So – where do dogs come from? And what difference does it make where YOUR next dog comes from?
Let me start this tale by saying that this IS a huge topic and I am in no way speaking against adoptions or trying to belittle the work shelters and rescue groups do with dogs and puppies. What I am hoping to do with this blog post is to offer a different point of view and discuss the BIGGER picture, and hopefully offer some food for thought on a topic I believe should be discussed more. 

Why does it matter WHERE your next puppy comes from?

Over the last two summers my own view on puppy raising and rearing has changed pretty much completely. The bar of what’s possible, what actually can be accomplished and what difference it makes for that individual dog AND subsequently for his people!! has been lifted to a new height, which honestly, I didn’t really know was possible!

Over two summers I have had the amazing privilege of watching Catherine Thomas: a great dog trainer and dear friend raise three litters of puppies.  I say “watch” albeit sadly from afar and mostly though use of emails, internet, photos, video and phone calls.  Through her Email updates, photos and video it is obvious that these puppies have gotten to grow up in an unusually rich and stimulating environment, daily small challenges in their environment have been presented right from the time they started moving about, and the confidence and athleticism of these young dogs has been evident, really since the day they started to really explore and motor around. It was mind-boggling to see a video taken at age 4 weeks; the puppies were demonstrating REMARKABLE athleticism and proprioception!

The early socialization and exposure she provided has been second to none and beyond the daily walks on her own property, they ALL receive individual training and solo time with her learning about the Human Language (this was started as small groups away from Momma, then in pairs and finally the pups are getting solo attention with a human!!!) Beyond all of this, of course there were visitors of all ages and sizes – as well as puppies meeting friendly adult dogs. Further, their routines  included daily field trips to new, safe locations –yes, I said daily (!) – which took place from about week six.
This is a typical set-up in a Wags Puppy Foundation Skills class.
We play around a lot with “stuff” but ideally a puppy should be
exposed to navigating things like this, long before they are old
enough to be in a Puppy Program!
What an unbelievable start!
She told me many times, that when in conversation with “breeders” about just how much time she is devoting to these youngsters — I say “breeder” in quotations, as contrast to her, who is not actually a breeder (maybe yet??) but more so a Phenomenal Trainer who has taken on raising a few litters; the “breeders” have replied by saying “Oh it`s great what you are doing, but I don’t have time for that. I just can`t do that!”
Yet, shouldn`t doing exactly that be part of the deal, when breeding dogs? To do the very, very best by any standard, and to keep raising the bar to see what`s possible? To share with future puppy owners just WHAT a big difference it makes when the young ones have had a start like this?! Because the difference will be evident to anyone who has been around puppies a few times…these guys are athletic, bold, brave, confident, resilient and pretty well unflappable! The individual attention and training will mean that she also knows these puppies inside out as individual beings and can do a most phenomenal job of matching the right prospective owner with the best fit from the litter of puppies.  The future owners (all in place already by the time the puppies are motoring around!) have had a chance to watch them grow up, read the daily accounts of what they`ve been up to and can see and share in the joy of personalities develop over video clips. What a true blessing and what peace of mind for everyone!

But back to Reality and the Sad fact, that the large majority of puppies have a start that is nothing like that.
I still hear a LOT of accounts of people making a quick Sunday visit to pick up a puppy from a breeder who they are actually not very familiar with at all. In some situations people may not even really know what to ask breeders and don’t know how to identify the Great ones and what sets them apart from the “so-so” ones or even how to spot potential red flags. In a few cases the prospective puppy buyers might suspect the quality of breeding program is not the best, but go and see the litter anyway and when a puppy is offered on the spot – they are unable to walk away. Many puppies that come to my puppy classes are also purchased over the internet, where a seller does little more than post a few adorable puppy photos to an unsuspecting buyer. The buyer does little to verify the circumstances or check background – just pays a fee and might meet the breeder to pick up the new puppy at a “neutral location”. Yikes!

