Don’t Buy A Flat-Faced Dog & Other Things You Need To Know If You Are Considering Getting A Puppy From A Breeder
put the work in to avoid puppy mills and backyard breeders
Obviously the number one way to avoid puppy mills and backyard breeders is to adopt a dog from a shelter or certified rescue organization. In a world where there are already homeless dogs facing euthanasia because of space and resources, it is hard for me to find justification in creating more domesticated animals that require human guardians for survival. But not everyone thinks like me, which is why I wrote this piece about the ethics of dog breeding, and minimizing support of the puppy mill and backyard breeding industry when buying a puppy from a breeder.
When I worked as a dog walker in San Francisco, French Bulldogs were the it dog. I normally walked two French Bulldogs per day which gave me direct exposure to the cute genetic nightmares. One of my regular Frenchies had already had hip surgery and a nose job before turning two. Another Frenchie I walked was very strange looking and had an abnormally long body, because his owner’s ex had secretly bought the puppy from a puppy mill in Central America. One Frenchie puppy I took out had been purchased somewhere nefarious and was taken home with both Giardia and fleas. Yet another Frenchie I took care of could only walk a block or two because of his hip dysplasia. I took him to Crissy Field in a stroller with my boyfriend’s family. Everyone had a great time, but I wish the dog had been able to sniff the ground and walk around more by himself.
When a certain breed of dog is popular, people who looking to make money breed them in terrible conditions with no care to their health and well being. When the breed itself is already prone to illness and disability, the world gains more suffering and sick dogs. The majority of Frenchies require C-sections to give birth because the puppy’s heads are so large. Humans bred the Frenchies to have increasingly larger heads because of cuteness. C-sections can be incredibly dangerous for the mother dog if not completed safely with the proper sanitation and aftercare. Even though these C-sections can result in death, we continue to breed Frenchies.
Popularity creates a market for puppy mills to abuse and profit off of forced breeding dogs in bad conditions. Female dogs are used like puppy printers, kept indoors in the dark. The worst are kept cages with grated bottoms so urine and feces just fall through, so the breeders can avoid cleaning the dogs or taking them outside. This is terrible for the dog’s mental and physical health. Mother dogs are abandoned or euthanized when they can no longer give birth. Many mill dogs never experience parks or grass or sniffing the bases of trees, because their owners are only concerned with the cheapest way to make a profit off of selling their puppies.
Even the concept of breeding dogs “ethically” gives me pause, because pregnancy and giving birth are uncomfortable and painful for all dogs, regardless of how well they are treated. I believe it is our responsibility as humans to minimize the suffering of animals as much as possible, and forcing them to give birth causes suffering. I could go on and on about why I think purchasing a puppy because of its popularity and appearance is unethical.
Huskies were briefly everywhere in San Francisco since they looked like the Direwolves in Game Of Thrones, and many ended up at the shelters because people bought them without considering the breed. Huskies are destructive to personal property if not exercised or intellectually engaged enough; some owners say that having a Huskie is like having a giant three year old that will never grow up. As I prepared to move to New Jersey, Doodles became popular. A Doodle is any dog mixed with a Poodle, but Labradoodles were especially hot. Labradoodles aren’t technically their own breed because they have no breed standards. They are a mix of two different dogs making them a literal “mixed breed dog,” which many Labradoodle owners find offensive when written on veterinary records. Besides, the “creator” of Labradoodles himself lamenting that it was a mistake, it is easy to see how issues can arise from concocting specific mixed breed dogs as well. The popularity of mixed breed dogs, intentionally bred to look a certain way creates a whole new slew of health problems. I think dogs should not be mixed for purely aesthetic reasons, especially without considering the health effects. There is a dog at our local dog park that is half Huskie and half Corgi. The dog is cute, but both Corgis and Huskies are prone to hip dysplasia and sight problems. In an effort to create a short fluffy dog with orange fur, the breeders have probably created a dog that is doomed to lose its sight and mobility young. Not to mention, if the female dog in these pairings is not the larger dog, giving birth to mixed puppies with larger bodies can kill the smaller mother dogs carrying them.
If you want a certain breed of dog, ask yourself why and whether you know the traits and health risks of that breed. Consider whether or not you think the creation or maintenance of certain breeds is inherently cruel. Personally, I believe the proliferation of snub-nose/flat-faced or brachycephalic dogs is unethical. Some examples of brachycephalic dogs include: English Bulldogs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzu, Pekinese, Boston Terriers, Japanese Chin and Griffons. The reason why I am against breeding more of these dogs especially is that they are bred to have an appearance which negatively impacts their health. Dogs with “smushed” faces have breathing difficulties. The sounds they make, the wheezing, snorting, and labored panting are the sounds of them working to breathe. We are creating a living, conscious, feeling animal that has to fight to breathe, just because we think it is cute. Brachycephalic dog owners will claim their dogs do not struggle to breathe while monitoring their dog’s cardio activities at the park. Most dog owners do not have to worry that their dog isn’t getting adequate oxygen while playing.
