Where Have All the Pet Dogs Gone?

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Don’t let the bowtie fool you, this is a bird obsessed working dog. Photo courtesy of Sport Dog Photography

If you’ve been paying attention to the current affairs of dog ownership, then you are well aware that the “overpopulation” of dogs in this country is a fallacy sold to the public and one that is far from true. The fact of the matter is that there is a shortage of pet dogs out there. Sure, there are pockets in the US that have higher populations of unwanted dogs, but those are often shipped into areas where shelter numbers are low or nearly nonexistent. This has set the stage for humane relocation, not just within the US from state to state but also unregulated imports of dogs from other countries as well. However, that’s a whole different can of worms outside of what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about purpose bred PET dogs. Where have they all gone?

Dog breeders have unfortunately been given a tarnished image to the general public thanks to the animal rights movement’s manipulation of the overpopulation story and the begrudgingly genius coining of the term “puppy mills.” Dog breeders have been so vilified and pushed back by the animal rights movement that as a result, they are much more selective and protective about their breeding programs than ever before. We talk about unintended consequences all the time in regards to legislation; dog breeders, as a result of improving their breeding programs, breeding less and more selectively, and narrowly screening buyers, have created their own unintended consequence of a shortage of purebred pet dogs.

One major factor to the shortage of purebred pet dogs is less dogs being bred overall, as a result of more selectivity through breeding mainly dogs for functional purposes. Breeding dogs without any titles to their name has become taboo, and so to be considered a “good” respectable breeder only dogs with show or performance titles are used for breeding.  “Pet quality” has become a derogatory term and are the dogs that are deemed not good enough for the breeding program, sold on limited registration and spay or neuter agreements to pet homes. Breeders have done this with nothing less than good intentions of doing the right thing and bettering their breed. It’s become part of the standard to be considered a responsible breeder. What has unfortunately developed are the unintended consequences that gene pools are shrinking, frequently used sires are becoming pervasive, and there are less dogs available in general, particularly to the pet owning public. While it’s become very taboo to breed a dog without a show or performance title, breeding for temperaments just for pet homes has become virtually non-existent. I’m not saying that breeders are not breeding for temperament but often the temperament being bred for in a working dog is not suitable for a pet home. Not to mention that spay and neuter has become so overwhelmingly the norm that an intact dog in a pet home is almost unheard of. The family with the lovely, even-tempered, pet Golden Retriever who decides to have a litter with the neighbor’s pet Golden down the street doesn’t happen anymore due to spaying and neutering pet dogs, breeder screening and contracts, and limited registration. This is not a stance one way or another, just an observation of facts that is contributing to the shortage of purebred pet dogs.

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My lovely working line GSD Punk. Photo courtesy Sport Dog Photography

Breeders have also justifiably become very guarded about who may purchase dogs from these few selective breedings they have worked hard to achieve. When you put years into training and titlng and health testing dogs, not to mention the money that goes into all of this, to finally have a litter, you want to ensure that these dogs are going to the right homes. Depending on the breed, often these dogs are not suitable for pet homes. My breed for example: I hope to stud my young male Sue in the future, and may be part of the foundation for my own breeding program should I find the right female down the road. This dog could NOT live in a pet home. His drive and work ethic are far too much for an average pet owner. He is perfectly suited to the kind of things I ask of him: working a field searching for birds at an all-out run, doing an independent 20 minute swimming search for a downed duck, and driven to retrieve all day long. He HAS to work everyday, and by work I do not mean a leisurely walk around the block. His temperament, drive, and energy level are certainly not conducive to a pet home. When I breed him someday it will be very selective, and would be to dam owners who have the same vision as I and will sell pups to working homes, at the very least avid hunters. It would honestly be irresponsible otherwise. A dog like Sue in a pet home would very likely end up back with the breeder if the owners follow protocol (which all too often does not happen) or would end up dumped at a shelter due to behavior issues (the REAL reason for many dogs in shelters, not overbreeding as many believe).

