buying a puppy, Responsible Breeding, Responsible Ownership

My dog is better than your dog

I discovered this delightful piece of hard-hitting journalism when I was looking for show-dog ads; every once in a while I root through Dog World online to see who’s making ripples. Dog World is a bit like Playboy – reading articles isn’t really the point.  So I’m never all that surprised when there are problems with the writing, but this one really takes the cake.

To paraphrase: Don’t adopt from a shelter, and don’t advise anyone else to adopt from a shelter; show-bred dogs are better.

The writing is absolute crap – dogs bred on street corners? Really? Is it the 1940s? – but I thought the underlying message is important to consider.

Are show-bred (or carefully bred dogs of any ilk) “better” than shelter dogs?

ABSOLUTELY NOT. The only thing well-bred dogs are is more PREDICTABLE.

This is a little bit like the elementary math problem that asks you to flip a series of coins, helping you conclude that the probability of ending up heads four times in a row is very small, BUT the probability of any one toss being heads is still 50%. Even after it’s landed heads 100 times, the probability of the 101st flip landing heads is still one in two.

Carefully breeding dogs skews the problem in the direction of falling heads more times in a row. Looking at a large group of them, there is comparatively little variation in size, shape, temperament, ability, and so on. However, when you’re comparing one individual dog to another there’s no way I’m going to tell you that the shelter dog loses.

If you want to BREED dogs, if what you’re crafting is predictable appearance, ability, and temperament, there’s only one way to go – with the well-bred dog. If you are looking to WORK dogs, if you really need the highest probability that a certain piece of instinct will be combined with a certain work ethic over multiple dogs in a row, you should be choosing a well-bred dog.

But if you are looking for one individual dog who will be all the miraculous things a dog can be in your household, the well-bred dog is NOT automatically better.

As I’ve said many times, if what you need in a dog is just a “good dog” – bonded, affectionate, cute, empathetic – go to a shelter, preferably one that really needs you. I and my puppies do NOT need you. My puppies have a built-in safety net for their entire lives and are never going to be in real danger; that cannot be said for many others. Go rescue one. You will almost certainly end up with exactly what you need in your family.

Come to me, or come to another good breeder, only if you need predictability beyond the natural goodness of all dogs. If you need to work a dog, show a dog, or breed a dog; if you need the kind of intense support that a good breeder can provide, THEN buy one. But do it for the right reasons, and never do it if rescuing a dog is an option. I NEVER want to take a place that you would have been just as happy to fill with a rescue dog.

(By the way, the very worst of all? The poorly bred purebred or designer dog. Not only do you not get any predictability or support, you increase the homeless dog population either directly – when your dog isn’t fitting well but the breeder won’t take her back – or indirectly because the siblings, parents, and offspring of your dog fall through the cracks.)

Thankfully, the views in the Dog World article are very rare, at least in my experience in show dogs, and the few people that hold them are not the ones you want to know. Most show breeders are pro-dog as a whole; we’re just as happy to see a homeless dog get back on his feet as we are to see one of our dogs take a Best of Breed, if not more so. And we get incredibly mad at bad breeders not because they are our competition but because we see dogs suffering because of them.

Personally, nothing would make me happier than one of you telling me that your rescue dog is better than any other dog on earth, including my show dogs. Bronte just got up on the chair and ate all my popcorn, so it’s probably true!

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  • Reply Jamie August 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    My shelter mutt is pretty awesome. And he is adorable too. :- )

    I love your opinions on shelter vs. breeder for dogs. It makes complete sense and I wish everyone considering adding a dog to their family would read it.

    ~ Jamie

  • Reply Ann August 25, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Excellent post. The only thing I would add is that many rescues, like responsible breeders, require their dogs be returned to them if they’re not working out in their new home – so that’s an option for people who want the security of a safety net for the dog but don’t necessarily need the predictability of a well-bred dog.

    Also – in my extremely prejudiced opinion, my shelter pit is the Best Dog Ever (even when she eats the popcorn).

    • Reply Paula August 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      I agree — excellent post!!

      Articles like these make me sad. I’ve been involved in rescue for some time now, and I spend far more hours than I care to admit at my local shelter. However, I have always been inclined to look to the “pros” (be they hobby breeders, dogsport trainers, or behaviorists) for information, inspiration, and guidance. We in rescue have much to learn about canine health, behavior and training from these folks (and that’s what sets “us” apart from the naive PETA crowd). If this attitude is pervasive in “the fancy,” however — that this is all *just* about a “product” and whose soap really gets shirts whiter — than I’m afraid I will have to reconsider. I mean, we’re the competition, after all… 🙁

      Does the author of this article *really* love dogs?

  • Reply Raegan August 25, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    My dog is from a BYB that also breeds shih-tzus, schnoodles, and shih-poos. He’s a good DOG, but he’s a terrible Miniature Schnauzer. Came with papers, too. For APRI.

    What really horrifies me about that article is that the author completely disregards what’s supposed to happen to the dogs that are not getting adopted anymore. It sort of hints that they should all just be put down since they’re an inferior product (I presume the author has never attended a dogsport function, because MANY rescue dogs absolutely excel in those venues) which is disgusting.

    If you need a BREED, go to a breeder who breeds the kind of dog that you want. If you need a DOG, adopt.

  • Reply Pai August 25, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    In general, I like Canine Chronicle’s articles much better (online versions at: I only flip through Dog News for the pretty pictures. =P

  • Reply Liz August 25, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. (Sorry for the ick factor, but man, that writer got my hackles up.)

    That article is completely inane. Besides being poorly written it is dismissive (what of all those “inferior” animals, where are they to go?), and condescending (RE rescue people, “Oh, good for them, aren’t they saintly!”).

    I wonder what she thinks of my pound puppy who trounces the purebred Shelties and JRTs in the agility ring, the Rhodesian Ridgebacks in lure coursing, and also happens to be the biggest snugglebug and most gorgeous dog I’ll ever hope to know? How inferior!!!

  • Reply Jeri August 25, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Yep, that’s a pretty idiotic article. Unfortunately, I think it’s representative of SOME purebred breeders. And they think that they SHOULD feel that way, because to say otherwise is to undermine their own “product”. But it’s idiotic all the same, and unrealistic at best as others have pointed out.

    I tell all of our friends to adopt a dog. Even if they want a specific breed, to look at breed rescues first. It’s only people who absolutely want a puppy and/or a specific performance dog that I tell to look for a responsible breeder.

  • Reply Erin August 26, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Perhaps you should write a rebuttal article about Ginny and her wonderful, amazing, service-doginess, and, oh yeah, she is a designer dog from a shelter.

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