I sat in a small room with a group of “dog-savvy” people. An equal mixture of pet-people, working-dog people, and show people. A person I’d known from different obedience trials started to talk excitedly about how she had recently put a deposit down on a new puppy. At the end of her sentence she was immediately inundated with good-intentioned but invasive questions. “Have you researched the breeder?”, “Are the parents health-tested?”, “Does the breeder raise them in their home?”.
While those that know me have heard my soap-box rants every once in a great while, I do really try to keep my thoughts to myself as much as possible. When I just can’t resist, I do try and choose my words wisely and keep it friendly, not accusatory. I let everyone get their typical, I’ve read this on the internet so I know what I’m talking about, nonsense out of the way, resisting the urge to roll my eyes as it goes on.
Their definition of what makes a good breeder and my definition of what makes a good breeder are very very different. In my naive and novice days, I thought all it took to be a good breeder was to breed titled and health-screened dogs that fit the breed standard to other titled and health-screened dogs. I can’t blame people in this country for thinking the same thing. Heck, there are even those that think as long as the breeder raises the puppies in the house and gets them vaccinations that they are some great breeder.
What makes a good breeder is so much more than that. In order to be a good breeder there needs to be a plan for each litter. There needs to be intention and an end-goal in mind. While the number of litters produced each year from a breeder does not necessarily make them good or bad, it is very concerning when I see someone who has 5, 6, 10, 20 litters a year, because there is no feasible way for someone to keep track of all those puppies.
If you are breeding for working dogs, you should be breeding to produce the top working dogs you can, not dogs that can maybe title someday. If you are breeding for show dogs, you should be breeding to produce the best show dogs possible, not dogs that might get enough points to champion someday and have unpredictable temperaments and health. If you are breeding to produce pets, stop, just please for the sake of all things dog, just stop doing what you’re doing. There will be plenty of mutts in the shelter and show dogs and working dogs that didn’t quite make the bar to supply the pet homes.
I see it everyday. It’s more common in the pet dog owners I work with than in the working dog owners, but it exists in both worlds. I’m not quite sure why its so prolific in this country, but puppy millers and back yard breeders so greatly outnumber good breeders it’s no wonder why people don’t know what a good breeder is…they’ve never seen one. We’re going to go off on a short little tangent here just to clarify some terms.
What you think of when you hear the term puppy mill is somewhere filthy, full of cages, and starved dogs. While that is definitely a puppy mill there are much less obvious ones as well. Many breeders have gotten wise in this day and age and now have very impressive websites and just enough information to fool the unsuspecting buyer. Their dogs are likely well cared for, receiving excellent food, grooming,
and veterinary care. Most people can’t tell these types of breeders apart from good breeders. This is because of a disconnect in our society that for some reason people have a hard time grasping. These breeders can often get away with charging even more that good breeders charge because of their slick marketing abilities and fancy website. Some of them have even gone as far as earning some low-level titles on their dogs to make them look more legitimate.
These breeders are almost as awful as those filthy puppy mills. They crank out litter after litter with no goals, no purpose, no care other than generating puppies in order to sell them for a profit. Of course they won’t tell you that, and it does take some knowledge in order to see through their slick marketing, but all the tell-tale signs are there. They will claim their puppies will be great at this or that, even though the parents of the litter have never done any of the things that claim the puppies can do. The really slick ones will even get really low-level titles on their dogs and charge even more for those puppies.
These people are not good breeders. They are awful puppy mills, even though they take care of their dogs. They are producing puppies for the sole purpose of selling those puppies. Their puppies will never better the breed. Their puppies will likely never be anything more than an adequate pet, if that. And they will sell you these puppies for thousands of dollars. Why? Because people will buy them. Puppy buyers will go around and tell people how they have this $2000 German Shepherd puppy from this great breeder who health-screens and says her puppies can do schutzhund, or therapy dog work, or “insert random marketing gimmick here”.
I have seen these slick breeders go to a show with 12 of their own dogs. They will be the only ones with that breed entered in the show. Having no competition other than their own dogs, they of course win Best of Breed. They then use this to brag about and justify their grossly over-priced puppies, because the sire has won a Best of Breed title. Think about that for a second.
I can continue, but I’m sure you all are probably a little tired of reading my ranting on bad breeders, so I’ll start into how you can find a good breeder.
#1 Their dogs are GREAT at what they do. They don’t squeak by with barely passable dogs. They are competing at the highest levels of their given event, whether it be IPO, French Ring, Agility, herding or even conformation. Their dogs are well known for being and producing some of the best. No, CGC’s, BH’s, and the occasional rally title DO NOT count.
#2 They always do health screening. Different breeds suffer from different health problems so I can’t really say exactly what they should be testing for, but they need to be doing testing. Also don’t be fooled by “Pre-lims”. These do NOT count.
#3 They have a limited number of litters. While this isn’t always true, for the most part, good breeders have one or maybe two litters a year. They want to see what these puppies become. They are not focused on just producing as much as they can.
#4 They are breeding to outside studs. Another one that isn’t always true, but most good breeders will breed to stud dogs that are not their own. The likelihood of the best match for someone’s female, is their own male, is slim to none. It’s an even better sign if they are breeding to studs from other countries. This at least shows some serious commitment on their part.
#5 They can tell you WHY they bred two particular dogs together, and what they say doesn’t sound like bull$%*!. Most breeders can come up with some amount of nonsense as to why they bred two dogs together, but good breeders have a specific goal in mind when they breed certain dogs together. They are not breeding to produce puppies, they are breeding to produce something very specific in the dogs those puppies will become.
#6 If in doubt, ask someone who really knows their stuff. Everyone and their mom in the dog world has their opinions, but ask those who are the best of the best at whatever it is you do with your dog. If they won’t talk to you, look at their dog’s pedigree and find the breeders that produced their dogs.
There is always more I could say, but I think this is enough for people to digest for a little while. If I can keep one thing top of mind for you, make sure whatever breeder you are thinking of buying a puppy from, actually does whatever it is you want to do with your dog. Breeders make big claims about their dogs, and most are extremely exaggerated.