It’s totally okay to get your dog from a reputable dog breeder. Keep the word reputable in mind as you read through this post. What I am about to say might just help facilitate this age-old debate between reputable breeder vs reputable rescue. Spoiler alert: It’s possible to have both.
I love all dogs, but Cocker Spaniels own my heart. I’ve adopted a dog and I’ve also purchased a dog from a reputable breeder. I plan to do both again. Trademarking “My Heart Beats Dog(r)” means I live that mantra to its fullest. This is my passion, my mantra, my career, and my way of life.
Someone told me many years ago they could not be my friend because my dog came from a reputable breeder. I know that isn’t truly my definition of friend at all, so it’s okay. Allow me to shine the spotlight on truths and remain steadfast in the goal of this blog: A “Fidose” of Reality.
Why Responsible Dog Breeders Are Important
Two reputable Cocker Spaniel breeders interviewed for this piece agree: Responsible breeders will do the health testing available to that breed.
“It has taken a lot of years and a lot of patience and health testing (CERF, PRA and OFA of hips and elbows for cockers) to bring the Cocker back from the damage that was done by backyard breeders and puppy mills,” Ellen Toomey, of Stratford, New Jersey, says.
CERF deals with the eyes. OFA deals with the hips and PRA also deals with the eyes. Thyroid is an issue with Cockers, so many good breeders have access to this information.
I could write an entire book on the Cocker eye, but suffice it to say that eye issues are a concern in the breed. Good breeders get the necessary eye clearances on both the mother and father of the litter(s) before breeding or adopting out puppies to a pet home.
Reputable breeders perform due diligence and take a vested interest in each of the puppies bred.
Toomey says if she sells a puppy and it is to go to a pet home, as opposed to a show home, she sells it with a limited registration. In this case, the AKC registration states the dog cannot be bred. “I don’t turn over the registration papers until I have proof that the dog has been spayed or neutered.”
A really good breeder does so to improve the soundness, temperament, and health issues that may plague a breed. For example, syringomyelia is a disorder of the brain and spinal cord that is widespread in the Cavalier King Charles breed. A large percentage of Cavaliers will be diagnosed with this condition in their lifetimes. Solid breeders will follow the latest guidelines and health mandates to reduce the prevalence of this disease in their lines.
Knowing the breed standard and how to improve upon are goals for long-time breeder of American and English Cocker Spaniels, Marlene Ness, of Bethel, Connecticut.
“As breeders, we spend countless hours studying pedigrees and dogs, attending dog shows, and seeing the dogs in person,” Ness shares. “We learn what their structure is like.”
Ness says good breeders take this knowledge and apply it to the next litter so that the plan comes together. Her goal is for each litter to improve on the qualities of the parents.
Responsible breeder puppies go to their new families with a birth certificate, microchip, contact information, and they are able to be found on social media. Dogs from responsible breeders should never get through a shelter door.
Breeder Dogs Are Harming Shelter Dogs
A good breeder will take their dogs back, for life. Let that digest for a moment: If for any reason throughout the dog’s life, the owner cannot keep the animal, the good breeder says, “I want that dog back.” I’ve seen it happen time and again.
The reasons for owner surrender run the gamut, just as they do in shelters. Sadly, finances, domestic issues, and sudden changes in life circumstances all contribute to a dog going back to a breeder or a shelter. Many of my dear friends foster and rescue and are my personal heroes. I love my reputable breeder friends, too.
Reputable breeders aren’t the problem. Bad breeders, irresponsible people, those who discard lives as they do an old t-shirt: these are the problems. The money hungry could-care-less breeders who do it for cash are contributing to the volume of dogs in shelters and rescues. Many don’t care where their dogs end up. This is something on which rescue advocates and reputable breeder advocates can agree: Dogs end up in shelters by no fault of their own.
