Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people
How To Acquire A Puppy
For a couple of decades, now, Americans have been bombarded with propaganda regarding the breeding and sale of purebred dogs. In the era of Animal Rights extremists, it has become increasingly more difficult for people to determine where to acquire a new puppy. While any conscientious breeder, or pet owner for that matter, should be wholly dedicated to Animal Welfare, the Animal Rights radicals have made it impossible for the average citizen to decipher reality from the misinformation, half-truths and blatant lies that they disperse to promote their fanatical agenda which is designed to strip Americans from the right of pet ownership. Animal Rights groups reject the use of animals in any capacity, regardless of how humane the care and management, including pet ownership. Animal Welfare organizations advocate and define human responsibility for animals including general well-being, proper housing, nutrition, disease prevention, appropriate handling and, when necessary, humane euthanasia. Unfortunately, the average Joe on the street is not able to describe the difference between the two terms which are, in fact, a universe apart in philosophy. The Animal Rights extremists affect every human in the country since it is nearly impossible to separate ourselves from the animal with which we share the planet.Breeders are Not Bad PeopleAnimal Rights extremists have put forth a valiant and successful effort to taint the reputation of anyone who breeds dogs. What was once considered an admirable vocation is now considered criminal at times, and at others no less than scandalous, wicked or immoral. In the past two decades, the idea of automatic neutering of all dogs and cats at a very young age has become not only standard practice but expected of anyone who owns a pet animal. Data suggest that, in fact, early spay and neuter can be harmful to the health of dogs (including increased chance for orthopedic problems and higher rates of certain cancers). Because the Animal Rights extremists reject any sort of animal ownership, they have made no effort to create a distinction between puppy millers and respectable breeders. With the outrageous, unconstitutional legislation that the extremist organizations (such as Humane Society of the United States – HSUS) attempt to pass in every state of the union, the ethical breeders have had to side with backyard breeders and commercial puppy mills in order to maintain their basic civil rights. This has lead to significant confusion on the part of average citizens who do strive to do what is “right” and “good” when acquiring their pets. Unfortunately, the idea that the only place to seek a dog is from a Shelter has resulted in a cascade of problems. For example, the importance of a breed-versus-lifestyle assessment is often over looked. Knowledge of the innate quality of the dog as defined by the quality of its parents (including genetic screening, temperament, work ethic, intelligence and physical features) is missing. And, of course, acquiring an adult dog that has ended up homeless can result in additional required resources to understand and resolve potential behavioral issues or bad habits once the dog is with its new owner.The importance of a breed-versus-lifestyle assessmentAll breeds were not created equally. Each has a unique, general character and set of quirks that are distinctive to the breed. Educated and informed prospective dog owners understand this. They recognize the importance of matching a breed’s natural qualities with their own lifestyle and their specific expectations for the human-dog relationship. When the primary message delivered by the extremists groups is that everyone should acquire their next dog from a Shelter, people often end up mismatched with the wrong breed. The most important goal is no longer about proper matching of breed to lifestyle, but the adoption of a homeless animal. As a professional dog trainer and rehabilitator, I would speculate that nearly eighty percent of the problems I encounter with client dogs are due to the owner’s absolute lack of understanding of the breed with which they reside. All dogs are not created equallyIn the same way that breeds are distinct and unique, individual dogs within a breed are not all created equally. The extremist group that push folks to feel guilty if they choose to acquire a puppy from a reputable breeder fail to mention that they cannot provide any evidence of quality of the dogs they expect folks to purchase from a Shelter or Rescue. While a responsible breeder is happy to provide evidence of the quality of her dogs, a dog bought at a Shelter rarely comes with a pedigree and of course, no genetic data are available that can predict the dog’s future health. With the recent development of DNA tests for many heritable diseases, breeders can (for a fairly high price tag) provide evidence that the puppies that they produce will not be affected with some of the most common diseases. What once may have cost an owner both heartache and money to resolve (if they could be resolved, at all), is no longer a concern for breeder or puppy owner because reputable breeders spend the money to test their dogs and make intelligent, informed breeding decisions. For conditions which may never be fully definable through a DNA test (such as Hip Dysplasia), ethical breeders do their best to screen the parents