Thursday, October 30, 2008

On Good Breeding

((cue sound of soapbox dragging...))
I was all set to start this post with a horrible "purebred kuvasz puppies for sale, WILL SHIP ANYWHERE!!!!!" ad and then go on a rant about backyard breeders and puppy mills, but I couldn't find one, which reminded me why we chose a kuvasz in the first place. But there are plenty of ads for other popular breeds and mixes, like labradoodles, goldendoodles, puggles, etc.

The New York Times did a piece on designer dog 'breeds' last year, which mainly highlighted the designer mixes v. purebreeds controversy, which is really the subject of another post or three. Although the same issues come up with extra poignancy with the designer 'breeds', this post is about the importance of good, careful, and ethical breeding.
Just because a puppy is "purebred," "registered" or has "papers"means very little, and the pup may not end up much like the breed it's supposed to be. They could have serious temperament issues, congenital physical problems, or just be irrational. Back when I didn't know any better, I got my 'purebred-with-papers' American Eskimo from a backyard breeder who had posted an ad in the paper. Boo cost me all of $90 and the breeder sent me home with his "papers" (including a record of all his shots to date) and a couple of cans of puppy food.

Don't get me wrong, Boo was a great dog and we had 16 great years together. But he definitely had his issues, including recurring worms and fleas as a pup. His shiny little black nose faded to brown within a few years, he had a bit of pink in his lips, he was not very well-proportioned, and his coat was pretty thin with a slight wave. His mom had a wavy coat with no undercoat at all, which is not the breed standard. More problematic, Boo also had some physical and psychological issues - he would vomit ALL the time, especially when stressed out or excited. And he was ALWAYS stressed out or excited, because was afraid of squeak toys, plastic bags, water bubblers, and lots of other things. His eyesight was terrible even as a young dog, his hearing started to decline when he was a middle-aged dog, and his teeth were prone to terrible tartar buildup even as a young dog, despite our attempts to brush and give him good chews.
The process of getting Biggie took us through two breeders, the national breed club, lots of questions and research, dog shows where I saw lots of kuvasz and met more breeders, and almost a year of waiting for the "right" pup and breeder to come into our lives. We considered adopting a young rescue kuvasz, but having researched the breed carefully enough to understand that even a well-tempered kuvasz in New York City would be a challenge for first time kuvasz owners, we opted to wait. We knew we had found the right breeder because the breeding parents' temperament and health were paramount to her, and she would not have bred dogs that were likely to have health or temperament problems.
The first things Biggie's breeder sent us - before the puppy or parent pictures - were the puppies' pedigree and their parents' health clearances. Eyes and joints all screened and ok; no inbreeding or recurring parents/grandparents/great grandparents, great-greats, etc. on either side. In addition to both parents being shown to championship (picture above of Biggie's pop winning a Best in Specialty Show, which was part of getting him to Westminster), both parents had competed in obedience, which showed us that a) Biggie's parents were trainable and had decent temperaments; b) the breeder was active in developing the best characteristics of the breed; and c) the breeder was very involved in the lives of the dogs.

Turns out we were right in all respects, and this seems pretty common in the kuvasz community. Because it is small, all the breeders know each other so there is little room for backyard or unscrupulous breeders, though it still happens on occasion. At 8 weeks, Biggie came paper-trained and litter-box trained, and crate-trained. He already knew to sit politely for his dinner in the crate. He was also clicker trained, which made teaching new commands a breeze. In addition, Biggie came with a clicker, some clicker basics, a great pamphlet about being a strong leader with positive reinforcement, a "cheat sheet" of tips (what Biggie ate and when, and behavior, training and temperament suggestions), and a 2-week supply of Biggie's then-current food (holistic and human grade).

Oh, and Biggie's breeder stayed a co-owner and committed to taking him back at any time, no questions asked, if he didn't work out, and answered all of our questions about training, temperament, the raw diet, you name it.

