Ten Things People Believe About Dog Breeders
Ten Things People Believe About Dog Breeders (That Simply Are Not True) Mar 3, 2015 by Farm Dog When I created ILRDB in 2012, my intention was to provide a place for breeders, rescuers, and all manner of pet owners in between to discuss controversial issues that affect the dog community. Though we try to cover a variety of topics in our posts, the same issues tend to be brought up repeatedly on ILRDB by people who, it seems, don’t understand exactly what it is that dog breeders do. And so here we have the follow-up to our previous post about misconceptions that people have about service dogs. ILRDB is proud to present: Ten Things People Believe About Dog Breeders (That Simply Are Not True): 1) Breeders “only do it for the money” We’ll start right off with the one that we probably hear the most often. And we’re going to make an important point from the start that you will see repeated here throughout this article: not all dog breeders are the same. Are there breeders that breed for money? Yes. Are we talking about those breeders? No. The debate over whether it is ethical or reasonable to expect to make money as a dog breeder lies elsewhere. What we want to talk about is the breeders who are breeding because they love it. And, again as with all things, you will see a massive overlap between breeders who love what they do and breeders who make money doing what they do. The fact is, many breeders are not actually making any money, but rather lose a lot of money on breeding. These are usually the people who have one or two litters a year and spend the rest of their time at dog shows because that is what they enjoy doing. Between show fees, genetic tests, supplies, time spent and taken off work raising puppies, and the myriad other costs (food, vet care, toys, etc) that comes with dog breeding, you would be hard pressed to find anyone rolling in funds even if they do have several litters a year. Not to mention the amount of time and energy that goes into raising puppies, cleaning crates/kennels, bringing the adults to shows or competitions, screening prospective owners…So “only in it for the money”? This is not a career you sign up for if you hate it. Dog breeding is difficult. Which brings us to our next point: 2) Dog breeding is easy Nope. Not even a little bit. I’ve heard so many people say “you just sit around and let your dogs breed, why don’t you get a real job”, and it completely blows my mind that somebody thinks it is really that simple. There is a lot more to breeding than sitting around and watching dogs have sex. The very first step to being a dog breeder is learning how to read pedigrees and interpret the data. That means you have to learn genetics, especially if you are aiming to produce some very specific traits in your dogs. That alone is a skill that takes years to perfect. Case in point: I’ve been “into” dogs going on eight years now, I can explain basic genetics to just about anyone, and I still need my hand held when it comes to understanding pedigrees. In most other fields, eight years of hard boots-on-the-ground experience equates to some level of expertise. In dog breeding, you’re lucky if you can explain the basics. And it doesn’t stop there! Once you know pedigrees, you need to have the know-how to pair dogs to produce what you want. And then you need to make the acquaintances with other breeders to have access to the dogs you need. This means spending hours at shows and on the sidelines at canine sporting events where you will meet other breeders. It also means carrying your own weight and proving that you know enough to be trusted with a litter of puppies. 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle/AP So you’re done, right? You have friends in the community, you understand genetics…now you are ready to breed! Nope. You still have to do the necessary genetic tests on your breeding stock, and in many circles you have to prove that breeding stock before anyone is going to give you free reign to their stud. That means going to those shows and campaigning for your dogs. That means, if you are producing working dogs, training your dogs to the level required to prove that said dog is worthy of being bred. Even if a person only wishes to produce pets, they will still need to find the right sire to match their bitch to, and that could take months of networking. All of this and you haven’t even bred your dogs. But what if you have two intact dogs already and plan to just let them breed? Dog breeding is easy then, right? Again, nope. First you have to track your bitch’s cycle, then carefully tend to your dogs while they breed so they don’t hurt each other (you know, the ever popular “rape stand” you see floating around on the hate pages- while not actually nearly as popular as people like to think, some breeders are more comfortable using these stands because they prevent the bitch from running off and seriously injuring the male). After that you have to set up the whelping box, attend vet appointments for x-rays to make sure you have a good idea of how many puppies to expect (if you don’t do this, you could unknowingly end up with a puppy getting stuck, and that will kill the bitch if it is not tended to). Then there is the whelping process, which is basically a science in and of itself because of everything that can go wrong. I have personally sat through two births and BOTH times something went seriously wrong and the breeder’s expertise was needed. Unfortunately one of them resulted in the death of a puppy (born with underdeveloped lungs). Fortunately the other