and ascertain that they are free of the disease. Prospective puppy owners should received education from breeders about the potential incidence of the condition so that they can make an informed decision. Shelter employees rarely have the knowledge or desire to educate people on heritable diseases, instead often making erroneous or at least highly confusing comments such as "mixed breeds are healthier". Quality breeders consider it part of their job to educate new puppy owners.Diseases are not the only thing that a puppy inherits from its parents. Working ability, temperament, body structure, intelligence, desire to please, ability to perform the function for which the breed was initially designed are all attributes which are highly affected by genes. While environment and relationship play a big role in how a dog ultimately behaves, a dog’s potential to reach its highest capability at working with and for a human partner is rooted in its genetic code. If a perspective puppy owner researches the qualities of a specific breed in order to make an informed decision, it is prudent to recognize that not all breeders strive to create the “best” Border Collie that they can. Some simply breed Jed to Molly because those are the two dogs that they own (this is typically referred to as a "backyard" breeder). Molly’s puppies may not present the characteristic Border Collie qualities that the puppy owner read about when deciding on that breed. Certainly, a puppy Miller doesn’t put any energy into creating the “best” Border Collie that he can. So, if an individual wants to acquire a Border Collie based on a set of criteria she expects in the breed, she best consider the source or she may end up surprised. Purebred Does Not Mean High QualityBecause they are dedicated to maintaining a relationship with the folks who acquire their puppies and because they typically will take back a puppy, regardless of age or reason, responsible breeders are far less likely to discover one of their puppies in a Shelter or Rescue. Many reputable breeders mandate, via a contract, that the puppy must never be relinquished to a Shelter or Rescue but should be returned to the breeder if the owner can no longer care for the dog. Therefore, the quality of purebred dogs that end up in Shelters is probably less than the quality one can expect to acquire from a reputable breeder. So, while one can find purebred dogs in Shelters, one can speculate that the quality is far less than one can acquire from a quality breeder with regards to mind and body.Nonetheless, some folks may still be swayed by the Animal Rights extremists groups and feel a need to rescue a dog from the Shelter. The HSUS posts at their website that the percentage of purebred dogs in Shelters is only 25%. Therefore, folks seeking a purebred dog (or something close to it) in order to best match the dog’s natural temperament with their lifestyle are seriously disadvantaged. On any given day, there will be many more mixed breed dogs from which to choose than purebred dogs. It is important to understand (but unfortunately few people do) that a “Border Collie mixed breed” as defined by a Shelter worker may or may not have any Border Collie genetics in its “pedigree”, at all. It may just be a black and white spaniel mix. Regardless of whether the dog does possess some Border Collie genetics, the moment a pure bred dog is mixed with another breed, the predictability of the puppy’s natural character and behavior drops significantly. A “Border Collie Mix” is often nothing like a quality bred, purebred Border Collie in temperament, intelligence, work ethic or biddability. The Right To ChooseAmericans should have the choice to acquire dogs of the highest quality without feeling guilty for their choice. They should be able to make an informed decision about which breed will best suit their lifestyle and they should have access to high quality puppies of the breed they choose. One aspect of the Animal Rights movement is to strike down the significance of breed differences by suggesting that it is human arrogance which created the vast differences between breeds. That mentality demonstrates an absolute lack of knowledge regarding the history of domestic dog. But, ignorance is not an excuse. We have the right to choose a puppy from a litter whose parents have demonstrated an ability to perform the work for which it was originally bred, that are free of certain heritable defects, that are of proper structure and temperament, coat type and size for the breed and even from a specific “line” within that breed in order to have the best chance of acquiring a puppy of the quality we seek. There is nothing inherently wrong with that desire or those goals. It is something in which we find value and it does no harm to others. Reputable breeders have little or no impact on the numbers of homeless dogs in Shelters. To suggest otherwise is to do so without regard for the actual data.A Border Collie is not a Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier. A Redbone Coonhound is not a Papillion. A Norwegian Elkhound is not a Standard Poodle. An Akita is not a Whippet. To proclaim that definable breeds are somehow an act of human egotism is to display a level of ignorance hovering on absurdity. These are unique breeds, designed to be different with great purpose and intention. A person that gets on well with a Greyhound as a pet may not be well suited to provide the