Opening Space: Accredited Dog Breeders = Better Breeders?

These days, savvy pet buyers know that they are supposed to get their puppy from a "good breeder” — not from a pet store or a puppy mill.

By Bo Bengtson | September 1, 2006

These days, savvy pet buyers know that they are supposed to get their puppy from a "good breeder” — not from a pet store or a puppy mill. That’s one step in the right direction, and a very important one. I’m not sure we’ll ever see the end of puppies being treated like commercial goods, but this is certainly something that every thinking, feeling dog person must hope for.

It’s the question of who those "good breeders” are that I wonder about. We all think we know… but when you try to nail down precisely how those breeders should raise their puppies and deal with their prospective buyers, you will find that what one experienced dog person thinks makes perfect sense doesn’t seem even reasonable to another. It is also an unfortunate truth that a few of the "best” breeders — in the sense that their dogs win a lot in the show ring — are not always those you would recommend to someone who wants to get a healthy, happy, handsome pet. Many talented breeders produce great show dogs while maintaining a high standard of ethics and taking great care of their dogs, but show wins alone do not make anyone a "good breeder.”

So who can decide what’s good practice in breeding and selling purebred puppies? If you look at the various parent clubs’ Codes of Ethics you will find that they differ as much as the individual breeders’ sense of what’s right or wrong. Some clubs apparently don’t even have a Code of Ethics…

You might think that the American Kennel Club would be able to determine exactly who’s a good breeder and who is not, but that is not the case. AKC has set up a wide network of breeder referrals, both through national parent clubs and all-breed member clubs; a little clicking on the AKC website will tell you exactly whom to contact for further information. This must be a great help for prospective puppy buyers, but AKC gives no directives for which breeders the clubs should refer puppy buyers to and makes it clear that they do not endorse or recommend specific breeders. No doubt the worst offenders are screened out via the diligence and experience of those hardworking individuals who provide the referral service, but they cannot be expected to bear the burden of knowing much about all the breeders who may have puppies available. In other words, there is no guarantee that the breeder whom AKC indirectly refers a prospective buyer to is, in fact, a "good breeder.”

The only specific AKC guidelines for what is and what is not acceptable breeding practice come in the AKC Gazette Breeders’ Classifieds ads. It is stated there that "all advertised breeds must be recognized by The American Kennel Club. All dogs offered for sale or stud must be AKC registered or eligible for AKC registration. Breeders and owners must be in good standing with the American Kennel Club. Breeders may not advertise dogs that can be disqualified according to the AKC-approved standard of the breed. Advertising is not accepted from class A or class B dealers who acquire dogs for resale.”

However, to find specific accreditation of breeders who adhere to stated guidelines you have to go across the pond to the United Kingdom, where The Kennel Club, after several years of research, launched an Accredited Breeder Scheme in 2004. Membership now stands at 1,200 breeders, and although by no means everyone is completely satisfied with the scheme, there seems to be no question that it’s already considered a success.

The rules you have to comply with to become an officially accredited breeder with The Kennel Club are clearly spelled out and include the following:

• Compliance with general Kennel Club registration requirements;
• Permanent identification of breeding stock;
• The use of relevant official breed-specific health checks on breeding stock;
• The provision of advice to new owners on issues like feeding, worming, exercise, socialization, training and immunization;
• The use of a contract of sale for every puppy;
• Agreeing to act as a point of contact for new puppy owners in case problems arise once the puppy has gone to its new home.

Not much there that most American breeders would have trouble agreeing with, I think. (I hope?) The breeder simply fills out a form, signs it, pays £15 (approx. $27.60) for the first year and then £10 (approx. $18.50) per year, and can list his or her establishment as a Kennel Club Accredited Breeder. The problem, of course, must lie in the policing necessary to make sure that breeders comply with the rules. Some of this can be easily checked in the registration database. In addition, the candidates’ names are published in the Kennel Gazette, which may result in objections from breed clubs and other breeders, which can then be investigated. (British breeders know much more about each other than Americans do; details of all registered litters are published on a monthly basis.) Even more efficient, apparently, are the questionnaires that the breeder is expected to give each puppy buyer (as part of a "puppy sales wallet”), and which are returned to the KC by the hundreds. They are almost invariably glowing with praise for the breeders, but any negative feedback can be investigated.

Is this something that could be adopted by AKC for use in the United States? Certainly the conditions are different over here: there are more dogs, more people and an infinitely greater area to supervise. Still, what works overseas does not necessarily have to be a bad idea; sometimes you get the feeling that the powers-that-be really prefer to reinvent the wheel rather than admit to copying someone else’s bright idea… Wouldn’t it be great if we all knew to which breeders we could safely refer the pet-buying public?

Have fun with your dogs…


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