Is there a problem with our dog population?

We tell people to only buy from a reputable breeder or adopt from rescue. Let’s see what happens if they take our advice.

There are 72 million dogs in the US.

If we assume an average lifespan of 10 years per dog (which is pretty accurate according to Nathan Winograd), that means 

7.2 million dogs are replaced each year; there are 7.2 million “holes” that people are looking to fill with a dog.

AKC registrations have been falling precipitously; it registered something like 800,000 this last year.

UKC registers 250,000 per year.

Of the AKC-registered dogs in the US, a VERY generous number for those that are well-bred would be 25%, or about 200,000 dogs.

Let’s be very generous with the UKC and say that half are reputably bred. Another 125,000 dogs.

We’ll throw in another 10,000 dogs from the single-breed registries and hunting dog registries.

So the total number of what we’d call reputably bred puppies born each year is under 500,000.

To fill 7.2 million homes.

There are 4 million dogs in rescue in the US.

Let’s see what happens over a decade of people only buying from reputable breeders or adopting from rescue.

We’ll assume that the surrender rate remains the same (which it wouldn’t, but that lets me make these figures as conservative as possible).

Year 1: 7.2 million homes, filled by 500,000 puppies and 4 million dogs from rescue. Almost three million homes don’t get a dog.

Year 2: 10 million homes, filled by 500,000 puppies and 4 million dogs from rescue. 5.5 million don’t get a dog.

Year 3: 12.5 million homes, filled by 500,000 puppies and 4 million dogs from rescue. 8 million don’t get a dog.

Year 4: 15 million homes, filled by 500,000 puppies and 4 million dogs from rescue.  10.5 million don’t get a dog

Year 4: 18 million homes, filled by 500,000 puppies and 4 million from rescue. 13.5 million don’t get a dog.

Year 5: 20 million homes, filled by 500,000 puppies and 4 million from rescue. 15.5 million don’t get a dog.

Year 6: 23 million homes, filled by 500,000 puppies and 4 million from rescue. 18.5 million don’t get a dog. 

As of year 11, there are no more dogs surrendered to rescue (because all the non-reputably-bred dogs have died). At this point around 26 or 27 million homes who want a dog will be empty, with 7 million empty homes added per year, and the supply will be 500,000 puppies per year. 

Within a few years after that, there will be 5 million dogs in the US, replaced at the rate of 500,000 per year. That’s a decrease in ownership of 93%.

It’s obvious that there is indeed a population problem –  a critical shortage of dogs from good breeders.

Do you see my problem? 

We tell people that every puppy should be a reputably bred puppy, but we don’t make even seven percent of the number of puppies they’d like to own.

And that number is shrinking by the day, as registrations fall, number of dogs shown is reduced, and number of breeders shrink.

The breeders who do exist are told that a sign of a good breeder is having very few litters – people brag that they’ve only had five or six litters in 20 years in a breed. If a breeder has more than a couple litters a year, her peers whisper that she’s a “puppy mill.”

The vast majority of people have never met, touched, or interacted with a well-bred dog in their entire lives. 

But we keep saying that the fewer litters are born, the better. And we’re referring to our OWN dogs, the beautifully bred ones. 

Anyone have any solutions for me?


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5 thoughts on “Is there a problem with our dog population?

  1. of course! We need more beautifully bred dogs, period. If we had enough beautifully bred dogs to fill the demand (assuming, of course, that the “demand” fits the breeder’s requirements) then there would be no more need for rescues at all! And animal shelters….and puppy mills….and all the problems we have with dogs in this country. It’s simple, isn’t it?

    But then, you’re always going to have those people who would never be able to acquire a dog from a responsible breeder…what of them? Well, I guess in this perfect dog Utopia, they simply wouldn’t be able to GET a dog, right? And boy, wouldn’t that be ideal…

    Hmm…good question.

