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.
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.