Reputable vs. backyard breeders: A world of difference

Psst. Hey, you wanna buy a dog?

Pet lovers like to think of animals as being a lot more than commodities – which, or course, they are. But in one sense, you do need to be a smart consumer when you decide to pay money for an animal. Too often, backyard breeders think they can make a buck by selling purebred puppies or some other desirable animal.

As most reputable pet breeders will tell you, it’s not a business to go into with the hopes of making lots of money. You think the prices of purebred, registered puppies from good breeders are high? Consider the costs: purchasing a genetically and emotionally excellent purebred female; giving her the best housing and nutrition so she’ll be super healthy; paying stud fees for a equally great genetic specimen of a male dog; covering vet bills before, during, and after the pregnancy; raising healthy puppies that are well socialize and stay with mom for a minimum of eight weeks; getting those pups necessary medical care and initial vaccinations; taking the time to begin training them … the list goes on. You wonder why people invest all the time and energy in doing this at all!

Contrast that with a typical backyard breeder. He or she found or got cheaply a breed of dog that is especially popular right now. The female dog has no genetic guarantees – maybe she’ll pass on the genes for hip dysplasia, heart disease, or bad temperment. The dog is put in a kennel in the yard and bred to a male with similar potential issues. If the dog is lucky, she gets a little extra food as she progresses with the pregnancy. The puppies are reared under the same, cramped, outdoor kennel conditions with little human contact. They are removed from the mother at five weeks so they won’t have to be fed any longer, and because the smaller puppies are cuter and sell better.

Which puppy would you choose?

I have a close friend whose family went to a shelter and adopted a dachshund mix about 15 years ago. The dog was no great example of her breed, but she was more than a year old and was given basic temperment testing by the shelter staff. It turned out that, even though the family did not know her genetic background, that she was a great, friendly dog that lived into her mid-teens and suffered almost no health problems.

When the dachshund died, my friend was already living on her own. Her parents went back to the shelter but did not find any dachshunds or dachshund mixes. They really wanted another, so they answered an ad in the paper. Although they love their new dog, she has some problems. At a couple years old, she still urinates submissively and is destructive when left alone – issues that could be related to getting her between 5 and 6 weeks, before she was fully ready to leave her mother. She also suffers from digestive problems, possibly because she was not properly weaned.

If the family had been willing to wait for another mixed breed dog (non-purebreds tend to suffer from fewer health problems) from the shelter, or had contacted their local kennel association and found a respected dachshund breeder, they would be unlikely to have these problems. The money they paid for the dog, combined with the money they have spent at the vet and in replacing their destroyed household items, would more than cover the cost of a dog from a good breeder.

So why do I see so many people selling puppies out of the back of their trucks, or via a cardboard sign on the side of the road, for hundreds of dollars? Would you buy a Lexus or a Rolex watch in the same way, without any guarantees, from someone you could not easily contact again if you needed help with the purchase?

If the holidays passed you by, and you didn’t get the puppy or adult dog – or other animal – you were dreaming of, take the time to do your research before bringing a pet home.

If the breed or quality of the animal isn’t important to you and you just want a friendly, healthy companion, visit a shelter or rescue and let the staff there assist you with making a good choice. Or, if you really have your heart set on a purebred dog – maybe you’d like a poodle because someone in your family has allergies but can tolerate those dogs, or you are looking for a genetically superior retriever from a long line of good hunting dogs that can join you in outdoor sports – make sure you aren’t settling for inferior quality with a high price tag. Contact your local Kennel Club for help in locating a healthy purebred puppy. Oh, and be prepared to wait – most reputable breeders have one or even fewer litters each year.