required management and training that a German Shepherd Dog requires. A Canine Handler on the Police force would find it challenging to partner up with a Maltese. It would be nearly impossible to herd cattle with a Chinese Crested. Americans have the right (and may I be so bold as to suggest the responsibility) to acquire the type of breed that best matches their expectations for dog ownership. By doing so they significantly increase the chance for a successful union between man and dog.So Getting A Pup From A Breeder Is Actually OK, But Who Is Reputable?Seek a breeder who demonstrates a strong dedication to the welfare of her dogs and puppies. There is no checklist. You must use some basic intelligence and common sense. But, typically, good breeders employ some type of screening process of prospective puppy buyers. This could be done via a telephone conversation or an application process. Do not be surprised to feel somewhat interrogated by a fastidious breeder. It is commonly a sign of commitment and care. It may seem off-putting, but in reality it is likely to be the sort of breeder from which you will get the best long-term service and highest quality puppy. Ask probing questions about the breed. A quality breeder truly understands the ins-and-outs of the breed; the pros and the cons. You may even feel as if the breeder is attempting to talk you out of getting the breed, perhaps because he feels it is a mismatch or perhaps in order to determine your dedication to and knowledge of the breed - thereby improving the chances for a successful placement.Don’t expect a “Pet Shop”- commercial mentality from a breeder. While the breeder should be willing to schedule a visit when the puppies are old enough for the encounter, do not assume that you can just drop in unannounced. Just because someone has a litter of puppies does not mean that she isn’t busy with other activities in her life. Scheduling an appointment isn’t an indication that the breeder is trying to hide anything. But, if the breeder seems to be concealing something, maybe she is. Again, basic intelligence should prevail, here. Personally, I don’t allow folks to come and see the litter if they have not submitted an application which I have approved. There is no reason for me to waste my time with someone with whom I would not place a puppy. If I don’t know your name, address and telephone number, I don’t feel a need to allow you into my home. Common sense goes both ways. You should do a bit of research about the breeder you are considering, and expect the same in return. Mostly, if someone is attempting to "hard sell" you the puppy, it may not be the best breeder from which to purchase your next best friend. A quality breeder has the resources to retain a puppy for as long is necessary to secure it a good home.A breeder should welcome you to her facility to pick up the puppy. A breeder who requires a meeting place other than her own location may be trying to conceal something. Ask to meet the parents of the litter. The sire may not be available if an outside dog was used. But, the mother should be available as well as other pups in the litter, if you are not the last to arrive. Never purchase a puppy from a retail “pet store” or “puppy shop”. While there are few “absolutes” in the world of breeding dogs, I do not know any reputable breeder who would use such a middleman to place her puppies. A conscientious breeder will want to meet and approve the folks who promise to care for the puppy for the rest of its life. If shipping is offered, expect the breeder to try to get to know you and your situation before simply scheduling a flight. If it feels like you are buying a loaf of bread, you may want to consider another breeder.View the documents which support any titles (like Championships or Performance titles) and health screens that were performed on the parents. The breeder should be proud to show them to you. Do your homework, first, to identify which heritable diseases are most common in the breed you are seeking. A Boxer, for example, is prone to cardiac problems for which there are diagnostic tests. Reputable breeders routinely screen their breeding animals for such conditions. Labrador Retrievers don’t have a high incidence of cardiac problems, so you probably won’t find many Lab breeders that screen cardiac function. However, PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) is common in the Retrievers, so expect to see evidence that the parents have been tested clear. Many breeds are prone to hip dysplasia, so ask to see evidence that the parents (and hopefully even more relatives) have been tested normal for hip conformation. But, recognize that hip dysplasia can occur in a puppy with normal parents and grandparents and even great grandparents. A breeder cannot “guarantee” against HD, but they may offer some sort of compensation if your dog were to present with the disease. Understanding the inheritance pattern of the most common diseases in the breed should be a shared responsibility between breeder and prospective new owner so that nothing comes as a surprise. If you would check out “Consumer’s Report” for Safety and Performance on a vehicle you might purchase, consider it your responsibility to learn about the breed you are considering, as well.Puppies should have access to play areas with enrichment items (toys or other obstacles) to experience. While some of the day they will probably be confined