The truth is, the average American pet dog owner doesn’t really care about show or performance titles; those letters, as much as they mean to us purebred dog people, are essentially meaningless to most pet owners. They want dogs that are easy to live with; easily trainable and easily managed. To me this translates to low drive, low energy, and high biddability. Many want little or easy grooming. Somehow all of this has given “doodles” the corner on the pet market because the public has been sold a story of easy dogs that don’t shed and are allegedly healthy because of being hybrid (all of this is untrue—being half poodle does not make them 100% non shedding and putting two breeds together with health problems does not cancel out their health problems and in fact compounds them). But these breeders have an edge on the market because these dogs are being bred and marketed SOLELY for pet purposes. Whether they are actually fulfilling that role is certainly debatable, but they are some of the few types of dogs being bred simply to be sold as pets.

What is the solution? Breeding for pets in many breeds and types of dogs outside of the companion breeds has become a shameful undertaking in the purebred dog world. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate and re-think purebred dog breeding.  Breeding for the pet market might be vital to keeping some of these breeds alive. If someone is breeding healthy pet dogs, just because they aren’t show champions or field trial winners does not make them wrong. People need pets! Just as importantly, we need to re-think our attitudes about commercial breeders because many are doing just that. The pet market still wants purebred dogs that we are not providing; the commercial breeders CAN and ARE. If we want a future with purebred dogs in it and as a part of the general public we might need these commercial breeders to help fulfill the pet market need.

We as purebred breeders have fallen just as victim to the fallacies sold by animal rights by vilifying commercial breeders and even referring to them by the emotionally coined term “puppy mills”, shutting them out of our elite world. It makes me cringe to see fellow breeders using that term. I think it’s time to get off that elite high horse. If we want to see a future with purebred dogs in it and defend ourselves against the bombardment of anti-breeding legislation, we need to support and EDUCATE each other. This is not to say I don’t have a problem with someone crossing basic pets and marketing them as something they are not, such as unproven GSP’s being marketed as hunting dog, because that makes me crazy. But if a breeder breeds and markets them as pets? I’m thinking we need more of this. I’d rather see two healthy well tempered Golden Retriever pet quality dogs being bred rather than someone making Goldendoodles from poorly bred Goldens and Poodles, or worse, bringing a rescue back from Mexico with who knows what diseases and parasites. So long as healthy dogs are being bred in safe, humane, clean conditions, and just as importantly, HONESTLY marketed, isn’t that preferable? To keep purebred dogs relevant and wanted and part of American culture, I think pet breeders are a necessary part of that future.

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My farm bred little Australian Cattle Dog Carly
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20 thoughts on “Where Have All the Pet Dogs Gone?

  1. I agree on most all of the article, just about all my pups go as basically family PETS, and have many happy PET owners and my dogs are in wonderful homes.

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  2. Yes, perfect article!! However, living in rural area with lower income areas near by, I definitely still see an overwhelming number of puppies dumped on regular basis. Shelter has free spay and neuter mobile operation, but the number of mixed breed dogs breed even more, doesn’t seem to go down there. Dogs and especially puppies are continuously shipped to the neighboring state that highly appreciate them there. But not here, NM state still high producer of mutts!

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    1. The idea here is to spay all “rescue ” and “shelter” bitches ( ones that are actually owned by the shelter ie after hold times etc) BEFORE they give birth.. this idea seems abhorrent to so many people ( especially those selling these as rescue puppies .. they make a ton of cash on that plus denigrate breeders) as if dogs had some sort tor “right to life” before they are born but not after as they are put down and we are blamed..imagine .. all pregant shleter dogs are spayed.. that would be a lot less of “unwanted” dogs

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      1. Not sure where shelter keeping in tacked animals and breeding them for the profit, but definitely not in NM. But I have heard of other states do raise up a price on their adoption fees if it is a pure breed dog.

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  3. Thank you for eloquently stating the obvious. In my breed forums, there are many potential, legitimate, caring pet owners who come asking, “Why can’t i find a pet dog at a reasonable price?” They, and those who can meet that need, are held in derision. It should not be so.

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    1. Interesting article…..as I was asked to help find a friend a Lab which used to be a favored dog…..could not find any….perhaps one or two in shelters that did not look like a Lab. This couple and two boys looked and finally found one on their own…..a beautiful lab. It seems that dogs one was used to seeing every day is slipping away. Since only 5 percent of purebreds are found in shelters it appears serious breeders….which means that 95 percent of non breeders producing puppies may be the fault NOT of breeders of purebred dogs. It is just time to realize that the animal rights agenda is tearing down not only dog breeding, but our use of any animals that is used by humans, brick by brick. species by species. It appears to be based on ancient philosophy through the philosophy today and is the only social movement ever- based on pure philosophy.