one, which was a puppy that got stuck in the birth canal, turned out okay. So- just sitting around and watching dogs breed? Now, that has to be it. The mother has the litter and then she does all the work while you sit around and count your money, right? NOPE! Now you have to raise the litter. First there is socialization in the form of Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) if you are going with that method, or other early stim methods that are more recently growing in popularity. You have to Dremel puppy nails to get puppies used to the sensation of having their nails clipped. And mom is going to clean up after the puppies for you as much as she can, but you still need to change whatever bedding you are using under the puppies at least twice a day. Plus there are the times mom needs a break, and rotating puppies if you have particularly large or small litters. You need to make sure all of mom’s teats are being evenly nursed so she doesn’t develop mastitis, and you have to make sure that the puppies are all getting their share of each meal. In the interest of making this post shorter, I’m going to move on to the next point. But don’t think it stops there. Breeding is a long and arduous endeavor. It is absolutely insulting to think the process of whelping puppies is anything but hard labor intensive work that deserves nothing but respect and praise from all manner of dog owners. 3) Bitches are “bred repeatedly” and abused until they waste away Photocredit: Goldnote Golden Retrievers This one is just silly and anyone with any manner of critical thinking skills can see how nonsensical it is. If the goal is to produce puppies, a sickly or abused bitch is not going to produce a damn thing. The rule is that healthy dogs produce healthy puppies. Anyone wanting to produce healthy puppies needs to start with healthy breeding stock. Even for a breeder that puts a greater emphasis on profit, there is absolutely no benefit in cutting corners when it comes to the dog’s health. While some irresponsible and ignorant people might do this, a breeder who knows what they are doing would never even consider it. 4) Breeders dump old studs and brood bitches at animal shelters when they can no longer breed Like abusing bitches, this one might happen with some particularly cruel people, but they are the exception, not the rule. The fate of old studs and brood bitches varies from breeder to breeder- some prefer to keep their retired dogs, others prefer to rehome them so the dog gets individual attention that they wouldn’t have at a breeder’s house. The lack of individual attention is not because the breeder doesn’t care about the dog- but because the breeder has several other dogs to attend to and might believe that the dog they are retiring will be better off in a home where the owners don’t have to split their time between so many dogs. There is nothing wrong with either decision. This is a highly personal choice and a good breeder should have the wherewithal to make that choice in the interest of the dog they are retiring. It is absolutely never easy to rehome a dog that you have lived with for such a long period of time. The fact that anyone is able to make this decision so objectively speaks volumes about the strength it takes to be a dog breeder. 5) Breeders kill or dump imperfect puppies Pound puppies, probably not from a breeder. Here’s another one that doesn’t make any sense. And, unfortunately, it is a myth based on practices that used to occur years ago for a very specific reason. Back in the beginning of dog breeding, “culling” was a practice that meant killing any puppy that did not meet certain standards of quality. A breeder might have made this decision because a puppy was born with a disability and technology had not allowed for caring for such an ill puppy. These days breeders have a lot more options in veterinary care for injured or sickly puppies, and humanely euthanizing ill or injured puppies happens a lot less often, though is still occurs when necessary. This is not cruelty- it is kindness. Like the puppy born with underdeveloped lungs in the birth that I witnessed, sometimes nature never intended for a puppy to make it past the first few breaths of air outside the womb. This is entirely unavoidable and, in situations like this, euthanasia is the often the best option. Puppies born with physical faults that disqualify them from showing or competing (wrong color or markings, structure not conducive to work, working instinct lacking) were killed because there was nowhere else to put those dogs. This might have happened in the days before networking and advertising to rehome puppies, but today it is extremely rare- to the point that “culling” now means “rehoming”. When a breeder decides to cull puppies from their litter today, they are making a decision on which puppies will be sold to new families. “Culling” simply means that a breeder will not be keeping that puppy. So what about the part that doesn’t make sense? Well, a lot of people who don’t understand dog breeding like to think that breeders dump entire litters of puppies in shelters. Because, for some reason, breeders only breed to make money, but then they dump the litter that will make them money at a shelter, which probably actually cost them money to do. No. This is not a thing. Litters of puppies in shelters come from owners whose dogs accidentally bred and the owner had no idea what to do with the puppies. Unless a breeder’s dogs were confiscated, you won’t find litters of puppies from a breeder in a shelter. 