I found myself in a strange situation this week with an acquaintance - she knows me well enough to know how I feel about dogs and backyard breeders. She is currently searching for a puppy and came to me for advice. As we were chatting (in a group) she threw the comment out there - " I want a nice puppy, but I can't pay R10 000 for her...to me that is then just a business". I was taken a back for a second, but thought to shake it off as I know she did not say it to be mean. I thought to myself it is a bit ironic as she takes her backyard-bred Labrador to the vet every second week as something is wrong - if it isn't a chronic ear infection, it is a skin rash or gut issues. Yes she does not love her dog any less, but she has sat across from me on multiple occasions (close to tears) explaining how fed up she is with her trips to the vet. This is exactly why I decided to write this post - to explain what goes into a well-bred, purebred dog from an ethical, registered breeder.
To really explain, I need to start at the beginning: Most ethical breeders are involved in dog-sports in some way or another - countless hours are spent training their dogs, driving to and from shows - not to mention entry fees etc associated with their sport. Some breeders have imported dogs (cost is around between R100 000 and R200 000 - depending on where the dog is from, cost of dog etc) only to find that the dog does not fit into their breeding plan and have had to start from "scratch". Usually once their dog is made up into a champion (or close to), a breeder will start thinking of breeding. Firstly, health tests are done ( as previously mentioned there are six available in South Africa via Inqaba) and Hip and Elbow grading will take place ( after 18 months of age). Most ethical breeders do not breed with a bitch younger than 2 years old and once she has passed health tests and have 'clear' hip and elbow scores - the search for a sire is on (whether local or international). Ethical breeders will select a sire and dam that "fit' together. By this I mean they compliment each other - they do not have the same faults and where one might lack something, the other should contribute towards it. Pedigrees of both dogs are also studied and researched extensively, again to make sure their lineage will "fit" together. If the breeder does not have their own sire that compliments their bitch, a stud fee will have to be paid to the sire's owner/s. If the breeder is unable to find a dog locally to compliment his/her girl, semen is usually imported from a dog in another country (another R100 000 to R200 000). Both dogs should be healthy, fit and have excellent temperaments.
Now that the sire and dam is selected, the breeder will wait for their girl to come into season (obviously at this stage she has been seen by a vet and cleared to be fit and healthy to whelp a litter, all vaccinations up to date and in an excellent condition). Once she comes into season, progesterone testing is done every second day to determine optimum time for breeding (working closely with a vet - preferably one specialized in Obstetrics and Gynaecology). If the sire and dam do not reside close together and the breeder has decided to do a natural mating, the bitch or sire will have to be flown to each other and stay there until mating is done. Alternatively, an experienced vet can collect semen from the sire, it can be transported via courier, and the bitch can be artificially inseminated. If the breeder has imported semen - the bitch is then surgically inseminated. Depending on the situation, some bitches are put on antibiotics for a few days and also vaccinated against herpes (One of the leading causes of miscarriages and 'fading puppy syndrome') at about ten days and again at about 52 days after breeding/insemination. Have the costs of this practice started adding up yet? We haven't even started...
Between 25 to 30 days after mating/insemination an experienced vet will do an ultrasound scan to determine whether the bitch is pregnant or not. Some breeders (including myself) have had great misfortunes - where a litter was extensively planned and it was found that their girl isn't pregnant or lost an entire litter...back to the drawing board. If pregnant (and there was no previous complications that perhaps needs further progesterone monitoring +/- supplementation) an Xray is taken of the dam's abdomen at around 50 to 56 days of pregnancy - this is done for a puppy count and to determine if there isn't an abnormally large puppy that will make natural birthing difficult. The bitch's temperature is also taken twice daily in the last two weeks of pregnancy - generally there is a 1 degree drop in temperature, 24 hours before birth. During the bitch's entire pregnancy she should be fed a high quality diet (but this should be the norm in all dogs) and her environment and routine should remain the same (this means no unexpected visitors or anything "out of the ordinary" that might upset or stress her). A whelping box (with heating pad, blankets etc) is set up at around two weeks before expected delivery date, so that she grows accustomed to this - ours is set up in the bedroom, as it is a quiet area and so that we can keep a close eye on her during all hours of the day. Depending on the consult with the vet, a method of delivery is planned and if decided on a caesarean section, a date of delivery is also decided on (planned according to ovulation date - that would have been clearly picked up with progesterone testing as described above). Sometimes even if there is decided on a natural birth, complications arise (usually at 2 or 3 am when the whole world is fast asleep) - and an emergency C-section has to be done (I have our OBGYN vet on speed dial for these instances). Hopefully mom and pups are healthy at the end of this - I am not going to go into the hardship and tears if they aren't.
