Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Purebred v. Mutt? Not really...

It never ceases to amaze me how charged the term "purebred" can be, and how the media, the public, dog owners, divide the dog world into "purebred" and "mutt/rescue/mixed breed" camps, and make assumptions about the dogs and their owners. Fortunately the dogs themselves don't make those kinds of assumptions:

Biggie's friends Timber (Husky), Levi (Weimeraner/Doberman) and Puccini (German Shepherd/hound/husky??)

Last month we went to a kids' birthday party where we ran into some friends we hadn't seen in several years. They brought their very cute, 8-month old soft-coated wheaten terrier along, and our bizarre conversation went something like this (all names have been changed to protect the clueless):

Me: What's her name?

Friend 1: Dusty ---

Friend 2: --- but her REAL name is Miller's Basking in Sunshine [not her real name]

Friend 3: Yeah, she is one fancy dog! She's purebred with PAPERS. [1] And she has TWO NAMES, a short one and a long one! [2]

Me: hmmm....

Friend 2: She's too FANCY to go to the dog park.

Friend 1: It's not that, it's just that she gets jumped on a lot and she's still young

Me: jumped on a lot? is she spayed?

Friend 3: Not yet.

Me: Why not? Are you planning on breeding her?

Friend 1: We didn't really want to, we just wanted a dog...

Friend 2: But she's co-owned with her breeder.

Me: Oh. Where is the breeder?

Friend 3: Just the next town over. But co-owning her with the breeder made her half-price!

Friend 2: Yeah, she's co-owned with the breeder because they want to SHOW her. [3]

Me: Wow, that's a lot of work! Has she gone to any shows yet?

Friend 1: No, not yet. The breeder's gonna do all that stuff. [4]

Me (as Dusty goes berserk on her leash, jumping on me as I pet her): Are you taking her to any classes to, you know, teach her how to behave in the ring?

Friend 2: She knows "sit" and "paw" already!

Friend 1: Classes to show her?? no idea. The breeder's supposed to do all that stuff but they haven't done anything yet. She's only going to be shown twice, then bred twice, [5] and then we'll get to spay her.

Friend 3: It's all in her CONTRACT! (snickering)


[1] Any purebred dog that is a breed recognized by a kennel club can have "papers" if the puppy or dog is registered - but the kennel clubs don't do anything to verify the information, and just having "papers" means you can trace the ancestry of the dog a few generations (if the information provided was true). It has NOTHING to do with the dog's conformation, health or temperament. Dogs that are shown have to have papers, but again, all that shows is that the dog is a purebred dog of that breed. And again, only IF the information provided was accurate and truthful in the first place.

[2] This would be a shorter "call name" (aka, "Biggie") and a longer name that is on the papers, that has the breeder's name and a more formal name ("Yanilan's Big EZ, The Notorious D-O-G"). I have no idea why the names are as long as they are. Breeders often call their litters by letters of the alphabet, based on when they are born, and sometimes give them formal names or call names that start with that letter. Since Biggie came from his breeder's 2nd litter, we thought a "B" name would be fun, though it was certainly not necessary. We gave Biggie his names because they meant something to us but also because we thought they were funny. If you are looking at pups from a breeder who follows this naming convention, beware of pups whose names start with Z... Again, you can name your dog anything you want, and it has nothing to do with the dog's conformation, temperament or health.

[3] A couple of red flags here. First of all, "show quality" pups tend to cost more than "pet quality" because the breeder thinks they may have what it takes to be shown to championship, and that they MAY want to breed the dog if he shows the right conformation (looks) and temperament. Pups sold as "pet quality" by a reputable breeder often come with a spay/neuter provision so that only the best of the best - in health, temperament and pre- and post-natal care - are bred. Reputable breeders care about this, because they do not want their kennel name associated with unhealthy dogs.

Also, if a breeder seriously wants to show a dog, not only will they want to keep the dog with them (to make sure the dog is properly socialized, taught how to behave in the show ring, and is given the proper food and care), but they will usually have spelled out the co-owners' rights and responsibilities in the contract - which clearly didn't happen here.

[4] Showing a dog to championship is a serious venture, and not without its criticisms [this will have to be the subject of another post]. Serious contenders start when the dog is a puppy. We have friends who used to show and handle dalmatians, and they stopped because it was costing upwards of $20,000 a year to travel to shows with their dogs. "Dusty's" owners seemed to think that all they had to do was give their pup a home, and the breeder would swoop in and "show" the dog a couple of times.

[5] This just made me cringe. It had all the hallmarks of an irresponsible breeder selling a lot of hogwash to naive dog owners. In order to show a dog to championship, you have to go to a lot more shows, and win two "majors" (i.e. beat enough dogs of the same breed) for there to be some general consensus that your purebred dog is a decent representative of the breed. It is impossible to show a dog twice and get anywhere close to championship. As far as I could tell, showing the dog twice before breeding was just another way for this breeder to sell puppies to yet more naive dog owners who think that they are getting a "show quality" dog.


It's not about whether purebred dogs, as a whole, are healthier or nicer or more appreciative than mixed breeds, nor is it a statement about selective dog breeding in general - dogs aren't people, after all. Many of the negative remarks against purebred dogs are a result of irresponsible breeding by puppy mills or families who get a brother and a sister of the same breed and then want to show their kids "the miracle of life," thinking that they can sell their puppies for $500 (or more) per pup and make some money on the side. Even if these puppies got the best care after they were born, they probably didn't get much in the way of prenatal care, and there was absolutely no thought given to whether the parents should ever have been parents at all.

One of the benefits of getting a purebred dog is that you have the potential to get a dog that has a known family history - of temperament, looks, and above all, health. But only if YOU, the responsible dog owner, do your research. (again, the subject of another post)


Mango said...

Eeesh! People can be so gullible. My Pi dog came with papers (from the shelter). Purebred hound my ass. But she was a sweet girl.

My breeders always want the bitch's kennel name in the official registered AKC name. I do it out of respect since I have no plans to breed my dogs.

Two shows and you win? If only. I have mixed feelings about the whole dog show thing. It is a huge commitment. My son got his lab from a breeder who does not show, but she breeds field dogs. They are just as careful about bloodlines and genetic testing as a show breeder. Not to mention that my Raja came from a kennel with some of the winningest mastiffs and she was a mess physically and mentally. Live and learn.

Mango Momma

Emily said...

YES YES YES! Great post, Biggie-mama. I am mortified by how many aspiring "backyard-breeders" I meet who do not spay/neuter because they hope to breed their dog. So sad--and it's because they went to the pet store, bought a pure-bred, $1K puppy mill puppy with "papers" and realized they could make more puppies in their spare time and sell them for hundreds of dollars each, all because their dog has "papers'!! Such nonsense!

jan said...

So many people think that the AKC guarantees some kind of quality not realizing that the AKC depends on puppy mills for a large amount of financing.

Mango said...

Biggie! PeeWee won't really play with me if I have the toy first even when I wiggle it in his face. Sob. But if he gets it first we have a nice game of keep away.


SEDONA said...

Wow, pawsome post & very knowledgable!
Amen, I say, Amen!
Your pal,

Lindsay said...

GREAT post! Will there always be people like this out there? Ugh...

I would never do any kind of co-ownership with a breeder. I want to have full responsibility of my own dog.