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How Responsible Breeders Differ from Backyard Breeders and Pet Shops

By Robin Tierney

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* Responsible Breeder Practices
* Pet Shop Problems
* Links to More Information

With the tragic number of shelter animals losing their lives for lack of homes, we hope that people seeking a pet will adopt from a shelter or rescue organization. And for those seeking a purebred dog, keep in mind that nearly 30 percent of canines up for adoption at shelters are purebreds.

The worst places to get a pup are pet shops and kennels that get their pups from off-premises sources, since these animals actually come from commercial breeding operations, nicknamed puppy mills. Also avoid patronizing backyard and basement breeders. Why? Learn the facts....

Canine behavior specialists and writers, trainers, humane organizations, breed rescue groups, and breed and canine experts agree that people should NEVER buy a puppy from a pet shop, or from a kennel that has puppies trucked or shipped in. The puppies come from large scale commercial breeders, also known as puppy mills, where the animals are typically housed in less-than-humane conditions and the mother dogs live miserable lives in small cages.

Buying from a pet shop perpetuates this inhumane, exploitative treatment as well as the tragedy of pet overpopulation, since as long as there is any demand, puppy mills will keep breeding and overbreeding for profit.

Also caution prospective dog owners not to get a puppy or kitten from irresponsible individuals, often called backyard breeders, who typically breed just for profit and do not practice adequate standards of care.

What distinguishes a responsible breeder from the rest? The following information comes from the Dalmatian Club of America, the AKC (American Kennel Club), breed experts and purebreed rescue volunteers.

Responsible breeders...

* Do not sell their pups to or through pet stores. Instead, they personally screen and select homes for their puppies, advise people on caring for the breed, turn away people whose lifestyle, commitment or home situation does not fit the breed, test for and guarantee the health and temperament of their puppies, have detailed documentation of their pups' lineage, demonstrate knowledge about canine health, genetics, socialization and development, and take back their animals at any time and age if the buyers cannot keep them.

* Do not sell multiple breeds of dogs, since they specialize in one or two breeds.

* Demonstrate extensive knowledge of the breed's history, traits, temperament, and conformation. They have years of experience with the breed.

* Are involved in the showing of purebred dogs. This can take the form of respected dog shows, locally and nationally, and competitions involving obedience trials, sport and athletics. Show and performance events enable responsible breeders to ensure that their dogs display the desired physical and behavioral traits desired for the particular breed. Every litter of show puppies has some dogs that will never compete in the show ring, often because they have physical traits that do not totally conform to exacting breed standards. However, these pups have been raised with as much planning, medical attention and socialization as their show-quality littermates and make wonderful pets. While ranked dogs are a plus, rank itself is not a sole indicator of quality. It is desirable for the parent dogs to have earned titles on both ends of the dogs' names (Ch. and CGC/TT/TDI at the other end). Note: AKC registry alone does not guarantee a healthy dog or even one that conforms to breed standards. AKC staff do not visit breeders to view the pups; registration is typically done through mail and involves the honor system.

* Keep their dogs as house pets, so they know that the offspring will be good pets as well.

* Value their reputation for seeking to improve the breed. They do not sell pups as a for-profit business. Indeed, many reputable breeders lose money, since breeding and caring for puppies in a responsible, quality-focused manner is typically expensive. They breed only dogs that are themselves good pets and fine representatives of their breed.

* Evaluate the health of their pups using sound, standardized genetic and other testing recommended for the individual breed. Tests include OFA (hip x-ray certification), CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation), Penn-Hip (hip joint laxity), SAS (subaortic stenosis, a heart defect common to some popular breeds), thyroid and other measures. They also test dogs for sexually transmitted diseases, like Brucellosis, prior to breeding a litter. Thorough genetic screening enables responsible breeders to minimize their chances of producing a health-compromised puppy.

* Provide full, lifetime written guarantees covering genetic disease and temperament problems.

* Take back the dog at any point in his or her life for whatever reason the purchaser no longer wants or can care for the animal.

* Place all pet quality animals with a contract requiring the purchaser to spay/neuter the pup.

* Provide advice and guidance to purchasers. Interview and usually visit the homes of prospective puppy purchasers, placing pups only with people who demonstrate they can provide safe, responsible homes.

