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Ethical, Modern Dog Breeding is the Next Step in Animal Welfare Activism:  Why I'm Breeding Mixes



Yep, you read that right. As a veterinary technician and trainer, I have come to understand that breeding is a welfare issue. Not just a dog welfare issue. A human welfare issue. Humans and dogs evolved together. Neither species would be who we are without the other. We enrich each other's lives. We owe it to dogs, and ourselves, to evolve our relationship with how they are created, and how we support the people creating them. 


I think that a lot of veterinary personnel and dog trainers are privy to trends in the pet population that are hard for other groups to see. Our society has changed so much in the last 20 years, that the old rules of acquiring a dog no longer apply. The general public need options beyond the traditional advice of “go to a shelter or find a reputable breeder”. The reality behind this seemingly simple advice is a difficult to navigate maze of false advertising, puppy mills, potentially dangerous behavior issues, or serious health problems.  If you ARE successful in finding a responsible breeder, you may spend  years on a wait list. Likely, they are  a show or sport breeder whose primary goal is NOT providing pets to the public. The best dogs from each litter go to hobbyists, and the pet-seeking public gets the leftovers.  When you look at the data, good breeders are actually not producing enough dogs to supply the need.


Who IS producing enough dogs to fill the need? Puppy mills. Dog fighting rings. People who should NOT BE ALLOWED to breed dogs. We are inadvertently supporting these bad breeders by continuing to funnel their dogs into rescue, rather than holding them accountable. 


My rescue friends feel strongly that because there are dogs available in the shelter, they should be adopted first, before any pet dogs are bred. They will take home a dog in need, assess its temperament and behavior needs, and adjust their lives accordingly. They don't understand that not everybody can do this. They are largely oblivious to the behavior issues we see in the vet clinic related to families without the skill set to handle behavior issues. If they are honest, what they DO know is that a lot of the most stable dogs that come in get pulled for friends and family before making it out on the adoption floor, and are never even available to the general public. We have data showing that a LOT of the puppies being adopted out, whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy or whelping, are doomed to anxiety and neurologic disorders. This predisposition may lead to, among other things- separation anxiety, hyperarousal disorder, excessive resource guarding, or aggression. Is that a risk that families should really take when they bring a dog into their home? Many families can't afford to, and many rescue personnel, while their hearts are in the right place, aren't informed enough to really prepare them for what may lay ahead. 


Dogs do not COME FROM shelters.  Those animals are not produced there. They are not bred, born, or raised there. That is happening somewhere else, and it is NOT happening by accident.  I dedicated years of my life to the spay-neuter movement. I was in deep. I am so thankful for that movement, and it worked. We significantly reduced the number of unintentional litters born. Most pet dogs are spayed and neutered now. There are way less accidental puppies, raised by families, ending up in the shelter. That was our goal.  So how come there are still so many dogs in shelters? Those dogs are being intentionally bred. Our homeless bully breeds were not accidents. Carelessly bred "teacup" size litters are not happening in back alleys. They are being bred, largely, in the facilities of irresponsible breeders. Are we wrong for housing those dogs in the shelters? No. Are they going to integrate into a family home smoothly? Also, sadly, no. In many cases, the professional behavioral support they will require to maintain an acceptable quality of life is out of reach for many pet owners. How do I know? Because that's my job. I am burnt out, and I'm not alone. 


My purebred enthusiast friends feel strongly that dogs should be bred to a physical and behavioral standard that is very specific. They believe that if you aren't breeding to a well defined standard, and producing exact size, color, coat type, eye shape, ear set, etc., that you aren't doing it right. Further, they believe that the dogs being bred should be fully capable of performing the job they were originally designed for. They don't understand that many of the serious health issues veterinarians see are caused by dangerous levels of inbreeding or extreme conformation set out in these very breed standards. They don't understand that not everyone  is attached to an exact size, or coat type, or  that most people do not need a dog with the ability to pull a sled, point a pheasant, or kill a barn full of rats. In fact, they are largely oblivious to the  issues we see at the vet clinic related to these instinctual behaviors. People and dogs,  living together in conditions for which the dog is not suited, is not a happy or healthy situation. This is a welfare issue for both of them that no amount of training can fix. As applied ethologist Kim Brophey, CDBC, BA, put it in her book Meet Your Dog, The Game Changing Guide to Understanding your Dogs Behavior:



