Our potential puppy buyers pass the pages around. New breeders, enthusiastic about their membership with the “good guys,” share them too. They are printed and re-printed and gathered by online dog magazines, shelters, even breed clubs.
And they are fatally, horribly wrong.
Let’s take a look at the ten worst “signs of a backyard breeder.”
1. Beware if the breeder doesn’t show their dogs in conformation shows.
Good breeders know the value of peer review, and they seek out ways to prove their dogs and to “take their temperature” as breeders. However, saying that the only definition of good breeding is breeding for the conformation ring ignores a vast and extremely valuable network of performance and working breeders.
Good conformation is important to ALL dogs. No matter what they do. But it’s nothing but hubris to say that the conformation ring is the only place good breeders evaluate their dogs. Remember that the original point of the conformation ring was to judge working dogs against each other. The working came first.
If your breed is one with a working history, the ability to do its historic job should ALWAYS be the boundaries that shape your breeding efforts. If the conformation ring is the best and most demanding place to test whether you’ve done a good job as a breeder, then you should go there. If it’s not – if the best and most demanding test for how well you’re doing as a breeder is the sheep pen or the field trial or the performance ring – then that’s where you should be. And nobody should ever even hint that you’re someone to beware of.
2. Beware if the breeder doesn’t allow you to see the parents. A responsible breeder should be more than willing to allow you to meet the parents of your future puppy.
For the vast majority of good breedings, both parents will not be on site. You may be able to meet mom, but dad is quite unlikely. As a matter of fact, it’s a bigger red flag if all the dads are on site (meaning the person breeds only to her own dogs and never seeks out a good match elsewhere).
It’s also a huge generalization to say that I should be “more than willing” to have you meet the mom dog. That depends entirely on how old the puppies are, how she’s feeling about strangers touching them, and whether she’s in shape to be seen (you know what I mean – there is going to be a time when mom is a naked rat with skin and backbone showing, and maybe I’m not ready to have you, oh sweet puppy buyer, Instagram her all over the world). Mom dogs are individuals, just like humans. It’s not a bad sign, or a signal that she’s not a good dog or that her puppies won’t be good dogs, if she doesn’t like seeing complete strangers mauling her kids.
3. Beware if the breeder doesn’t allow you to visit. It is vital to see where the puppies are being raised.
I used to believe this too – until I began reading the news. I also realized that in every other area of our lives, we take sensible and normal precautions about who comes in the house. But for puppy buyers, it was “Can you type my e-mail address? Then sure, come on over.” I was giving an incredible amount of access to my home, my dogs and puppies, my young daughters, and myself without ever having met the people who were walking in.
So now, if you ask to come over, the answer is no. Instead, we do group visits at set times. My husband and I make sure that multiple adults we know and trust are there for the visits, so we can welcome you – but welcome you wisely. If you cannot come for one of the group visits, I will meet a potential buyer anywhere convenient for them, and we usually turn it into a group get-together with all the buyers and friends from that area. It’s a great system. And it makes me feel much more secure about what’s coming in my front door.
4. Beware if the breeder breeds several types of dogs. The purpose of a responsible breeder is to better the breed. How are they able to do that if they are focusing on different breeds?
New breeders usually have only one breed in the house. However, one of the truly pleasurable rewards of maturing in your breed is realizing that you have the time and energy and structure to indulge in a breed that you’ve always loved.
(For some reason, this seems to be Frenchies, like, ALL THE TIME. You Frenchie breeders are creating the “big bowl of ice cream for breakfast” of the dog breeder world, I swear.)
Some breeders who have always had big go small. Others have fun with a coated breed when they had wash and wear coats, or vice versa. Sometimes they’ve got kids or grandkids who want a different breed. There’s no “right” reason to get into a second breed, except that you love them and you want to. And the breeders who have a second breed (or a third breed) usually do just as fantastic a job with them as they’re doing with their first breed.
5. Beware if the breeder doesn’t issue a spay/neuter contract. Very few people are qualified to breed. A responsible breeder will issue a limited registration contract and require that you fix your dog by a certain age.
And also elitist. Before we even get into the spay/neuter, any statement like “very few people are qualified to breed” will lead to a polite invitation from me to go soak your head. Breeding well takes commitment and sacrifice and money and incredibly hard work, but it does NOT take some kind of educational or income level and it is not granted along with a silver spoon. Anyone willing to put in the effort deserves to try.
Now – the real issue: NO, good breeders do not always insist on a spay/neuter contract and do NOT require that you neuter or spay at a certain age. The health-consequences pendulum has completely swung on this, and any breeder still insisting on an early spay/neuter needs to get educated fast. It is BAD for your bitch to be spayed young, and it’s arguably BAD for your male dog to be neutered ever in his life.
