Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Why Buy Your Next Puppy From A Show Breeder?

I hear this more often than I'd like to admit: "I just want a pet, not a show dog." And it breaks my heart because it's just so wrong.

As a dog groomer who has been in the industry for over a decade, I've been around long enough to see families lose their cherished pet to age, illness, or accident. It also means I have been here long enough to see them seek their next new furry friend, too. They will often ask me if I know of any puppies for sale, or breeders I could connect them to, for their next beloved dog. But when I suggest they consider show breeders, they usually shut me down right away. "No, I just want a pet," they'll say.

I cringe when I hear that phrase, because it demonstrates how little most people know about show breeders.

The truth is that every show breeder has produced wonderful pets as well as show prospects! There is so much that goes into what makes a show prospect, and the difference between a show quality puppy and a pet puppy in the same litter can be a minuscule cosmetic difference that doesn't affect the health of either pup. For example, in my breed, the ears should not be set too high on the head. A puppy with ears just a tiny bit too tall is destined to be a pet, not a show dog, even if their parents are both show champions. And usually there is only one puppy, maybe two, in each litter who will ever grace the show ring. All of their other siblings? Are destined to be pets.

So why pay for a purebred pet from a show breeder? Because puppies that fall short of being show dogs are still more likely to be healthy, and more likely to have a sound, breed-appropriate temperament. This is because ethical preservation breeders utilize extensive health testing before ever breeding a dog. Just being a successful show dog isn't enough for most show breeders, the dog also has to prove they are free of heritable defects.

I will never forget the day we took our elderly German Shorthair to the vet for what turned out to be a benign cyst on his face. He was fifteen at the time but because he was exceptionally well bred and well built, you'd never have guessed his age.

He hadn't been walked that day due to the extremely early morning vet appointment, so he was practically vibrating with pent-up energy. He was also super excited to see Other Dogs, and so he was literally prancing and dancing in place, panting enthusiastically, and occasionally doing a cute spin-in-place.

In walks a couple with another German Shorthair, but she was stiff, slow-moving, clearly riddled with arthritis. She was limping so slowly, it was so painful to watch. I could tell she was very poorly bred...don't get me wrong, she had a sweet, kind face and beautiful soulful eyes, but those eyes were cloudy and her sweet face was taunt with pain. Her haphazardly bred body was shaped in a way that caused her to struggle in her old age just to get around.

The couple who owned her watched our German Shorthair prancing and dancing, spinning in place, and they chuckled. The gentleman eventually made a comment along the lines of "He's still a young puppy, not like our old girl!"

I laughed and replied "Nah, he's actually fifteen years old."

The couple gawked at our dog and the gentleman exclaimed, "Really? Our dog is ten."

Oh, my heart. That poor dog.

Ten years old and riddled with arthritis from her badly angled, unsound legs. Ten years old and eyes clouding over, soon to be blind, because none of her ancestors were screened for vision defects. Ten years old, and OLD. Our fifteen year old Shorthair was still pain-free, able to hunt and run and play all day. His good conformation meant he was limber and sound. His remaining eye (he lost vision in one eye from a porcupine accident) was clear and bright. Their indiscriminately bred dog was older at ten than our well bred dog was at fifteen.

I'm sure when they got that sweet old girl as a puppy, she was as cute and loving and delightful as our German Shorthair was as a puppy. The truth is that all puppies are cute, no matter where they came from. It's the many years later in life that the vibrant health of a well bred dog truly shines through. It's the pleasure of watching a dog age gracefully and beautifully, with as much dignity as possible.

Quality breeding isn't a be-all, end-all, absolute guarantee because not all defects are genetic. And not all genetic defects have a simple pass-or-fail test. However, puppies from health-tested parents have the deck stacked in their favor. Show breeders aim for soundness, which means a body that moves freely as well as legs that have good angles to them so the dog can move appropriately for their breed. If you are going to share your life with a pet, don't you want them to have the best possible chance to be healthy and sound?

