Saturday, November 5, 2011


Imagine for a moment that every litter of puppies born was the result of a planned breeding of two healthy, stable dogs, and that the breeder had found appropriate, committed families for every puppy.  What would the impact be on the pet population situation?  What would this look like?

To begin with it would mean that every bitch bred out there would be healthy and a good representative of her type.  There is a difference between a purebred dog and a purpose bred dog.  A purebred dog has to have two parents who are also purebreds of that breed.  Thus, a Golden Retriever has both a Golden Retriever dam and a Golden Retriever sire.  A Shi Tzu has a Shi Tzu dam and a Shi Tzu sire.  To be a purebred dog, you don’t have to have healthy parents; you just have to be the offspring of two purebred dogs of the same breed.

A purpose bred dog is a healthy dog who has two healthy parents.  Suppose for a moment that you were a dairy farmer and you had a farm dog who brought in the cattle.  And suppose that this dog was female, and very talented and healthy.  You could make a great argument for finding an appropriate sire and breeding your bitch to produce more nice puppies, provided that you have homes for the pups you don’t want to keep.  Introducing more genetic variation in this way can sometimes help to keep a population healthy.  Provided that your dog is healthy and does the work you want her to do, you can often produce really nice puppies this way, who will grow into really nice adult dogs. 

An outcross like this is much more likely to produce healthy, desired adult dogs than might a breeding of two dogs who are unhealthy, even if they are of the same breed.  So if you have a German Shepherd but she is very nervous, and limps sometimes, then you don’t want to breed her at all, even if her parents are champions, and even if you really like her.  If she is not an outstanding example of her breed, she should not be bred.  Then consider what happens when a dog like this is bred to a sire who is aggressive and who also has some structural problems.  The puppies are much more likely to have behaviour and structure problems, and even if you have found homes for all of them, they are much less likely to stay in those homes for their entire lives.  You can breed nice dogs, or you can breed not nice dogs, and which you choose to do will have big impacts on the pet population as a whole.

Friday is a Purebred, Purpose Bred dog with a commited family who will be there for her for her whole life.  Every dog deserves this!
Purpose bred dogs MIGHT be purebreds, but they are not necessarily purebreds; they are bred intentionally dogs who are healthy and who have homes to go to.  So purebreds can be purpose breds, but purpose bred dogs don’t have to be purebreds.  In order to address the issue of the effect of indiscriminate breeding, every litter needs to be purpose bred, regardless of if it is a litter of purebreds, of mixed breeds, or of unknown heritage bred dogs.  Every litter that is indiscriminately bred contributes to the problem, and every litter of purpose bred dogs addresses it.

So let’s just imagine a perfect world where every dog was the product of a careful, well thought out breeding program.  Each person breeding a litter would also have dedicated puppy parents who were waiting to get their carefully bred dog at an age that is appropriate; about 7 to 8 weeks of age.  Each puppy family would go to a good puppy class, and each family would have reasonable expectations for their pups.  In the event of some crisis the breeder would be willing to take the purpose bred dog back.  How many of these dogs would end up in a shelter?  Probably not very many. 

This is what we should be striving for when we consider how we are going to resolve the pet population situation in North America.  At the moment in North America we are faced with some interesting situations.  In some areas, such as the one I live in, there are very few stray and unwanted dogs.  There are former research dogs looking for homes.  There are some “free to a good home” ads.  But there aren’t stray dogs living in our streets.  For the most part, in Guelph, Ontario, we don’t have a pet overpopulation problem.  In fact, we import dogs from all over the world, especially from the Southern United States and from Northern Ontario to fill our needs for rescued dogs. 

On the other hand, I hear from colleagues in the mid west and western United States that they still have many unwanted dogs who live off the land and who breed and produce pups who grow up to live in the dumpsters, or on the fringes of towns or farms.  These dogs are unvaccinated so they are a sink for diseases and they are often a nuisance to those who live close by.  These dogs are often trapped, poisoned and shot in an effort to control the population.  Some of these dogs end up in shelters and then are either killed or shipped elsewhere to meet the growing demand for “rescued” dogs.  It is important to understand that these dogs are usually very healthy, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to survive.  It would not be hard to argue that some of these dogs should be permitted to live out their lives on the fringe against the day when purebred indiscriminately bred dogs need the genetic variation they could provide. 