While humans regulate body temperature through sweating, dogs do so through breathing. Dogs who have difficulties breathing, like brachycephalic breeds, must be supervised in warm weather and avoid heat because their bodies struggle to cool them down. Fluids get trapped in their airways and cause a myriad of illnesses, and anesthesia at the vet for medical procedures poses its own lethal risks because of their fragile breathing systems. It is easier for them to choke on food or drown. They struggle to breathe on airplanes, so much so that many airlines have created policies against traveling with these breeds even in the main passenger cabin. Although all animals on earth are dying from the moment the are born, I’ve always thought this was especially true for brachycephalic dogs, more dogs than just French bulldogs having to be cut out of their mothers because of their giant heads, heads we have bred them to have for the cuteness factor. So I ask:
How is it ethical to bring animals into the world for their appearance, knowing they will suffer starting at their first breath?
If you truly want a purebred or specially-bred dog, insist on visiting the breeder’s home and grounds to make sure the dogs are taken care of and get an idea of how the breeders run the business because remember, breeding dogs is a business. The process of getting a puppy from a breeder should be like a job interview: you go in with questions you need answered about the job and try to get an idea of the culture of the work and the people employed there, and the interviewer asks you questions about what you can provide to the company. The breeder should be asking you about your home and the care you plan to provide the dog. A breeder should not just hand you a puppy and take a check or a handful of cash in a parking lot. A breeder should not be trying to exchange a puppy like a bookshelf you posted on Craigslist or “mail” you a puppy by flying it unaccompanied internationally or nationally. If you want a corgi puppy from a breeder in Colorado, pack your bags because you are going to Colorado!
Expect to get put on a waiting list that could be anywhere from six months to a few years. Prepare to shell out for a puppy that has been bred to minimize health risks and conform to the breed standards. Some breeders require deposits to reserve puppies. A reasonable price for a purebred dog that has been bred with health and happiness in mind, will cost anywhere from $800 to $10,000 and beyond. But be careful, a high price is not a reflection of proper care. Regardless, you should not be looking for a “bargain.” The internet, including the AKC website can be helpful to find a breeder, but just because the dog is certified does not mean it was bred with its health and happiness in mind. AKC certification does not require inspection of the breeding facilities, it is just paperwork with a fee that must be partially completed by the breeder and sent into the AKC. However, it can be beneficial to find a breeder who breeds their dogs for dog shows and are certified, because they are dedicated to breeding the healthiest and most attractive dogs. Dog show breeders keep meticulous records of the family tree of all of their dogs in order to avoid genetic abnormalities and other negative results of inbreeding. These puppies are often purchased in order to enter the dog show world, still, the majority of puppies in a litter are not considered up to par for showing.
My best friend’s parents had a dog named Chester, a Norwich Terrier that came from an AKC breeder. Chester was not showing material, partially because his tongue stuck out of his mouth at rest. Purebred puppies that do not measure up to showing standards are purchased from breeders as pets. They are usually just as healthy as the possible showing puppies, just less “attractive” for nit-picky reasons. The reason these puppies may not be considered show-worthy are usually visual: a dog’s coloration may be viewed as less desirable by dog show judges, this includes their eyes, nose, etc. An experienced breeder can often tell by a puppy’s behavior whether or not it has the temperament for showing; the dog must be tolerant of strangers handling them, relaxed in crowds, and obedient. Once again, just because they do not have the temperament to show does not mean they are subpar puppies; most dogs don’t want to be felt up , constantly primped and groomed, stand under hot lights, trot in circles, ignore the hundreds of other dogs around them and loud audiences. Puppies that do conform to breed standards and are deemed up to par for showing will often have a premium and possibly even contracts around whether that puppy can be bred when it is of age. This aspect of buying a puppy can be very confusing, but for those looking for a pet and not a show dog, these minute details should not matter. Every litter a show dog breeder has is a litter of puppies that now must find homes, regardless of appearance. If you want a purebred dog, consider the one who is too nervous to show, has “too many” spots, or has a little tongue sticking out sometimes.
You should be able to reach out to your breeder if you suspect something may be wrong with your puppy, like they are not growing as fast as you thought they would. You should be able to call or email your breeder when your dog is an adult and ask about anything from whether your dog’s mother had any heart issues, or just to chat about how your dog is doing great and send over a few photos for your breeder’s fridge. A breeder who truly loves the dogs they breed will want to know how their dogs are doing, and in the worst case scenario, like the owner’s passing, even be able to take the puppy or full-grown dog back or help to re-home them.
If you truly love a certain breed of dog, it cannot just about the appearance but the personality and other qualities. Dogs were not originally bred for appearance alone but functionality, and these instincts and qualities remain in the breed even if they aren’t being “used.” Check out if your state or area has a rescue dedicated to the breed of dog you love or are interested in, ask them questions, volunteer to foster a dog, or even transport it for medical care if you do not already have experience with the breed. I grew up with German Shorthaired Pointers. After my childhood dog Murry passed away, my mom started fostering elderly German Shorthaired Pointers through a California-based rescue. They are hunting dogs, but less intelligent than other working dog breeds. GSPs are energetic doofuses who love to please their owners. For these reasons they need lots of physical exercise, training, and flourish when flexing their abilities with commands and other assigned tasks. They are becoming more common in the security and service world because of their eager to please and un-intimidating appearance. Unlike German Shepherds, German Shorthaired Pointers are not viewed as dangerous or associated with law enforcement or other historically oppressive regimes like Nazis.
