In Defense of Good Breeding

Every so often, I'll see the phrase "Adopt, Don't Shop" get thrown around on social media. I've even had a few people shake their head at me for buying two of my dogs from a breeder. While I understand the sentiment, I want to explain my side of it.

The way I see it, there are three types of dog breeder. Two I'm adamantly against, and believe the phrase "Adopt, Don't Shop" totally applies. 

The first is the most evil -- the "puppy mill" breeder. These people essentially factory-farm puppies out of sick, poorly cared for dogs. There are no health checks, temperament checks, zero socialization, and disgusting living conditions. These puppies get shipped out to pet shops and puppy stores. While they might look cute in the mall display window, buying these dogs certainly contributes to a lot of wrong-doing and perpetuates a huge problem. Puppy mills should, without a doubt, be illegal. I'm not going to harp on puppy mills because they're, obviously, terrible.

The second is the "backyard breeder". These range from people looking to make a quick buck, to those who genuinely think their pet is worthy of producing offspring, to those who are just too ignorant (or poor) to alter their dogs. The reason behind backyard breeding varies, and some litters are just genuine mistakes. Most people love their dogs and will unfortunately outlive them, so the desire to keep a piece of that friend alive in future generations makes sense to me. But being lovable isn't necessarily a good reason to reproduce. Backyard breeders likely don't consider health or if they're "bettering the breed". Health check doesn't just mean a clean bill of health from a vet, either. It means extensive tests on hips, eyes, and other parts prone to issues or disease.

In most ordinary circumstances, the average dog owner doesn't need to breed their dog, or even buy a dog from a breeder. If they want a purebred, there are breed specific rescues. With more education, access to spay and neuter facilities, and the mindset that "just because your dog is special doesn't mean their offspring will be", I think backyard breeding could decline. 

So why purchase a dog from a breeder? Let me preface by explaining how much I love dogs. Okay, yeah, I'm sure you get it. I have four of them and pretty much devote my life to them, of course I love dogs. I don't just mean my dogs -- I'm talking about the history of Canis lupus familiaris. About how the domestication of the wolf has helped shape the history of human life on earth. Dogs transformed from our hunting companions to our shepherds, guarding our families and our flocks, allowing humans to settle in one place and eventually cultivate agriculture. We owe a lot to our four-legged friends. 

Beyond early man, we've continued to shape the dog to meet many different needs: hunting, herding, mushing, guiding, detecting. While I can't say I support the selective breeding of all existing breeds (some have obviously strayed from their original purpose and against the dogs' well being), there are many that I do. Working dogs have a special place in my heart, and the continuation of these breeds serves a purpose.

I'll use sled dogs as a prime example because, obviously, I have the most experience with them. You can adopt a mutt and teach him to mush. I've done that twice with Dexter and Knoxville. Will you be successful? It's possible, as seen with Knox. But there are plenty of Dexters out there who just aren't as motivated. 

Denali and Willow came from a sled dog kennel. Their ancestors were sled dogs. If you check back along their family tree, you'll most likely see past breeders' best dogs -- meaning those with the most drive, best health, and exceptional temperament. Mushers select their best dogs to produce their future teams, since the goal is to improve year after year. Obviously, they are going to want the very best examples of whatever type of sled dog they're producing (Siberian Husky, Alaskan Husky, Eurohound, etc.). Some keep the entire litter. Others will select a few pups and sell the remaining ones to working homes, with contracts and background checks.

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There is a distinct difference between Denali's attitude and Knox's when they're in harness, even though they're both huskies. While Knox has spirit and drive, he doesn't quite have the same focus as Denali. Mushing came naturally and instinctively to her. I even see it in little Willow at 5-months-old. There is a certain mentality that working breeds have that needs to be maintained through responsible breeding -- at least, if people want to continue mushing. Or herding. Or raising service animals. Whatever the reason, we have shaped dogs, and in these circumstances a shelter dog might not work.

Responsible breeders produce dogs for a reason, either in conformation (dog shows) or to fulfill a purpose (working dogs), or sometimes both. They only select dogs that will maintain and improve the existing breed. The puppies have prospective homes before they're born. If the puppy can't be cared for any longer, a responsible breeder will require (by contract) that they are returned. This way, they don't end up clogging shelters.

In the future, I will probably buy more dogs from mushing kennels. I also hope to adopt again, too. There's a place for both in this world, when done responsibly!

Jessica Kizmann

Dog musher, New Jersey.