I know firsthand how heartbreaking it is to watch a dog endure a life with health problems. While most of my dogs have been well bred dogs from ethical breeders, I did have one little train wreck of a rescue dog. I'd been grooming rescue dogs for free for a local rescue group, and I was looking to add a new pet to my family. I chose a little mostly-Chihuahua, part Dachshund mix...she was half a pound when I brought her home. This cute, rambunctious puppy was so loving and sweet. I named her Cricket.

She had deformed front legs...bilateral luxating patellas...and hip dysplasia. She had difficulty getting around her whole life, and while her forelegs made her limp, it was her bad knees and hips that caused her the most pain. She also had blood sugar problems, began losing her sight pretty early in life, had dental issues due to a misaligned jaw, bone density problems, and as it turned out, poorly developed organs. She died of heart and liver failure just before she turned nine years old.

I loved that dog so much. Losing her has been unbelievably hard.

There are people in this world who enjoy taking on dogs with major issues, but I am not one of them. If a dog I own develops an issue, I will live with it and deal with it, because to me a dog is a lifelong commitment, but I will never knowingly take on another rescue dog with major health issues. The organization I got my sickly little dog from was up-front that she had some issues, but they had no idea how many or how severe they were.

The difference between my tiny dog, bred irresponsibly and unethically and then dumped in a rescue the day after she was born, and our German Shorthair, bred by an ethical breeder from champion bloodlines, is night and day. With his good breeding, he lived until near the end of his sixteenth birthday, and he was sound and pain free until the last two weeks of his life. With her very poor breeding, my little mutt was struggling from birth, until her death. She lived less of a life than I hoped, and it still troubles me how hard she struggled to just get by.

There is absolutely no shame in wanting your dog to be the healthiest, happiest, most vibrant they can possibly be. The best way to get a dog with amazing good health is to buy pets bred by show breeders.

Good physical health isn't the only benefit to buying from show breeders, though!

Something I don't see enough discussion about is temperament. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT all about "how you raise them." Temperament is a very heritable, genetic trait! Breeders who breed ethically strive for the best, most stable breed-appropriate temperament possible. Far too many unethical breeders don't even take temperament into account when breeding, and this leads to some very unstable, sometimes dangerous dogs. I will never forget the woman who came into the salon I used to work at with a massive, obnoxious Labrador. He was constantly yanking her around, jumping up on people and trying to get at other dogs. The woman asked if we had any tips for dealing with his increasingly aggressive biting issues. He'd started by being nippy, then progressed as a yearling to full-on biting people for no reason.

When a co-worker recommended (in addition to training classes) they neuter him, the woman said "Oh, we don't want to do that, we plan to breed him."

"And how many people has he seriously bitten already?" was my reply. It hadn't even occurred to this woman that her increasingly vicious Labrador might pass on his terrible, aggressive temperament to his offspring! And that isn't uncommon in my experience; pet people who breed their pets rarely even realize the flaws in their own dogs. It makes those haphazard, unethically bred puppies very unpredictable; you could get a stable, loving temperament, or you could end up with a neurotic, vicious disaster.

Show dogs have to have a stable enough temperament to deal with extensive grooming, handling and examination by strangers, and coping with many people and dogs they don't know. Plus since ethical show breeders are breeding to the written breed standard, they are also breeding for proper temperament, which is a part of the standard.

Like I said, buying from an ethical show breeder isn't a complete guarantee, but it's a much safer route than buying from unethical breeders!

I'd also like to take a moment to mention that show dogs are pets, too. I don't know any show dogs who aren't also beloved pets! My next dog will be a show dog...and my pet. He will enjoy the same comforts and delights as all of my pets have! He will frolic at the dog beach and hike with me in the beautiful national parks I live near. He will wander with me through dog-friendly shops at the pier nearby, and snuggle with me on a picnic blanket for the musical fountain. There'll always be a spot on my lap or beside me on the sofa for binge-watching the newest Netflix original. All of this, in addition to strutting his stuff in the show ring on weekends.

If anything, a show dog's life is even more enriched than the average pet dog, because attending dog shows is something people do WITH their show dogs! Every show dog I've ever met (and I've met many) absolutely love it. They love traveling with their people, showing off, and of course all the pampering and grooming before the show, too. A show dog is a pet with extras!