A good breeder will generally insist that you not BREED a non-breed-worthy dog, but they should not be insisting on a spay/neuter contract.
6. Beware if the breeder often has puppies available. Most responsible breeders will create a wait list of people who are interested in their puppies and will only breed when they have enough people to adopt the majority of the litter.
This is one of the incredibly pervasive lies that get passed around, even to the point that many good breeders nod when they hear it. It’s also a really fast way to completely torpedo a breeding program.
As a breeder, you are breeding for YOURSELF. You are not breeding for the demand of buyers, to impress your peers, to do a favor to the stud dog owner, or anything else. You are putting seven or eight or ten puppies on the earth because YOU believe that YOUR breeding program will be brought forward by this breeding. You are responsible to the dogs and to yourself. Nobody else.
“Only breed when you have enough people” makes it sound like it’s a tap you can just turn on and off – oh, there’s my fourth reservation! DING! Quick, go out there and impregnate Molly!
Dogs do not work that way. The windows your bitch gives you to breed her are going to be few and short. The stud dogs ideal for her are going to be far away and difficult to get. If you can do a breeding that moves your program forward, for heaven’s sake, DO IT. Do it and be thrilled that you had the opportunity.
7. Beware if the breeder isn’t active in breed specific clubs. Membership to any of these clubs shows the breeder is willing to continue learning to help the improve the breed.
This is pretty personal for me, because I am not a member of our national club. I am not a member because I and the entire body of dog-related science believe that the club’s Code of Ethics is bad for the breed. So science and I got together and agreed that we weren’t going to breed that way, which means no membership for me.
For other people, there are any number of other reasons that they are not members of a club. What’s really going on – the root of the matter – is that the IDEA of an AKC parent club is great. The way it is supposed to function and the goals it’s supposed to have are incredibly valuable to good breeders.
If your club has managed to maintain a reality that is close to the idea, then that is awesome and you should be a member. If your club makes you scream at the computer all the time and you can’t go to the annual general meetings because you know you’ll start screaming at real people, then maybe it’s not such a great requirement.
8. Good breeders line up qualified buyers in advance of birth of a litter and rarely ever advertise.
FALSE. Oh my goodness, so dang false. (Links to an old article of mine that is likely to have some broken links and old data, but the point is still valid.) Again, SO SUPER DUPER FALSE.
9. Beware if the breeder offers to ship their dogs to new owners without meeting them first—a responsible breeder meets the new parents before she sends her pups home with them.
Before I get going, my puppy owners are not “parents.” They bought a puppy from me; they are owners.
Now, on to shipping: Shipping is one of the greatest forces for good in the dog world that you can possibly imagine. Before shipping was easy and safe, the regions of the country were islands. There were “West Coast” and “East Coast” styles of the same breed. If you were a breeder, you either bred your girls to the same few boys in your area or you put your bitch on a train and hoped she would be OK when she got off in a week.
Shipping is also an enormous boon for puppy buyers – yes, even pet buyers – because they can seek out many more breeders who are a good match for their needs and their households. As a result, many breeders ship out half or even more of each litter, and they do it to families that they’ve never met in person.
The question is NOT whether a breeder has met a buyer. The question is whether the breeder has done enough homework to determine if this is going to be a good home – whether it is ten minutes away or a ten-hour plane ride away. Shipping has nothing to do with an owner being a good match or a poor one.
10. Beware if the breeder does not reject high-risk buyers: (renters, young people, those with poor track records, low income, other pets, dogs kept outdoors)
FALSE. Also, HOLY CRAP.
The “poor track record” and “dogs kept outside” (for most breeds) are OK. The other stuff – this attitude is why people say “they tried to get a puppy from a good breeder and couldn’t, so they felt like they had to go to a bad one.” This INEXCUSABLE attitude.
Every breeder knows her breed best. Some breeds have very specific requirements from buyers, and tend to not do well in average homes. Rigorous screening is the responsibility of every breeder. But NO BREED requires a list of arrogant garbage like the above. And if you find yourself screening buyers based on qualifications that have nothing to do with your breed’s needs and are just excuses for being a d-bag, STOP. Young broke renters who have scraped together the money for a good puppy and are committed to feeding and vetting it well should be welcomed with open arms.
BONUS: Bad breeders breed their bitches on every season.
That’s how much I hate this one.
It’s completely false. In fact, you may just be a better breeder if you breed every season.
Hey, Joanna, did you steal these? Are you a blatant list stealer?
Yessir, sure did. I am quoting them verbatim so you can see that these are REAL lists.
Sources (not coincidentally, these are the entire first page of a search for “signs of a backyard breeder”):
http://itsdogornothing.com/10-signs-of-a-backyard-breeder/ (this is the hall of fame one where most of my top ten came from)