Monthly Archives

May 2015

buying a puppy, Responsible Ownership

The “signs of a backyard breeder” that are completely and utterly wrong

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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.

FALSE.

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.

FALSE.

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.

FALSE.

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?

FALSE.

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.

FALSE.

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.

FALSE.

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.

FALSE.

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.

FALSE.

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.

PJOnB&*%$*GSIURrHKgLSDqJF;KLD89*(&%^8374!!!11111!!

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://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_breedersandpetshops.phphttp://www.4pawsorlando.com/post/254431-backyard-breeder-vs-responsible-breeder

http://www.paws.org/get-involved/take-action/explore-the-issues/puppy-mills/

http://www.jlhweb.net/Boxermap/reputablebreeder.html

http://home.comcast.net/~NoPuppyMillsVA/What_is_a_Backyard_Breeder_/what_is_a_backyard_breeder_.html

http://www.lgd.org/library/breedercomparison.htm

http://www.almosthomerescue.org/whatisbyb/whatisbyb.htm

http://itsdogornothing.com/10-signs-of-a-backyard-breeder/ (this is the hall of fame one where most of my top ten came from)

http://dogs.about.com/od/becomingadogowner/fl/What-Is-a-Backyard-Breeder.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backyard_breeder

 

Home Design, Interviews

Release Day

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Photography, Recipes

Home Design Tips

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Responsible Ownership

Why do puppies cost so much?

Despite breeders having explained over and over and over why they price their puppies a certain way, and despite us trying to think of ways to say that our puppies are free, or that this is not a “job” for us or a way to make any money, the comments still have a marked note of disbelief. “They cost HOW much?” “I saw the prices and I just about fainted!” and “I can’t pay crazy prices for a puppy.”

I’m not going to try to add up again how much it costs breeders to make puppies, because I don’t think it works. And I’ve come to believe that the reason it doesn’t work is that people who see themselves as “normal” buyers think the whole thing must be rigged somehow. Those huge prices we pay for breeding and showing aren’t a reflection of objective reality; they’re something weird we do that we don’t really need to do. The buyers don’t think we’re lying, exactly, when we say that we put tens of thousands of dollars into breeding, but in the back of their mind is definitely “Well, just because YOU are crazy doesn’t mean I have to be.”

And that, really, is the root cause of the disbelief. It’s not that people are ill-meaning. It’s that they believe that there’s a real price for real dogs versus a vastly inflated price for vastly un-real dogs. They are on board with the fact that “we breeders” will pay thousands of dollars for a few of the best and most rare or beautiful dogs, because we are going to go on to show and breed them. But for regular people, aren’t there regular dogs who are born in regular homes and designed to go home with regular owners and for regular prices – let’s say no more than a few hundred dollars?

The answer – and if you’re a regular owner, you need to hear me and BELIEVE me – is NO. Not anymore.

Stop looking for a “regular dog for regular people.”

I grew up with a long and undistinguished series of “regular dogs.” They were all born within twenty minutes of our house; we’d find a puppy listing in the local supermarket or somebody would pass the word around at the 4-H meetings. They were all raised in a house, underfoot. They cost thirty, fifty, seventy dollars, “Just to make enough to spay their mom.” Some were almost purebred; many were mixtures for many generations. Some were great dogs; others were very definitely not. But they were all part of something that really did exist twenty and thirty years ago, which is a vast number of “regular dogs.”

That does not exist anymore. The way we think about dogs has taken a very abrupt turn, and we no longer believe that having puppies is part of what happens when you have dogs. The “middle class” of puppy producer, the ones who had a few litters every time they got a new female dog until they got around to spaying her, is gone. The statistics of breeding, euthanization, and rescue are very clear. The puppies that exist now are all either planned by breeders or are the result of genuine carelessness or, worse, uncaring.

The fact that the regular family puppy producer is gone is a good thing. It really is. Yes, the fact that they existed meant that it was easy to find a puppy whenever you wanted one, but that surplus of supply also meant that millions upon millions of dogs died every year. When the supermarket ad didn’t work and you had five four-month-old puppies pooping in your house, you dropped the litter at the shelter. Ten days later the shelter put them down, and the next day they put down another couple of litters, and the next day they put down some more. “Puppy season” used to be as torturous as kitten season, and just as deadly. So we should all be very glad that the bad old days are gone.

