by Lindsay (bahamutt99)
Puppy fever can be a powerful thing. It’s an affliction that strikes without warning, and with no regard to sex, race, creed, age, class or political party. It has been shown to reduce the most hard, stoic individual to fits of baby talk. The power of the puppy cannot be denied, and few can claim immunity from those big eyes, roly poly wiggly bodies, and the awesome little noises they make. Puppy fever cases tend to spike around the holidays, and with that in mind, I’d like to talk about what makes a breeder reputable, and what qualifies as a backyard breeder (BYB).
One of the hardest things to overcome is the first impression. Many people not well-versed on the subject can be lulled into a false sense of security by a breeder who is nice and approachable. Now I don’t mean to even minutely suggest that you shouldn’t have a good relationship with your breeder. On the contrary, some of the most satisfying arrangements are when a breeder and buyer have a working relationship, and continue contact well after the puppy purchase. However, investing in a dog on the sole grounds that you are cool with the breeder can be shaky. The nicest people in the world may very well have no business breeding dogs. And on the flipside, not all worthwhile breeders have abundant social skills.
A great deal can be gleaned just by asking a breeder what the purpose of their program is. (Some wont even be able to answer the question.) The short answer here goes something like this: A reputable breeder will tell you they are breeding to improve the breed. They know the bloodlines behind their dogs, and will be able to tell you what traits run strong in them, and the areas where they could use improvement. (Beware the breeder that tells you the blood they’re running has no flaws.) The amateur or BYB will give an answer that emphasizes their dogs’ physical appearance—i.e. color, head size, chest width, and so forth. Others will have nonsensical reasons such as “we thought it was time to have a litter,” or “I love puppies,” or “I needed some money,” or “I just love this dog and everybody wants his puppies.” Some will tell you that they breed for good pets, which basically means they are putting two cute dogs together and hoping for the best. Unethical breeders think only of the short-term, and don’t even consider how their actions can impact the breed.
When talking to a breeder, pay careful attention. A good breeder will answer your questions honestly, even if they know you aren’t going to like the answer. And the flow of information will go both ways. They are going to ask you about your home and family, possibly your career and income, what happened to pets you’ve owned in the past, and why you want an American Pit Bull Terrier. While it sounds like the grand inquisition, believe that only a reputable breeder is going to care enough to worry about who is getting their puppies. It is becoming a more common practice for breeders to require their puppy buyers to sign a contract outlining what the breeder expects of the buyer, as well as what kind of guarantee they are offering on the puppy. These contracts are not in place to bind the buyer to unreasonable stipulations; they exist for the protection of the breeder, the new owner, and most importantly the dog. (Like mom always says, “eat your green vegetables and get it in writing!”) Many people still sell dogs on a handshake, which is perfectly acceptable if you trust them to do right by their dogs. Just remember that you have precious little legal protection if they end up selling you a “lemon.”
It is always a good idea to see a breeder’s operation for yourself, if possible. While many good dogs have been bought sight unseen, you get a fuller picture if you are able to meet the breeder and his dogs in person. Standard rules of ownership apply: the area where the dogs are kept should be clean and free of excrement, trash, and other undesirables. The dogs should be parasite-free, and have shiny coats and good muscle tone. (Everybody can have a bad day or a sick dog, but there is no reason for a breeder to keep more dogs than they can provide respectable feed, exercise and veterinary care for.) In this breed, dogs should be friendly and approachable, not fearful or aggressive. If a dog has to be locked away because he’s “protective,” or “territorial,” he does not show the correct breed temperament. The APBT is a gregarious dog that views people as friends, not food.
Almost all breeds were created for a purpose, from heavy draft work to plain old companionship. The APBT is in a unique situation in that the main purposes of his breeding—dog fighting, and prior to that, bull baiting—are now illegal in all of the United States. Does this mean we should just let him cede to the ranks of other former working dogs that have now become strictly show/pet breeds? Those who really know these dogs see what a waste that would be. Showing in conformation (aka dog shows) is perfectly fine, and one of the things you can look for if you don’t understand structure yourself. (Despite trends in the show ring, you can be reasonably assured that a Champion or Grand Champion has correct structure for the breed.) However, show wins are not everything. They should be part of the program, yes, but are only one piece of the whole pie.
The best and most breed-worthy dog will excel in all of the following areas: Health, Temperament, Conformation and Working Drive. Here is how you would evaluate a breeding dog for those points.
