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What Is A Good Breeder ?

I am proposing ideas about how responsible dog breeders do behave, how ones I've known have behaved. There is a need for some kind of consensus so that the responsible breeders can distinguish themselves from the large scale and small scale "puppy mills" and "backyarders".
Most breed clubs do have a Code of Ethics, often covering many of the points I cover here.
This article , first writen in late 2015, is simply my ideas on a starting point. I've made minor updates in early 2019.
Quite a bit of this also applies to how a good Rescue behaves.



By Pam Green , © 2015, 2019

The need to define standards for responsible dog breeding has always been important, but it becomes increasingly crucial as there appear increasingly heated diatribes that pose breeders vs shelters and rescuers as opponents. These polemics tend to treat all who breed dogs as if they were alike , similar to one another in responsibility to their dogs , their breed, and their puppy buyers. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.. Dog breeders range from the highly knowledgeable and superbly dedicated and deeply responsible breeders to the most abominable of factory farming dog producers. It is my position that the good breeders and the rescue people should be allies against the bad breeders and dog abusers.

So what are the criteria for being a good breeder ? I doubt there will ever be complete unanimity on this but I'd like to get the discussion going.

(Note : because the English language lacks a pronoun that means "she or he", I had to choose and chose to say "she", because the majority of serious dog breeders are women, with their husbands (or wives) "marrying into the pack". Men, please forgive me.)

Responsibilities primarily to dogs :

(Some of these also apply to Rescue.)

First and foremost, the good breeder loves her breed, her own dogs, and her dogs' progeny unto many generations. Her foremost goal is their welfare.

The good breeder knows and respects the history and purpose of her breed as well as the overall role of humans and dogs as symbiotic species.

The good breeder takes care of the physical and mental health of her dogs. Her bitches are well fed, exercised, and receive good health care all year round, not just when pregnant or lactating. All her dogs receive plentiful human companionship and interaction and a fair share of house-time. (Note : because not all dogs get along with one another, some breeders find they have to rotate dogs in and out between house and kennel runs.) She knows the temperament and personality of each of her dogs and provides comfort and enjoyment accordingly.

The good breeder has well defined goals for her breeding program. Her top priorities are sound temperament and sound health. Her additional goals may emphasize conformation or may emphasize performance qualities, but she never forgets that most of her puppies will be valued primarily as companions to humans. (Note : there are a few breeds valued more as working dogs than as companions.)

In pursuit of the goal of sound temperament, the good breeder breeds only from bitches of absolutely sound temperament and only to males of excellent temperament. After the pups are born, the good breeder provides ample socialization for all puppies, trying to expose them to many sorts of humans and to those environmental factors and events likely to be part of their adult lives. Puppies get plenty of exposure to common house-hold events, but also get some outdoor exposures (note : weather can be a factor for outdoors.) She helps the mother bitch start the house-breaking process and she continues that process. She notices and keeps records of how well individual puppies respond to socializing experiences and of their individual temperaments and behavior tendencies. (note : to do this, puppies must be identifiable as individuals, either through natural markings or by techniques such as the commonly used colored soft wool neck bands.)

In pursuit of the goal of sound health, the breeder uses the tools currently available to avoid matings that risk producing puppies with serious health problems. Tools available are a moving target, as the means of detecting potential genetic problems in parent dogs will continue to improve. Specific DNA tests to detect heterozygote "carriers" for recessive delecterious genes , thus enabling avoidance of carrier to carrier breedings, will become available for more and more conditions. For example, right now (late 2015) there is a DNA test for SubAortic Stenosis in Newfoundlands , but not yet in Bouviers ; for Bouviers the current best test in a living dog is cardiac ultrasound. Likewise bitch and puppies receive vigilant surveillance for illness and injury, receive good preventative veterinary care and any needed remedial care. (update : Dr Stern DVM at UC Davis Vet School is working on getting a DNA test for SAS in Bouviers.)

In pursuit of the goal of good conformation, the breeder must be knowledgeable and ruthlessly self-honest and must keep good records. She does not go primarily on show records, but makes careful judgements. In coated breeds, where grooming can create illusions, she knows she must judge "hands on" and not rely on sight alone. She must understand the relationship of conformation (anatomy) to athleticism, including movement, and must understand the impact of anatomy on health. If her breed standard calls for anatomical aberrations that are harmful to health and comfort (the obvious example being the brachycephalic breeds who suffer respiratory difficulties), she must fight for reform to a healthier standard. She understands that breedin structural health problems into her breed is a true "Crime Against Nature".

In pursuit of the goal of performance qualities, the breeder must be knowledgeable and experienced in training. Some performance tendencies can manifest early, but others cannot be judged until a later stage of life and after some training. Ideally the breeder can distinguish natural qualities of the dog from effects of training (superior or inferior) and handling at competitions, but this can be very difficult or perhaps impossible. She must be self-honest about her own dogs and must train and work them enough to be able to make a good evaluation.

