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What is an ethical dog breeder?

Contribution by Sally Ann

What is an ethical dog breeder?

Having read my experience of buying a puppy from a less than reputable source I am sure you will understand why I believe it is so important to get things right, and finding an ethical, responsible breeder is the most important thing you can do for the health, happiness and well being of your future puppy. But the reality is, although that phrase is thrown around willy nilly, few of us have actually thought about what it really means, much less what attributes actually define an ethical, responsible breeder. If you are thinking ‘Hmm well I haven’t got a clue’ – you are not alone. This is a subject of discussion fairly often on the Facebook group’s I run, Proudly Pedigree – fit for life! and Dogs Ungagged and it is clear that definitions vary considerably. I have taken part in all these discussions and I have questioned our members who are a very diverse group. I can tell you what it means to me however, I suggest you give it some thought and decide what it means to you. One thing is clear, it will be much easier to find exactly what you are looking for when you know what it is! Before I tell you what I think an ethical breeder is let me tell you what it is definitely not. An ethical dog breeder should never be confused with a successful show breeder who has won lots of awards and can show you walls lined with rosettes. Many show kennels ARE responsible and ethical but results in the show ring are no guarantee of caring, ethical practice at home. Dogs in the show ring are judged against the breed standard, explained in an earlier post, the dogs health test results or how many litters it has had are not taken into account at all. Having lots of Champions in a pedigree is again no guarantee of the quality of the breeding practises, a pedigree can be littered with Champions but if the puppies are not fed correctly and not given the correct stimulation and socialisation from a responsible breeder you are still going to have problems with your puppy. A council breeding licence is no guarantee either, councils place an arbitrary number on the total number of brood bitches a kennel can have, go above this number and you need a licence. In some cases it shows that certain standards have been met in terms of cleanliness and paperwork but that is all. Really important things are not covered and inspections can be few and far between. Kennel Club Assured Breeders (Assured Breeders Scheme – ABS) are unfortunately the same, many are ethical and responsible but the membership of the scheme is no guarantee of that; it does happen that ABS breeders don’t carry out all the pre-mating tests they should and fail to raise the puppies properly too. Lastly but definitely not least, an ethical breeder is not necessarily a breeder who can provide whatever breed of puppy you want and deliver it to your door in perfect time for a birthday or christmas. This is a very important point in this age of instant gratification, we think we can buy anything off the internet easily, if a ‘breeder’ can do this you should ask yourself how they have access to the vast choice of puppies this necessitates and whether they are indeed breeders or third party sales people or puppy farmers. Offers to deliver puppies, meet you half way, keep it till Christmas Eve should ring huge warning bells. Buyer beware! Any way, enough of all this negativity – back to the real point of this post, what does an ethical and responsible breeder do? What makes them so special?


The most important ‘tool of the trade’ for any dog breeder is the bitch from whom they are going to have puppies. She should be a happy and healthy dog who is a great example of her breed and she should have a good temperament. In addition to this, one thing that separates an ethical breeder from others is that they understand what she is doing for them, and they are prepared to put every effort in to her care to ensure that she has a wonderful life where she gets exactly the right nutrition, exercise and health care. In the same way a happy, calm, healthy human Mum has more chance of producing a happy and healthy well baby so does child so does a dog Mum. I have strongly come to believe that we must accept that as a breeder we ‘use’ the bitch to provide us with puppies, and as a prospective puppy buyer we are complicit with the breeder in this relationship, it is therefore incumbent on both of us to ensure that she is well cared for and all her needs are met. When I took Murphy off the men at the station I did so wrongly believing that I was somehow saving him. It took me a long time to realise that I was simply adding to the problem of puppy farming by giving them money to continue their abhorrent trade. If we want to end the puppy
farming one of the best ways we can do that is to stop buying the puppies from anyone who doesn’t provide the very best care for the dogs used in the process and their puppies. Once the puppy farmers can’t sell their stock they will stop producing them. As harsh as it sounds it is a simple matter of economics. Adequate care should not be the goal here, the goal should be the very best care that provides everything that the Mum needs to can be given and the is what really separates an ethical, responsible breeder from the rest of the breeders.


An ethical breeder will have taken the trouble to research all the particular health conditions that may affect his or her breed. They will look at the sire and dam of their bitch to see what conditions she may carry, she may be excluded from some because her parents were tested clear and she couldn’t have got them. They will then embark on a thorough round of health testing for her and they will only decide to breed from her when they are satisfied that she is in excellent health. No matter how wonderful the bitch is she cannot have a litter on her own, she needs a partner to provide the other 50% of the DNA. It is worth remembering, that he is also very important in producing quality puppies. Some diseases can be ruled out if just one of the parents are health tested clear but not all so it is vital that he is also health tested. Even if the dog is not owned by the breeder they should have photocopies of all his health tests for you to view and to take away in the puppy pack if you buy a puppy.   But how do we find out if the breeder has put care into choosing the sire of the litter, well the easiest way is to ask. Ethical, responsible breeders really care, that’s the biggest clue you get. They are interested in all aspects of their dogs, and will usually be happy to talk to you about the stud dog they used what attracted them to him and the attributes that they wanted him to bring into their breeding programme. Another useful question is are they keeping a puppy? If the are at least you know the they are expecting quality that they would accept into their own pack. Don’t ever be afraid to ask too many questions and think that you may annoy the breeder, an ethical breeder is wondering if you are the right person to give a wonderful home to one of their much loved, carefully bred puppies. It is likely that they will want to interview you, they might want to know what hours you work, how long the puppy will be left alone, whether you have small children, and if you have a secure garden. If you ask lots of well thought out questions they are likely to be impressed at the effort you are putting into your choice.