I've also got a secret for you: some show quality dogs are sold as pets. I've known several breeders who had show-quality puppies who were just the perfect fit for a pet home, so they sold the puppy to be exclusively a pet.

So when I suggest a show breeder, and hear people say "I don't want a show dog, I just want a pet," I flinch on so many levels. Show breeders DO produce pets. Show dogs ARE pets. And ethical show breeders who health test their dogs before breeding produce the best possible pet dogs.


  1. This is an excellent article, well worth the read and consideration.

  2. I’m in total agreement. My puppy is truly a dream and everyone that meets Teddy is amazed with his personality & perfect behavior at only 5 months!!!

    1. Not so sure about the sentiments voiced here. For twenty years I dreamed of another pedigree, and finally got my boy at great expense. However,my 9 month old is tormented by fear of everything outside of his home. This started when he was around 4 months and despite many measures and efforts to help him outgrow his fear, it continues to worsen. The breeder will take him back, but I have lost my dream, my self confidence, my sweet boy and loads of money. From now on, I will stick with rescues, having only ever had successes there.

    2. Did you do your homework(check out the health testing? OFA is public info) & see/meet the parents? talk to more than one breeder? Just having "papers" doesn't mean much. There ARE bad apples everywhere. In my breed, the only way to track Epilepsy(and weed it out), is the honesty of a breeder, & word of mouth about it showing up.


  4. It is obvious that you love your dog(s). It also seems that you believe most if not all pure bred dogs are a "better bet" both health- and temperament-wise than "irresponsibly, haphazardly, unethically bred dogs," is the way I think you put it.

    I think you are making a couple of really big assumptions here; one is that all show dog or pure-breed breeders are careful, ethical, and wonderful guardians of a breed's finer points, whatever those have been deemed to be by whomever it is who has decided those things. The second (and maybe third) is that the majority of, if not all, non-pure bred dogs have been haphazardly, irresponsibly and/or unethically bred *and* that the odds of them being healthy and/or having a good temperament are much less likely than pure bred.

    I would challenge both of those assumption. Actually, your own example of that Lab (and I know of a number of examples in my own experience that) shows that both those assumptions are in error.

    Beyondthise points, though, I have a question about what happens to breeders' puppies who don't meet the show dog standard, other than becoming pets? What if no one buys them, or if they are not robust or flat out have what is considered an undesirable trait for the breed?

    And don't everybody bother to jump on me, I am asking Kyle.

    1. I know a Dane breeder who had a pup who didn't sell. She's still living with him as a cherished pet. :)

      If you notice, I actually stated in the blog that ethical breeders health test. NOT all show dogs or purebred are ethically bred, and I never said they were. There are PLENTY of poorly bred purebreds out there, from breeders who do not health test or title their dogs. I'm a dog groomer, and I'd have to say the majority of my purebred clients were not ethically bred at all! In particular, there is a Shih Tzu breeder somewhere near me who churns out dogs with absolutely awful conformation...every one I've seen has terrible elbows and they go blind at a young age. They're purebred but unethically bred from dogs who weren't health tested. It's really sad to see them hobbling around! Compare that to the well-bred Shihs I've groomed...they have clean, sound legs and bright, healthy eyes...and they came from show breeders who made sure to stack the deck in favor of good health and vitality.

      And yes, I've known crossbreeders who are ethical too! I've seen some fantastic sport crosses and lurchers who were beautifully built, well-bred, from health tested parents. But a discussion of crossbreeding isn't at home in a blog about show breeders, I'm afraid.

      If you think I'm saying that all purebreds are superior dogs, you didn't really read what I wrote. I repeatedly stated health testing as a basis upon which ethical breeders breed. And there's so much that goes into good breeding, it's beyond the scope of a blog regarding the fact that show breeders DO produce pet puppies. However, show breeders who health test, title, and breed conformationally sound dogs DO tend to produce dogs with vibrant good health!