The good breeder will always take back any dog she has produced, at any stage of the dog's life, if owners are unable or unwilling to keep the dog. (Note : this assumes the breeder remains in decent health and circumstances. Eventually that condition will cease.) These reclaimed dogs will then be "re-homed" by adoption out to someone else or they will complete their lives in comfort with the breeder. (Update note : some very responsible breeders of Bouvier have passed away since 2015 and some have deterioated in health.)

The good breeder honors her own dogs whether or not they are winners or successful progenitors, and she provides for their "retirement years". Dogs who are no longer in competition or in procreation will either live out their lives with the breeder as cherished friends or they will be altered and re-homed to very carefully chosen homes. (Often re-homing gives the dog a richer life with more individual attention.)

Responsibilities primarily to people (puppy buyers and potential ones) :

(note : most of this section also applies to Rescue people.)

The good breeder tries to educate everyone who contacts her about dogs. She educates them about dogs generally and her breed and line in particular. Sometimes this will mean advising a potential buyer that this breed or line is not right for them and guiding them towards better choices. Often it means educating someone who will wind up getting their dog elsewhere. (Note : but they may well come back to this breeder for a future dog or for training or grooming lessons or services.) If this breeder is not herself very good at educating people, she knows others who are good and who enjoy doing this crucial function and she makes referrals to such people.

The good breeder tries to make good matches between puppies and people. That's something of an art. It requires good interviewing skills and good judgement of people. It requires evaluation of puppies. Some breeders use formal Puppy Aptitude Testing as part of their process, though this is not as predictive as one would hope. Some include tests of their own, eg tests for scentwork, tests for some herding proclivities. Some rely on many hours of observation and records of same. At the very least, a good breeder will not (knowingly) permit a serious mis-match, even when that means telling a buyer "no, not that one". (Note : testing puppies individually for hearing and sight is a good idea, and in some breeds it can be essential. A pup with deficits in hearing or sight can still be a wonderful companion, but the person needs to know about this and train and manage accordingly.)

The good breeder remains available as mentor to all who acquire her dogs. She establishes a cordial relationship and lets her buyers know that she's available to them via phone or e-mail or (in some cases) visits. (note : some buyers won't want this kind of relationship with you, may clash in personality, in which case try to hook them up with another mentor.) Ideally the breeder is a good teacher of basic pet dog oriented training and thus includes or offers a beginning course with each puppy. (If the buyer lives further away, ideally the breeder can refer them to a good puppy class in their own area. In our internet age, one knows someone who knows someone who knows the answer.)

The good breeder tries to keep in touch with her buyers. (E-mail especially helps make this easy). She wants to know about any good or bad news. She needs to know if a health issue arises (and may ask for copies of vet records , may ask for a DNA swab, may recommend a specialty vet or vet school for diagnosis and treatment). She needs to know if an abnormal behavior arises (and may recommend a course of action). Of course she wants to hear all the triumphs and funny stories.

The good breeder's contract demands clearly that if a buyer is ever unable or unwilling to keep the dog, the dog must be returned to the breeder and/or breeder notified so she can arrange for a trusted person to receive the dog. (Note : some breeders offer a small financial incentive for this return.). The contract should also make clear the responsibilities of both parties if a genetic or congenital serious defect manifests. (There's a range of possible solutions, and it's wise to discuss these ahead of time.). The breeder's contract should include a requirement of spay/neuter for puppies not intended as possible breeding candidates, or may specify that certain things be achieved before the puppy may be bred from, for example attainment of certain health test clearances, attainment of certain performance titles , attainment of conformation title. The breeder's contract may include many other things, but everything should be stated very clearly and discussed so that there is true agreement.

(Note : co-ownership partnerships should be especially carefully worked out. This is almost as serious as getting married, and I hear can be just as productive of disagreements and worse.)

(Note : clear contracts protect both the human parties, but the important thing is to protect the dog..)

Of course the good breeder owes everyone she deals with the highest standards of honesty and ethics.

Relationship to rescue :

Good breeders must respect rescue people and vice versa. They can help one another greatly.

Many of the best breeders I know participate in their club's rescue program. That means they help rescue dogs of their breed that are not necessarily descended from their own dogs. (Note : when a dog shows up in a shelter, often there is absolutely no way of knowing whose dogs this one is descended from. But many breed gene pools are restricted enough that everyone is related to everyone at least distantly. ) Some will also rescue dogs of other breeds when they have resources to do so. Those who hold training classes may take in a dog from a disabled or dead student. (My own obedience mentor, a breeder of Belgian Sheepdogs, did a lot of rescue and took in dogs from dead students. She herself is now deceased and is missed.) Helping in rescue doesn't always mean being a foster home (indeed one cannot foster a shelter dog when one has young puppies whose vaccinations are not complete). There are many other jobs in rescue work besides fostering. Fostering is of course the most needed one, and if Able isn't willing to foster a dog bred by distant Baker, why should Baker foster a dog bred by distant Charlie, and so on.

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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created Nov, 2015 revised 1/16/2019
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