You are not killing a shelter dog if you purchase a dog from a responsible breeder. Morally, it is your decision to have a dog or not, and where that dog comes from is your choice. We choose who to marry, where to live, our careers, and if we want children (or not). Bringing a dog into your life, no matter what the circumstances or where he was born, must be one that suits your life and your reasons. Do not adopt a dog if you just are not interested. Do not work with a reputable breeder if you are simply not interested. Do stay away from puppy mills and those who genuinely harm dogs with no regard for their health and well-being. Puppy mills are hell on earth. Reputable breeders are not puppy mills. Most dogs from pet stores come from puppy mills.
Stricter laws that punish animal abusers and reduce animal suffering are needed. Reputable breeders support these beliefs.
I support both dog rescue adoption and I support the best breeders who do their homework and care about dogs. If you do not want to rescue, then don’t. Shop smarter and perform the necessary background checks about a breeder before you invest. An expensive puppy does not mean a dog without health problems. Pets are viewed as property in the eyes of the law. Puppies that come from great homes means less dogs who end up in shelters.
Guilting people into rescue and cyber pressuring contributes to the pets who end back up in shelters. Imagine the innocent dog who has no idea why he is back in a shelter on his third or fourth home. Dogs are lost in the system every single day. Over and over. I know.
Whether your dog comes from a good breeder or from a rescue, there is zero guarantee of future health issues. We can identify certain disease propensities, perform genetic testing, screen the parents, and not breed dogs that have no business producing litters.
My dog’s first groomer was a Golden Retriever lover. His dogs were in the show ring and also puppies at heart with a good life. He stopped after 20 years because no matter where his dogs came from, they died of cancer. This is common in the breed. He adopted a mixed breed dog from a priest in his area who had no time for his adorable pooch. The dog ended up with many health issues and is now 12 years young. You just never know.
How to Identify a Reputable Dog Breeder
A good dog breeder will screen you as much as you screen them, maybe even more. A good dog breeder will welcome your questions and not take offense to things you ask. A responsible dog breeder:
- Does not have puppies available all the time. They will keep a list of potential adopters for future litters.
- Keeps the dogs and puppies in a clean environment with plenty of room to walk, exercise, access to clean water, and interaction with a variety of stimulus.
- Allows you to meet the birth mother and will share the family line with you.
- Does health screening and shares those results.
- Provides references from previous adopters.
- Gives you a contract that explains the adoption and the requirements of both parties.
- Does not sell dogs online to people they’ve never met/screened, to pet stores, or in any other unscrupulous manner.
- Allows you to visit your puppy several weeks after birth (with appointment).
- Provides guidance and answers your questions even after adoption.
- Does not require a certain veterinarian; they can recommend but not require.
- Does not require you to breed the dog. Run far away from this breeder if they put that in the contract. Quality dog breeders will adopt out puppies to pet homes while others will stay with them and/or be in the show ring.
- Most quality breeders require you to spay or neuter the puppy at the appropriate age.
- Will not guarantee perfect health. They are not psychics and cannot forsee the future. They should monitor their lines and genetic diseases.
- Will not guarantee show quality. A dog might have show potential and reputable breeders can spot this, but they cannot foresee the future.
- Will give you copies of vaccinations and veterinary visits prior to releasing the puppy to your care. Most good breeders require your own veterinarian examine the puppy within three to give days after adoption.
Do not believe everything you read on social media. Disgruntled rejected adopters will often take to social media to cyber-bash a good breeder. Consider the source.
What a Responsible Dog Breeder Wants From You
A good relationship is a two-way street. When I first connected with my Cocker’s breeder to inquire about his availability, she had a whole process and host of questions for me. This gave me such great joy because my first impression was a positive one.
A responsible dog breeder:
- Will ask valid questions: Everything from why do you want this breed to who will care for the dog, are there children, access to outdoors, have you had this breed before, for example.
- Will ask if you own or rent and speak to your landlord about the pet policy.
- Wants to know your training thoughts, how often the dog will be alone, living arrangements, etc.
- Will explain the maintenance and basics of the breed, grooming requirements, known health issues to watch for, and will want your feedback.
- Ask for references to vouch for your character.
- Has a return policy in place: Whatever their terms are, the contract will spell them out and he or she will review the contract with you prior to signing.