  2. I don’t think you’re ever going to get rid of BYBs. Standards may be encouraged to rise a bit for most of them (as in, more that do breed-specific health testing) but since the majority of people are not anywhere NEAR as picky about ‘breed standards’ as the minority of quality show breeders, they are often happy with a dog that is less-than a quality example of a breed, as long as it ‘mostly’ looks like whatever breed it’s supposed to be. I see people with ‘Chihuahuas’ that are not only HUGE but their entire structure is only vaguely Chihuahua-like. Their owner doesn’t even notice — they’re perfectly happy with their wierdo-Chi, and to -them- it is exactly what they wanted. BYBs cater entirely to people like that, and they’re the majority.

    I have to admit that someone like me, who only wants a pet dog yet is obsessed about their breed’s standard and history, and is VERY picky about a breeder’s lines looking ‘just so’ in accordance to the standard before I’d consider buying a dog from them, is simply not the norm among dog folks.

  3. I think Misti has found the point there.
    I would image at least 3-4 million of those homes have small children, or no fenced yard, or some other criterion that makes then utterly unsuitable for dog ownership according to the standards of lots of rescues/breeders.

    Are they or aren’t they?

    Can we educate them so they can provide a good home despite these shortcomings? Can convince those that truly aren’t capable not to get a dog?

    If we can’t do that, we can’t solve the problem.

    • Well, I’m not so sure that those are shortcomings. We got our first purebred dog when my oldest was under two; every single dog since then has been owned by a family with at least one small child and usually a whole bunch. We’ve had no fenced yard through a lot of those years. I’ve learned through personal experience that it’s very difficult to have a puppy and be pregnant or have a very small infant, so I feel pretty confident in telling people that they should wait six months or a year under those specific circumstances, but once you’re not so deep in the trenches of babyhood it’s doable.

      I’ve really evolved in my hard-and-fast criteria about fences – I have seen in my own puppies (the ones I’ve sold) far greater damage to the ones whose owner thinks the way to deal with a problem is to throw the dog in the back yard than the ones who I (with great fear and trepidation) put in homes with no yard. I think as long as the dog is never allowed to wander – if the leash is ALWAYS on – no fence forces the owner to be more interactive; it puts the problem pretty literally in his lap. I think they end up more committed to good daily exercise and they’re very bonded with their dog because it is next to them all the time.

      So I still prefer a fenced yard, but now I’m just as serious in my warnings to those with fences (“Don’t let the yard take the problem away from you”) as I am in my warnings to those without.

      I’m very grateful to the breeders who let me get my foot in the door and sold me my first dogs when I had no fence and very small kids – once I had done it the first time, and could show a record of success, I never had any trouble getting the next dog or the next dog.

      I think we need to be honest about the factors that make good dog ownership more difficult, and exactly why it’s more difficult if you tackle it with little kids or in a small house or when working full-time or any of the other criteria. And I think we need to be very specific about how we expect them to make it work (“You work nine hours a day–that means you must commit to at least a couple of days of daycare a week, and either you or someone you hire must come home at lunch to let the dog pee”), but I think we should give owners a chance. After all, there are very few of us serious dog people who would be willing to give up our dogs if we landed in a less than ideal situation – we’d just make it work, whatever we had to do. New owners should at least be given a little bit of the benefit of the doubt that they’ll do what is necessary.

  4. First and foremost it needs to get into the public’s mind that whether they are breeding purebreds, “hybrids”, mutts, beautiful show dogs or dogs that barely fit the breed standard, no “breeder” ever lets one of their dogs end up in a shelter. If someone will not take a dog they bred back at any age, at any time, and for any reason, they are a “puppy mill”. Whether they have hundreds of dogs stacked in deplorable conditions, have one backyard litter a decade, or fully health-test and finish every dog they breed, if they do not remain committed for the life of every puppy they produce, they are not a “breeder,” they are a “puppy mill”, and to be avoided.
    That is the first step in my mind. Once that is accomplished, and every new dog entering a home has someone supporting the people they place their dogs with through the tough training ages, and taking back dogs if people can’t care for them, then move on to educating people on health testing, and breed standards, and campaigning dogs and so on.

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