Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Thought Re: Dog Breeding

"We only breed when we want something for ourselves."

I don't like this line of thought. I spend a lot of time thinking about dog breeding considering it's something I never want to do. I'm for it, of course, the risk and responsibility is just too much for me. I've been mulling over ideas about titling stud dogs, because that would be a way to train and trial dogs for things I enjoy without dealing with hard to deal with pet owners (not that I expect dog people to really be any easier), but that's neither here nor there.

But I don't like a lot of the "passwords" of responsible breeders because when you go a little deeper, it reveals really unhealthy thinking.

I read a lot of Ruffly Speaking (those are two links, go read them and then come back because that's what I'm thinking about as I write this), and that one blog influences my thinking a lot, and that first post is based it looks like solely on Nathan Winograd, so, bias alert. And then read this one too because I just found it and it's relevant too.

So what does this have to do with breeders that just breed for themselves?

First of all, they're no different that the people who say, "Oh we just love her temperament and think it would be wonderful to have a litter of little Lady's running around the neighborhood." Now, the show breeder may be able to say that other people think that's a grand idea too because Ch. Kennelname's Little Miss Moppet finished in three shows and is getting her therapy dog certs next month, but still. The goal is not to produce pet puppies for other people. It's to get something for them, and then place the other puppies that they don't want. That sounds a little cruel, but it's not wrong.

The problem with this is that more pet puppies is exactly what is needed.

The problem with more pet puppies is the majority of breeds make pretty lousy pets. If you're breeding to maintain the original breed with the original drives, where are normal people supposed to get their dogs? People that love their dogs and are great homes for dogs, but homes where the dog never sees a sheep, never fetches anything more than ball, certainly never hears gunfire, a home where the dog must never show aggression? Where do these people get their dogs? Are they restricted to the companion breeds? Do we go the way of the Klee Kai, start breeding dogs that look like other dogs in miniature, without the extra work the original breed needs?

From my observations, your average suburban prospective dog owner thinks a couple hundred dollars is a reasonable price for a puppy. Interestingly, he's probably more likely to research and move up a level on equipment - fancy collars, roomy crate, good food, puppy K - than do the same for breeders (part of this I feel is because he doesn't know there's a spectrum of breeders, to most people there's puppy mills, show breeders, and then the sensible people in the middle, but that's another post). I think when educated on the breeder costs and owner benefits of a responsibly bred puppy he can be persuaded to move up a price point, the upper hundreds. But $1,000 for a dog that the kids won't walk and that will occasionally eat something incredibly important to people and also incredibly dangerous to dog stomachs seems a little excessive.

So, I don't know. How do you balance between what's good for dogs, what's good for the breed, and what's good for the breeder? There has to be a way to fill the BYB market with better bred dogs.


  1. There's nothing "real" about that couple-hundred price point, except that a couple hundred is about as much as people are willing to throw away. It's the amount that doesn't hurt too much.

    But it's not attached to any reality.

    For example, good refrigerators cost about a thousand dollars, maybe a little less if you get a scratch-n-dent. Nobody thinks they're being ripped off paying a grand for a good fridge. There's no freak-out that they're not $200, and in fact a fridge that cost that little would be looked at with considerable suspicion.

    A book costs around $15, with high-end books at $45 and bargain tables at $5. The bargain books don't move too fast, because everybody knows that they're on the table because nobody likes them.

    There's no reason that a dog purchase can't have the same expectation - dogs cost a couple grand, with the low end around $1200 and the high end around $3000. Anything much under a thousand SHOULD push the same suspicion buttons as a $200 fridge or a $5 hardcover, and it would if people understood (or were being taught) what goes into breeding. You should be horrified at a cheap dog, because it means that somebody's cutting corners and you want nothing to do with that.

    I agree with you that most people don't want the demands of a purpose-bred dog. However, those are the same owners royally screwing up the dogs they DO buy. It's not like they become fantastic owners when they get a lab mix from the house down the street. Most of them shouldn't have a dog period, so responsible breeders don't breed for that market and I can't imagine ever doing so. We shouldn't be producing stuffed animals (at ANY price!) for the lowest-common-denominator owner who honestly thinks it's normal and expected for a dog to never show aggression.

    Good ownership has absolutely nothing to do with how much money they're willing to spend and everything to do with understanding what a dog is and what normal behavior is and being committed to success.

  2. I liked this post-
    I have the same conflict when I think about breeding. Most people don't need a purebred, and would do just fine with a shelter mutt, but if current trends continue (spay/nueter is on the rise, and multidog households are increasing as well) there will be a SERIOUS dog shortage instead of overage.

    As Joanna has written in her blog (and many others in theirs) we need more good breeders. But I think that ignoring the pet market is not right. Most pet owners are not ogres, or idiots. We who focus on rescue see only the bad stuff- the abuse, the neglect, the lack of training. Pet owners are getting better- the MASSIVE uptick in retail for dogs (food, toys, medicine, training, etc.) shows that. It's pet owners who've driven the "positive reinforcement" training revolution. Saying that breeding for the pet market is wrong is an outdated statement. Pet owners are more educated, and spend more on dogs than they ever have before.

    We do need more good breeders, that's obvious. But doing it by-the-books is expensive, difficult, and loses money, so obviously it's not very rewarding.

    I was watching a show last night, it was actually about trying to get people in developing countries to build and use toilets, instead of fouling their water by going in the open... Anyway, one of the most insightful things in the show was the statement "Real change won't happen until we make it profitable to be virtuous." That's human nature.

    I think that goes for dog breeding too- we have to make a way that breeders can make money, pet buyers don't have to spend a year's salary for a pup, and the dogs are healthy. I don't think it's impossible, but the current paradigm is not going to work.