This is Cady, the dog we have now. She’s a mutt who needed a home. We adopted her as a near-adult stray. With the exception of being a cat-killing fool, and snapping at intruders when we’re not home, she’s been a pretty good dog. She’s eleven now and hasn’t really had any major health issues. She doesn’t even seem to be slowing down much. We got pretty lucky, as far as her health and disposition go.
That’s a far cry from the way we selected our first two dogs. They were high-class, pure-bred dogs. I spent a lot of time in the process of finding “the right dog” because I (at the time) felt like the veterinarian’s own dog should be a shining example of the super-dog. That’s not a bad idea, but these days I have other priorities than creating the super-dog. This is Anna, at six months.
Why get a pure-bred dog in the first place? Why not just take pot-luck with a mixed-breed puppy who needs a home?
Of course, we have “flavor of the month” syndrome, as when “101 Dalmatians” came out. Great Dane lovers fear that the Marmaduke movie will have a similar effect. Both of these breeds can be great dogs, but they can also be challenging to raise and care for. Neither are great choices for beginners.
If you’re just looking at dog pictures without researching the characteristics of the breed, you’re liable to wind up with a dog like a Jack Russell Terrier. They are neat-looking dogs with a lot of personality. Best in the world for killing rats, grabbing things and shaking them to death, and repeat that process many times daily – a very busy dog. If nobody’s home all day, that dog is going to destroy your home. As the man said in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, you “…chose poorly.”
The most logical reason for purchasing a pure-bred dog is that you want particular characteristics of size, behavior, personality and appearance. You’ve researched a lot of different breeds and found one where the breed standard encompasses what you’re looking for. If you buy a puppy of that breed, you should have the dog you want when it grows up. With a mixed-breed, you don’t have nearly as much predictive ability of what you’ll wind up with.
Unfortunately, a lot of dogs are produced by commercial breeders who really don’t care if the dog grows up to be what you want it to be. He looks like the picture, but the biggest criterion for selecting the breeding stock was fertility. No attention has been given to trainability or personality. These are the puppies sold to brokers, and then to pet stores.
When you make that impulse purchase at the pet store, you are paying a pretty big mark-up for that convenience. The pet-store has to pay their people, their rent, and the broker, and make a profit. If you bought this same commercially bred dog directly from the breeder, you’d pay about one fourth the pet-store price.
So what should you do to buy the super-dog? First you identify the breed that will best suit your life-style so that you don’t set the relationship up to fail. Unfortunately, most breed books are written by enthusiastic proponents of the breed, and it’s not unusual to find that every breed you look at is good with children, a great watchdog, loyal, loves to play, and either came across the Alps with the Romans, or started out as a Tibetan temple guard.
There was a terrific book (now out of print) called “The Perfect Puppy” by Benjamin Hart and Lynnette Hart. It profiles fifty-six of the most popular breeds by thirteen key behavioral traits, like “ease of house-training”, “snapping at children”, and “dominance over owner”. My copy is falling apart, but I wouldn’t part with it.
Anyway, do some studying on the breed before you embark on your quest to purchase the perfect high-class pure-bred dog for yourself.
Once you’ve selected the breed, you want to find the breeder of your dreams. In my case, this would be someone for whom raising a couple of litters a year is their main hobby. They have several dogs and are committed to improving the breed by carefully selecting and planning the matings. Their dogs are carefully screened for heritable medical problems like hip dysplasia and eye problems. They sell the show-quality puppies for big bucks, and they are very careful about where their puppies end up.
Sometimes they produce a puppy that doesn’t quite measure up to their show-quality standards. They refer to these little guys as “pet quality”. They don’t think that they can win big at the shows, and they don’t want this puppy carrying their kennel name into an inferior breeding program. Often they will sell this pet quality puppy for about half what the show-quality pups go for. You have to agree to have the puppy neutered or spayed before they will give you the registration papers.
The thing is, the “pet quality” puppy from these folks is about ten times the dog you’d get from the pet-store (from the broker from the commercial breeder). He will be way better looking. He comes from parents certified (as best we can) to be free of the medical problems inherent in the breed. And the “pet quality” price is usually no more than the pet-store price for a dog from considerably less distinguished ancestry.
I’m not saying you can’t get a nice pet at a pet-store. I am saying that you pay a premium price for convenience instead of for a premium puppy.
So how do you find the breeder of your dreams? Now that you know who you are looking for, where do you find them?
This has got to be so much easier in the age of the Internet than when I first did it. Then, I had to go to the newsstand and buy Dog World and Dog Fancy. I looked through the classified display ads for the breed I was interested in. Then I contacted some of the folks to find out where to get more information on the breed. They told me about their breed association. You can probably do this in five minutes on your computer now.
I joined the breed association club, and subscribed to their newsletter. This let me find out more about the breed and its pros and cons. I also could see bloodlines, and get a feel for what a great Rottweiler (or Golden Retriever, in round two) looked like. After a few bi-monthly issues, I began to feel that I had a better idea of what I was looking for. You sort of get immersed in the enthusiasms and concerns of people who really care about their breed.
Next step, look at the membership list in the club and find breeders who are within driving distance. Call them up and tell them that you are not interested in breeding or showing, but you want to have a good, medically sound dog, and you think that a “pet-quality” dog from a committed breeder is what you are looking for. You want to learn more about the breed and would really like to visit them and see their dogs. Then you go do that, and you develop a relationship with the breeder you like best, and you get on a waiting list for a puppy.