Lets say we have made it to this point and a pup/puppies are safely now in the whelping box with their mother - they have to be fed every two hours (for at least the first two weeks of life) and if there is a tiny one, he/she has to be watched like a hawk (which generally means 1.5 hours of sleep for you in between feedings - for 2 weeks minimum) (Assuming the mom also has enough milk - otherwise a supplement needs to be given by the vet). If there is a weak one or one with poor suckling reflex, they have to be tube-fed (also every 2 hours) (There are various puppy milk formulations on the market for this). Pups are weighed twice daily and they have to pick up weight - otherwise another consult with your vet is on the cards. The whelping box also has to be cleaned on a regular basis with strong, vet approved disinfectant. We raise our pups on a program called Puppy Culture - which starts from day one with early neurological stimulation and goes on until 12 weeks of age - it is intense and time consuming, but oh so worth it (involves clicker training as early as 4 weeks of age, barrier challenges, potty training etc). Between my husband and myself we take at least 4 weeks of leave to "kickstart" these babies and giving them the best start to life - exposing them to many sounds, textures and experiences : exercising their startle reflex and improving their recovery time (Called "Shaping" in Puppy Culture). That means no other vacation leave for the year - no other rest time to spend with family, friends etc - a small sacrifice to make for us. During this period no visitors are allowed at our house and we basically only leave the house for necessities (even then there is always someone around) - that means we cant schedule family dinners or attend weddings or any sort of gathering - a 4 week "lockdown"
When pups are around 6 or 7 weeks old - they are health checked by a vet, vaccinated and micro-chipped. During this time they are also registered with KUSA (R369 per puppy) - I have had many requests from people asking if they cannot buy a puppy for cheaper from us if we do not register the pup. Firstly, I believe this to be unethical. Secondly as you can see, this is the most inexpensive part of breeding. Thirdly, it takes the same effort to raise each puppy - whether it is a show prospect puppy or a companion - so we charge the same for each puppy. At around 8 weeks of age we get in an external assessor to assess puppies - usually someone who knows the breed well and is also involved in dog-sports. We flew in our assessor with our previous litter and plan on doing the same as she knows Aussies best and thus far has helped us to make excellent choices in placing pups with their correct homes. Puppy packs are then made up consisting of food, blanket, toys and a treat or two together with a puppy book - with information (not only about the breed but also the specific puppy) and tips for raising an Aussie pup. Contracts are signed and puppy owners are then added to a group where they get a lifetime of advice etc. Puppy owners are also expected to carry on with the Puppy Culture Program until 12 weeks of age and are also expected to join a training school. If at any stage in a puppy or dog's life the owner cannot take care of him/her, he/she comes back to us and stays with us until a suitable home is found.
I do believe that I have clearly set out why puppies from ethical breeders should not be seen as a business, but rather a passion for preserving breeds.
Here is another explanation as to why purebred dogs are so important: Copied from Riddle Shepherds "We don't care about papers because he will just be a pet" "We're not looking for a show dog, so it doesn't matter if the parents are titled. We just want a good family pet"
I hear this all too often, people assuming that since their dog will be 'just a pet', the lineage of the parents is not important. I'd argue the exact opposite. Have you ever considered what we expect of a dog that is 'just' a pet? Being a pet is hard. The dog must learn to adapt to a human's world, often with no more than 8 weeks of basic obedience, at best. Rules are inconsistent (I mean, I train dogs and I know I am inconsistent at times; add a whole family with various levels of training and it's not surprised that the pup is confused. For instance, does 'down' mean 'don't jump up' or 'lie down' or 'get off the sofa'?). He needs to tolerate days in a row of doing little as the family is busy with work and school, and then be well-behaved on the weekend when they decide to take him along to the farmer's market or for a hike. He must tolerate neighbor kids running up to pet him, friends coming over for dinner, the handyman doing repairs - all with a steady reserve.
To be a great pet, a dog needs a rock-solid temperament, a high level of tolerance for all our human foibles, and a loving but discriminating character. To get all of that requires good breeding with parents that have proven themselves trainable and stable. Because being 'just a pet' may be one of the harder things we ask a dog to do.
This post was specifically created because of my frustration with backyard breeders who produce many litters without testing health or temperament or proving the dog is breed quality. And the people who purchase from those breeders, thus supporting them. I fully support adoption/rescue for those who are able and willing to do that and regularly refer people to rescue groups in my area (not to mention the years I've volunteered at shelters; I've fallen in love with many an mixed breed dog or unregistered purebred). Mutts are a bit like a box of chocolates - you never quite know what you are going to get. That works well for some families, not for others.
And, yes, regardless of where your dog comes from, training will make him or her a better companion (with this I will argue better from his/her baseline, but training and socializing cannot change temperament - again why its so important that both dam and sire have excellent temperaments).
Another post from Julie Anna (USA) on this matter
The difference in purebred and well bred! Both labs are about the same age, the chocolate is from a well bred bench line and his parents were heavily health tested, negative for the diluted genes, and titled in both hunting and conformation. He is an amazing hunter and has a very good and even temperament. He cost $1500. He fits the AKC (American Kennel Club) standard.
The black lab is from a silver lab breeder, they only focus on color and nothing else. She was from a back yard breeder. She has resource guarding issues and will bite, she has no desire to work or even swim. She cost $500. Her confirmation is very unbalanced and her temperament is iffy. She is on medication for skin issues and is allergic to just about everything.
Both dogs are very much loved but the female will need constant work and vet care, along with needing to be watched like a hawk due to her temperament issues.
Please do your research and buy from a responsible breeder who breeds to standard. If not, you are better off looking for a shelter dog.
Photo by Jackie Wernberg Photography