What is a Good Breeder?

By Lisa M. Costello, DVM, MS

To me, a breeder is a person who has two dogs that unite sperm and ova and produce puppies. It is as simple as that. I do not believe the term "breeder" implies any special qualities to a person with regard to their knowledge about the breed, their ability to evaluate dogs, their ability to pick good dogs or anything else. If you have two dogs of the opposite sex, they breed and you are responsible, then you are lucky enough to be a "Breeder". This is the same definition of all the people who supply pet stores and make puppy mills a daily reality.

"Good breeders don't actually know it all and they know they don't know it all. They learn with each litter . . . "

What makes a *Good breeder*? Now to me, that is the real question. Does it mean you have to keep a puppy from each litter? No. Does it mean you have to use two champions as sire and dam? No. Does it mean you can only breed one litter every 5 years? No. Do you have to be a member of the parent club? No. Do you have to plan and wring your hands over every single litter you produce....no, not even this. Here is what it means to me, as a person who sees hundreds of puppies every year from all kinds of breeders....98% of them not in my category of a "Good Breeder."

I think you need to know your breed (this would rule out all the Puggles, Labradoodles and all the other ridiculous mixes they sell for thousands of dollars that are not breeds but mongrels). This doesn't mean you sit ringside and talk to other people or finish a Champion or go to a lot of shows, trials, etc. It means you are involved in the breed for more than 6 months (or even a few years) before you breed, you get to know people in your breed, you learn about the different familial lines in your breed, you become familiar with the function of your breed and most of all, you learn the health and temperament problems inherent with your breed. This is a tall order but the longer I am in whippets, the less I think I truly know and I have always considered that to be a good thing...it means I keep learning. Good breeders don't actually know it all and they know they don't know it all. They learn with each litter and they WANT to learn with each litter.

Good Breeders health test parents of litters as much as possible and they DO NOT BREED AFFECTED DOGS. Good breeders educate new owners with respect to what might be in their puppies pedigree with regard to disease and are open about breeding healthy dogs. They are interested in full disclosure.

I think being a Good Breeder means you take every puppy you produce seriously and to your heart. You are creating living, thinking beings that deserve the best life they can have on this earth. That does not mean they have to run around a show ring, break out of a box on the track or chase the white plastic bag (that's all icing on the cake). It means they live in homes where they are loved and considered for their individual qualities as a living, thinking, loving dog. Not a single person can tell me 6 litters of puppies produced in less than 3 months time on one property can fulfill that unless you have at least 20 or 30 people raising those puppies on a daily basis. The puppies should have individual attention, they should be handled on a routine basis, have their nails trimmed, be given baths, fed good quality food, dewormed and vaccinated appropriately and started off in their new homes with the best possible chance (ideally knowing what a crate and leash are as well). The owners of the puppies from a Good Breeder should be able to utilize that breeder as a mentor, as a friend and as a resource of knowledge about their breed and what lifelong care requires.

"Being a Good Breeder doesn't mean you won't ever have problems . . .
it means knowing these things do and will happen and how to navigate them successfully."
Being a Good Breeder means you will take those puppies back, regardless of circumstance, for the remainder of their lives. It doesn't mean you have to keep all of them (Good Breeders don't) or control the rest of their lives or their owners lives...but you need to be there if they need you. Does it mean you have to find the perfect homes? No one can do this on a 100% basis but having homes on waiting lists before litters are bred sure helps. Being a Good Breeder doesn't mean you won't ever have problems with dogs or owners or have litters that don't turn out or dogs that really should not be bred....it means knowing these things do and will happen and how to navigate them successfully.

I would say the great majority of puppies I see today have only breeders behind them, not Good Breeders. I have seen many pups in the show ring that are no different. I don't think there is one definition you can give with regard to number of litters per year, puppies produced per decade, number of champions finished per year, field titles earned, trials attended, etc. etc. etc. that will successfully define a Good Breeder....it is in how you introduce those puppies to the world and how you introduce your new owners to their huge responsibility.

In closing...consider this statistic, which I learned at a recent lecture on puppy gentling and early training in the vets office: 80% or more puppies today will lose their lives due to behavior than any other single disease entity.

What this means is that the large majority of dogs who die will do so because of behavior problems, not health issues (voluntary euthanasia). Behavior is the main reason dogs are turned into shelters, rescues or abandoned or euthanized in our civilized world today. Man's Best Friend? Not so much anymore. I think Good Whippet Breeders are one of the first lines of defense in keeping this statistic to a minimum in our breed....they choose the owners of their puppies, they help educate them and field problems when they occur. I think anyone seriously considering breeding needs to think about the minds and health of the 1-13 puppies/litter they plan on producing. If you can stomach that and can step up to the plate....you might just be a Good Breeder.

"What is a Breeder?" Copyright © 2007 Lisa M. Costello, DVM, MS.
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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