, her dog’s-responsible breeder, I completely agree with you!

    I have rescued strays from the streets, and I have only bought one dog (I’ve owned 7 so far). Why did I buy? Because I wanted the odds on my side, health-wise and character-wise.

    My older dog is fearful (although not at all aggressive, luckily) and I needed to make sure that 1) the older dog’s behaviour would not affect the new pup and 2) that the new pup would not terrorize the older dog. The only way to get such a dog is 1) an experienced, responsible breeder ad 2) luck!
    I don’t think I need to elaborate on the health point :-)

  131. Elizabeth Phares, DVM says

    Let us not forget responsible dog ownership. I often see people who purchase or adopt pups without fully considering their obligation to provide training, socialization, good food, exercise, medical care and a permanent home. The breeder is not at fault if they produce sound pups and do their best to screen new owners, but the new owners in turn fail to live up to their part of the bargain. Why do the breeders take all the heat when the owners refuse to take responsibility?

    As a breeder myself (of Border Collies), I find the very hardest part of selling pups is screening potential buyers and trying to figure out who is really serious about being a good dog owner.

  132. Denise says

    I’m going to offer a different perspective. I was a breeder, and by most standards, quite a good one. Now I’m done.
    To be a “good” breeder, I spent a tremendous amount of time, energy and love to produce the quality of dog I strive to produce. I routinely went overseas to find the best dogs, titled my own dogs to very high levels, and took great care to find good homes. I made money on some litters and not on others, but if you count in the hours of time I put into my litters, it would be a laughable amount of profit. As the dogs I produced got better and my reputation increased, the demands also increased. Instead of selling an 8 week old – with possible strengths and weaknesses, buyers seemed to think they were buying a sure bet.
    I cannot sell the future. I cannot tell you if your dog is the next great star. I do not have the time to spend on the phone working through all of your problems – hire a dog trainer for that; you didn’t pay nearly enough for hand holding if you presented yourself as a person capable of handling a working dog and then…not so much when the puppy arrived in your home.
    Let’s say I could see the future – everyone wants the star. Who wants the problem puppy? The one that shows up on occasion as a result of attempting to breed really good dogs -smart dogs that sometimes are neurotic, shy, hyper or scared? Those dogs show up in ALL breeding programs; not just the bad ones.
    So lets say that puppy I sold you didn’t turn out so well. Now you get to return it to me – it wasn’t the puppy you ordered. Good for you – you’re off the hook because a responsible breeder takes their puppies back, so your problem is solved. Time to go look for another puppy.
    I’m sorry but that makes no sense to me. You’re buying a dog, not a pair of shoes. Commit to it; good or bad.
    These days, buyers have an incredible deal. Custom order a dog with every possible advantage in life,and give it back if they’re not happy. Not what they ordered. Guilt free since they aren’t taking it to the shelter.
    Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Commitment? Where is the logic of expecting the breeder to take a dog back, often many years later, because the buyers circumstances changed? The buyer should be held responsible for what they started – hopefully with help and support from the breeder but how is the breeder responsible?
    This “your a bad breeder unless your superperson” is going to harm dogs.
    In the future, I have two choices. I can breed a litter when I need a dog for myself, with the plan that I”ll sell the other puppies to individuals who already have my dogs and who have proven THEIR record as a buyer. I just don’t want to take a chance on buyers anymore.
    My second option is to buy a well bred puppy from a person who knows their dogs, works hard to produce good dogs, and tells me the truth about they know. I don’t care if they take the puppies back. It’s my dog and I’m not sending it back regardless of what is wrong with it. If it’s fixable I will fix it. And if it is not, I will take responsibility for whatever needs to happen next.

  133. Stine Theede says

    Thanks for the article! I feel the same as you do about responsible breeders. There is also another aspect that I think a lot of people are missing and that is that a lot of dogs are given up because they didn’t live up to expectations. And how are people supposed find the kind of dog that will fit their personality and lifestyle when so many irresponsible breeders are creating dogs that do not resemble their breed in temperament and physique? Even the most diligent and conscientious buyer has no way of knowing that most of their careful research is useless in the face of poorly bred dogs. So they end up with a dog that doesn’t suit them after all and that they may not have the ability and resources to take care of.

  134. says

    This is an important topic. I feel that it needs much more discussion. For instance, “the fancy” (breeder-exhibitors/ dog-club members) may become rather insular, communicating only among themselves, selling dogs principally among only themselves. I don’t know how many years or even decades may transpire during which they may not ever hear a speaker at a seminar devoted to the topic of early socialization to prevent behavior problems developing in dogs. I don’t know if they truly understand ho9w to conduct a behavior evaluation, such as is done in a humane society shelter. I don’t know if they recognize some flaws in temperament in their own breed specifically. It’s easy to become kennel blind and it’s probably easy to become blind to a breed’s peculiar traits that may need overall improvement.

