Lately I have been reading on a number of lists that good breeders are few and far between. People are lamenting the lack of breeders who keep stable structure and temperament in mind when they breed. I am seeing more and more finger pointing at breeders as the source of ill tempered dogs, with poor structure. It is true that poorly bred dogs are being produced by someone, but there is a second party in the equation. You. The consumer. The person who purchases the ill tempered, poorly structured puppy is in part to blame. When consumers start to be more discriminating in their choices of breeders fewer ill tempered dogs with poor structure will be bred.
There is a problem that relates to this premise. The problem is that many pet buyers and in fact even many veterinarians don’t recognize a good breeder. I mentor a number of vet students each year. And each year at least one of these students tells me that breeders are bad. Vets don’t get sent out to dog shows to learn about the dogs that people are carefully breeding and they don’t learn about the way that good choices are made when breeding dogs. Your average pet owner doesn’t know how to find a great breeder and the main person they would go to ask for information is usually at least as uninformed as they are.
|Baby D'fer! He came from Amy and John Dahl of Oakhill Kennels in North Carolina. Definately breeders who know what they are breeding and why!|
Trainers are a better source of contact for good breeders, but even in the training world where we deeply care about what pup comes into our homes, many trainers are not getting their dogs from good breeders believing that they can make a bigger difference by rescuing a dog. Never the less, trainers are more closely tied into the world of breeders than many veterinarians because we have behavioural expectations of our dogs and we know a variety of people who also have behavioural expectations of their dogs and our network can help to lead you to the right dog to fit your life.
Possibly the best place to go to get information about good breeders is a breed club if you are looking for a purebred. If you are looking for a mixed breed, Rally and Agility clubs are great places to look for contacts for good breeders. The problem is, if you don’t look, you won’t find the great match to fit your life. If you just want a dog, and you don’t care if it is a slug who lies on the couch all day, or if it is an exercise-o-holic, then you can randomly choose any dog at all. If you have any expectations at all of the dog who will live with you, you need to find a good way of culling out the dogs who don’t fit your needs, and until consumers demand better, they are going to keep getting mediocre. Until consumers start to get picky about the dogs they choose to live with, they are going to continue to create and support breeders who don’t breed well tempered, good structured dogs.
So how can you tell if you have a good breeder who is doing his or her best to produce great dogs? There are some hallmarks to look for. With a few notable exceptions, great breeders don’t live so far off the grid that the only way to find them is to pack a lunch and paddle your canoe to get to them. Great breeders have great reputations. At one point I was looking for a standard poodle for a service dog program. I went to a dog show and I watched the poodles being groomed. I introduced myself and started to talk to the people grooming the poodles and told them about the dog I wanted. I asked them who they would recommend. One kennel name kept coming up over and over again. I spoke to about five different handlers and they all said the same thing;-“if you want those characteristics in a dog, this is the kennel you want”. I went to a second different show and talked up several more people in the poodle group and asked again, and again that same kennel kept coming up. One handler suggested another kennel and then said “but they get all their breeding stock from this other kennel.” The kennel I had been referred to over and over again. That kennel, Dawin, in Ontario, had exactly the kind of dog I wanted. Had I been looking for something else, I am sure the handlers would all have recommended a different kennel. Handlers at dog shows are the world’s best kept secret in terms of finding the dog that you want.
The second thing about great breeders is that they are aware of what their dog’s faults are. When I first got involved with dogs, I bought a breed book with all the breeds that were then recognized in Canada. I read the whole book, cover to cover, even the breeds I knew I didn’t want. That was perhaps one of the best exercises I could have done. I learned a lot about dog breeds, traits and characteristics and temperament. I learned that a correct temperament for a Kuvaz is aloof. I learned that the correct temperament for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is friendly. I learned that some breeds of pointers should naturally exhibit pointing behaviour. I also learned about which breeds I wanted to live with and which ones I did not. I narrowed the choice down to two; the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the German Shepherd. And then I went to a dog show to meet the breeds. All the chessie people told me about the drawbacks to their breed, and what I should consider when getting a chessie. Many of them told me that I should consider them as a second dog, but get an easier dog first. The German Shepherd people all told me that shepherds were great dogs. Knowing what I know now, and looking back, the chessie would have been a better choice, in part because the breeders were upfront with the drawbacks to the breed. There are a lot of drawbacks to my beloved German Shepherds and I would have been better served had I known those drawbacks up front.
The third thing I like to ask a breeder is “what are you breeding for?” If they respond “good temperament and great structure!” I know we need to dig a little deeper. A good temperament in a German Shepherd is not a good temperament in a Golden Retriever and vice versa. If I am visiting a lab breeder and they tell me that they breed for a deep chest and a strong back, with a stout otter like tail, who is willing and eager to work with people and carry things around, who tolerates a high level of noise and activity without distress, and whose ancestors had good health into their early teens, then I know I am talking to someone who has thought about what it means to breed a good Labrador retriever. If I talk to a lab breeder who tells me that they want to breed dogs with good structure and temperament, then I know I need to keep looking for another breeder.
Finally, I like to get to know the breeders I am buying from. The last three dogs I purchased were all from training colleagues. The first, Amy Dahl was someone I got to know well through a variety of interactions in the training world and on line. She and I had collaborated on a couple of projects and I had consulted with her on a behaviour problem in a dog she knew. The second was Robin Winter of Narnia Kennel who had competed against me in a number of dog shows. I also met several dogs she had breed and I really liked them. The third is a trainer Mel Wooley of Stahlworth Kennel who has presented at our Service Dog Seminar. She has an incredible dog, Divah, who I really like, and when the chance came to get a Diva puppy, I jumped at the opportunity. 10 years later, I am still in touch with Amy from time to time, 6 years later I am still in touch with Robin sporadically, and 18 months later, I am in regular contact with Mel. I would consider all my breeders to be good friends and I know that if any of my dogs had any issues, I could turn to them for help. If you really like the dogs, but you just cannot stand the people who breed them, consider that if the paperwork doesn't come through or if the dog has a congenital issue that pops up years later, these are the same people you will have to work with. If you cannot work with them when the going is good, you aren't likely going to be able to work with them when the going is tough.
The bottom line is that until consumers start asking for better dogs we are going to keep getting second rate animals. If we were to treat the car industry the way we treat the dog industry we would buy cars that just fell apart and we would accept that as not only normal but as desirable. We need to demand better minimum standards and when we do, the world of breeders will turn around. Breeders breed what sells, and if it doesn't matter to you what dog ends up in your home, it won't matter to the breeder either.