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Breeding dogs is an area fraught with emotion and ferociously held opinions.  “Backyard Breeder” and “Puppy Farm” bring pictures to mind of neglectful greedy humans exploiting dogs – “for money”.

We don’t have nasty names for breeders who deliberately inbreed, follow extremes of fashion which destroy the health of their dogs and make up crazy histories (the “ancient breeds”)  for dog which have only been defined in the last 50 -100 years – but I look forward to the day when “Hobby Breeder” becomes a pejorative term too.

Working dog breeders breed dogs for a purpose – whether it’s rounding up sheep, guiding a blind person, detecting drugs or finding rabbits on remote Antarctic islands – these dogs are specialists and often would make really terrible family pets

All the rest of us are breeding “Companion Animals’-  We breed pets.

Regardless of their size, shape, colour or temperament – if dogs aren’t being bred to work they aren’t “working dogs”.

(Working characteristics are rapidly lost in dogs which are selected on appearance rather than working ability.  A great recent DNA study has shown that working Kelpies (bred for farm work and trial competitions) differ from “Bench Kelpies” (bred for conformation shows) in an area of the DNA which is associated with pain perception. Confirming what graziers have long known – that Working Kelpies are amazingly tough animals which can literally work themselves to death.)

Regardless of what we breed, whether we like to compete with our dogs, or our motives for breeding our dogs, we Pet Breeders can be quite simply divided into two kinds of breeders –  ethical responsible breeders and unethical irresponsible breeders.

Ethical Responsible Breeders

Ethical responsible breeders come in all shapes and sizes, some have lots of dogs, some only one or two, some are professional breeders with  fabulous kennels and manicured lawns, some have one or two dogs in the backyard of their ordinary houses in ordinary suburbs –  but they all have the following characteristics in common

  • Ethical breeders look after their breeding dogs well and make sure they are well socialised and friendly and have happy working lives
  • Ethical breeders have a good relationship with a vet and are well informed about dog breeding and health.
  • Ethical breeders don’t overbreed their girls and they desex them when they are retired as pets.
  • Ethical breeders make sure that their dogs are not inbred and that parents don’t share genetic diseases so that their puppies have the best chance of healthy lives
  • Ethical breeders don’t breed dogs with conformational problems which are likely to affect their health and longevity
  • Ethical breeders don’t deliberately breed dogs that can’t mate or give birth naturally
  • Responsible breeders accept that they have a lifetime obligation to ensure that their dogs are never homeless.
  • Responsible breeders encourage desexing and will sell their puppies desexed or with a redeemable desexing voucher.
  • Responsible breeders make sure that their owners are well informed and can provide a suitable home for the puppies they breed.
  • Responsible breeders do their best to breed healthy puppies and will have health guarantees and conditions in place to cover the times when something goes wrong

It goes without saying that Ethical Responsible Breeders love dogs – but you can’t measure love and many Unethical Irresponsible Breeders love dogs too. In fact the worst cases of neglect and horrific mistreatment are Animal Hoarders. These people are mentally ill and love their dogs obsessively – they simply cannot believe or see that their dogs are suffering – because they love them so much.

Unethical Irresponsible Breeders

Unethical Irresponsible Breeders also come in all shapes and sizes and from all socioeconomic levels.

Backyard Breeders:

These are Owners who don’t desex their pet dogs or Breeders who breed their pet deliberately – to make a bit of cash. They don’t give much thought to where their pups will end up and don’t usually register them or vaccinate them.  They sell or give their puppies away to neighbours or sell them on platforms like Gumtree for a few hundred dollars. In the worst case they dump their puppies at the tip or outside a pet store.  They rarely vaccinate or register their dogs.

These dogs fuel the pounds and shelters

Puppy Farms. Illegal dog breeders.

The RSPCA Definition is that a ‘puppy farm’ is a substandard breeding establishment. Often but not always in rural areas – puppy farms are crowded and unhygienic. Breeding dog’s mental and physical needs aren’t being met. Puppies are often poorly socialised. And dogs are bred until they are no longer fertile and then may be euthanased. These facilities are illegal and are closed down whenever they are uncovered.

