The other day I got into a mini-argument on Twitter –well, in 140 characters it’s got to be pretty short — with a dog breeder who extolled the virtues of “hobbyists” as opposed to “professionals.” The tweeter proclaimed that hobbyists breed dogs for love whereas professionals do it for money, making the former preferable to the latter.

To me, the term hobbyist connoted backyard breeder, someone who just wants to make a buck off their unspayed pup and is clueless about the breed. In contrast, my sense of a professional was someone who cares about the dogs, who becomes an expert at knowing a breed’s particular health issues, etc.

So, feeling cantankerous, I challenged the tweeter, saying professionals were preferable.

And got blasted back. Among other things, I was told that it was a slippery slope from professional (read: for profit) breeder to puppy mill, that many professionals were more interested in producing show dogs than in producing healthy ones.  Browsing around various websites, I discovered that several of my favorite bloggers, those who are interested in ethical issues such as breed rescue, described themselves as hobbyists.

I hate being wrong and I especially hate having to admit it in public. But I want to maintain credibility (not to mention good karma). So mea culpa.

I think. Because I still don’t know enough about the issue. I’m looking for two breeders, one self-described professional and one hobbyist, to write guest blogs for me. Yes, that’s an invitation to contact me if you’re interested.

In the meantime, I do know some things, including what to look for in a reputable breeder — whether hobbyist or professional.  The following is adapted from — shameless self-promotion alert — Am I Boring My Dog.

Before you choose a breeder, choose a breed

Because one of the things that makes breeders reputable is their focus on one or, at the most, two breeds– thus allowing them to acquire in-depth knowledge of everything from standard appearance and temperament to health problems — you first need to decide on the breed you’re interested in.

If possible, check out the breed in action

Attending local dog shows and agility trials  is a good way to check out different types of dogs in action and to meet breeders. However, these shows–which are not held in every town–don’t give you the chance to make the acquaintance of less peppy and performance-oriented pups.

Get referrals

After you decide on a breed, seek referrals through friends, veterinarians, and groomers. The American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club also offer comprehensive lists of reputable breeders throughout the United States.

Think local

Look for someone within easy visiting distance, because no matter how much you trust a referral, you’ll want to check out a breeder’s premises personally.

To be continued. I’ll next discuss what to look for during a visit.

In the meantime, don’t blast me for talking about breeders instead of rescue. In the best of all possible worlds all dogs would be rescued before any more were bred. But we’re not living in an ideal universe, so it’s in the best interest of the dogs as well as of people who love them to discuss the one we’re actually in.

5 thoughts on “Dog Breeding & Its Discontents, Part 1”

  1. One obvious problem here is the semantic one. In the doggy circles I travel in, “backyard breeder” is a perjorative, meaning, as Edie notes, someone ignorant and/or greedy who thinks he or she is going to make a fortune breeding pit bulls. Or chihuahuas. But if by “professional” you mean someone who makes a full-time living from breeding and selling dogs, you are eliminating the vast majority of reputable, breed-loving dog procreating operations. Both my smooth fox terriers came from part-time breeders — and they have bred some of the top fox terriers on the show circuit.
    The thing is, it’s very difficult to break even, let alone make money, if you do right by your dogs — do not breed your females too often, take care of bloodlines to avoid too much inbreeding, get the puppies their shots and all your dogs their needed vet care, check out potential buyers of the offspring, find homes for the pups that are not show quality, as well as the potential superstars. Lots more costs pile up if you take your dogs on the show circuit, while a prime show record is usually one of the most important criteria for judging if a breeder is a “good” one. And I am with Edie — please don’t rail at me for discussing the very idea there is such a thing as a good breeder. I have rescued many dogs — from puppy mills and shelters — so I know the cost of the current system. But I would also hate to see many wonderful, useful dog breeds disappear because the only owners propagating pups were the ignorant and the greedy.

  2. PS And please don’t think I am attacking or denigrating pit bulls. Pitties are wonderful, much-maligned dogs. But, like any other canine, they need attention and training, It breaks my heart every time I see the pit bulls that dominate our local shelter population knowing that tso many are doomed, either by shelter policies against adopting out pit bulls beyond a certain age, or by fear and prejudices against them.

    1. Thanks for both comments, Rebecca. I hadn’t realized we’d reached a point where breeders couldn’t be discussed rationally until I read the comments section of a New York Times story written by a woman who got her new puppy from what sounded like a very responsible breeder. The writer was as slammed for her actions by advocates of rescue as she might have been if she had bought the puppy in a pet store.

  3. Good dogs are worth the money. Anyone can produce puppies, being a BREEDER takes knowledge. Most who know things expect to be paid – no reason dog breeders are any different. There are “good” and “bad” breeders both large/small pro/backyard. It’s perception/opinion – many will never get a break even price. I don’t think one should expect someone to take a loss to “prove” they’re not a puppy mill. Extremists have harassed breeders to where the personal visits are in many cases not allowed anymore. It’s dangerous and not really proving anything.

    1. That was my take on professionals vs hobbyists, i.e., that if you’re professional at anything you deserve to be paid. But I’ll await further elaboration of those terms…

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