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    2. Try your local shelter. Search national breed club sites for “rescue”. Go to a dog show and learn about the different breed qualities. Make some contacts there and you will find someone who will sell you a purebred dog for a pet price, with a spay neuter contract. Often the price you pay for the spay/neuter will be reimbursed to you by the breeder.
      I see some fallacies in the article but respect the sincerity of the writer. News flash: most of the dogs you see at a show are also beloved pets.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Not every puppy bred by a show quality breeder goes to a show home. There are usually pet quality puppies in most litters and breeders are happy to place them in a good pet home. A good breeder recognizes which of his puppies have show potential and which do not. I also question what is ‘affordable’ and what is not. A well-bred puppy, pet or show, should be priced equally. Is a pet dog not as valuable as a show dog. To the owner, I doubt that there is a difference in value. I believe that breeders should be dedicated to the breed, knowledgeable and thoughtful as to the process, whether breeding show or pet quality dogs.
    I think it is good that buyers have to wait and shop hard for a puppy. It solidifies the commitment to that breed and to that puppy. The buyer likely has to do their homework and talk to breeders and get some education. The lack of abundance also helps shelters place the mixed-breed dogs that need homes too.

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    1. agree with some of your points but not with people having to wait and shop hard etc.. people just do not do that How long should they wait?/ what is the right period of time? I am not in the business of helping shelters place mixed breed dogs. I believe there should be a plentiful supply of pet dog pure bred..

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  5. This article has really enlightened me. Our family has been a strong supporter of adopting pets from shelters. Five years ago we adopted two sweet, seven year old basset hounds. They came to us extremly over weight and with horrible teeth, they had been neglected. So we put them on a healthy diet and started strengthening their bodies with regular exercise, and surrounded them with love. Recently one of our beloved bassets passed away when she was 12 years old. Now I want a purebred Basset hound puppy that comes to us healthy. We can avoid all the health and emotional issues that come with a shelter dog. We are having a hard time finding purebred basset hound puppies, let alone affordable. My husband, our three daughters and I just want a healthy basset hound puppy we can add to our loving home. We are on waiting lists, it is very frustrating, and your article was the pefect piece to embody my thoughts with breeding flaws.

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    1. if you have already checked look for breeders in your area on the AKC website.. also each breed has a national club look that up.. you may find a breeder a bit further away .. good luck ..bassets are wonderful.. I had one.. also if there are any dogs shows in your area that is a great place to meet breeders..

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  6. What I miss in this opinion piece is data. What specific objective data has been used to draw conclusions? How wide is the data sample? I have worked on and know of other horrific puppy mill/hoarding situations.

    Most responsible breeders breed for a purpose. Some dogs are bred for the companion animal category, some as working or protection dogs. The latter can be family dogs but may not do well in a neighborhood, an Anatolian, for example. The other animals in the neighborhood will not fare well. Prospective pet families need to do their homework.

    There are too many animals, including dogs, euthanized every year because of a variety of reasons, but there is nothing inherently wrong with intentional breeding for function. It has been going on since the first dogs left the wild and began to live with and near humans.

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  7. I disagree…there are so many poorly bred byb huskies from breeders who don’t educate buyers about the breed.All they are in it for us money..with no knowledge of the breed themselves. I would rather get a show reject from a show or sledding breeder because they do know the temperaments of their dogs. There is no shortage of dogs while shelters are overflowing.

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    1. except shelters are not overflowing The CDC say over 300,000 dogs are imported to the USA surely those are not all hobby breeders.. dogs come in to “rescues’ from all over the world and are snapped up for large sums.. they bring disease and no backgrounds for behavior or health.

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  8. I tried getting a German shepherd thru several rescues for two years. I live on a 34 acre under fence horse farm. It wasn’t happening. The rescues were impossible to deal with. I found a back yard breeder and I have a lovely well behaved 2 year old German Shepherd. I hate the term back yard breeder as if it’s something horrible. He does have a genetic problem but he could have come from an expensive breeder and still have that problem.

    I took in another shepherd from a friend. I still have him. He’s six and not as well behaved but learning. I don’t want an attack dog or a high energy dog. I wanted a pet with the shepherd look and bark. I have found that shepherds will protect when the real need is there, even a pet quality dog. It took me over three years to find a dog I could afford.

