Saturday, April 25, 2009

Comment Q & A: Regarding Breeding

Over the past few months RRs have asked a few questions about Labs and breeding that I thought the broader readership would appreciate seeing answered. So, I'm taking today's "Q & A" entry to answer those for you.

As in previous Q & As, this post is primarily informational (warning: boredom risk). Some of you, however, may find these interesting.

1. Why do we breed our Labs? The short answer? We love the breed.

The longer answer this: in our region most of the Labs bred here are bred for show (conformation). It's incredibly difficult to find a good, healthy, hunting or agility Lab here -- one with strong athleticism and even stronger retrieving instincts -- that's equally wonderful with affection, people-orientation, eagerness to please, intelligence, etc... That's sad.

Because we love the breed, and because no one within 90 miles of us is committed to breeding athletic, retrieving Labs (while keeping an eye on conformation, personality, and temperament) we thought that maybe we could do our small part to preserve the best of what a Lab should be (those traits that otherwise seem to be being lost or bred out with the breed's popularity).

2. How can we justify breeding, even just one litter a year, when so many pure-bred dogs (including Labs) need rescuing or are waiting in shelters for homes?

This is very good question (one we've wrestled through) but is a little more complicated to answer. It breaks down this way.

  • First, we're trying to provide people in our region an alternative to the many puppy mills found in Lancaster (yes, sadly, Labs too sometimes come from puppy mills).
  • Second, we're trying to provide an alternative to pet stores who (in most cases) purchase their pups-for-sale from puppy mills.
  • Third, some people just will not adopt a previously-owned dog. Period. They won't consider a shelter or rescue dog or one from the ASPCA, even if the dog appears to be pure-bred because of the risks involved (unknown histories, reasons for rescue or placement, etc). We're trying to give those people an alternative to puppy mills and pet stores.
  • Fourth, some people won't consider an older dog, or even an older puppy. They want an eight-week-old. We figure the 8 or 9 pups we sell a year are 8 or 9 less pups for the puppy mills to make money on (puppy mills make money breeding; people like us don't).
  • Fifth, while any dog comes with risks, a pure-bred Lab with a known heritage from a responsible breeder is more likely to be predictable in health, temperament, and trainability ("pure-bred" doesn't always mean well bred -- you have to look at the breeder, too). That's why people still look to responsible small breeders or professionals for their dogs. We want to offer dogs that will be predictably "Lab" -- that is, representing the best of the breed's temperament, intelligence, people-friendliness, athleticism, zest for life, and retrieving instinct.
  • Lastly, we don't believe eliminating all breeding is the answer to the unwanted dog problem; we believe it's eliminating irresponsible breeding. If no one bred Labs (responsibly) we'd lose the breed.

3. What steps do we take to ensure we're not contributing to the unwanted-dog overpopulation?

  • We're committed to our dogs for life. Anyone who gets a pup from us can return the dog at any time for any reason (housing change, family crisis, care-taker health, relocation... anything), even years down the road. We'll either keep the returned dog here or re-home the dog ourselves.
  • We take great care to breed healthy dogs and to produce healthy pups. We guarantee our dogs against all hereditary disease or defect through the first 30 months (if anything is going to show up, it will by 24 mos, and the extra six months gives owners time for diagnostic tests if they're necessary). In this case, we a offer complete refund of the purchase price of the dog.
  • We can do both of the above because we're very careful about the health of our dogs, about their own health histories, ancestry, and pedigrees, and because we don't over breed.
  • We stipulate in our sales contract that if one of our pups (or older grown dogs) needs to be given up for any reason in the future, and the owners cannot (or do not want to) find a suitable new home for the dog, the new owners contractually agree to return the dog to us. To get a pup from us, the buyer has to sign a contract saying that at no time will a dog purchased from us be put into a shelter, rescue or the ASPCA.
  • We take great pains to socialize our dogs well and to eliminate behavior problems before they start. No, we can't do it perfectly in just the first eight weeks, but we can do a great deal. The pups are raised in my kitchen, handled from birth, and are my full-time job while they're growing up (I put my freelancing on hold while puppies are in the house).
  • We place our pups. In other words, while we honor requests about coat color and gender, we select the dog for the prospective buyer (the buyer doesn't come and pick out a dog). We try very hard to match the temperament and strengths we see in a pup (and we can see a lot by the time the pups are about 6.5 weeks old) to the living situation where the pup will be placed. Some people have kids; others live alone; some live on farms; still others want a hunting dog, while others want a couch potato... every family is different. And we know our dogs better than anyone. We ask that our buyers trust us to make the best decision for them and the dog, which then makes it more likely that the pups will find forever homes with their first families
  • We routinely (by default) sell our puppies with limited-AKC registrations (meaning that the pup is AKC registered, but the pup's litters could never be registered with AKC, hence the added incentive to have the pup neutered). All of our buyers so far have had their pups neutered/spayed.
4. How do we ensure we're not weakening the breed?
  • We thoroughly screen (medically) any dog we're considering for breeding. They've got to be good-to-go with eye certs, and hip and elbow clearances.
  • We don't make a decision about breeding ability in our dogs until they've physically matured (reached at least 2 yo) and have cleared their screenings. We want to know what they look like and how they're temperaments are developing before we breed them.
  • We've carefully researched our gene pools (don't have genetically related dogs as far back as we can see in their pedigrees). That's why Tuc came from AZ, Ridge from a PA breeder, and Elsie and Kenya from a VA breeder (from different family lines within that breeder's stock). No in-breeding here -- which means lesser risks for congenital issues.
  • We neuter any dog that turns out to be substandard. Take Baxter, for example. He was our first potential stud. He, however, developed a significant malocclusion (huge overbite), had very little retrieving instinct, was pretty lazy (great couch dog!), and he completely outgrew the breed standard (was way too tall and way too long). Yes, it hurt financially (he was an investment), but we realized he wasn't going to contribute to the breed's strengths. So we took him out of the gene pool (hehe... he got lopped). We love him still. In fact, he was MY bud until dear daughter moved to Maine where he was needed far more than he was needed here. Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes, Ridge's DNA is on file with AKC.
5. What kind of breeder are we?

