Just what defines a responsible dog breeder, anyway...what is it exactly that sets them apart from all the rest?
Although the criteria have changed over the years, there are several hallmarks that all modern responsible dog breeders share, And while few may become that gifted breeder of top-winning dogs who leaves an indelible legacy for years to come, the plain truth is ANYONE can learn to breed dogs responsibly if they really want to.
The motto of the responsible breeder of purebred dogs is: "Breed to Improve."
"Breed to Improve" also logically implies: "Do No Harm."
Passionate about their breed, the responsible breeder's primary motive is never financial (they all understand that there's precious little money to be made raising quality purebred dogs responsibly) but rather to preserve and enhance the characteristics that make their chosen breed unique.
And responsible breeders understand that quality in any purebred dog, even if it is "just a pet", is a combination of breed type, health, soundness and temperament, and that Breeding to Improve must always take all four equally into account when planning a breeding.
Responsible dog breeders place those puppies they do not intend to keep for breeding carefully and only in homes they feel confident are appropriate.
Responsible breeders know that their breed is not right for everyone. They will interview all potential buyers, asking personal questions about their previous dog experience and lifestyle, and often require references. They will do their best to assure themselves that their breed is an appropriate choice and that their puppy will receive the best possible care and training before even considering selling someone a dog.
Responsible dog breeders sell puppies intended primarily as companions with Companion Registration.
Responsible breeders sell puppies they consider to be of potential show/breeding quality very carefully with registration conditions and contracts that ensure the dog will not be irresponsibly bred. Responsible breeders have no wish to enrich the ranks of commercial, "casual" or backyard breeders with dogs they have produced.
Responsible dog breeders are knowledgeable about the genetic problems, current health research and current testing available in their breed, and screen their dogs prior to breeding. In breeds where the Parent Club has established a CHIC program, they participate.
Responsible breeders never say "I don't health-screen because I don't have those problems in my line", because they know the only way to ascertain that is by health-screening! They also know that "I do the health testing but I don't register the results with OFA" is an extremely lame excuse too often used by breeders who don't actually do any testing at all, and that entering the results of their dogs' health screening into the OFA database is valuable for setting the breed's priorities for future health research.
Responsible dog breeders keep only as many dogs as they can properly house, groom, exercise, socialize, health-screen and provide routine veterinary care for without cutting any corners.
There is no magic number of dogs here- it is entirely dependent upon the breeder's financial resources, facilities and time. Whether a breeder has more dogs than they can provide optimal care for should be immediately apparent at the first visit. All the dogs on the property should be clean, well-groomed, healthy and well-socialized, and their living quarters should never be "off-limits" or hidden from puppy buyers, with the possible exceptions of very new mothers and unvaccinated puppies.
Responsible dog breeders house their breeding dogs, and raise their puppies, in an environment appropriate for their size and exercise needs and which provides optimum opportunity for socialization.
For many modern breeders with a few dogs, that means the dogs have the run of the house. For those with large breeds and/or several intact dogs of both genders, it is often impossible to maintain any sort of responsible management without a well-designed kennel arrangement of some sort, either in a part of the house or in a separate building nearby. In either case, it should be remembered that in addition to having their social needs adequately met, fresh air, sunshine and exercise are all necessary to a dog's well-being, whether it weighs ten pounds or tips the scales at a hundred. Healthy young dogs confined to a stack of small crates indoors all day may technically be considered "house dogs" by casual breeders who invariably advertise them as such, but are not necessarily better off than a responsible breeder's dogs who are kept in clean kennel runs with free access to fresh air, sunshine, exercise and the company of other dogs. The current campaign by the Animal Rights Movement to make "kennel" a four-letter word does dogs no favors in the long run.
Responsible dog breeders always make breeding decisions based on the best interest of the individual bitch rather than the desire or need to produce a litter.
In addition to health and genetics, responsible breeders keep abreast of advances in canine reproductive science so that their breeding decisions are always based upon the most current research available to them. As the results of new research is constantly evolving, responsible breeders may attend reproductive seminars periodically to keep up and adjust their practices accordingly.
Responsible dog breeders provide a written contract when they sell a puppy, clearly spelling out the terms of sale, the guarantees offered, and the buyer's obligation as well as the seller's.
Sales contracts vary from breeder to breeder, but a well-written one should be designed to protect the dog as well as the buyer and seller.
Responsible dog breeders will ALWAYS take back a dog they have sold, at any point in its life and for any reason, should the owner be unable to keep it.
This is generally (and ideally) written into the sales contract. Some breeders may offer a full or partial refund, while others simply state that they will take the dog back or assist the owner in rehoming, but a responsible breeder will never shirk responsibility for a dog they've produced under any circumstances.
Responsible dog breeders participate in breed activities, including dog shows and/or performance events.
These events assess the physical qualities and natural instincts of individual breeds and provide the only real means by which breeders can measure the dogs they are producing against the breed's standard of excellence. Although breeding for health and temperament is critical, the essence of the purebred dog is "breed type" (defined as those characteristics which set one breed apart from all others), and as love is notoriously blind, a puppy buyer should not have to rely entirely upon the breeder's personal opinion as to whether the puppy's parents are in fact acceptable specimens of (or even resemble!) their breed.
Responsible dog breeders generally concentrate their energies on only one or two breeds for purely practical reasons.
Because purebred dogs are all so different, which is part of what makes them so fascinating, it is a rare and particularly gifted breeder who can honestly achieve the level of expertise and involvement required to truly breed for improvement in more than one or two breeds at the same time. The overwhelming majority of those who do are neither gifted nor unfortunately rare. The phrase "multiple breeds" is usually the hallmark of the commercial breeder.
Responsible dog breeders "give back" to the world of dogs.
Responsible breeders are passionate about dogs and their lives invariably revolve around them. When not actually raising a litter of puppies, they are active in local or national breed-specific or all breed dog clubs, and participate in projects such as public education, rescue, training, therapy work, and canine health research.