      It may interest you that I actually am in the finishing stages of writing a blog about BAD breeding, and designer dogs (which are so often bred irresponsibly to turn a fast buck). And I have an in-depth blog about what EXACTLY constitutes good/ethical breeding but I'm afraid I'm only in the outline phase, so it may be a while before it's posted.

      And I welcome debate/discussion here! :) I'm more than happy to answer any questions you may have!

    2. Hi Billie, hopefully I can help answer some questions or show you another perspective.

      The author clearly specified that they were referring to ethical preservation breeders, not "all purebred breeders." In fact, they included an anecdote about a well-bred older German shorthaired pointer being in the same room as a poorly-bred younger GSP.

      In most cases, it IS irresponsible to purposely breed mixes. Some can go about it in a careful way with health testing and selective breeding, but it is not possible to consistently breed standard, desired, healthy traits. Genetics in mixing breeds are a complete crapshoot.

      Responsible breeders often have a waiting list of potential homes. They screen carefully between show homes, pet homes, and sport homes. Each puppy comes with a contract; if they are not an approved show home with a cleared puppy for potential breeding (pending health tests), the contract will include spay/neuter at a healthy time for the puppy and ramifications of the puppy is ever bred. Sometimes a puppy will have a recessive trait or markings that do not meet the breed standard for show, they are still perfect for pet homes.

      Responsible breeders would never just get rid of a puppy without doing extensive vetting for home approval. They would sooner keep the puppy until such a home comes available.

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  6. Requesting your permission to post this in our local newspaper in the letter to the editor column. You will be given full credit as author.

    1. Certainly! My only request is that if it is published, I'd like a physical copy. :) Please feel free to email me at k.lawrence5995@gmail.com

  7. Really Excellent and Honest Information!!!

  8. Agree. But the rider here is that you have to have a RESPONSIBLE breeder, and not all are.

    1. There ya go. My advice, if buying from any breeder, is to make sure they have all the qualities recommended. Do they let you meet the parents? Can you see the puppies before committing to buy one? Do they say you'll get one dog and then later you find out they're giving you a different one? I found out from the lady's friend I was getting my puppy from that she changed her mind on the first 2 she was going to give me; she decided to give me a completely different one.When I questioned the breeder about it, she said it was true but I went ahead and took the other one. I still love the one I got but I often wish I could at least see pics of the 2 I was told I would get at first. Bottom line, if I could do it over, I wouldn't have gone with that breeder. I suggest to others now that if something doesn't check out, write that breeder off and find a good one or find a puppy somewhere else.

    2. As a breeder of Australian Shepherds from mostly WORKING lines(cute LOOKING dogs, that are guard dogs, & herding dogs that herd by BITING! I choose the puppy my puppy people got, or (didn't get one at all, after meeting some of them!) after temperament testing, to back up what I saw. Never had a puppy come back to me.

  9. I understand where you are coming from. Shelter animals often make great pets, but after 25 years of being in the pet retail industry and training, shelter animals aren’t always the best choice. They’re certainly not for everyone. The majority of shelter dogs come with some sort of baggage, whether it’s lack of socialization, abuse or just genetics caused poor temperament, the average dog owner is not educated enough or prepared to deal with those problems. Fortunately, most of these dogs aren’t so bad that they pose a risk to people, but they live their lives with never getting help for their problems and often getting punished for behavior they can’t help. In fact, many end up back in the pound if not once, twice or even more times as their adopters realize they’re in over their head. It’s a sad existence. The unknown health risks and poor conformation issues are an added financial burden that many people cannot afford. I’ve had several mutts and even a few backyard bred purebreds in my life. Every one has had one problem or another. Usually, more than one. I was gifted a very well bred, show quality dog almost 13 years ago. The difference between her and all the other dogs I’ve had was night and day, just as the author of this post said. She never had a I’ll ess and up till the last month of her life, never had a single day of pain. At 12 years, 8 months, she had no joint problems, had excellent muscle mass, clear eyes and all of her teeth. Also as the author pointed out, even well bred dogs can still develop a problem. It’s impossible to breed out cancer. My girl developed a very aggressive bone cancer in her right femur. She limped around for 2 weeks before the cancer finally caused too much pain for her to bear. It had also spread to her organs. If it weren’t for cancer, my dog could have easily lived many more years. I’m not rich, but I am saving the money to get another purebred dog bred as well as my girl was with even more widespread health testing. It’s worth it for me to have a much healthier animal as well as know that I’ll get the temperament and breed type I want. It costs less in the long run and your dog doesn’t have to suffer with the health issues.
    If you have plenty of money and you enjoy helping shelter animals, then by all means, adopt one. I am not going to tell anyone what they should do. But, don’t discourage anyone from buying a responsibly bred purebred dog. We’re not all cut out for that job.

