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Distinguishing Between a Reputable Breeder and Backyard Breeder


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Finding a Responsible Breeder

The best way to locate a responsible breeder is to contact the breed organizations or kennel clubs in your area. In “Finding a Responsible Breeder,” Woolf recommends checking with veterinarians, groomers, obedience training schools, or pet supply outlets to find a breeder. You may even have luck locating one through ads in breed-specific publications.

Reputable breeders, sometimes dubbed “hobby breeders,” do not breed puppies for a profit. They do it for the betterment of the breed, for the love of dogs, and… well… for the fun of it. And they very rarely make a profit on a litter of puppies. In fact, Cris Waller writes in “Finding a Responsible Breeder – Myths and Facts,” that “responsible breeding is not a business.” She points out that for a litter of six golden retriever pups, a responsible breeder can spend as much as $3000 on medical testing, stud fee, shipping the bitch to the stud and back again, extra food and supplements, whelping box and birthing supplies, shots and wormings for the puppies, registration for the puppies, and so on. Plus the breeder bears the expense of taking time off work to ensure that the birth and delivery goes smoothly. Cesarean sections and medical emergencies obviously cost more. Few of these expenses are incurred by backyard breeders.

How much does a breeder expect to bring in from the sale of the pups? Responsible breeders tend to charge more than backyard breeders, who price low to sell the puppies quickly. Yet they charge less than pet stores that raise the cost in order to get a larger profit. Woolf states that responsible breeders usually charge around $200 for a small breed, $300-$500 for a medium breed, and about $500-$800 for a large breed puppy. Even with this low margin of profit, reputable breeders are still very demanding of their buyers. They take full responsibility for the puppies they produce and have strict criteria for potential buyers. If they are unable to match a puppy with an acceptable buyer, they will not sell it. They never sell a dog to a home that is not at least as good as the one that they were providing. Instead, they keep the puppy themselves, sell it later as an adult dog, or possibly even breed it in the future as an additional step towards breed improvement. In many cases, a reputable breeder produces a litter with the intent to keep one of the puppies as a pet and to continue their efforts on breed improvement.

Usually, each puppy comes with a health guarantee. If the puppy does develop a disorder that is covered in the guarantee, a responsible breeder will take steps to make things right, by providing a refund, a new puppy, or by helping the owner with the problem. Many breeders require a contract in which the buyer promises to spay or neuter the puppy to prevent future backyard breeding and the deterioration of the breed. Some breeders provide an AKC limited registration instead of a regular registration. This means that although the puppy is registered with the AKC, “no litters produced by that dog are eligible for registration,” according to the AKC web site. All puppies with show potential will be sold with a contract that does not allow breeding unless certain criteria are met. The dog must live up to the breed standard, both in physique and character, and must pass all required health checks and certifications for the breed. Buyers who intend to breed should expect this and aim towards being responsible breeders themselves.

If the new owner has problems at any time in the future – such as obedience or training issues – the breeder will help out or take the dog back. If for any reason the new owner is suddenly unable to care for the dog, the breeder will take the dog back. Linda Hazen Lewin writes in “How to Recognize a Reputable Dog Breeder” that “no responsible breeder wants their dogs to end life in the pound, on the streets, or shuffled from one unsuitable home to another.” They will accept the puppy, or full-grown dog, back regardless of the circumstances. Most breeders extend their work for the breed to rescuing abandoned dogs from the shelter. They use their own resources to have the dog checked by a vet, trained and socialized, and to find it a home. An individual who breeds responsibly loves the breed and wants the best for every member of that breed.

The ethical breeder does not produce a litter every time the bitch is in heat. He only breeds as many litters as he can keep groomed and socialized. He produces a litter only if he is able to provide long-term care for the puppies, in case he is unable to sell them for any reason. However, a reputable breeder usually has no problem selling his dogs and often has a long waiting list of screened buyers.

A responsible breeder’s interest in the breed extends beyond his own dogs, which is why some call them “hobby breeders.” This type of breeder learns everything they can about the breed. He joins local and national breed clubs and researches his breed’s physical characteristics, temperament, history, and other aspects in order to ensure that he is aiming for the correct qualities in his litters.

