The couple in front of me stared with open disbelief and a hint of hostility. I had just told them that the Golden Retriever puppy they had just purchased from the back of a pickup truck along Woodmen road was cryptorchid, meaning that one of his testicles had not descended correctly and was hung up either inside his abdomen or trapped under the skin in his groin. This genetic problem meant that this dog absolutely had to be neutered to prevent the development of cancer in his undecided testicle, and that it was completely unacceptable to use him as a breeder, in spite of the fact that he would still be physically capable of siring puppies, because he would pass the genetic tendency to be cryptorchid on to his male offspring. I hadn’t even gotten to the part where I explained that because his lower jaw was a full inch shorter than his upper jaw, his lower canines were going to contact the roof of his mouth and potentially cause problems there too.
This couple had had an epiphany when they looked into the back of the pickup truck that contained the litter of ten puppies. At $500 dollars apiece a litter of 10 puppies would bring--well, a LOT of dollars. Their neighbor had a Golden/Lab mix puppy who was five months old, and they were sure that they would have no trouble convincing them to put the dogs together in the back yard and let them do what comes naturally. Soon, with no effort on their part, they would be rolling in cash as litter after litter of puppies came along. They didn’t realize it, but they had just stumbled on the business formula for a puppy mill.
I routinely run across people who are considering getting into breeding without any idea what is involved. The motives do not always involve greed. Sometimes the idea is that it would be a wonderful experience for the kids, or for some reason the male or female would be saddened to miss out on the joy of reproduction. There is still some pervasive mythology that says that a female dog will not be healthy/happy/have a normal personality unless she has at least one litter. All of these statements are bunk. The kids are not too likely to have fond memories of that trip to Disneyland that had to be cancelled because the emergency c-section used up all the money that was set aside for that. Your male will probably thank you when after he is neutered he doesn’t have to spend every second of every day frustrated and unable to eat because he can smell a female in heat five miles away but he just can’t seem to break out of the fence to get to her. Your female’s personality will be just fine without suffering from life-threatening low calcium or mammary gland infections that can complicate a pregnancy. And everyone could do without having to be up every two hours for weeks at a time to bottle feed a litter of 10 puppies because mom isn’t making enough milk.
Casual breeders should also think about how their addition of puppies into the population affects pets in our society as a whole. The hard working and dedicated people at the Pikes Peak Humane Society, All Breeds Rescue, Dreampower, and the myriad other animal rescue organizations are up to their eyeballs in very adoptable pets that need homes. Every casually bred puppy that goes to a new home is taking the place of a deserving animal in a shelter who will not find a home and may ultimately need to be euthanized. We already have an extreme surplus of randomly bred, but very good pet quality dogs. Adding more to the mix doesn’t help.
I also have the honor to work with several breeders that exhibit the dedication needed to do the job right. These people know their breed and its physical and emotional characteristics, and the good bloodlines inside and out. They can readily pick out a dog who is an excellent example of the breed, and can detect the subtle anomalies that disqualify an otherwise nice dog as candidate for breeding. They are completely familiar with the medical problems of their breed, and they spend large amounts of money screening any potential breeding animal for these problems before they would ever consider using them. Out of a litter of very well-bred puppies only a very few will make the cut to be considered excellent enough examples to become breeders themselves. Many breeders are happy when they can financially break even with their litters, but the real satisfaction is that they are producing fine dogs that are as free of common health problems in the breed as can be accomplished. These people work very hard, and they don’t become rich from breeding, but they are the ones that bring up the standard of purebred dogs.