to a whelping pen for their safety and security, they should not be confined, exclusively, to a pen or cage. If the weather permits, most puppies over six weeks (depending upon the breed) should have some access to the outdoors for mental and physical development. Puppies that are exposed to a variety of surfaces, sounds, sights and textures will be better equipped to handle the move from the breeder to their new home. Seek a breeder who attempts to provide this sort of early stimulation for her litters. A reputable breeder considers it her responsibility to provide for the mental and physical development of the puppies until they are ready to go to their new homes, which should not be before eight weeks, or older for some breeds.There are certainly other attributes that some people suggest define “reputable”. Many of them are common sense, other are simply nonsense. I read somewhere that a breeder who accepts credit card payments is not reputable. I’m not certain how the payment method defines welfare and integrity of the breeding animals and the puppies. Today, sending a deposit check in the mail to a breeder in another state requires a sense of trust. Using a credit card service offers a bit more security to both parties. If a breeder chooses to provide that service, it says little about whether she is caring for her dogs and puppies at a superior level or an unacceptable one. Other sources suggest that breeders that advertise “on the internet” lack integrity. Many people have websites that showcase their dogs and advertise their litters. Again, that offers no information about the welfare the animal receive. Using an internet pet advertising service to let people know that a litter is available has nothing to do with whether the breeder has an appropriate method of screening prospective puppy buyers. Folks who never advertise on the internet may be very unscrupulous and people who use internet advertising services may have very high standards for puppy placement. My rejection rate for applications I receive is about 30%. How the folks initially learned of my litter does not correlate highly with my rejection rate. So, do your homework and ask lots of questions. It is important not to be absorbed by lists that define ethical breeders, but instead to use your own common sense and you own physical senses once you see the puppies and their parents. How NOT to acquire a puppyDo not fall prey to feeling the need to "rescue" a puppy from a bad situation, whether that is a pet shop or a breeder you visit whose puppies are not receiving adequate care. While it can seem the "right" thing to do in order to get the individual puppy out of an unacceptable situation, financially supporting a bad breeder or pet store (that peddles puppy mill raised dogs) supports the industry you want to combat. The number one reason that puppy mills stay in business is because people buy the dogs and therefore support the mills. The Animal Rights groups make headlines by going into puppy mills and confiscating the unhealthy breeder dogs and the terribly ill puppies. Then, folks in the community see the story and respond by attempting to adopt a "rescued" dog because it makes them feel good. For the past two decades that is what they have been hearing over and over again is the "right" thing to do. Breeders are bad, rescue is good. Mostly, people want to do "right". So, they buy (whether directly or indirectly) a puppy mill dog. The Shelters and Rescue group charge a fee (sometimes a very high fee) and place the puppies with folks who may or may not be the right individuals for the breeds or who may or may not have the resources to rehabilitate and keep well-balanced the rescued dogs. The puppy millers get fined then move to a new location and start up business again, sometimes using their brother-in-law's name and address to avoid being traced. They start all over again. So long as there is a demand for the puppies (either through pet stores / puppy mills or the rescue / shelters), puppy millers will do the work to supply the demand. It sounds very harsh and cruel to suggest leaving a puppy mill raised puppy to suffer the consequences of its fate rather than spending money to purchase it from a Shelter, but, truly, it is the best way to shut down the supply. The demand must be shut off. Seek QualityAcquiring a puppy from a reputable breeder can reduce or eliminate some common issues that people face when adopting a new, four-legged family member. Breed type, health, temperament, and long-term dedication to the placement are all more apt to meet your expectations when purchasing from a high quality, responsible, committed breeder. Like any purchase, research is critical. I often think that people spend more time contemplating which brand of refrigerator to purchase than which breed of dog to acquire. If done properly, the breed-versus-lifestyle assessment can truly enhance the years of enjoyment shared between people and their pet dogs. Once the right breed is identified, the quality of the puppy is of paramount importance. A reputable, knowledgeable breeder does all that he can to offer the highest quality puppies to properly screened homes and supports the placement for the life of the dog. He is not a villain. He wants to please the people who demonstrate confidence in his ability to produce superior puppies. Taking advantage of such commitment to purebred dogs is not a crime. It is your right.