Tuesday, March 12, 2013


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.


  1. "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. "

    This is quite a bizarre statement, and one I have never, ever heard anybody say. Do you actually believe that the average person who purchases a puppy from any breeder, actually knows about temperament or structure. They are going to pick the puppy that they "fall in love with." If they want a shy puppy, they will pick the shy puppy. If they want a happy outgoing and rambunctious puppy, that is the one they will pick. If they have children, then they let the children pick.

    What you considered "ill tempered" may be their ideal puppy. What you consider great temperament could be their devil dog.

    So, it is not up to the consumer to tell the breeder what to breed. That is already done and over by the time the consumer gets to see the litter.

    It is the responsibility of the breeder to do their best to breed good tempered dogs, but even then poor tempered dogs will come out. It is not the responsibility of the consumer to say no, if that is the dog they choose. It is the responsibility of the breeder to offer a guarantee on temperament and health. If that changes as the puppy gets older, then the breeder should take the puppy back, or offer a refund.

  2. I have perused your blogs, and have not found anything, so far, about adopting dogs from shelters and how to do that. I have only found articles about buying from breeders. Have you published anything on that? Also, have you published anything about working mixed breeds in sports and the working industry? In several decades I have never purchased a dog from a breeder, and I don't intend to, so all those articles don't interest me. However, I have adopted many, many dogs from shelters and all those dogs work and participate in a variety of dog sports. I would love to see more of that. Thanks!

  3. As a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant, I spend most of my work day helping families with dogs with serious behaviour problems. Dogs who bite. Dogs who are reactive. Dogs who are noise sensitive. Dogs who are terrified of other dogs or people. Dogs who have killed other dogs. Dogs who have mauled people. 85% of the dogs I work with have come through a rescue. This means that some organization or another has had their hands on the dog, presumably evaluated him, and determined that he would be a great companion to someone and released him to my clients home. Most of my clients expect to do some training; few of them are prepared for the dogs that they end up with.

    We live in a free enterprise system. Whatever sells gets developed more. Locally, it is coolest to have a rescue. We don't have enough locally to meet our needs so now we import them, often from all over the world. We didn't have enough locally, so we IMPORT unwanted dogs. That means that we decrease the population pressure in one place and add to it in another, often at great expense. What you find bizarre may reflect an understanding of a free market, but is in reality what we see in our school every day. When every single dog buyer insists on a healthy, behaviourally sound animal, then we will beat the rescue issue. If you want to rescue one until there are none, then you need to have a realistic answer for what to do when there are none. At the moment in my community, there are virtually none, and we import to fill the need, just like Walmart imports shoes from overseas because we cannot make them here cheaply enough or in enough quantity to reflect the need for cheap, accessible shoes. We even import them from the same places Walmart sources shoes. We have in essence devolved the family dog into a commodity. (continued below)

  4. This spring, a client brought in a dog for help. The dog was very aggressive; on his first day home he landed a level 4 bite (see the Dunbar Bite Scale for reference-you can easily find it via Google). He was aggressive with the other dogs in her home. And he was in incredible pain. The estimate for diagnostics was over three thousand dollars. The rescue had possession of this dog for 14 months and never had the dog treated. He had never gotten help for his pain. In preliminary bloodwork in preparation for the diagnostics that would have meant a second mortgage for my client (and she was prepared to do that!), they turned up end stage renal failure. 14 months in a rescue, and they had not even noticed and the rescue then harassed my client until they had to get a restraining order to cease and desist. The dog was humanely euthanized the following week. This is what I deal with in my day to day work week.

    Frustrated and sad, I have changed my direction. I will not make recommendations about rescues, rescuing dogs or rehoming. Not my business. I am in the business of helping families with dogs in their homes, not of getting more dangerous dogs into their homes. If you want a great book about selecting a great shelter dog, get a hold of Sue Sternberg's "Successful Shelter adoptions". I don't have anything to add to her work, she knows what she is doing and it is a great read. I am now in the business of prevention.

    Prevention means helping those who are interested in acquiring a dog to understand the process and to choose the right dog the first time and to take steps to ensure that the dog that they select will be in their home for the whole life of the dog. Forever. No second home; one home, one family forever. I offer free puppy classes and puppy play groups. I offer free educational lectures. I mentor veterinary students. But I don't rescue and until rescue cleans up its act and stops placing dogs with problems I won't go there any more. It is too traumatic. It is too upsetting.

    If you go back through my blog you will see that I DO write about how how to find a good mixed breed puppy. You will see more of that along the way. But you won't see me recommending rescue until things change a lot from within. That isn't may job, and if what I have to share doesn't interest you, then use the search engine and find something that feeds your soul. I don't have to be everything to everyone and I am content not to be your cup of tea. I have my followers (thanks to all my readers! Over 27 thousand hits on my blog to date!), and I have blogs I reliably follow, but I don't have to please every one, especially when there are so many choices out there that will make you happy.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Yuck. Going to go see who shared this and re-assess my opinion of that person. Heard the news about, for instance, resource guarding assessments? I would not hire, nor recommend, any trainer or dog handler who had not kept herself up to date with current news and trends. You are not part of the solution. You've washed your hands of shelter dogs, and I wash my hands of you and your ilk.

  6. I am not everyone's cup of tea for sure but I do take exception to your implication that I am not up to date with resource guarding assessments; yes, I am up to date about what can be done. I have not washed my hands of shelter dogs; I have washed my hands of those who place dogs who should not be placed. Really, you are welcome to find something that will nourish your soul if this isn't it.