I remember that sign taped to the bleachers in the highschool gym, reminding us to grab our sweaty socks before we left the room. As a mom, I sometimes want to stick it on random appliances in the (probably vain) hope that someone besides myself will fill, empty, clean, use, reposition, or repair whatever big white box needs attention at the moment.
It’s a phrase that is incredibly appropriate to the world of dogs. If you distill the job of a good breeder down to just five words, they’re without a doubt “Clean up your own mess.”
What does that mean? It means that with very rare exceptions every single puppy in this country is a deliberately bred puppy. Some are deliberately bred by omission, because an owner put off a spay and then didn’t contain the dog. Many are deliberately bred to make their owner some money, or in the hopes that one of the puppies will be just like the mom or just like the dad. A comparative few (sadly) are deliberately bred to do a job, or to maintain or improve the gene pool of a recognized or developing breed.
Whatever your motivations or lack thereof, if you have a female dog who whelps, you are a breeder. You can’t get away from it. Breeding “just once” doesn’t let you off the hook; an accidental breeding doesn’t either. If puppies have or are about to come out of your dog’s yaya, you’re a breeder. Now clean up your own mess.
What does clean up your own mess mean? It basically means that you will never hurt anyone else, or hurt the chances of any other dog to live a normal life or be adopted, through your actions as a breeder. You’ll never expect someone else to deal with the problems you created. You’ll never abandon a puppy you produce, no matter how long it lives. So you will
– Stand behind your puppies. Offer emotional and educational help if the dog is ever ill; if it’s a genetic issue or your fault, accept financial responsibility as well (either to treat directly or to offer a replacement puppy).
– Always accept a puppy back at any time in the dog’s lifetime. One of your dogs ever being surrendered to rescue or a shelter, or changing hands without your knowledge, must be absolutely unacceptable.
– Support your owners. Even if you’re not the most experienced trainer yourself, work with your owners to find one to solve whatever problems come up. Be there for health issues, temperament issues, divorces, financial problems, whatever it takes.
If those are your sacred responsibilities, you’ll see that a whole bunch of other actions will logically follow. If you’re financially responsible for genetic issues, you’ll want to minimize the number of times you’re out thousands of dollars. If you commit to be there for owners, you want to produce only the best temperaments. If you never abandon dogs to shelters, you want to place your puppies extremely carefully so homes don’t fail. And so on. So being willing to clean up your own mess also means
– Never breed without a reason, and “making nice pets” is not a reason. Making a dog who can reliably do a job is a reason. So is maintaining or improving a breed.
– Never breed without doing health testing. Research your breed enough to know exactly what genetic problems are likely to show up, and make sure you’re not making more unhealthy dogs.
– Interview owners and temperament test/grade puppies. Don’t make a placement unless you are as sure as you possibly can be that this placement will be successful and joyful on all sides.
– Breed only the very best temperaments and abilities, and foster those temperaments and abilities through socialization and training.
– Subject your dogs to peer review through showing, trialing, or some area of dogsport to make sure that they are appropriate candidates for breeding.
So what happens if you DIDN’T do those things–if your bitch got loose and was bred accidentally, or you thought it would be cute to have puppies? You STILL have to clean up your own mess; you can still be a responsible breeder. Place your puppies with a written contract. Never let them hit the shelter. Don’t place them without interviewing and rigorously screening owners. And, I would argue, if you aren’t able to offer any kind of health warranty (because you have no health testing history) or any kind of assurance that the dog will be able to do its job, or any kind of guarantee that the dog is the best specimen of its breed, you can’t sell the puppies. You may ask a small rehoming fee to sort out potential homes (and make sure this is not an impulse buy), but pretending that the puppies have an intrinsic value when they do not is dishonest. So place them carefully, know that you have a lifetime of responsibility to every puppy born, and do yourself a huge favor and do it right the next time.