- Is open to questions about how long he or she has been involved with the breed, perfecting the line, and how many breeds with which they are involved. A good dog breeder will not have a large amount of breeds they churn out for profit.
- Might be new, but will have no problems answering questions. New doesn’t mean not reputable. Everyone starts somewhere.
- Tell you when the puppies can come home. My dog’s breeder kept them through their first eight weeks so she could properly socialize them, they could benefit from their mother’s milk, and engage with their littermates.
- Tell you what you are taking home with the puppy: Our breeder gave us a folder of information, the contract, a personalized blanket, stuffed toy, and her card.
- Will help you pick the right puppy. Our breeder had an uncanny ability to know which puppy belonged with each approved adopter. Matching you with the puppy that best suits you is a wonderful talent of reputable breeders.
- Isn’t afraid to turn people away if they are not a good fit.
My dog is going to be 10 years young and I still keep in touch with his breeder through social media and occasional meet ups. She took a break from breeding to grow her human family and when the timing was right, she started up again with one litter.
Breeder V. Rescue Bottom Line
We all want good dogs. Whether that dog comes from a shelter or a breeder, dogs have the wonderful ability to adapt to us. Dogs who were abused, let down, ignored, or mistreated by people are so worth the love and affection they deserve.
“I personally choose to find responsible breeders to acquire puppies, says Cocker mom, Stacie Baumbarger of Perrysburg, Ohio. “I am very active in the Cocker Spaniel community and I want a health tested dog who was brought up from good sound lines structurally and temperamentally. We compete in agility, confirmation, obedience, rally, and even in the field. It’s important for me to know or at least have a very good indication of what they will be and still be able to have that important puppy time for foundation training.”
Let’s focus on stopping the sheer volume of dogs in shelters, how they ended up there, and come together to educate, inform, and not berate. Let’s put the fingers down and lift our message up. Social media has really cool features of unfollow, hide, and block. Your message goes down the black hole of “see ya” and you don’t win when you bash someone for wanting a dog from a reputable breeder. Have an open dialogue, save the judgments, and find common ground. No one wants to see a dog enter a shelter or rescue group. In my lifetime, I will continue contributing to the conversation and methodology of decreasing the number of dogs in shelters. I will use my voice. Someone’s got to for those who have none.
I am very pro adoption and co-founded Wigglebutt Warriors with my wife. We host fundraisers in person and have spent immeasurable time through a labor of love to get homeless dogs to their well-deserved loving homes. I am unable emotionally to foster: I get too attached, it isn’t something that is healthy for us, and we help in other ways. To date, we’ve raised close to $75,000 in a few years’ time for various dog rescues. Throughout the year I work to help get dogs in need to loving homes with transports, donations, online fundraisers, and connecting with those in the rescue world. I fundraise to try to eliminate cataracts in the Cocker Spaniel through the American Spaniel Club.
I also believe in, promote, and advocate for the betterment of the breed that is the American Cocker Spaniel. I run an engaged Facebook group called Club Cocker: Wigglebutts Worldwide. We focus on health, wellness, and lifestyle of the Cocker (American and English) and we have fun. We are a no bash zone.
There are many breeders who do not belong in the business. There are many rescues that don’t belong, either.
My focus is on how the dog is being treated no matter from whence he or she came.
Keep This Conversation Flowing: Don’t Stop Now
In conjunction with three other highly respected pet bloggers, we are collaborating on this topic. I am incredibly proud to share the spotlight with each of these ladies.
Please visit the following blogs to continue our educational series. We’d love your feedback and just ask you are respectful, as you would expect, too.
If we work together and stop the people shaming, dogs win. On this happy thought, we can all agree.
Kelsie McKenzie: Mom to Great Pyrenees and foster cat mom: Breeding Great Pyrenees: Does Job Matter?
Stephanie Seger: Big Dog Mom to Mastiffs: The Fallacy of Dog Rescue: Why Reputable Breeders Are Not The Problem
Susan Bewley: Dog mom to Alaskan Malamutes (and other animals, too): How To Find A Reputable Breeder