To prove the worth of his dogs to himself and to the world, a reputable breeder will show and compete his dogs. Depending on the type of dog he raises, a breeder can enter his animal in obedience trials, field trials, herding trials, earth dog trials, tracking events, agility events, and even sled dog racing. In addition, licensed dog shows judge competitors on how well they conform to the breed standards, selecting the “Best in Breed” and “The Best in Show.” Thanks to animal lovers everywhere, dog shows are becoming more popular and are now being televised.

Genetic Testing in Layman’s Terms

Out of concern for the future of the breed, hobby breeders pre-screen both dam and sire for genetic faults. While some backyard breeders state that they’ve had the parents checked by a vet, this is no guarantee that the dog is healthy. There is an obvious difference between having a veterinarian “look over” a dog and the proper genetic testing that ensures a healthy animal.

Waller explains some of the common health defects, identifying tests, and health organizations that you may come across in your search for a dog.

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is often referred to when discussing hip dysplasia. This crippling disease begins as simple arthritis but progresses continually, causing the dog great pain and leaving it immobile. OFA performs numerous genetic tests but is most known for certifying hip x-rays to determine whether or not a dog has hip dysplasia. Waller recommends choosing a dog from a pedigree with at least two generations of OFA clearances. This may reduce the chances that your dog develops the disease, but it does not guarantee it. A reputable breeder will be able to show documentation that both parents are clear of hip dysplasia. In addition, you can search OFA’s database at www.offa.org to view a dog’s records.

Penn-HIP (Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program) is a method of assessing the quality of a dog’s hip and measuring its hip joint laxity. This technique is helpful in predicting the possibility of degenerative joint disease, a characteristic of hip dysplasia.

CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) is another abbreviation that you may hear from responsible breeders. CERF is a registry that keeps a searchable database of all dogs that were certified free of heritable eye disease by members of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). The database can be accessed on their web site (http://www.vmdb.org/cerf.html). CERF certification is only good for one year, and a dog must be reexamined and recertified in order to keep its registration with CERF. Keep in mind that CERF does not conduct examinations but is merely a registry of certified dogs. Breeders should be able to provide proof of a current certification from CERF.

More Signs of a Reputable Breeder

Other indications of a reputable breeder are the amount and quality of dog supplies and equipment on site. This does not refer to a ten-pound bag of dog food and a blanket in the corner. Breeders who make a commitment to developing the breed will invest their money in whelping beds, puppy pens, crates, and grooming tables. They purchase only the best dog food or make their own.

Responsible breeders keep a clean and safe environment for the pups. They gladly show prospective buyers the kennels and discuss the breeding process thoroughly. They can explain why they chose the father as the stud and give details about what qualities they were seeking to reproduce or accentuate. They can also offer answers about line-breeding, out-crossing, and inbreeding.

A reputable breeder works very closely with his dogs, so he knows the personality and temperament of each one. He has recorded the puppy’s progress from birth and can identify each one’s traits. This helps him to match every puppy with a buyer for a perfect fit. He is also able to judge which animals have the best potential to be show dogs and which ones will make the best pets.

Puppies that are regarded as pets rather than show dogs are not inferior animals, although some breeders may sell them for less. They usually don’t meet the standard in some way, such as size, bone structure, coat type, color or another physical trait. Breed standards are very specific. In a Dalmatian, for instance, it is considered a fault if the eye rims have incomplete pigmentation. The tail should be in line with the back and not begin lower on the buttocks. The spots must also have a particular look. They must be black, or liver brown in liver-spotted dogs, and well-defined. The size varies from that of a dime to a half-dollar. They should be evenly distributed and not too crowded. You can see how a perfectly pleasant pup may be disqualified for the show ring because his spots are too big, his tail is too low, or his eye rims are the wrong color. Responsible breeders still raise these pups to be great pets and fine animals.

Some breeders charge slightly more for show-quality pups than for pet pups, but be wary of breeders who expect a substantial difference. While a breeder may be able to discern which puppies have show potential, no one can foresee what that eight-week-old puppy will be like at one or two years. If there is not a visible disqualification or fault in the animal, ask the breeder about the price difference. An ethical breeder will have no qualms about answering any questions and will even encourage them. In “What Is a Backyard Breeder?” Karen Peak warns us to be wary of breeders who charge different prices for male and female dogs or who charge extra for a pedigree or a registration.

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