I encountered a woman on social media who is a Celiac and trained her German Shorthaired Pointer to smell and alert for gluten. I messaged her to say how perfect the breed was for that job because it is relatively simple task, and allows the dog to assist their owner several times a day, giving them dog a task and sense of belonging while not putting too many complex responsibilities on their plate. She enthusiastically agreed. Anyone who has a German Shorthaired Pointer knows that they are not ideal for difficult jobs like assisting the visually impaired. These kinds of jobs require dogs that are able to learn to disobey their owners when the commands given put their owner in danger. A German Shorthaied Pointer given the command to cross a street while a car is running a red light would get themself and their owner injured because their owner’s word is paramount. Obviously there are dogs that do not act exactly like their breed is typically known to act, but you can’t expect that dog breeds known to have certain traits and behaviors will just go away because you find them inconvenient. Corgis are sassy and guard their homes, Pugs are sweet and prone to pooping inside at the slightest inconvenience like rain, Greyhounds are lazy but have the kind of prey drive that makes them jump like an NBA player and then accidentally run away from home. Ask any vet, vet tech, or receptionist at a vet and they will tell you that Labs are happy, but eat things that they shouldn’t, like tennis balls, socks, and rocks.
When inquiring about a puppy from a breeder, make sure the puppy was allowed to wean adequately and has been nurtured and nourished. While most puppies complete weaning at about one month of age, they should not be separated from their mother before they are eight weeks old. In fact, it is illegal in several states to sell puppies under eight weeks old. You want to wait, not only because it allows the puppy to become stronger and healthier with access to its mother and siblings, but because these first few months are critical for the dog to learn from experience with their siblings about playing and interacting. Dogs that are separated from their mothers too early are not only less likely to survive but also more likely to develop behavioral issues, especially biting.
Insist on meeting the puppy’s mother. If the breeder cannot give you access to the puppy’s mother, it is a huge red flag — they are likely hiding something from you. You want the mother to be at a healthy weight, clean, groomed, and happy. You want to know how many litters the mother has had, as each birth is stressful, painful, and risky. If the mother looks haggard and sick, or matted, the breeder obviously does not care about her well being, meaning she is only kept because she brings in money. Moreover, if the breeder does not care about the mother, they probably do not care about the long term health and vitality of the puppies. If the breeder does not take care of the mother they will not care whether or not she is sick or in pain. They will not care if the mother dog is inbred, or the puppies were a result of inbreeding with her own sibling or parent to avoid paying to borrow a purebred male dog from someone else or taking care of an intact male dog with no relation to the mother dog. Many experts believe a female dogs should be bred no more than three times, for the dog’s mental and physical health. I would also assume this means that dogs requiring C-sections should not be bred more than once, if at all.
Lastly, if you are interested in a Doodle, consider getting a Standard Poodle instead. If you do not get the Standard Poodle haircut with all the puffs, no one will notice the difference between your Poodle and any Doodle. It will be easier to find a reputable breeder for a Poodle. Poodles are also a breed with a dedicated fan base, some even refer to themselves as “Poodle People.” Poodles come in black, brown, white, and black and white (also called Party). Poodles will dependably have hair, not fur. Some Doodles have fur in addition to their base layer of hair; Poodles are hypoallergenic, but not all Doodles are hypoallergenic. Many folks who work or have worked in pet care, like myself have found that Doodles seem to have the stubbornness of Poodles without the intelligence, and lack impulse control. I follow dog groomers on social media who say that Doodles are more aggressive and nervous than Poodles. It is difficult to determine whether this is nature or nurture. I lean towards nurture, as the kind of people who buy a dog because they saw them all over Instagram and they look like a teddy bears may themselves lack the commitment and discipline to train their dogs properly with Positive Reinforcement. Consider rescuing a Doodle. The sad truth is that people often buy dogs that are on trend, realize that the dog does not fit into their lifestyle, and then dump them at a shelter. Doodles are losing popularity and will likely be prolific in shelters within the next couple of years.
But most of all, I would encourage anyone considering buying a dog to visit a shelter near them and meet some dogs that already exist in the world, and need homes now. Remember: whether you buy or adopt a dog, it is still a dog that needs love, attention, and care for its whole life.
My dog is technically a Doodle. We got her DNA done a couple years ago and she is mostly (20%) Miniature Poodle. She is also Chihuahua, Dachshund, Miniature Schnauzer, some niche terrier called a Teddy Roosevelt Terrier… and more… She sheds quite a bit when the seasons change. Her hair is all over the house right now. For more pictures, you can follow her Instagram @pepperthescruffer.