6) All dogs from breeders are inbred Inbreeding is an extremely controversial topic that I won’t get further into than I need to, partially because it would take too long and partially because, as I mentioned before, I only have a rudimentary understanding of genetics. Suffice to say that some breeders do indeed perform some level of inbreeding. But the ones who do are usually very experienced and know exactly what they are doing. Inbreeding is a tool used to produce a higher rate of predictability in certain physical and temperamental characteristics of puppies. There are multiple benefits to inbreeding, but there are also a lot of downsides. This is why a lot of breeders, if not most, stay away from inbreeding and won’t even consider it. They don’t want to deal with the potential damage that can result from a single error in calculation. So no, not all dogs from a breeder are inbred and you can pretty easily determine whether the litter you are purchasing a dog from is inbred by looking at the dog’s pedigree. If you see the same name multiple times in the dog’s lineage, it’s time to start asking the breeder questions about how inbred the litter will be. In general, this is not something most puppy buyers need to be concerned about, but it is definitely good to at least learn what to look for. Also, do not assume that just because a line is inbred that the line is unhealthy. As I mentioned before- a breeder who knows what they are doing will have a better understanding of the potential drawbacks to inbreeding and will inform their puppy buyers of these drawbacks. Breeders who practice inbreeding are few and far between. At most, you’ll probably come across line breeding, which is a completely different concept and does not pose the same risk as inbreeding. 7) Breeders hate mixed breeds We’re actually kind of jumping back to the inbreeding conversation a bit here, because this is another extremely controversial issue in the dog world. Do breeders hate mixed breeds? Generally, no. The problem is that there is some amount of bias towards mixed breeds because breeders of purebreds might view mixed breeds as the result of irresponsible breeding practices. The assumption is that anyone producing mixed breeds is not keeping track of their lines and therefore has a greater chance of producing unhealthy offspring. On the other hand, breeders who are producing mixed breeds might have a bias against purebreds because they believe the rate of inbreeding and line breeding in a closed gene pool (when breeders stick to only breeding dogs registered with a specific kennel club, that breed’s gene pool is most likely closed) will create a genetic bottleneck. Genetic bottlenecks cause a loss of genetic variation in smaller populations. Loss of variation equals a greater incidence in recessive genes, which equals dogs that end up with heritable diseases more frequently. This issue is so extremely controversial that anytime we mention it on I Love Responsible Dog Breeders, we end up losing a few members. So please understand that, if you hear a breeder say they hate mixed breeds, they are probably talking about the methods with which they believe people use to arrive at producing mixes and not the actual dogs themselves. In the grand scheme of things, the controversy over mixed breeds versus purebreds is basically a misunderstanding between people who believe that dogs should be produced in one way versus another. Nobody actually hates your dogs, regardless of what combination of breeds they are made up of. 8) Rescue dogs and breeder dogs are interchangeable This is a point that is frequently ignored by activists who believe that “adoption is the only option”. There are a lot of pros and cons to going to a rescue, and just as many pros and cons to going to a breeder. The decision to choose one over the other is extremely personal and should not be made lightly. Rescue dogs, while wonderful, might not be the best decision for inexperienced dog owners because of the myriad number of behavior or health issues that might come with a dog whose background is entirely unknown. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of people successfully get a rescue dog as their first dog every year. My first dog as an adult was a rescue, and I came from a life of minimal experience with dogs. Those considering a rescue as their first dog would be best off going to a private rescue where somebody will be able to assist them one on one in finding a dog for them. This kind of situation offers prospective owners with the same benefit of experience and guidance that one might get from a breeder. But what about experienced dog owners looking for another dog? Well, it depends entirely on what you are looking for. If you want a pet and are comfortable with not knowing the history of the dog you are getting, a dog from a rescue or shelter is a fine choice. My personal experience with rescue dogs is all over the place- I have three, and two cost me an ungodly amount of money due to health issues from their former life. But one of those expensive dogs is my heart dog and I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world. I spent four times what I would have on a dog from a breeder when I got him, but I don’t care because I love him. So, once again, this choice is extremely personal. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a dog to do a particular type of work, especially if that work depends on a particular instinct, you are better off going to a breeder. This is for the owners of dogs actively involved in hunting, herding, search and rescue, service dogs, guardian dogs, etc. A breeder would be able to offer these people the benefit of knowing the working history, ability, and style of the litter’s parents, and provide information for the potential for health issues down the line. Breeders might also offer more support than a high capacity animal control facility might. Once again, this is a decision that depends entirely on the personal preferences of the individual getting the dog. Buy the dog that is right for you. 9) Breeders are responsible for overpopulation There is no overpopulation in the United States. Other countries may vary. Say what? But we euthanize thousands of dogs a day in the US! How could there be no overpopulation? The word “overpopulation” is used to indicate that the population of a species has exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment that it depends on. That is to say, speaking strictly in dog terms, there are too many dogs and not enough homes. This isn’t the case. With 23 million people adding a dog to their household every year, 6-8 million dogs ending up in a shelter, and only 1.5 million dogs being euthanized, the science overwhelmingly points to the fact that the problem is not overpopulation. 23 million people can house THREE TIMES the amount of dogs that are actually ending up in shelters. Think about that. Not only are there enough homes for shelter dogs, there are three times as many homes as we actually need to rehome ALL shelter dogs. So why are we still euthanizing them? The problem is not as black and white as people want it to be. The first point it is important to mention is that the dogs recorded in these shelter statistics are not always healthy. The numbers include dogs that were ill, injured, or aggressive upon arrival and are euthanized by their respective animal control facilities when their owners did not turn up to reclaim them. This means that some percentage of these numbers also probably accounts for stray dogs that simply had no home because they were born on the street. This isn’t because the environment wasn’t sustaining them, but because the dogs were caught in an effort to clean up the streets and avoid situations like countries that are truly overpopulated with dogs. Because of these numbers, shelters will never be obsolete. So aside from the aggressive, ill, and injured dogs, are we euthanizing healthy dogs? If we are, it isn’t because of breeders. It’s because a lot of the shelters with high euthanasia rates have regional overpopulation, where these particular shelters experience a higher population than the environment can sustain. These are often rural shelters where incidences of unaltered stray dogs are higher and therefore incidences of stray litters of puppies are higher. The rural shelters also suffer from a lack of funding, which directly translates to a lack of hours for animal control officers to spend networking and a lack of adoption hours for the general public to view and choose the dog that they want to bring home. And then there is the point that if overpopulation really was such an issue, rescues wouldn’t have the ability to be so picky about rehoming their dogs. While it is admirable to want the best for the dog you spent a lot of time and energy on rehabilitating, there is validity in the point that a truly overpopulated environment would not be so concerned about finding the perfect home. If the lives of dogs are really hanging in the balance and depending on those dogs already in a rescue to find a home, it stands to reason that these groups would be much more lenient on the homes they approve to get a dog. 10) Dogs don’t need breeders A depiction of domesticated dogs by ancient Egyptians. Last, and probably the most important, is the idea that dogs will breed without the assistance of breeders. Believe me when I say that even if that were true, you do not want that. Dogs are special because they developed to live around humans over a very long period of time. The history of the domestication of dogs is anyone’s guess, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the herding behavior we see in today’s modern stockdogs originated in the time when tribes used wolves and wild dogs to hunt. This practice turned into a mutually beneficial relationship where the dogs were able to track and corner the prey for the humans, and the humans were able to kill the prey and feed what they did not eat to the dogs. Selective breeding has come a long way since then, to develop all varieties of breeds and crossbreeds with particular talents. Sled dogs pull sleds, stockdogs herd livestock, hunting dogs hunt, and in turn their owners provide them with food, shelter, and medical care. We have continued an ancient symbiotic relationship and facing the prospect of giving that up now because a few misinformed people believe that dogs don’t need dog breeders is tragic. I will go so far as to say that dog breeders are the unsung heroes of the dog community. We know that rescuers are recognized for their hard, seemingly thankless work because they are often inundated with ill and injured dogs, and we give those people credit for making the sacrifices that they do. This post is about doing something a little differently- this time, the credit belongs to the breeders. The ones who spend countless sleepless nights watching a whelping bitch, who wake up at two to four hour intervals to feed and rotate puppies, who spend all of their free time researching pedigrees, screening puppy applications, learning socialization methods, and working to improve their breeding program. Dog breeders are the reason we have dogs, and we should never ever forget that ever again.