  135. Trisha says

    I love that this thread has picked up again, thank you all for your thoughtful comments. The comments about “responsible dog ownership” are right on target, surely everyone has responsibility to do their part. I did find though, that sometimes the best of owners couldn’t make it work. One couple brought back a dog after they had a child and the dog began to growl at her. The pup had specifically been adopted to a family WITHOUT children, and the pregnancy had been a surprise to the couple. We worked together for a while, but I could see that this was simply not a good match anymore. The couple was torn in two, the dog was miserable and the child was at risk. I took the dog back (age 7) and found her a wonderful home with a single woman. I was very glad the couple came back to me and let me find the right home for the dog; she was one of those dogs who came out of the shoot looking for something to boss around. Either she went as a cow dog or to an active, knowledgeable home without kids, but once a child entered the picture it was best all around to place her.

    One last additional comment: I so agree that the best of breeders simply can not guarantee that every pup they breed is going to be perfect. Anyone who has the slightest understanding of biology and genetics should understand that. It is my opinion that good, responsible breeders should be very clear that they are doing all they can to get the odds in the pup’s favor, but they aren’t manufacturing widgets. Many years ago, I had one litter that had serious health problems, even though I did everything I knew to do at the time to prevent that. It was a very difficult period for me, several of the puppies died, and I ended up spaying Lassie just in case the problem was genetic. The fact is that no one can guarantee perfection, but we can be honest about what we’ve done to get the probability statement on our side, and what we’ll do if the match between owner and dog isn’t a good one. I still believe that if we choose to create a life, we are ultimately responsible for it. That said, I am loving this conversation, thanks for contributing…

  136. Jen O says

    I’m not sure where you got your data but Behavior Problems are NOT the main reason pets are surrendered to shelters. It is usually reasons specific to the person such as moving, lost job, etc, and nothing to do with the pet. You have not convinced me that responsible breeders are necessary – you know what is necessary? Responsible owners. And there aren’t enough of them.

  137. Jen O says

    And furthermore, this article, by insinuating that shelter dogs have behavior issues, does nothing but encourage people to buy their dogs from breeders and feed into the idea that there is something “wrong” with shelter dogs. I am extremely disappointed by your choice to write this as I had been a huge fan in the past. You have done a great disservice to those of us trying to save lives.

  138. Trisha says

    Jen O: Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I absolutely did not intend my words to mean that shelter dogs have a high percentage of behavior problems, and your comments caused me to go back and read what I had written. I do see how I might have conveyed that impression (Eeeeps!) and so I revised what I had written to more accurately convey my thoughts. I am grateful to you for alerting me to this so that I could rectify it. I do still believe that what is best for dog is a three part effort: more dogs spayed and neutered, more adoptions from shelters and rescues, and more responsible breeding for the puppies that are bred and sold. Thanks again for taking the time to write.

  139. Randi says

    I just ran across this on facebook. Instead of attacking breeders, why not discuss responsible dog ownership? I’ve done rescue for over 10 years and not a one of the rescues we took in was because of irresponsible breeding. It was because of irresponsible dog owners, not taking the time to train, not looking at their lives realistically and getting a dog in spite of the fact they did not have time for a dog, or had a baby added to their family or any number of other excuses irresponsible owners gave for turning their dog over to a shelter or rescue.

    That’s where the effort should be concentrated – why are the dogs showing up in shelters? It’s not because some bred a litter and those pups went to the shelter or to rescue. It’s because the owner of the puppy/dog chose to place that dog in a shelter or in rescue.

  140. says

    Hey Patricia,

    A bit late to the party, but great article, and awesome site!

    Was hoping you’d be willing to provide some insight into a project I am pursuing called searchbreeders.com – a search, rating and review site for the pet breeding community.

    As you’ve noted not all breeders are created equal – we want to better equip prospective dog owners with an easier way to find and vet nearby breeders (via a rating and review site where the good and bad can be directly compared).

    It’s no easy task – building reviews will take time, and we’ll need all the help we can get.

    Look forward to your opinion and feedback, and best of luck to you in your endeavors.


  141. Andy says

    Trisha I hope you don’t mind my commenting so late in the game. I read this post several years ago and it made a big impression on me. I’ve been thinking a lot about where we get our dogs and wanted to express a few thoughts.

    Mainly, I’m wondering if we’re approaching the point where breeding can and should be a nonprofit endeavor. Not non-profit as in “not profitable” – as good breeders on these threads note, breeding for good health and behavior is already nonprofit in that sense. Rather, I’m wondering if non-profits devoted solely to producing healthy family dogs would be a desirable option at some point. As long as breed integrity is one the prime (if not primary) goal of quality breeders, health and behavior will always take a backseat. What if nonprofits bred dogs purely with the goal of reducing the likelihood of dysplasia, early cancers, fear aggression, etc.? The dogs could still be cute as the dickens, less likely to be returned due to breed restrictions, and less prone to health problems due to early alteration. Breed integrity could still be left to the breed fanciers, but people who just want a healthy, happy puppy would have more genetically diverse litters to choose from. More high quality competition for bad breeders.

    I’m still a big rescue proponent. I love living in a city with a high live outcome, where you can pick up a stray and take it to the shelter without worrying that it will immediately be PTS (an under-appreciate public safety benefit of high live outcomes, IMHO). I also love safe, high-quality transports that match “easy” dogs with adopters far away. But somebody’s going to be breeding dogs, and I’d love it if there were more “good guys” doing it.

    (And thanks to all the good breeders out there who keep their animals healthy, happy, and out of the shelters!)

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