“We’re responsible breeders…”

You want a very sad and ironic laugh? Google that phrase. I think, of all the responses, I found ONE website that actually looked like it was from a responsible breeder.

DO NOT BE TAKEN IN. Bad breeders are very adept at glomming on to words and phrases that will make them seem less like bad breeders. I am sure many of them actually DO believe that they are good breeders.

I’m going to single out one site that actually does exist, but the words in brackets have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent and keep me from getting sued.

This site features [Irish Setters] and is a great example of someone who knows what good breeders are supposed to look like, and is doing a lot to make you think that she’s a really good breeder.

good: the breeder says she does health testing.
bad: health testing doesn’t make sense. For example, one health page has Penn Hip results listed as “no distraction index.” That’s impossible, because Penn Hip measures a distraction index and that’s what gives you a result. The DI is how far the hip moves in the socket; every living thing has some movement in its joints. A DI of zero would be a dog in rigor mortis. So this breeder maybe is health testing, but doesn’t fully understand the testing that is being done.

good: Dogs are not just “run of the mill” Irish Setters; pedigrees have some champions.
bad: She does not show herself, has no obligation to produce dogs that can actually win, but is referring to the accomplishments of dogs and breeder/owners that came before. The problem with that is it only takes one generation for a show-quality dog to become a pet-quality dog. I’ve seen BIS-winning dogs produce some UGLY puppies. That’s why EVERY generation has to be shown, and you never slack off. So she’s not taking responsibility for breeding only the best. That’s also why there are dogs with such very different “types” on the site; she thinks that as long as there are champions in the pedigree it’s OK to call them high-quality and to breed them together. There are dogs on her site that look like [red Golden Retrievers] and others that honestly look like [red Borzoi]. There is NO WAY that breeding those together is to a standard.

good: Speaks in some quality-related words that talk about structure and so on (head type, gait, etc.)
bad: She’s using the wrong words, which shows that she doesn’t actually understand or keep in mind the true measures of quality. For example, in the bio page of her dog [Harry], you can see the dog trotting, and the words “Harry has magnificent stride and carry.” It’s plain that she’s seen show breeders’ sites that feature dogs showing off stride length. However, she’s not using the right picture or the right words. We evaluate dogs on the move using a very specific pose, this one:
http://www.whitestarpons.com/Scarlett%20side%20gait.jpg. We would also never say “magnificent stride”–that means nothing. There’s also no such thing as “carry.” I think what she’s going for is “open sidegait” and “stable topline on the move,” but I am not really sure.

Other miscellaneous red flags: dogs’ weights listed (good breeders do not generally do this), non-standard color descriptions used (“thick coat, fox-red fur, Scarlet shimmer highlights”).

These kind of things are super obvious to show breeders, but are subtle and confusing for most pet owners. That’s why it’s so important to keep the requirements top of mind, and to not slack off. Good breeders show their dogs (in conformation, hunt, etc.). They show their CURRENT dogs, and EVERY breeding dog who possibly can be shown (it’s OK to not show a breeding dog if, say, an injury caused a tail to be docked or something, but these exceptions are few and far between). They health test their CURRENT and ALL breeding dogs, and they can tell you exactly what those tests are, why they’re doing them, and how the results help them make breeding decisions.

It’s a good idea to look at ANY website with a cautious and discriminating eye. Some of the worst breeders have the most beautiful and professionally produced websites, and some of the best breeders have sites their daughter’s boyfriend created on Geocities three years ago and never updated. Never let yourself be sold the sizzle; look for the steak.

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3 thoughts on ““We’re responsible breeders…”

  1. You know, I’ve been meaning to write to you and ask some questions about this, because I so respect your insight into this issue of responsible breeding.

    One of my questions is WRT breeds such as the Irish Setter, which in the US is *so* different from what the breed looks like in its native Ireland. I do have some issues with dog breeds whose “standard” has been compromised due to the show ring — in order to make them look “prettier” a lot of the dog’s originally desirable qualities have been lost in the breeding process. So, what is your position on that? (and I’m not challenging you at all, just wanting to have an intellingent discussion and hopefully learn something)

    The other relates to breeds that are not yet recognized by the AKC but are very popular among hunters or farmers — like the Black Mouth Curs and Bluetick Coonhounds… how does the UKC rate in terms of keeping track of responsible breeders in these instances?

    As usual, I think what you’ve written rocks and I just want to keep the discussion going 🙂

  2. Nice essay. I’m doing some homework for a similar one for my blog (regarding puppy ads in the paper). Responsibility is reflected in the actions of breeders, not their words. It’s also very important to me to be honest about not just the good parts of your breeding program, but where you are looking to get better and how you are going about it.

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