Last week, a reader wrote to ask how to assess a dog breeder's reliability and respectability. How can one tell the difference between a serious, responsible hobby breeder and someone who simply has a litter of puppies?
Four aspects set a responsible breeder apart from others:
. They research and select the brood bitch and stud dog.. They spend time (above and beyond) to ensure that the puppies are raised properly from birth through placement in new homes.
. They carefully select individuals and families to adopt the puppies.
. They support the adoptive owner with information and education and ensure that, should something happen and the family cannot keep the dog, they take it back or make sure it is properly placed again.
In other words, the responsible hobby breeder focuses on the before, during and after - lifelong dedication to his or her dogs, their offspring and the breed overall.
It is easy to differentiate between a responsible breeder, one who is interested in breed improvement, and a "backyard breeder" or, worse still, a "puppy mill."
A backyard breeder, or BYB, is generally a pet owner who decides to have a litter of puppies for reasons that have little or nothing to do with breed improvement. The most common reasons are to make a little money ("after all, we pay for everything for our dog, so she may as well cover her expenses") and to provide for friends who say "they want a dog just like her." Both reasons are flawed and are the wrong motivation for bringing more puppies into the world.
In the first instance, the expenses of having a "quality" litter of puppies can easily exceed the money you might make selling the puppies. Even for a BYB who doesn't invest much or anything in health clearances or stud fees, their female might need a caesarian section or have other expensive health complications. Then there's the excessive time it takes to raise a litter (more on this in the future).
As for the second reason, it isn't a given that the pups will be "just like mom," and chances are your friends weren't really serious about wanting a puppy - or at least "not now." You'll likely be left with seven or eight puppies needing homes.
A BYB owns the dam (the mother of the puppies), so you might be able to see her. But a BYB generally has little knowledge about optimal puppy rearing and the critical importance of the first few weeks of a puppy's life.
Then there are puppy mills. Numerous exposes on TV have focused on the horrific conditions in these "farms," yet as long as there's a market for the offspring of puppy mill dogs, there is money to be made, and uncaring, unscrupulous people will continue to churn out litters of poorly bred dogs. They sell their puppies for very little money to jobbers, who disburse them through pet shops, "rescue" organizations, "foster" homes, and the like. The sole reason for breeding puppy mill puppies is for money. There is nothing altruistic or even humanely caring about the people who do this.
Many puppy mills are in the Midwest, but they also exist in other states, including in New England. The clue to puppy mills is that the "overseer" (I won't call them "breeders") generally has puppies of several (or even many) different breeds, and you won't be able to see where the puppies or parents are kept. Their primary focus is simply on selling dogs - they won't ask potential buyers any questions about what kind of home they'll provide. It's irrelevant to them because their sole purpose is to make money on the "crops" of puppies they bring into the world.
And finally, responsible hobby breeders. These people don't breed for profit - mainly because there is rarely any profit to be made in dogs when you consider the costs, both out of pocket as well as time, in rearing, training and placing the puppies. There is really only one right reason to breed a litter of puppies - that is, with dedication and the desire to make the next generation better than the last. Better means healthier, sounder, stronger, more resilient, longer lived and with outstanding temperaments that will make them terrific companions for many years.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.