Puppies are usually sold online or through pet stores and breeders adopt a low profile and never allow visitors or reveal where their kennels are located.

The puppies are often “little white fluffies” which, if not too damaged by their upbringing,  make great pets and if they do end up in pounds or shelters are usually rehomed quickly

Professional Breeders

I’m a professional breeder and I am proud of my business and regard myself as an ethical breeder – but I believe that my standards, like all responsible professional breeders are above and beyond the requirements of the NSW Code of Practice for Dog breeders.

The RSPCA has formed a task force which, over the next 5 years aims to inspect all the dog breeders in NSW and enforce the NSW COP aggressively.   Sadly the NSW COP isn’t that great – and breeders complying strictly with the COP will still be keeping their dogs in fairly confined and dreary conditions – and some of the standards of the COP will ensure that dogs in newly constructed kennels are institutionalised.   Simply being “Code Compliant” or a registered Domestic Animal Business may not be enough to ensure that a breeder is ethical and responsible. They should meet all the criteria and they should welcome visitors (No – “quarantine” is not a legitimate excuse for keeping you out)

Most professional breeders do breed dogs which are suitable as pets, many sell direct or to pet stores. These dogs are not represented in pounds and  shelters in significant numbers

Hobby Breeders

All Purebred dog breeders are at serious risk of being  irresponsible and unethical because of the way in which breeds are created and defined. This is not deliberate and often is motivated by love of their chosen breed,  or show ring glory rather than financial gain.

In Australia the Australian National Kennel Club is the registering body for “recognised” purebred dogs and each state has an affiliated State Association such as DogsNSW or DogsVIC. Once a breed is “recognised” their owners have a Patent delivered by the breed club (very similar to Plant Variety Rights) – they are “Registered Dogs”  and no one outside the club can breed these dogs unless they join the club and buy from someone in the club.  This “closed stud book” creates an artificial ‘endangered species’ forming – as  one breeder describes it – ” not a gene pool a gene puddle”.

If the breed was developed from a very few founding dogs (e.g. Siberian Huskys – the breed entirely based on one kennel with 7 original dogs brought from Siberia  in 1930 and no Husky’s from Siberia allowed to be included since) then it will soon be extremely inbred with no way forward

The over use of show ring winning sires exacerbates the problem of inbreeding. “Faults” can rapidly spread through a breed (Juvenile renal disease in Boxers is a classic case of a common problem tracing back to one popular sire)

Selection for winning conformation ignores temperament and sometimes even selects for undesirable temperament (A super confident dog may present well in the show ring but this may select for dominance behaviour and this may help to explain the rise of Sudden Onset Aggression across pure breeds (even Golden Retrievers!))

These are problems which create challenges for all Registered Purebred Dog Breeders. Many are rising to the challenges but many are in denial.

Breeders who refuse to accept modern genetics, deny that these problems are serious or don’t  take steps to avoid the risks associated with inbreeding, are not putting the welfare and health of their dogs first and are behaving  irresponsibly and unethically – even if they are doing so in ignorance or from a love of their breed.

More obvious problems arise, even to the casual observers of dog breeding, from the selection for extreme types.

Most educated people are now aware of the huge problems being seen in the veterinary profession from the rise in popularity of the “Brachycepahlics” – Pugs, Frenchies, British Bull Dogs,  Griffons…  – dogs we find adorable because they have flat baby faces and big round eyes – and who can resist that lovely smile and the cute snoring noise they make?  (If they were any other breed they would be rushed into intensive care because those are signs of extreme respiratory distress in a normal dog). Sadly these dogs are enormously popular at present but the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association have joined forces in the Love is Blind campaign to increase awareness of the suffering that can be caused to dogs by selection for extreme characteristics.

Pedigreed German Shepherds (my favourite pure breed) can hardly walk these days. Extreme interpretations of extreme breed standards mean that many dogs are bred to be so distorted that they live in permanent pain or discomfort as a result of the “sport” of competing in beauty competitions.

These problems in purebred dog breeding could be overcome by allowing the introduction of new genetic material – out crossing and crossbreeding  – but the very mention of opening the stud book, even a crack, is anathema to most hobby breeders. This video Pedigree Dogs Exposed covers the issue comprehensively if you want to find out more.