  10. I loved this article so well written I have always gotten my dogs and cats from show breeders and I never regretted it I have a purebred Ragdoll cat now and her temperament and health are awesome I am not against going to shelters or rescues either but for me going to show breeders has been the best option!

  11. Responsible breeders are willing to take a dog back for it’s entire lifetime. A friend drove 1200 miles round trip to take back a dog she’d bred when a change in family circumstances meant the owners could no longer keep him despite their best efforts. She kept him for a year and then made the same trip to return him to hus family when their circumstances changed.

  12. I completely agree with you. I love all animals, but I could not find a shelter dog that could blend into our family.

    My pet quality Airedale from a great show breeder is amazing. She has even helped raise a stray kitten who’s ears were not open yet. And is very patient with our new Yorkie from a show breeder.

    The medical cost of Yorkies from shelters and the fact that they needed a home with out other animals or kids just didn’t fit with us.

  13. Thank you! All of the show breeders I know adhere to their parent club’s standard for health testing. I’m sure there are exceptions, but certainly not the rule.

  14. I am a breeder. (Japanese Bobtail cats) This article is well written, and people replying seem to be knowledgeable about the ins and outs of purebreds verses shelter.
    First, My contract states, as mentioned above, that I will take the cat back anytime in the first two weeks, and return the money, minus gas, if I am picking up the cat; but also anytime during its LIFE, because it’s the responsible thing to do, and I don’t want any of my cats to end up in shelters!
    Second, how do you get the point across in regards to “purebred vs shelter” to people who think (all) breeders are the ones who put “purebreds” (lookalikes or backyard breds) into the shelters in the first place!

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  16. Had a black lab that retrieved 400 ducks a year for 14 years, was the sweetest, loving everybodydog ever. no he wasn't from show dogs. People beat my door down to use him for stud. All wanted proven duck dogs, no show

    1. In many breeds there are "Showlines' & Working lines. Mine, Aussies is one. Now days most the better "working line" breeders do all the health testing TOO. Most of the time you have to put a lot more time (years)into training a working dog, or performance dog. With the basic short life span of dogs, they want to have a that dog as healthy as they can for as LONG as they can. My last old guy, got his last Open Agility leg at 12, full height.

  17. This article mirrors our experience. We have had many dogs over the years, but we quickly learned that dogs from reputable breeders (show breeders) were, in general, happier (painfree) and much healthier throughout their lives. I would never want the pets that I love so much to experience anything other than the best quality of life possible. For this reason, we work with a reputable breeder who checks for health issues in her/his line when we are planning an addition to our family. Who would voluntarily allow a beloved family member to suffer by not taking extreme care when finding them?

  18. That's not true anymore. There are now many areas of the country that have a shortage of Dogs now.(Unless you want a pitbull). Why people are now shipping in some times unhealthy non heath cleared dogs.

  19. Thank you for such a well written article. It will unfortunately still fall on deaf ears mostly from those that think ethical breeders are snobs and will look for a readily accessible, poorly bred cheaper version.p

  20. "rescues" CAN be OK, can also be someone else's unhealthy dog (Dysplasic, blindness, etc.), carry "baggage" you don't know about, A ticking time bomb(pitbulls). All the more reason to BUY. BUT, NOT Pet stores, over the internet, craig's list, etc. Too many people are NOT willing to do their homework(even on WHAT breed is right for them) & wait. They want a dog right now, or for Christmas heaven forbid!

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