While of course taking on a pup or a rescue is a leap of faith, finding a well-bred pup can significantly reduce the chances of fatal temperament defects or chronic health problems. Biggie's only issue, if one can even call it that, is that he is very guardy and protective. But that's true to breed type and he is a classic kuv, and we were well aware this would be an issue in NYC. To date we have yet to find any health or psych issues (irrational fear, aggression, etc.) in our sweet doofus. As for his looks - while they are not that important since I think this breed is beautiful in general - if I had a dollar for every time anyone stopped in their tracks to admire him, or said "Beautiful dog!" or asked to visit with him, I could probably quit my day job and blog full time.


Kess And Her Mama said...

Wow! What a great deal of research and waiting for the perfect dog for you. Biggie is a lucky dog!

Stanislaw said...

Yeah. We know ALL about pups with their... um... quirks, thanks to bad breeding. Our humans lost a puppy at 15 weeks due to a backyard breeder that bred pretty much EVERY bad cocker gene into the baby. And my brother and me with our allergies and my anxiety problems! We keep them busy.

You are as handsome as your canine daddy! Keep up the good work and good health. You are a lucky boy!

Lindsay said...

Wow you found such a great breeder. I wish every dog breeder would put that much dedication into all the pups. I enjoyed this post and it shows a lot about your dedication to Biggie. By the way, he is gorgeous! I love Biggie.

I grew up with golden retrievers, and although they were all purebreds, with papers, they all had their issues, physically and mentally. Of course, we still loved them and thought they were the greatest dogs ever.

Tom (Puppy Website) said...

Biggie is really a lucky and cute puppy. Even I enjoyed reading this post. Well done...

Amber-Mae said...

Very GOOD post! Well done! You indeed have studies everything about dogs & Kuvasv in particular & done your research well. You are what I call, a RESPONSIBLE & WELL EDUCATED owner! When we bought Amber our very 1st dog ever, we didn't know anything much about responsible breeders & so on. When we saw Amber's sweet adorable cute face when she was in a cat cage in the breeder's car(yes, she was so small at that time), we wanted her immediately! Infact, the next day, we got her. We were so happy & excited. We didn't bother about whether she came from good parents or not who had good physical healths & temperaments. Later as Ambe grew older to about 4 months, we noticed something wrong with her walk. We noticed she was swaying quite profusely. We got worried & called up the breeder. He couldn't answer any of the questions. Then we got Amber's papers few months later. Hr birthdate was wrong. We called him up again & asked him about it. He pleaded with us not to tell MKA(Malaysian Kennel Associaltion) about it becoz he might get in trouble. Weird. But anyway, we didn't really care about her birthdate. All we cared was our Amber. Amber had a LOT of health issues since the day she came to live with us & within three months, she had three full medical cards! It was almost every week we brought her to the vet. Her parents obviously were not in good health. Actually, Amber's dog mother was already 8 when she gave birth to her & her litter mates. At that time, we thought 8 years old was okay. But now today, we realized that 8 is actually TOO old to be bred! It was a silly mistake that we made but this is what all new owners usually do. We don't however regret getting Amber becoz we love her to bits & it was not her fault. If we didn't get her, she would have been chucked to another backyard breeder for breeding or to a pet shop where she'll have a miserable life. I doubt she'll ever have a good wonderful life if it wasn't us who got her. When we bought Faith, we didn't make the same silly mistake again. We actually went to the breeder's house & check out the parents & evaluated each pups. Faith was the most perfect one with very very good temperament. Very rare to find her temperament in every Dalmatians. Chloe on the other hand was adopted. Her previous owners wanted to abandon her in their house when they move back to Singapore. We couldn't just leave the poor thing there so we took her. She was originally from a petshop but good thing, she was spayed at the age of 5 months before any breeder could take her to breed coz she's gorgeous!

Melissa & The Dogs

Mango said...

Hear hear! We did a lot of research before selecting a breeder for Mango and Dexter. Went to shows, met their dogs, talked about their philosophy, etc.