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  9. I agree. Educating the general public on the realities of dog breeding and ownership is crucial to dog breeding remaining legal. I believe that if HSUS spent as much money educating people on responsible ownership as they do on vilifying breeders, our shelter population would be considerably lower.
    Many breeds exist whose original purpose IS companionship, and unfortunately, for some reason those breeds have fallen out of fashion. There are breeds whose original purpose has disappeared, and if dog breeders remain rigid and don’t allow their dogs to change with the times their breeds will go extinct. Many are on the cusp of extinction already – the Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terrier are just two of them.

    But to be honest, I think a good portion of that is because many breeders are locked into being preservation breeders instead of conservation breeders. The Skye Terrier’s temperament does not make it a great pet for the average household because it needed to be feisty and tenacious fulfill its original purpose. But if breeders were to work on tempering their prey drive and increasing their tolerance for other dogs, they would likely grow in popularity as a pet. Would they loose some of their “terrierness” Yes. But they would still be in existence instead of forgotten in kennel club archives.

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  10. Very interesting points. I own two pure-bred, AKC registered Labs: one from a backyard breeder, the other from a very reputable, show quality breeder. The difference between the two in temperament and health has been night and day, and in favor of my “reputably bred” dog. I might have paid a few hundred for my BYB pup (whom I dearly love), but have invested thousands in veterinary care and training/behavior over the course of his life, most of it resulting from issues related to breeding and poor early socialization. His breeders were a very sweet couple who lived out in the country and loved Labs – i.e., to the author’s point, they were not the demonized monsters BYBs are often portrayed to be – but they did not do any health or genetic testing, did not research pedigree, did no early socialization/temperament testing, nor did they ask any questions about what kind of home he was going to or whether I planned to use him for breeding. I was too ignorant at the time to know to ask these questions, and this is one of the reasons why, when I got my new pup, I spent months researching and talking to breeders, trying to avoid my earlier mistake (and yes, I did pay a pretty penny and had to funnel away money for months – which I realize not everyone can or is willing to do).

    In my opinion – and from also having volunteered with Lab rescue for several years – I have not seen that backyard and commercial breeders “better the breed” insofar as producing healthy, genetically sound animals. You can argue that some people simply want an affordable pet dog and don’t care about testing, but quite often many of these people dump their dogs at shelters because they simply can’t afford the long-term veterinary care or behavior work required, or can’t/don’t want to put in the time. I see it regularly in our rescue. A proliferation of unhealthy dogs who may or may not be temperamentally sound does the breed no favors, in my opinion.

    I was lucky to have gotten my other Lab from a breeder who, first and foremost, breeds for temperament and still produces show quality dogs. My pup has a few physical features that will never earn her “best in show,” but she has no health or behavioral issues at this point, and is the perfect companion animal for me. The author’s points are well taken, but I don’t think we can sacrifice the genetic testing and pedigree research that a commercial or backyard breeder either doesn’t know how or doesn’t care to do.

    Perhaps reputable breeders need to have a movement for “temperament first,” and decide where that fits in alongside those show and working quality features. (I would also argue that commercial and backyard breeders are the ones who hurt the reputation of breeders as a whole…but that’s another argument for another day. 🙂

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  11. I acquired my Chow Chow puppy from a wonderful breeder who breeds for pet temperament. Few if any conformation or performance titles, but the loveliest personalities on both studs and dams. (I got to meet and greet them in packs of 8! ) I previously had 8 rescued chows at ages 3 months to 14yrs. Also two rescued husky mixes. I got involved in performance sports and wanted a puppy from day 1. They let me visit the litter, pick my pup and use enrichment training. My “pet” Chow has now titled in 6 performance sports and she has yet to turn two years! But if we are not working she dozes on the deck. Best balanced dog ever. Yet these healthy, loving, beautiful dogs are looked down on because the breeder does not campaign them on the show circuit. But families know better. There is always a wait list for puppies, but not excessive. All are placed. One older owner passed with no family and now lives back with the breeder in their home. The families have a Facebook page to talk to each other to share info, brags and advice. There is a reunion each year for families to get together and meet up with the folks who have litter mates. This is a true Pet community. There may be others out there for other breeds. I hope so!

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