I think it’s interesting that the newest competition at the AKC/Eukanuba show in December was called the “Breeder’s Stakes”. I know they meant it one way, but really, there is a lot at stake, and I’m not talking about the cash prizes. It’s defining ‘good breeder’.
There is a circular conversation going on in the world of animal lovers about what constitutes a “responsible breeder.” Most people who breed their dogs call themselves a responsible breeder, even if they’re not. Even if they are utterly clueless about the fact that their seven month old chihuahua maybe shouldn’t be bred at this first heat, or that Craigslist isn’t the best place to find a stud, or that they aren’t going to make a fortune off breeding this dog once they factor in all the expenses, the possible C-section, all that fun stuff.
I see a lot of clueless people in my day to day life who want to breed their dog just because. I can do what I can to dissuade them, to convince them to contact their local breed clubs and educate themselves on the right way to do it, but at the end of the day they continue to do it because there are other people out there who are willing to buy these dogs because they are there, and available. “At least it’s not from a pet store,” they say, and I guess there is that.
Or people will go to a rescue or shelter in search of that breed they are interested in. And don’t get me wrong, I think that is a wonderful idea and something I do myself, but that is what you do because you want to rescue a pet and you’re OK with the possibility of unknown health or behavior issues that comes from a random background. I don’t think people should be guilted into rescuing a dog, unless that is something they want to do. But that’s only half the equation. People are continuing to get dogs on a whim, for the wrong reasons, and based on what is quick and easy as opposed to what is right.
Putting puppy mills and backyard breeders out of business won’t happen until we do a better job of convincing people that it’s worth the effort and research to find a good breeder and pick the right dog. They are out there, but it takes more effort than some of the other options. It’s work. Getting a dog should be work, because having a dog is work. That is not an unreasonable prerequisite.
We want people who value and love pets enough to be really thoughtful and careful about how and when they breed to be directing the evolution of the dog. We need more people like that, not less.
I’ve spent more time with breeders in the last year than I have in the last ten combined, and I have learned a lot. (I’m not above learning.) And while you may see a dog show on TV and think, wow, those are some fancy dogs and some big ribbons, and la-di-dah. But what you don’t see is the fortune they spent screening their dogs for hip dysplasia or retinal disease or cardiomyopathy, the list of four different vets they have on call for various issues, or the fact that any of them can give me a run for my money in terms of reproduction know-how (about dogs, I mean. I can’t speak to the rest.)
My point is, these people are nuts- in a good way- about their dogs and their breeds. They care, a whole awful lot. And when you look at the numbers- 25% of people who get a new pet do so from a shelter, meaning 75% get them elsewhere, there are two options:
- Increase the number who adopt from a shelter
- Of those who don’t, convince them that if they are set on having a purebred dog from a breeder, you really need to choose a good breeder. One who cares enough to say, “This breed may not be the best choice for your lifestyle,” or, “why not consider an older pet,” or, “let me know if you have problems and let’s work on it.” They do that too. The more informed and involved your decision is, the less likely you are to regret your decision and dump the dog at a shelter. Because that’s what it’s all about too.
I like good breeders. I now have a few that I count as friends, though they might pretend not to know me in public. I loathe puppy mills and I’m not super fond of backyard breeders, who together comprise the majority of purebred dogs I see in practice. And while I support the idea of adoption and rescue, I also think we are doing ourselves a disservice by ignoring the fact that good breeders are as much a part of the “make the world better for dogs” equation, because those dogs have to come from somewhere- and it ought to be from someone who cares and values the dog, because then you are more likely to as well.
In Orlando, I got to watch the Breeder’s Stakes Championship- the culmination of four regional championships over the course of the year. Competing breeders were judged on three dogs from at least two different litters, looking not at those who were blessed with a genetic fluke of perfection but an actual repeatable representation of really, really good dogs. In short, it rewarded breeders with a strong history of doing right by the breed.
I’m not a judge, but I’ve seen enough dogs to know a good-looking example of a breed. I know that’s subjective, but you know it when you see it. It’s not only in their appearance, but in their gait, their demeanor, everything.
I’m not just saying this, these were the most beautiful Bostons I have ever seen in my life. They won the Orlando regional stakes. Being the fangirl that I am, I sidled up to my Eukanuba wingman and asked him to introduce me to breeder Linda Martin, you know, just in case my husband sustained a traumatic brain injury in the next month and changed his mind about me getting one.
It was like a scene out of Top Gun- yo Goose, hook me up with that sweet Boston over there, will ya? I totally got her number, too. Score! I mean, really:
Perfection. And trust me, when no one was looking I sneaked a peek at their nares and their eyelids. They were perfect too. I care about that stuff.
I’m not 100% stuck on Bostons alone. I looked at the Goldens too. Also amazing.
And loved, no matter what.
I even checked out the poodles. Trios of impressiveness, the whole lot.
At the end of the day, the boxer breeder took the big prize.
They were awfully nice boxers.
We want these breeders out there. I’ve seen plenty of horridly bred dogs, from the German shepherd whose hip rads looked like a morel mushroom at 8 months old to the Golden with rage issues to the mix-breed who needed hip and knee surgery by two. That is not good. Let’s do it right.
Susi at DogKnobIt has a nice and slightly more technical rundown of the Breeder’s Stakes if you want more details, because it was a little confusing. Clif’s Notes: Bostons good, good breeders good, yaay.