I ran into somebody with a little German Shepherd pup the other day and I asked where they got him and they said "Debbie's Pet-Land." Ugh, a pet store. Hard to know what to say when the words that come to mind are, "Are you insane?"

Sigh, I just told them to get his hips checked and went about my business.

Another good thing about breeders is that they won't sell you a dog if they think the breed is wrong for you. Mango's breeder told us some real horror stories about people wanting Mastiffs for all the wrong reasons.

Mango Momma

Biggie-Z said...

Kess: Yes, I am a lucky dog, as are you!

Stan and Big Pupi: That is such a sad story. I forgot to add that Boo had all sorts of allergies too, he would get hot spots all the time and chew on himself.

Lindsay: This was a really hard post to write because we didn't want to diss all the great purebred and mix breed dogs out there, because it's not their fault that they have all the issues that they have. And we do love them, even with all their issues! This was part of the reason we picked a kuvasz - there aren't that many of them around and most of the breeders are like Biggie's breeder - totally committed to breeding the best of the breed and careful about temperament and health.

Biggie and his Momma

Biggie-Z said...

Melissa and dogs: THANKS!! Yes, what's hard is that most dogs are lovable and can live fairly comfortable in a loving and caring home despite issues that can come up from poor breeding. And you're right, it's not the pups' fault. But I hope that anyone reading this who is thinking about breeding their dog thinks twice - no matter how lovable or cute we think they are, how do we feel about propagating some of their "issues"?

Biggie-Z said...

Mango: We had to do a lot of convincing of kuvasz breeders that we were ready to have one in the city! There are a lot of reasons why they're not great to have in the city, though most of those reasons apply to big dogs generally and aren't limited to kuvs. But a lot of people think "livestock guardian dog" and assume they need room to roam and run. If left to his own devices Biggie would expand his territory without limit, like the Roman Empire, but he seems happy enough here. He does like to guard, though, and has appointed himself the Flock Guardian of the Apartment Building.

Our breeder incorporated into our puppy contract a promise that Biggie wouldn't be used to guard livestock or stores or other commercial settings. I guess there are enough people who want a kuvasz (and I can imagine how many WTFs think that about mastiffs) for the wrong reasons, especially in the city, where to some WTFs an aggressive dog is supposed to make up for certain SHORTcomings in their owners...

jan said...

Brilliant post. This is both a primer and a dissertation on how to choose a puppy. I've been very lucky because most of my dogs have been ones that someone else didn't want. Fortunately they have also been rather small with strong verbal skills.

Georgeous said...

Hey Biggie Z's mumma, there was a documentary over here recently exposing some of the KC's breeders and them knowing about health conditions. There's big talk about the RSPCA pulling out of crufts. Biggie is lucky that his breeder was concerned about the breed and not the cash.
Love George

Dannan and The Girl said...

This is an absolutely fantastic post. I posted recently about the importance of spaying and neutering pets, and I was hoping someone with experience with GOOD and RESPONSIBLE breeders would comment about how to find one. If you don't mind, I'd very much like to edit my post to include a link to yours.

I love to hear about people who really take the time, not only to research a breed, but also the potential health and behavioural problems and to make sure that the breeder they choose is a good one. We have so many puppy mills and backyard breeders in our area, and it just breaks my heart. It also makes me so sad that the only way to fix the problem is for people to stop "rescuing" puppy mill dogs. If money changes hands, we are perpetuating the problem. But I also don't want the dogs to be left in that situation! It's an awful dilemma; it's important to report those breeders to the animal welfare organization in your region. They can't always do something about it, but the laws are changing. BC (Canada), in particular, has some very good new legislation. I think I'll post about that soon, because there is hope that we will eventually get to the point where all dogs are bred responsibly, loved beyond measure, and cared for to the highest standard.

The Girl

Saint Lover said...

great post. I wish more people did their research and made more rational/logical choices when adding a dog to their lives...