What IS important to the majority of people - especially young families - is temperament. Unfortunately, temperament is not usually at the top of the priority list. If you go to a purebred dog breeder, they are breeding specifically to fit their physical standard and, sometimes, their traditional working purpose. While, perhaps, all of their dogs have acceptable temperaments, that is not what they're primarily selecting their breeding stock based upon. If a dog they produce is way more social than the rest of the litter, or much quieter and lower energy, but that puppy happens to be, for example, a coat color other than what is accepted by the standard, that dog will not go on to make more dogs for pet homes. If they breed an entire litter of dogs with a phenomenal pet dog temperament, but none of them end up being show or performance prospects, that pairing is unlikely to be repeated.The dogs that physically look closest to the standard will. Again, that's not wrong, when you look at their breeding goals. They are breeding specifically for their hobby of breed preservation. A speaker at an AKC Breeder Symposium put it this way:


“Its not about the science of breeding dogs, for me…..its always really more about whats pretty….. In the end, we want them to look a certain way.” 

~Doug Johnson, "The Art of Breeding Better Dogs" - Presentation to the AKC Breeder to Breeder Symposium , 2013


When people can't find what they want in the shelter,  they buy a dog. Until we embrace responsible pet breeding, those people are going to end up buying from dog stores that source from puppy mills,  or irresponsible breeders. These casual breeders have no real knowledge of canine health, behavior, or husbandry. They don’t know how to health test or select for temperament and structural soundness. They don't understand the nuance of pairing two dogs to complement each other's temperaments. They will not stand behind the puppy they've sold when there are inevitably behavioral or health issues. They won't take it back, like a responsible breeder would. That dog may end up in the shelter. It's a vicious cycle. There are lots of breeders that shouldn't be breeding. I want them to stop.


What if we, with this movement, put them out of business?  What if we bred to THIS standard: Moderate exercise needs. No resource guarding. No dog aggression. No separation issues. No digestive issues. No hip, elbow, or spinal issues that will cause pain. No heart, eye, skin, or genetic diseases. Must tolerate veterinary care and grooming without the need for sedation. Must be highly trainable and able to live with a busy modern family. All parent dogs must be pets, not kennel dogs. All puppies must be raised in a home environment, not a cage or pen. What if they went home crate trained, clicker trained, potty trained? What if we bred them with the job of COMPANIONSHIP, rather than trying to put hunting, herding, mushing, and guard dogs into companionship roles that don't suit them? What if we paired individual dogs based on health and temperament, instead of the current method of closed gene pools (only breeding dogs that came from the same ancestors)? What if we used modern science, veterinary medicine, and the information we can obtain from genetic testing, to better understand exactly what will be produced when we do this?  What if that's what most modern dog homes need? What if we bred dogs for today's families? 


Neither my rescue friends or my purebred friends are wrong in their wants or needs, but neither would be happy if they swapped dogs. I am not trying to take away purebred dog hobbyists’ dogs. I am not trying to take away the option for people who want to rescue a dog, and have the means and education to support it in recovering from the lack of care it received early in life. But there's another demographic that is far larger. They don't fit into either category. They don't necessarily have strong opinions about dogs, other than that they desire to share their life with one. Hard as it is for us dog enthusiasts to believe, this group is the vast majority. Most of our veterinary clients will say they just want a good dog. They don't care if it ends up larger than expected, or smaller. They might want it to be long-haired, rather than short, or they might be fine with either, or something in between. 


I  want average, every day people to be able to find good pet dogs. I want them to know they aren’t likely to  have any expensive and surprising health issues pop up. I want them to have access to dogs that have been socialized with children, animals, the city. I want them to have been raised by a dog trainer or a breeder who is an expert in behavior. I want their families to learn everything they need to know about puppy management from that breeder, before they bring their puppy home. I want them to be able to reach out to their breeder, for support, for encouragement, for help, throughout the life of their dog. There are breeders like this, but they are few and far between. 


For a long time, I have been looking for breeders that I would send my mother or my daughter to for a dog. Or my friend who has a rescue dog who has very specific behavioral needs, to find a second dog that will integrate well into their family. My friend with small children. My friend who just went through behavioral euthanasia with an unsound dog that they tried to save, and now needs a friend to heal their heart. I have a few breeders like this that I refer people to. They have looooong wait lists. 