A few months back, a puppy in my puppy class stayed after class each week f
or extra problem solving help as it was obvious this puppy was just a bit “more puppy” than the owner was prepared for.  It quickly became evident that the puppy came from a-more-than-questionable background and the “breeders” had actually raised puppies in a very small, non-stimulating and tight environment that promoted competition and fighting, and while they admitted they had seen it as a bit of a problem in this particular litter, they did nothing about trying to resolve it – but rather stated “this is how we have always raised puppies and we’ve actually never heard complaints before” (Gee, isn’t THAT scary – “the breeder” doesn`t even stay in touch long enough after the puppy is sold to see how things are going??)
In this particular case, I actually advised the owner to call the “breeder” back and ask them what their take-back ”Warranty” was. I honestly felt that the breeder was completely irresponsible and needed to be held accountable for this puppy`s very difficult behaviors.  But of course, as suspected, there was no gesture toward being of assistance and granted: no offer to take the difficult puppy back! And how horrible, their justification was that that they thought it should be OK because they weren’t  “real breeders” and had stated “we only have a couple of litters per year”!

Does that somehow justify poor breeding and really bad puppy raising practises?
So, with this particular puppy – obviously the owner did call the breeder back on my encouragement, but found out that the breeder would never take a puppy back after its sold  – the new owner resigned as if inflated and just said OK, well, maybe better with me than with someone else?

Of course, one way of looking at this is saying that this is a noble and a very heartwarming way of thinking. BUT on the other hand – if we, as puppy buyers (read “consumers”..because in effect that is what we are when we buy a puppy) if we never start to demand a change and insist that breeders either do a better job raising their puppies – OR insist that they take a problematic puppy or dog back – or start to ONLY SEEK THE EXCELLENT ONES OUT — we will also never change the whole pet overpopulation and sheltering dilemma.  Right? It`s all part of a VERY BIG puzzle and I really believe breeding practises should be considered in the whole big “adopt from shelters” debate, too! Maybe there is a way to educate people and affect chance BEFORE we have the shelter problem?

Let`s say, we could get word out there to EVERYONE who is in the market for a puppy, and plead and ask that they go in with strict criteria looking for the best of breeders, settling for nothing less: maybe then and only then can we affect change and start to slow down the production of the sadly and badly bred and raised dogs who end up becoming shelter-dogs later in their lives (many due to behavior problems that started already in the litter!).  

If you strip the emotion out of it, it becomes a business of market and demand. There should be no more demand for pet store puppies, for internet sales or puppy mill puppies or poorly raised puppies only bred for an easy dollar – because we should want QUALITY: a sound puppy raised in the best of circumstances: a puppy raised in a RICH, healthy and physically safe but challenging environment with lots of early experiences and exposure. What you buy,  DOES make a difference!  When  buying from someone, you support the way they handle their dogs and how they go about their breeding program!
Another Puppy Foundation skills lesson with
odd surfaces to become familiar with.

“Novel” experiences should already have been introduced on so many
different levels in the litter, that by the time a puppy reaches class-age,
a well-raised and exposed puppy is pretty well familiar with it all!
and have a “Been there, done that!” kind of attitude 🙂
I do believe that in the Big Picture, we have to really start looking at the breeding of dogs/ where they come from in the first place. IT`s NOT that breeding dogs is bad or that breeders are bad – it is that there are MASSIVE differences and we need to get better at highlighting and supporting the Best ones who care for the overall welfare of dogs/ and we need to educate people to stop supporting questionable breeding practises and instead Walk Away. If we could eliminate support for poor breeding practises and only go to the best of the best for breeders, we would be one step ahead!
PLEASE help affect change!!! I do believe we can all make a difference in just openly talking about this!!!
The easiest way to “know” who a breeder might be, is of course to do your homework well ahead of time. Establish a relationship and get to know who your breeder is! Meet them, talk dogs, meet their other dogs! Or at very
least: email – chat on the phone/ communicate and get references (=meet other dogs they have bred!) do what you can to find out who they are and tell them who You are, too! 

It’s not a good idea to go looking at a litter or a puppy (from someone who sells a puppy like a loaf of bread on the whim), hoping to be able to walk away and say “No, Thank you” if you see behaviors or things that raise concern. A lot of people are not cut out for that. That’s why it’s important to be prepared ahead of time and KNOW who the breeder is and exactly what they do with their puppies! Know the parents of the litter, too! Ideally you would have time to meet several breeders and litters of dogs so that you can start to identify things you like/dislike and things you want to prioritize!