Now that they are gone, we’ve got the situation that I introduced earlier: The puppies that exist now are all either planned by breeders or are the result of genuine carelessness or, worse, uncaring. 

I’m going to leave off the uncaring producers for the sake of the “how much do puppies cost” question, because those breeders are the ones who are still filling the rescues. The websites and ads that “regular owners who want regular prices on real dogs” are seeing are all by deliberate breeders, those who produced puppies on purpose and with the goal of selling them as pets. Sometimes the goal of selling is the primary one – the reason the puppies were born – and sometimes the goal of selling is a secondary one, after the best puppies in the litter are retained for working or showing or breeding. But either way, those puppies were made on purpose.

So what do you do now?

Let’s catch up: You’re a regular person looking for a regular dog of the breed of your choice. You’ve realized that the vast group of middling-bred dogs that populated your childhood is gone. You decide you want a Cocker Spaniel, which you loved as a kid, and you go out to get one. You know that buying from a pet store is wrong. So you don’t even go there. You go to find a “reputable breeder.” What you see, when you start your research (online, of course) is a vast array of possibilities. All the puppies are adorable. You see cute purebred puppies with “champion lines” for $400, cute purebred puppies with “champion lines” for $800, and cute purebred puppies with “champion lines” for $1200. Those are the ones with prices visible. There are also a lot of websites that are obviously made by show breeders, and those don’t have any prices at all. When you inquire from one or two, you’re told that their puppies are $1200, $1600, and $2,000.

The temptation – and many would say logical conclusion – here is to say that the puppies for $400 are the ones to get.

However, I’d challenge you to think of it a different way.

Pretend you’re buying a phone.

When you go in to a wireless store and sign up for the first of what will likely be an endless series of two-year contracts, you are given a choice of six phones. Two of them are free with your plan, two are $99, and two are $199.

I would predict, and I think I’d be close to correct, that almost NOBODY is going to walk out with the free phone. If you can possibly, possibly make it work, even if it hurts, you’re going to leave with the $199 phone. If you can’t, you’ll walk out with the $99 phone – but you’ll gaze wistfully at the $199 one you’re leaving behind, and every time your phone frustrates you over the next two years you’ll say “If only I had stretched and gotten the more expensive one.”

Pretend you’re buying a car.

Stand in the middle of the Toyota lot and look around. You want a Prius. In front of you is one for $4,500, one for $12,000, one for $17,000, and one for $22,000. You qualify for all of them; the terms are all the same. Which one do you drive home?

Virtually nobody is going to drive home the cheapest car, and most are not going to go for the twelve grand one either. I can predict with a high degree of certainty that one of the most expensive two is going to be in your driveway by the end of the day.

Now WHY have you made those two decisions – about the phone and the car?

The answer is: We know how much a reliable phone and car cost, and when a price is substantially lower we we regard it with suspicion, not happiness.

Furthermore, we’re CORRECT to regard it with suspicion. A car that you spent $4500 on is going to incur a major repair bill within the next month or two. The free-with-plan phone is going to make you curse and throw it at the wall within a few weeks. And with both of them, because they were so cheap, you can bet your sweet bippy you are on your own. Welcome to the land of repair bills.

So why – WHY – do we not learn the same lesson about dogs?

Well-bred puppies are not “expensive.” They simply are what they are.

Generally the cost of a well-bred puppy is between one and three thousand dollars, which is what you should expect to pay. For that, you should expect to receive a well-bred, well-raised, well-socialized puppy, and you should (I’m going to go ahead and say MUST) get the equivalent of the 12 years/12,000 miles warranty. You should expect that if this “phone” catches on fire – if the puppy ends up with a major, unforeseen problem – you are going to be taken care of. You should also expect a lifetime of support and help for all the things that come up in the normal daily life of the dog. Think of it as lifetime technical support. If you’ve got a limp or a training problem or something is worrying you, you should have a breeder helping you figure it out. If your potential breeder isn’t obvious about what support comes with the dog, ASK HER. The answer should be quick and complete.

If the puppy costs less than is normal, assume that it comes with no promises, no predictability, and no support.

Just like phones, just like cars. You should regard a low price with deep suspicion, and with the assumption that it is an unwise purchase. If someone comes to you and says they’re going to buy a dog for a low price, your reaction should be the same as if they told you they found a car for two grand and they’re sure it is going to be great. You don’t have to be that tiresome uncle who has the stats of every make and model since the 80s at the tip of his tongue, but you should certainly pull out a “Hey, dude, are you sure that’s smart?”