So, I'm joining them. I am following the guidelines of the AMAZING Companion Dog Project , which is guided by The Functional Dog Collaborative. I have been preparing for this for, well, my entire lifetime, but have been seriously focused and getting ready for the last 5 years. I have some specific projects I'm working on, with other breeders, that are very focused on health outcomes as a secondary goal, but my primary goal, my passion, my new mission in life? It's to support the human-animal bond by creating dogs that will thrive in today's world. 


 My dogs all pass their cardiac ultrasounds, their eye exams, their hip and elbow x-rays. They have been screened for genetic diseases. They have zero digestive or skin issues. Many vets and trainers have given input on moving forward. They are EASY to live with. EASY to train. EASY to meet their physical exercise and mental stimulation needs. EASY to sit on the couch with, if exercise is not in the books today. They exemplify the moderation that is missing in the pet dog population. Moderate shape. Moderate size. Moderate social drive. They are all highly trainable, and enjoy it. They have exemplified their soundness in public settings, all by earning their canine good citizen title, some by titling in sports, and some by assisting me as demo dogs in group training classes.  They go on vacation with us. They sleep in our bedrooms. They live with kids and animals, in a busy urban setting, which is how their puppies will be raised.


It's time to be the change. For the welfare of pet dogs and their people, I am breeding the dogs I wish to see in the world. 



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Guest
May 25

I am in agreement with the spirit of this article and appreciate the author's open discussion. During some 15 years of professional training, I've seen a huge increase in the frequency of severe behavioral problems stemming from temperament deficits and poorly matched dogs and people. In the last 2 years, the number of clients' who ultimately made the necessary choice to re-home, return and euthanize beloved pets surpasses the number I had seen in all my prior working years. However, it seems important to cite specific sources that back up the claims about the prevalence of puppy mills and dog fighting rings. While the author may well be correct, we should clearly define opinions or cite specific sources, even in…


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Guest
May 25

I don't believe in "dumbing down dogs" to meet the needs of those who should not own them. When people mix breeds together they are NOT a serious breeder. Why? Because the average "breeder" last about 5 years... not even the life time of one dog. To be a serious breeder you are attempting to breed a FAMILY of dogs, a family that have predictable appearance, temperament and characteristics. They closer these dogs are bred, the more predictable they are, and therefore the easier it is to get them into the correct home for them. When mutts are produced this is the exact opposite. You are making pot luck. The dogs are all over the place and the chances of a pup end…

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Guest
May 26
Replying to

Highly inbred dogs are more predictable in structure and temperament, yes, but that inbreeding can cause extreme health problems that affect the entire breeding population.


It's also incorrect to assume the breeders of mixed dogs will automatically be uncommitted to the family of dogs they produce. There's nothing magic about a dog family's status as pure or mixed breed (by whatever registry's standards) that causes the people breeding them to be irresponsible. As was laid out in this great post, mixed breed dogs can be produced well by hard-working people willing to put in the time and effort to do it.

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Guest
May 24

I am a trainer in Canada, I know of such a breeder that is breeding for pets, all genetic testing as well, everything that is required. I know the breeding dogs because I was their trainer. The breeder offers my puppy go home services in her packages to get everyone started on the right track. The breeder pays all of that. She is always on hand for the puppy parents and she will always take them back if not a good fit. Of all the puppies I have worked with from this breeder there was only one person that I recommend a return. All were grateful because although she has a wait list and does very careful screening of potential…

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Guest
May 23

"In most purebred dogs, reproduction is

arranged by the breeders. Based on

observations in wolves and free-ranging

dogs, it is highly likely that this method

negatively affects the reproductive

behavior of dogs living in human

societies, and this situation is exacerbated

by the use of artificial insemination.

Males are not selected for their ability to

court females, to be able to deter other

males, and to perform a successful

mounting. Females are not allowed to

choose males based on their preference,

which, in natural situations, is often based

on genetic compatibility." - Adam Miklosi, The Dog - A Natural History, page 83

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Guest
May 23

Temperament IS criteria number one for myself and every other Pembroke breeder I know. My girls live in my house as my companions above all else

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Replying to

That's great! There are definitely good breeders of every type of dog.

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