Realize that it will TAKE TIME to find a breeder you are going to be happy with! Good  breeders also mostly work from waiting lists, don`t sell puppies on the spot but have established relationships with people and will breed when they know they have buyers.
Don`t forget  the option of turning to a dog trainer BEFORE you have your puppy or dog!  You can get great help with “matching” and trying to find the very best match for YOUR life and desires….whether you are looking for a puppy or an older dog. I think a great service can be done by dog trainers as the connecting hand between “I  want a dog, now what?” to actually finding a good match, whether in defining breed, breed type or helping to select the actual dog!

And just a small final note: RED FLAG NUMBER ONE…if you interview a breeder who says that they do not take a puppy back after he or she is sold: RUN AWAY!! A great breeder will ALWAYS take a puppy of their breeding back. No matter at what age. ALWAYS! The answer to THAT question alone will tell you a massive amount about the breeder! Are they truly interested in the welfare of their animals, or are they just interested in a few easy dollars?? IMPORTANT QUESTION TO ASK!!!
You only need to briefly consider the implications this answer has on SHELTERS, too to see just HOW important this question is to ask! Don’t compromise on this one!

Must add as a final footnote that John Rogerson, one of the leading behaviorists of the world speaks a great deal to this subject matter. The thinking that I have done is really a product of hearing him on this big topic. He has come up with some really unique ideas and concepts as to how shelters, trainers, rescues, and dog people of the world could “unite” in an effort to expose the bad and uplift the good of breeders to put pressure, globally, on better, higher quality, more ethical breeding and higher standards of raising of puppies. Two of the important points being, it starts with the realization that:
a) not all puppies are created equal – they are NOT blank slates
b) when we, as puppy buyers support one breeder over another (whether by going directly to a breeder, Internet Purchase or buying through a Pet Store; consider what breeding and raising practices you are thus supporting and ensuring will be repeated.

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Comments ( 4 )

  • KathyOct 02, 2012

    Well said. I have 3 dogs (2 adoptions) from less than enriched puppyhoods, and they would be a big challenge for the avereage owner. I have relatives who buy puppies off internet adverts thinking this is so much better than a pet store, this in spite of all my discussion on adopted dogs and the issues with poor solicaliztion of puppies (and seeing my problems first hand). then buying from someone you have never met before picking up puppy to take it home? Not sure how to get through to people, but keeping talking about it and getting information out in the media will certainly help. Thank you for your blog today.

  • Annette Young, MA, CPDT-KAOct 02, 2012

    Thanks, Kathy –
    it often takes me by surprise, too, how often people "select" a puppy (or BREED! of dog) based on looks alone – or something as un-important as coat colour! I absolutely believe that open discussion and more talk, talk, talk is a part of starting the process of education.

  • ANOct 02, 2012

    Very thought provoking and side to the argument of where to get a puppy from that I haven't heard before.

    Having a "problem" puppy who I got because of his shyness/socialization issues that were apparent at 8 weeks I can really appreciate what might have been had he had a better start. I'm also very thankful that by the time I had him I was firmly grounded in positive reinforcement training and had found a good trainer.

  • Annette Young, MA, CPDT-KAOct 03, 2012

    AN – lucky for your dog (!) and great for you that you found a dog friendly trainer to help! 🙂
    I *do* believe there's a great deal a good (read: great!) breeder/ puppy raiser can do for their puppies in regards to building confidence (social, environmental, being able to cope with change and novel stuff…) while still with the breeder. Surely a pup with a whole library of having "lived and laughed" through a whole host of novel experiences, changed environments a number of times etc etc.. already at very early weeks is going to be a different puppy than one who's lived one and only Experience/Environment, "same Puppy pen", "same barn", "same basement" or "same spare room" for the whole time in the litter…
    But having said that – the whole Nature vs. Nurture debate still goes on, too — some traits are likely quite hard-wired…
    so much to learn :-)!!

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