There are just four kinds of breeders:
  • Puppy mills: these mass-produce dogs without consideration for the health and well-being of their animals nor for their long-term placement. Profit is their primary (sometimes only) motive. Avoid these at all cost.
  • Backyard breeder: these are usually pet-owners who think it would be fun to breed, but do not do so responsibly or carefully, nor with an eye toward improving the breed, nor with the necessary health clearances or necessary dam and litter vet care (sometimes these are "ooops" litters that result from carelessness). The motive is usually profit and fun. They are rarely committed to the dogs for life, rarely provide any guarantees, and rarely work hard at socialization. While you might stumble upon a nice, inexpensive pet this way, be careful.
  • Hobby breeder (this would be us): this is a small-scale breeder, often with only one or two litters per year, who treats breeding professionally and responsibly, but who does it as an avocation (they don't make money breeding -- it's not their primary business/work). They go to great lengths to ensure health and well-being of their animals, to improve the breed through responsible breeding practices, to properly and carefully socialize their litters, and to carefully place their puppies in suitable situations. They properly screen and certify their dogs, they guarantee their puppies' health, and are often committed to their dogs for life.
  • Larger Kennel/Professional breeder: Dogs are their business. They're professional, careful, and responsible, but larger scale. They carefully select their breeding stock, they do not overbreed, they guard the health of their dams, they breed to improve the quality of the breed itself; they provide all proper certifications, guarantee the health of their pups, properly socialize their pups, properly match/place their pups with the right situations, and are often committed to their dogs for life. They can offer multiple litters per year because they have a large and varied breeding stock. They often also breed for their own competition stock, trying to produce the ideal competitor for field tests, hunt trials, obedience, and conformation. They often board and train other dogs, too.
Our recommendation is to go with a responsible hobby breeder or larger-kennel/professional breeder. Yes, you'll pay more than you would for a pet-store dog, a puppy-mill dog, or a backyard-bred dog, but it will be worth it in the quality of the dog you receive.

6. How much money do we make breeding? Bottom line: nothing at this point. Because we've been committed to getting sound dogs ourselves (our dogs have been quite an investment themselves; Kenya alone was $2000), and because we're committed to proper preventative health care (good food -- needed supplements -- good equipment -- safe whelping and litter set-ups -- good health care), strong socialization, getting proper health screenings and such, and providing new owners with all they need to get started (our puppy kits alone cost over $125 per dog), we still operate at a loss. Last fall's litter's veterinary bills for parvo treatment killed us (another breeder would've routinely put the whole litter down to save the expense -- and other vets would have put them down, too, to have been spared the hassle). But we feel like if we're going to do this, we need to do this right, and that means investing the money for responsible veterinary care, too. Every litter comes with risk, and we have to be prepared and willing to handle the worse-case scenario if it happens (and last fall it did). It's just part of being responsible. Most hobby-breeders don't make money doing this; we do it for the love of the breed.

I suppose that's enough for now. I hope that answers some of your most nagging questions (believe me, we've wrestled with these, too -- before we decided to start breeding).

We'll do another Q & A as your questions come up. In the meantime, if you have any further questions about this stuff, feel free to comment. You know I always welcome your input. You've raise excellent questions that deserve thoughtful answers. That's what I've tried to do here, and hope I've succeeded in doing so.

Thanks, as always, for your interest and support.

'Til next time,


Leslie Hanna said...

Thanks for all the info. I always find it interesting to read about other people's passions. :-)

JackDaddy said...

Very good post. Keep up the good work!

Christine said...

I just want to chime in and really emphasize the importance of NOT using a backyard breeder (and of course, never a puppy mill!!).

I will never forgive myself for not researching getting a puppy. We purchased our Lab from a backyard breeder, and he has so many problems (congenital heart defect pre-existing, severe hip dysplasia by 6 mos, and trick knees at 15 mos)--from the get go.

They aren't committed to their dogs for life (or at all), no certifications either.

We expected a Lab for his full life time, relatively hardy and healthy. Our Lab is not expected to live past 5 years, because of irresponsible breeding.

Don't think for a moment that saving $500 by going with a backyard breeder over a reputable hobby or professional breeder is worth it in the long run.

The only part that consoles me is I know I will never give him up, so at least I can ensure he lives out his life as well as he can.

Reagan said...

Wow- you really opened my eyes. Thanks so much for the answers!

Katie-Jo said...

It sounds as though you are really committed to your dogs. I have been reading your blog here and there.
We have recently adopted a black lab puppy that if we hadn't, would have been set free to fend for himself.
I know nothing about the breeder or health of our puppy.
What I do know is that each day we love him more even though he is mischevious pup. And that he brings so much joy to our family.
Have a great day!