Now go forth, and find puppies, and be awesome.

Both of them down for the count.

Both of them down for the count.

Family

More dog intros – Rooster, Sora, Lyra, Lash, Vita, and Indus

It’s been long enough since I did a dog roundup post that we’ve got a whole new crop of kiddos to show off. Don’t worry – nobody’s been lost or forgotten, and we still have all the beloved girls at home. But three years means some beautiful new members of the future generations.

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This is Rooster, White Raven Wake Up Call. He’s a Juno kid, from last year’s lovely litter with Hoover (Ch. All Trade Dr Who, an import from Norway). He just turned a year old and he is super delicious. He’s got four points now in one weekend of showing, and he’s heading out for his second weekend with Sarah in Connecticut.

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Rooster lives with and is loved by a fabulous family in Maine, and comes home for shows and vacations. He’s absolutely a delight – he is the kind of dog that makes you think you want more intact dogs!

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This is Sora – Ch. White Raven Storm the Sorrows. He is just about at his second birthday, if I remember correctly – he’s a Porter/Eva kiddo. The Porter/Eva kids were co-bred by Sarah and me and born and raised at my house, so they have a very special place in my heart.

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Sora is a Clue grandson, which means he inherited the Bad Dog gene in SPADES.  Look at his wicked intentions!

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Sora also got to make some babies with Bella (GCH Aurigan Dunes Celestine Blue) this spring – this little insect is one of them. Lyra is her litter name, and she’s going to go out and live with a junior handler on the West Coast.

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Look at those eyes and ears!

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This is Lash – White Raven Angelfire. We had the opportunity to lease a bitch from our good friend Kate last year, and bred her to Ch. Pecan Valley Red White and Blue. We kept two girls – Vala, who you met in the last post, and Lash. Lash lives with Sarah, but she got to come home with me this weekend for a few weeks. What a SWEETHEART she is. She’s really won us over.

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She’s also freakishly photogenic.

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This little demonstration of exactly how big Cardigan ears can be is Vita, the result of Hoover and Luna (AKC Ch UKC GrCH Kingscourt Dragon Moon on the Moors). She’s an absolute darling and is heading out to her new home soon; she’ll be a therapy dog someday. And of course you get to see Honour, who still tolerates me dragging her everywhere dog-related with remarkable good grace.

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Lyra’s big brother (another Sora/Bella kid) is Indus, who is one of the keeper puppies from that litter. He got to come home with us too, while Sarah was at the shows.

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Isn’t he delicious?

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Stacked shot of Lash – we absolutely love our Red kids.

So now you’ve gotten caught up or met a bunch of the Kimball/Davis house dogs: Juno, Vala, Rebel, Echo (who went home with Sarah this weekend to start her serious performance training – she loves it already), Rooster, Sora, Lash, and Indus. There’s more to come, and of course the kids are a foot taller than they were! Look for more pictures soon – and hugs from all of us.

-Joanna

Family

The first sweet hot day.

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It’s been so long in shoes that our feet are soft and pale, begging for the first barefoot day.

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Mosquito bites are itchy for the first time this year, and long walks feel even longer.

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But we are finally – FINALLY – warm. And the sun is pouring down and soaking our cells and stretching our knees and making us dance.

The dogs are dropping coat so fast that when they shake it looks like a sparkler.

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Rebel.

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Echo.

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Vala, here for a visit.

 

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My dear good sweet Juno, who thinks the show ring is ridiculous but consented to stack for me just out of love. And maybe roast beef. But also love.

General

In which I am glad to be back, dear reader

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It’s been three years since I posted regularly – the job that I was doing was with a company that discouraged personal public social media use. I was, and continue to be, grateful for the opportunities that the job gave me. And I am now very VERY grateful that the door on that job has been shut hard and locked. I am discovering what my kids look like again, I am reading again, I am spending my days covered with dogs again, and I am writing again.

You, dear reader, have stuck with me for a long time. Thank you for your patience. And now I can promise that I will contribute here again at least once a week.

It’s been so long away from this world that I feel that I’ve lost touch with peoples’ needs and what they’re looking for in a “dogs all day, every day” blog. So – please tell me. What would you like to hear about? What questions can I start to delve deeply in?

Hugs,
Joanna