So, you and your family have decided to get a dog — a purebred, maybe a Labrador retriever.
Your first instinct is to skim Kijiji. You scroll down through a list and quickly spot one for a good price, $400. You call, pay the money and collect your new furry friend.
Months later, however, you discover life with the dog is not as you thought it would be. There are mounting veterinarian bills for various ailments, and the dog has become a little too aggressive, so you feel you have no choice but to take it to the SPCA to give it up for adoption.
It’s a sad story that breeders hear all the time.
When it comes to owning purebred dogs, finding a reputable breeder is more important than you might think.
In a recent interview with a group from the Newfoundland All-Breed Kennel Club — president Tony Moores, past-president Linda Pike, director-at-large Adina Black and member Michael Crawford — they all said purchasing dogs from backyard breeders is a common mistake people make. They say not only can it often result in problems with the dogs, but it gives purebreds a bad name.
“There are a lot of people who have a very good face on a very dodgy operation,” said Crawford, who breeds Leonbergers.
“You run into a lot of them. They’ll put stuff on a website and make it seem like everything is 100 per cent. … They have this great website and you say, ‘Wow, they must really be awesome. They have all these great pictures.’ You can easily get snowed.
“If someone is trying to sell you a puppy, you’re probably in the wrong spot.”
It’s one of several warning signs, they say, in spotting a backyard breeder.
While some reputable breeders have websites to provide information, they don’t advertise dogs for sale. Yet they have lists of people who are waiting months, sometimes years, for a specific breed of dog. So they do sell dogs, but for reputable dog breeders it’s not a business. It’s a hobby and a passion, the kennel club members say.
“It’s really, really hard to make money as a breeder if you’re doing it correctly,” Crawford said.
Breeders say the thousands of dollars they put into it — to find the perfect match to breed their dog, to fly to various shows to network with other breeders, to get proper health checks, to feed and care for them — is well worth it to produce healthy, top-notch and often award-winning dogs.
“If one of my dogs is having a litter, it’s because I want my next show prospect,” said Black, whose search for the right match to breed her boxers has often seen her get frozen semen shipped in from stud dogs in various parts of North America.
“I breed dogs because I want my next addition to my breeding program that I have put so much work into. I don’t breed every couple of months just to have puppies and to get them out there to make money.”
In order to ensure they’re producing the best dogs, breeders say, the most important thing is to get health clearances and to supply proof of those checks to the new owners.
Reputable breeders actively screen their dogs through specialized veterinarians and leave those with even the slightest health issues out of the gene pool, thereby reducing the risk of health problems in the next generation.
“We’re trying to extend the average age of our dogs. We’re always looking to make the next generation better,” Black said.
“I get calls every week from owners of boxers that came from backyard breeders and they say their boxer dropped dead. You call these breeders and ask them, ‘Do you test for ARVC (arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy)?’ They don’t even know what it is.
“So, if you’re breeding a dog, you have to know everything there is about that dog and that breed. If you don’t know what you’re doing with these dogs, what business do you have doing it? As reputable breeders, we stand behind every puppy we produce.”
And while most people don’t need show-quality dogs, whatever type of puppy you get, when it comes from a reputable breeder — registered with the Canadian Kennel Club, as well as with their individual breed national club — you know that the health and temperament of the purebred has been carefully taken into account before breeding even begins, they say.
“When you go to a reputable breeder, we guarantee those health checks,” said Moores, who breeds Labrador retrievers. “With (dogs from) backyard breeders, you don’t know what you’re getting.
“And when you get a dog from (a reputable breeder), you know you have lifetime support from that breeder. (New owners) stay connected with the breeder.”
Pike, a trainer who breeds German shepherds and English mastiffs, said dogs from reputable breeders are the real thing.
“If I want to buy a Corvette, I want a Corvette. I don’t want a Corvette with a Chevette engine,” said Pike, adding that she has an 11-year-old German shepherd that is as healthy and energetic as a young dog.
“So, if you buy a mixed-breed or a dog that’s questionable, because the parents aren’t registered, there are no guarantees that what you get is a pure, say, Labrador. There may be pug mixed in there, and somewhere down the line, that’s going to come out in that breed.
“People say to me, ‘I’ll never have a purebred dog again because there are so many health issues.’ But my first question is, where did you get this dog? Is your dog registered? No. So, your breed that you think you have is probably not what it’s supposed to be.
“Just because Joe Blow has a dog that looks like a Lab doesn’t mean you should breed it with your neighbour’s Lab. Yes, it looks like a Lab, walks like a Lab, but guess what? There’s probably German shepherd in there, probably Husky in there.
“And until you breed those dogs, you’ll (discover) maybe two generations down the road, this Lab all of a sudden has sticking-up ears or has a curled tail, because genetically, somewhere down the line, these were not purebred dogs.”
Reputable breeders can provide documentation to show their dogs’ pedigree from at least five generations.
Pike said dogs from reputable breeders will never end up at Humane Services or the SPCA, as it’s in breeders’ contracts to have the dogs returned to them if the dogs or owners have any issues.
Another warning sign for backyard breeders, they say, is that they release their puppies too young. Breeders say puppies should spend at least eight weeks, but normally 10 to 12 weeks, with their mother before being released to a new owner.
Members of the kennel club laughed together as they reminisced about the nights they spent sleeping on the floor or the couch next to their dogs during labour, or after the litter was born.
“That might seem neurotic,” Moores said with a chuckle, “but if I’m doing this, I’m going to be responsible for making sure they get to an age.”
Members warn to be wary of breeders who are not up front about the dogs and are unable to supply documentation to back up their claims of their dogs’ good health.
“If someone, as a breeder, is not willing to share with you all the information, including information about the health clearances, and are not willing to answer the questions, it’s all warning signs,” Crawford said.
The group advises people looking to own a purebred dog to ask around the community or at the vet’s for recommendations for a reputable breeder, because it will be worth the time, money and effort.
It’s certainly worth it for these breeders, whose love for their dogs is evident.
“When I breed my dogs, I breed them to get my next show dog, my next companion, and if I get a few other puppies to sell, so be it,” Moores said.
“While it’s hard to let them go, nothing makes me feel better than seeing a new family come get their new puppy and see the smiles and joy you’re giving them.
“There’s no price tag on that.”