A little note of caution here, the advice to prospective puppy buyers is often that you should see the mum and dad with the puppies, I think this is very misleading and is really bad advice. The reality is, when choosing the stud dog for your bitch, you are trying to match her very specific needs. No dog is perfect and you are aware of any slight faults she may have and you are trying to find a dog who will improve on her faults and compliment her good points, you could have a line up of ten bitches and no two would be suited to the same dog. As you can imagine this makes it unlikely that the breeder will own both the dog and the bitch, if they don’t there is no need for concern in fact quite the opposite, it suggests that the breeder has gone to extra lengths to do the very best she or he can do. If you would like to see photographs of the dog the breeder will be able to facilitate that for you and in some cases his owner may be happy for you to meet him.


When you make the first contact with the breeder the bitch may not even be in whelp. If at all possible I would choose a breeder who is happy to invite you to their home to meet their dogs so that you can ensure that the dogs they breed are the type that you like and want. As I said earlier the best breeders will use this as an opportunity to interview you and to make sure that you are a suitable prospect as a home for one of their precious babies. Don’t begrudge them this time to get to know you. There have invested huge amounts of time love and money into their dogs, they are entitled to be concerned that they puppies get the very best home possible. As your puppy grows you may have questions and need advice, time spent forging a positive relationship now will pay dividends later when you can pick the phone up for support and advice from an expert who really cares and wants you to succeed. Very many years ago I travelled from the island to the Uk to meet a breeder that I was hoping to buy my first Boxer from, we had travelled along way and she had freshly brewed tea and sandwiches ready for us which we were very grateful for. She then interviewed us about every aspect of our life and family in a way reminiscent of a police interview. Once our tea was drunk she invited in her large family of Boxers who jumped all over us and covered us with licks and dog hair. Only when she was satisfied that we had the appropriate sense of humour to be owned by a Boxer did she quietly call them all to order. I have to say I was very surprised when it became apparent that they were exceptionally well behaved and trained, ‘the thing is’, she explained, ‘you might struggle to train yours – I’ve had years of experience. I want to see how you cope when they are at the worst then I know you will be ok when they are at their best!’ I’ve always thought that was genius.   When we start looking for a puppy we never think that any thing can go wrong. We all assume that the puppy will fit into our lives forever and we will never have to consider parting with them. No matter how determined we are that the home we provide will be for life, we have to remember that life has a way of throwing a spanner in the works and messing up our very best laid plans. For me that realisation came in the way of ill health but for other people it can be relationship breakdowns, car accidents, elderly parents becoming ill, having to move house, work problems or just finding out that you have made a mistake. If you have to part with a dog does this mean you are a monster? We are all familiar with the bumpers stickers A dog is for life – not just for Xmas. Have you failed? Having seen first hand the living conditions of some dogs in the hands of animal hoaders and inappropriate homes over the years I have come to realise that our commitment to the animals in our care should be that through out their life we will do what is in there very best interests. If at some point you realise that you are no longer able to fulfil their needs then it can be kinder to find them a home that does better than you can do. In this situation, this is what we owe them. This is where an ethical breeder becomes like an Angel, while you are heartbroken and don’t know where to turn or what to do they will take back the dog to ensure that it gets the best home possible. This will have been discussed with you at the time of purchasing your puppy, They will have given you a sales contract with various clauses which you will both sign and one of those clauses will be that in the very sad circumstances that you cannot look after the puppy/dog any longer you must return it to the breeder who will ensure that it finds the very best home and doesn’t end up languishing in a rescue centre. A breeder I know recently took back an old aged Border Terrier that had been left homeless by the death of its owner. She cared for it with her own dogs and provided and happy home where it could spend it last short years. Truly the best outcome for an old lady that would never have coped in a kennel environment. I hope this post have given you some food for thought. My next post will be about collecting Oshi and why we were so grateful that we had chosen and ethical, responsible breeder. As always let me know if I can help you with your search. Details of all breed specific health problems can be found on breed club websites and I will do a very detailed post on Pug health shortly so keep an eye out for that.

Big love from Sally Ann, Oshi and the rest of the hippy van gang xxx

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I was finally able to start letting her go, because I knew she was home, and safe!

Obesity and Arthritis