Health: When looking at health, it is important to think beyond what your eyes can show you. With this breed, the stoicism and high pain threshold allows them to work (and play) very convincingly while harboring such things as mild hip dysplasia or heart murmurs. One of the most clear-cut ways to weed out these hidden problems is through the use of health testing prior to breeding. This does not mean having a veterinarian give the dog a once-over and declare him/her physically able to breed a litter. There are many things that cannot be seen by a simple examination, and as such, true health testing involves such methods as x-rays to examine the hip sockets, doppler to check the soundness of the heart, and blood work to evaluate the thyroid. Some of the more relevant health tests for our breed include Hips, Elbows, and Cardiac, but there are many other things that a breeder may test for based on the problems which run in their particular bloodlines. Health testing is not a guarantee that a dog will not throw unhealthy pups, but it is far better than not knowing. (The incidence of genetic flaws in some breeds has been greatly reduced over the years by liberal use of health testing.) For more information on health-testing—and how our breed stacks up against others—visit the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
Temperament: This can be just as shadowy a thing as health, and a poor temperament can be compensated for by an experienced handler. There is a temperament title (TT) offered by the American Temperament Test Society, which can be something to look for. Here are some other common sense things to watch for: A dog that shies away, barks fearfully, or tucks its tail is not correct. Neither, obviously, is a dog that tries to bite the handler or anybody else. Aggression towards other dogs is normal for the breed, and is something that the new owner should prepare for. As per the breed standard, these dogs should embody “strength, confidence, and zest for life,” and should be “eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm.” So look for the happy, outgoing dog who greets new people with a wagging tail and does not shy from normal things. (When in doubt, ask to come back and visit the dog again later. Illness or an unseen stimulus can cause strange behavior in otherwise sound dogs.)
Conformation: It would be an exercise in futility to try to explain all the points of conformation in a single blog. (For a good learner’s guide, visit APBTconformation.com) Suffice it to say, a correct dog will be able to obtain a Champion (CH) or Grand Champion (GRCH) in its respective registry. There are some dogs that lack enthusiasm for the show ring and may not “show well,” but beware the breeder who makes excuses for breeding an adult dog that has never been shown. Another important thing to remember for those interested in buying a show puppy: Find a breeder with years of experience in the show ring. If they have never shown, or are new to the sport, then they lack the experience to differentiate between show-quality and pet-quality puppies. (Beware the breeder that tells you all their puppies are show-quality.) The breeder who never competes will have only his dogs for comparison.
Working Drive: Some drives can be measured in very young puppies, but for the adult breeding dog, look for proof that he has been shown in some kind of competition. What kind of competition will vary with the interest of the breeder, but there should at least be something. Here is a short list of possible competitions that this breed can partake in: Weight Pulling, Agility, Obedience, Schutzhund. Some lesser-known sports include Carting, Skijoring, Flyball, Hangtime, Tracking, Disc dog competitions, Dock Jumping, Herding and Hunting. (Some of the items in that second list are licensed competitions, and some are not.) The breeders who are most interested in testing all aspects of their breeding dogs are going to be competing in more than one event. For example, a breeder might use weight pull to test strength and determination; agility to test speed and flexibility; and obedience to test patience, intelligence and trainability. The best dogs have more titles than their owners can remember!
So a breakdown of some of the things I’ve discussed here:
A good breeder is going to be honest about their dogs’ strengths and flaws.
They care very much about where their puppies are going, and wont sell to an inappropriate home.
They will have a valid reason for wanting to breed that litter.
Their dogs will be well cared for and happy.
They use some form of health testing.
They consider temperament very strongly.
Plus, they compete in some kind of events with their dogs.
A few more points to add to this list:
A good breeder does not breed excessively. They only breed when they want to keep something from litter to add to their own stock, usually no more than once in a year. It is a safe bet that a breeder who has puppies available year-round is not breeding to better the breed. A good breeder is going to want to be able to keep track of everything he’s produced.
A good breeder will only breed dogs that are legitimately registered. With this breed, the main registries are the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA). There are other registries that have popped up in the last decade, but their legitimacy is often questionable.
A good breeder will take back any puppy or adult dog that has been bred by them, regardless of age or intact status (meaning either neutered or fertile). They will take great pains not to allow their puppies to end up in shelters or rescue.
Last but not least, this blog is merely a guide. It describes the practices in an ideal situation with a reputable breeder. It does not cover every situation or talking point. And not all breeders are going to adhere to every rule as they have their own way of doing things. And not all locations are going to be blessed with an abundance of reputable breeders. (Some puppy buyers are going to have to either take a road trip, or have a puppy sent to them if they want to buy the very best.) Buying a dog can be a complicated thing, but with a basic grasp of what constitutes reputable vs. what is a BYB, you can proceed with more confidence. Listen to what your gut instinct tells you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to get a better idea of what a breeder is about. If you are unsure, by all means ask around about a breeder’s reputation.
Don’t leave anything up to guesswork. Do your research and help ensure that your companion for the next 12-15 years is all that he should be!