* Has at least the mother dog on premises and let prospective purchasers observe the dog and her health and behavior. Responsible breeders breed their female dog to the best male, not the most convenient one.

* Breed only dogs over 2 years old, and breeds the dog only a limited number of times; not every year

* Line up qualified buyers in advance of birth of a litter and rarely ever advertise.

* Do not separate a pup from the mother and litter before 8 weeks of age. Also deworm and vaccinate their puppies.

* Can provide references for happy puppy buyers.

Pet Shop Problems

Regardless of staff claims that they buy from from reputable breeders, nearly every puppy in pet shops comes from a large-scale commercial breeding operation, also known as a puppy mill.

The Code of Ethics of AKC affiliated Breed Clubs discourages members from selling puppies to pet shops. Any breeder who sells to pet stores is not an ethical breeder, since good breeders want to personally interview and educate prospective owners of their carefully bred puppies. As documented by the Companion Animal Protection Society, breed rescues and humane organizations nationwide:

* Pet shops typically buy from brokers who get animals from puppy mills, which are commercial breeding establishments that mass produce dogs for resale. Many puppy mills and brokers are based in the Midwestern U.S. and Pennsylvania, but they are located across the country.

* Puppy mills and pet shops often do not properly socialize their puppies. Many pet shop puppies lack fresh air, exercise, play, and sufficient positive human contact, which help a puppy become well-adjusted.

* Unsound breeding practices can predispose dogs to hereditary afflictions like hip dysplasia, dislocating kneecaps, eye problems, and aggression, as well as genetic conditions such as liver and heart diseases, autoimmune disorders, and seizures.

* Pet shops usually do not provide full information on genetic disorders prevalent in certain breeds, or copies of documents such as Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) on the hips of both parents and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) on the eyes of both parents.

* Pet store pups and animals from backyard breeders typically are not tested for genetic disease and are not adequately protected from illnesses such as parvo, as documented in news reports and in Animal Court cases. Thus, countless families have endured the heartbreak of seeing their pet store pups eventually become crippled by hip dysplasia, lose their sight due to progressive retinal atrophy, lose their hearing due to congenital deafness, die of cardiomyopathy or suffer from many other breeding-linked disorders from allergies to patellar luxation.

* Pet shop puppies can be prone to parvovirus and distemper. For example, parvovirus symptoms are not immediately detectable, so a puppy with parvo may share a cage with a healthy puppy. Symptoms may not appear for several weeks, and by then the puppy might be in a new home.

* Pet shop puppies typically come into contact with numerous animals at puppy mills and brokers' holding facilities, during transportation, and at pet shops, often exposing them to illnesses and parasites. Transportation stress can make them more susceptible to disease.

* Puppies can also be exposed to disease, infections and parasites at the pet shop/kennel.

* AKC registration does not guarantee proper breeding conditions, health, quality or claims to lineage. AKC staff do not visit all breeders and facilities; instead, registration is done primarily through mailed forms.

* State licensing and USDA approval does not mean good conditions, merely minimum business requirements.

* A number of the trucks used by commercial breeders to transport their live "merchandise" have been caught transporting puppies in inhumane conditions, as revealed in local newspaper stories this year and in past year.

* Pet shops do not typically screen buyers. Impulse buyers may not have prepared sufficiently or have a suitable environment for a puppy. Pet shops do not take back and rehome dogs from customers who later realize they cannot or do not want to keep the dog for life.

In conclusion:

Encourage people to adopt from a local shelter, humane society or rescue organization. Remember, shelters have many purebred dogs. For those set on buying a registered purebred, visit a breed rescue group or ethical breeder -- never a pet shop, commercial kennel or backyard breeder.

Links to More Information

Evaluating Breeders

Pet Shops

Why AKC Registration is Not a Mark of Quality

Puppy Mills and Dogs from Puppy Mills

Choosing and Getting a Pet

Mixed Breed Dogs

Breed Clubs' Codes of Ethics

Thinking about Breeding

Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs A report for owners, breeders and prospective buyers of purebred dogs. Send $10 to AVAR, PO Box 208, Davis, CA 95617.


For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at  www.paw-rescue.org

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Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport