In-Home Training for You & Your Dog

Breeders: The Real Differences

Serious Hobby Breeders vs. Backyard Breeders and Commercial Breeders
                                                                                            by Christina Van Patten

So you want to buy a purebred dog? Do it right—you will have this pet for the next 11-14 years if all goes well, so it pays to do your research before you make the commitment.

Let’s talk about the different types of breeders out there beginning with the serious hobby breeder. This breeder has one goal each time she breeds a litter: the betterment of the breed. Period. Not money, not so “the kids can witness the miracle of birth”, not “She’ll be such a good mom”. She spends thousands of dollars and countless hours learning, competing, and studying her chosen breed. She participates in AKC conformation and/or performance events. Her dogs have AKC Championships and performance titles. She tests for genetic defects in the parents before she breeds, and she can supply you with certificates of the results of breed-appropriate OFA, PennHip, BAER, and CERF tests. She belongs to relevant AKC breed and all-breed clubs. She will encourage you to come to her home to meet the puppies and her adult dogs. She will be happy to mentor you, she will probably require an ownership contract, she will encourage or require you to spay or neuter if the puppy is not going to be shown, and she will take the puppy/dog back if you can no longer keep it.

Dash at Westminster, Best Of Breed 2009, 2010, 2012

The serious hobby breeder does not: “meet you elsewhere” so you never get to see the conditions in which the puppies are raised. She does not breed “teacup”, “babydoll”, “teddybear”, or “doodles”. She does not have many different breeds, always have puppies available, advertise “show quality” puppies but fail to show her own dogs, nor does she register her dogs with a registry other than the AKC in the US or the Canadian Kennel Club in Canada. Take note: the CKC (that stands for Continental Kennel Club) is a huge red flag that you are dealing with a commercial breeder.

You will find the serious hobby breeder by going to dog shows—watch the breed you are interested in during judging and meet the breeders and exhibitors afterwards. You can find shows near you by going online and looking at infodog.com and onofrio.com and selecting Upcoming Shows. You can also go to the AKC website and look up the AKC Parent Club for your preferred breed. For example, if you’re looking for a Lab you would go to the Labrador Retriever Club of America’s website and they have a breeder referral section. Contact breeders who interest you and if they don’t have what you are looking for they will refer you to someone who will.

The backyard breeder, on the other hand, has a female and wants to recoup her “investment” by having a litter of puppies. She might have a “breeding pair” and breed the same two dogs over and over again to make a quick buck. She will often advertise in the newspaper and have a sign outside her house or notices up on bulletin boards. She’s not interested in genetic testing, Championship points, performance titles, nor breed standards. It’s enough for her that she has a male and a female with no fertility issues — voilá — 63 days later: another litter of puppies. She is happy to let the puppies go as young as possible, will meet you somewhere to drop off the pup, and requires no ownership contract. If she says the pups are “vet checked”, that means that at best the pups were taken to the vet once or twice for shots.

The commercial breeder has one motivation: making money fast. Puppies are a commodity and the parents of the puppies are livestock. They may have hundreds or even thousands of dogs churning out puppies every six months. The dogs are not socialized, they typically have many different breeds, they generally register with registries other than the AKC, and the parents of your puppy will not have AKC Championships or performance titles. The commercial breeder mainly cares that the dogs are alive and can be sold, and not concerned about genetic defects or other health issues. It’s unlikely that they even know what the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals is. These people supply pet stores, but with the recent crackdown on puppy mills in the United States, they have come up with clever ways to advertise directly to buyers via the internet or through dog magazines. These commercial breeders might offer “rare” colors, coat types, or sizes: “Gigantic”, “Teeny”, “Huge-boned” or “Hypoallergenic” They may well take credit cards, offer one day delivery, and will happily ship the puppy to you without meeting you. It’s VERY unlikely that you would be permitted to visit their kennel. The stated reason would be “to protect the health of the puppies” but the real reason is to keep the public from seeing the conditions in which these dogs live.

The bottom line: If the breeder can’t show you proof of their involvement with the breed—breed club membership, conformation and performance titles on their breeding stock, health screening for the breed’s genetic problems—it’s best to look elsewhere. Commercial breeders and backyard breeders don’t do these things.

The best way to ensure that you’re getting a healthy dog is to buy from a serious hobby breeder who is dedicated to her breed and to every dog she owns. It’s worth the extra effort to search out such a breeder and to be prepared to be on a waiting list for a puppy. These breeders are also a source for obtaining a lovely adult dog if you decide not to go the puppy route. They will sometimes have a nice young dog that they kept to show but which might have a slight flaw—this simply means that it wouldn’t make the top tier of show dogs but is a well-socialized adult who would make an excellent pet. Or they might have retired Champions that they are willing to place with a family to make room for a youngster they are bringing along. These adult show dogs often make superb pets and are much less work than a puppy.

Breeder of Merit
Christina has been showing dogs for over 30 years and has been a breeder/owner/handler of Champion English Toy Spaniels for over 20 years. She has finished Championships on over 30 dogs, and has bred three National Specialty Best In Show Winners, a multiple All-Breed Best In Show Winner, and a multiple Westminster Best of Breed Winner. Christina is a member of the English Toy Spaniel Club of America and has served on its Board of Directors and as its AKC Judges’ Education Chair. She is also the AKC Ambassador for the English Toy Spaniel Club of America as well as an AKC Breeder of Merit.