Where Did your Purebred Come From?

Purebred dog in the Shelter

Purebred dogs come from a variety of sources. At one end, there are breeders that are working to better a specific breed and eliminate or curtail genetic traits and health issues that the breed might have. Each breed has genetic health issues that are common to that breed such as hip dysplasia in larger breed dogs. Dogs that exhibit these genetic defects should not be bred. Responsible breeders will be able to show that, for many generations back, both mother and father and all predecessors have been screened and were free of the defect.

While I, personally, think that you should adopt, if you must purchase a dog from a breeder, I recommend that you find one who demonstrates that they:

  • make informed breeding decisions and can show paperwork of how and why they choose their breeding dogs and the lineage of each;
  • keep extensive health records dating back many generations;
  • screen their applicants closely, including home and background checks;
  • require spay/neuter on pet quality dogs;
  • provide contracts which stipulate that, should the dog have to be given up at any time, they will be returned to that breeder and not to a shelter.

Ironically, many of the intensive checks and paperwork trails that are required by legitimate breeders are the same things that you will find with legitimate rescues. Both are complained about by people trying to get a puppy in a hurry instead of in a responsible way.

At the other end of the spectrum, puppy mills are considered to be breeders too, and they do produce purebred dogs, albeit of questionable health and genetic make-up. They will go to great lengths through flashy web sites and official looking documents to “prove” that your purebred dog is the dog you have always dreamed of. While you may think you are buying your dog from an idyllic farm in the mid west, if they won’t let you visit their location and meet the parents, don’t trust them. Legitimate breeders will not only let you visit, but many won’t even sell their puppies to you if you don’t. Legitimate breeders will never ship you their puppy just because you paid them the right amount of money. Legitimate breeders do not sell their puppies in a pet store where they have no control over the type of person who will bring that dog home. Puppy mills often sell directly to pet stores but also market their dogs through newspaper ads and Craigslist in order to give the appearance of being just an average family selling a litter of puppies.

According to the ASPCA, “Approximately one million puppies are produced each year in U.S. puppy mills. Of the one million puppies bred in puppy mills, only about half go to pet stores. Many others are sold directly to consumers, mostly over the Internet, allowing mills to bypass USDA regulations.”

Pet store dogs are typically dogs that come from puppy mills and can be registered as purebred with the AKC and through the factory farms that produce them. They are typically overly inbred and not from the best health lines. They are generally sold un-spayed and un-neutered so then new owners may also end up breeding the poorly bred line.

Backyard breeders are another subset of breeders. These are families who may or may not know much about a breed but have a papered dog and have many reasons for wanting to breed him or her with another papered dog. Some are well-intentioned but ill-informed; they love their dog and want others to have dogs just like theirs. Unfortunately, there is never a guarantee that any dog they produce will be just like theirs and unfortunately, based on statistics, 1 in 4 out of their litter will likely end up in a shelter. Because they don’t know the genealogy and health history of their amazing pup, their dog may be the exception rather than the norm in the line that they are attempting to replicate. The rest of the puppies in the litter from which they got their precious pet may be rifled with health issues; issues that their dog is harboring in their genes to pass along to the puppies that you then decide to buy from them. And even then, only half the DNA in the puppy they produce will be from their current dog with the other half coming from whichever dog they choose to breed her with.

Many backyard breeders think that the $200 they can get per puppy will pay off for them. They breed multiple times a year (far too often even for a healthy female). They don’t count on the hours of cleaning up after 6-12 new puppies, nor the amount of time that it takes to advertise and sell these pups. Not to mention the $100 or more per vet visit that a healthy mother will incur during pregnancy, plus the cost of clipping dew claws, shots and check-ups that each of the puppies will need after birth. They don’t consider that one or more of the puppies might get sick or be born with a defect that needs to be medically addressed.

Many people assume that the extra money they spend to get a puppy with AKC papers actually ensures they are getting a better quality pup when, in fact, having AKC paperwork is no indication of the health or quality of that dog. “The American Kennel Club maintains that it is not a quality assurance organization and can therefore not guarantee the health or quality of animals that carry the Club’s registration.”
Future Challenges – Puppy Mills, Humane Organizations, and the American Kennel Club – From Pets to Companion Animals

People who register dogs with the AKC are actually on their honor to correctly identify the litter as associated with a specific set of AKC registered parents. So unethical breeders may apply for registration forms for puppies that have died or were never born, and then use these certificates on puppies of doubtful parentage. The sheer number of dogs being registered with the AKC makes accountability by the organization nearly impossible.

All that being said, I believe even more strongly that, for most people, a perfectly good pet quality animal can be adopted from a shelter or rescue, with or without paperwork. And the odds are 1 in 4, or greater, that dogs in your local shelter are purebred anyhow.

If you adopted your purebred, I’d love to hear about it below!

(originally posted by me in the Foundation Tails Newsletter – Autumn 2010)
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