There is a strong presence on the internet supporting rescuing dogs ahead of purchasing a purpose bred dog.  The problem is that these dogs have to come from somewhere.  Locally, it is more popular to rescue than to purchase a dog.  So we have a supply and demand problem.  In Guelph, I have met dogs who have been rescued off the beaches in the Caribbean, who have been rescued in Korea and Taiwan and Indonesia and who have been brought here to live.  Not all of these dogs do well.  In fact, many of them don’t do well at all.  And as long as rescuing is considered the better option, there needs to be a supply of these dogs. 

I would love to see rescues cease to need to exist.  I recognize that in various parts of North America there is a genuine pet overpopulation crisis.  This is not the case everywhere though.  In selected pockets, we are beating back the problem and now we have to come up with another solution.  The most common solution is to import, but that brings on its own problems too. 

We see a similar population problem when pesticides are used.  Consider a wheat field.  If you take all the grasshoppers out of the wheat field, after the toxins have washed away, you now have a wheat field that is ripe for an invasion of more plant eating insects.  In some cases, this results in a worse infestation than was originally there.  When we import dogs from other areas, we create a hole for another dog to fill, in the environment of origin.  Ultimately, this contributes to further population issues where the dog comes from because the solution doesn’t actually address the issue.

Similarly, we see local issues cropping up.  In a town half an hour north of Guelph there is a man who “rescues” two litter of puppies each year.  There is a bitch who lives in the ravine behind his house, and he feeds her and when she has a litter of puppies, he harvests the pups at about five weeks and sells them under the guise of rescuing them.  He sells the puppies to unsuspecting people, telling them that he has “rescued” the litter.  The fact that he is feeding the dam, but not providing any veterinary care is not discussed.  The fact that the pups didn’t get the early socialization that they should have had doesn’t get discussed either.  By providing food, and a whelping shelter that he has lured this dog into, he has set himself up as an empty wheat field.  When this dog eventually dies, it is quite likely that another will appear in her place, filling the niche.

Spaying and neutering isn’t addressing the issue adequately-we are still seeing dogs being indiscriminately bred.  Spay/neuter and release programs hold promise of keeping active niches full so that new dogs don’t enter them and produce even more unwanted puppies.  Limiting access to resources such as food and shelter is another effective method of population control that is not nearly often enough thought of; if food and shelter are limited, pups won’t be produced.  Coming back to my imaginary scenario, it is easy to see that if every pup was purposefully bred, was carefully placed and if every family getting a dog was realistic and dedicated, we wouldn’t have a pet overpopulation problem anywhere.  And it is time we started to peck away at that problem.


  1. Very sensible post on an often-controversial topic. The only flaw is that there probably aren't enough responsible breeders to fill the desire for dogs. A dog doesn't count as "purpose-bred" if the purpose it was bred for is to make money for the breeder, and there are a limited number of people willing to spend the time and money it takes to produce and raise truly carefully bred dogs.

  2. Thank you. I would like to say that there is no reason that I can see that a dog cannot be both purpose bred and a money maker for the breeder. Why should we not pay what a purpose bred dog is worth. If both parents are healthy and both parents are sound, stable dogs, and the breeder charges a fee that covers his or her expenses and gives him or her a profit, why should he not profit from producing nice, healthy dogs?

    The dog world is a weird and often wonderful place and one of the weirder places I encounter it is the whole deal about money. I make my living as a dog trainer. I charge a fee. It is a fair fee and I work hard for my money, but there are people who want me to discount for them because they have adopted a dog, or because they are fostering. People want me to donate my skills as a trainer to rescues and there is a culture that has emerged that we should do this for free, that we somehow owe the world to the shelters and rescues. I don't understand this! Imagine for a moment if I were a carpenter. If I were a carpenter, I might donate a day or two or maybe even three each year to something like Habitat for Humanity, but no one would expect a carpenter to donate all of his or her skills to a charity for a half day each week, which is what people are faced with if they are dog trainers.

    The same is true for good breeding. A well bred dog is expensive. And it should be. To breed a dog properly, the breeder has to invest in genetic screening of his or her stock, in a facility to breed the dog in and to raise the litter and in four to five hours a day of interaction with the litter in order to make that litter everything it should be. So why shouldn't they charge a lot. Now that I think about this...THIS might be a whole other blog topic!