The Marketing of Purebred Dogs

The Pawsibility Poll that I’ve had up over the past few days hasn’t had a lot of votes, but so far it shows a pretty even distribution of responses on a complicated and emotionally charged issue. We asked, “Do you think it’s okay to purchase a purebred dog with so many dogs in shelters?” To date 38 percent voted yes, 33 percent voted no, and the remaining 29 percent responded that it was too complicated an issue for a simple yes/no answer.

For the sake of full disclosure, I voted yes, but I want to expand on the question a little bit and give people a better chance to express their views.

One of my three dogs was purchased from a reputable breeder with the other three being rescues of one type or another. I believe that responsible breeding and placement by responsible breeders is necessary to carry on the lines of the individual breeds. However, in my opinion some of the breeds seem to be promoting dogs as accessories rather than additions to the family. The most obvious example at this point in time is the Chihuahua.

I’d like to offer this excerpt from the AKC Meet Breeds page for the Chihuahua

Graceful, alert and swift-moving with a saucy expression, Chihuahuas are highly intelligent and should not be underestimated even though small in size. The breed can be any color – solid, marked or splashed and the coat may be long or short. These sassy little dogs are well known as “purse dogs” like the famous Bruiser in the movie Legally Blonde starring Reese Witherspoon.

Using words like “saucy” and “sassy” seem to reek of marketing prose rather than actual descriptive terms for the dog. Of course then they go on to actually mention a movie which of course seemed to popularize them as a fashion accessory.

Let’s compare that description with the AKC Meet The Breeds description for the Pug

The Pug is well described by the phrase “multum in parvo” which means “a lot of dog in a small space.” They are recognized for their even-tempers, playful personalities, and their outgoing, loving dispositions. This square and cobby breed comes in fawn, silver fawn, apricot fawn or black, with a well-defined “mask” on his muzzle. A popular companion dog, the pug also excels in the show ring.

This description strikes me a better descriptive of the actual personality of the dog and less like a marketing brochure for a Gucci purse.

I am not trying to single out the Chihuahua, there are other breeds that use these same types of practices. I am using this as an example of what I see as a lack of responsibility on the part of some breed organizations and breeders.

In times where so many people are surrendering their dogs for economic and other reasons, I think breeders and breed organizations have an extra mandate to ensure that the puppies they produce do not end up in shelters. Marketing a breed using appeals to vanity is not promoting responsible ownership and stewardship of that breed, it is only adding to the possibility that more dogs can end up in shelters once their owners realize the maintenance and care that their new accessories require.

So now is your chance to expand on my little poll. What arguments would you make for and against the purchase of purebred dogs in these times?

I look forward to hearing from you.


*** Authors Note:

The original version of this article referred to the descriptions of the Chihuahua and the Pug as being from the breed standards. They were pulled from the AKC Meet the Breeds page for each particular dog.

15 thoughts on “The Marketing of Purebred Dogs

  1. Great post, Kevin. It is a hard question to answer. While I have nothing against reputable, responsible breeders and I do think there is a place for them, I would still personally much prefer to rescue a dog.

  2. I certainly support both methods of getting dogs for the same reasons. I do think purebreds are necessary. I also think not everyone is up to rescuing dogs. I have done both and I am happy with both. I did them for different reasons and wanted different things. I only support responsible breeders and I am probably more picky than most at what I would call a good breeder. I am not happy with the direction of some breed standards, or as in the case of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I really like the breed standard, but I spent 3 years finding a male Staffordshire Bull Terrier I liked that actually, in my opinion, conformed to the standard. The show dogs are now getting heavy and sedate and stocky like Bull dogs when the standard describes a perfect athlete and physical specimen. Why?

    • It is interesting to see how the breeders take and bend the breed standards Richard. Many seem to follow form over function and it’s why many breeds have resisted efforts to become part of organizations like the AKC.

      • I agree too, but like my friends said when I had the same reasons for not having children; maybe it is us, those who hold the standards high, that should be breeding so we can influence what goes on in the future.

      • I really hope and will fight a detrimental change to either the CKC, or AKC breed standards for SBT’s, where I do register my dogs. Stevie Ray, AGMCH Runablaze Warrior Princess, is the only Staffordshire Bull Terrier who has achieved Agility Master Champion in this country. She has been written about in SBT Club of Canada publications over the years and US SBT publications during her trip as the only SBT at the World Dog Agility Championship in Helsinki Finland. I am continuing to put a great effort into showing my chosen breed as the great dogs they are and want them to remain athletes as they are currently defined. I have not abandoned them for a Border Collie like many I know. I want all SBT’s to be like Joey and Jimmi and Stevie Ray. Healthy happy, loving, affectionate dogs.

  3. In addition to wanting more people to rescue dogs, I would prefer more people that are not prepared to put in the effort to care for dogs, not be allowed to have dogs. We need to reduce the number of dogs ending up in shelters and it is not just buying from responsible breeders that leads to this. The breeders I know insist they get the dog back and it never goes to a shelter. But puppy mills, doing the newest “Designer” (read crosses) dogs and pet stores selling poorly bred and cared for dogs too.

  4. I am also concerned about genetic variability and I think there is too much line breeding going on and mistakenly weeding out good traits out of fear as well. The genetics of pure bred dogs is deteriorating and for that reason, when I wanted to have puppies from my Stevie Ray, the perfect dog for me, I chose a dog the way one would choose their daughter, or son-in-law. Traits I was looking for and a good genetic mix instead of pure predictability of line bred dogs.

    It’s complicated! Because I have a rescue, Dog Dylan, I have not been able to rescue a dogs since due to issues I preferred to work on with her and not complicate. So I originally chose a dog, Stevie Ray, because her mom, Idgie, was a great dog. I bred Stevie Ray, because she is a great, healthy dog. I need healthy dogs without issues

  5. I do think it’s ok to purchase a pure bred dog from a reputable breeder. I purchased my first English Cocker from a reputable breeder. I had researched what breed of dog would fit in with our family. I also compete in agility trials and needed a breed that was recognized by the AKC and wanted a dog that wasn’t common (my first agility dog was a basset hound, and we were the only one in any of the trials we went to, and I liked that). That being said, I did check with rescue (ECS are not overly popular and not many registered litters are available each year) and there were 3 up for adoption and they ranged in ages of 10-14 which is too old to start out in agility. Our newest dog was rescued from the shelter. She didn’t have much of a life before we got her, and lived at the shelter for 5 mos before we adopted her. We were the only ones to look at her. She does have her quirks (she was not socialized, was never allowed in doors and except for animal control coming to pick her up, was obviously never taken anywhere in a vehicle for a ride). I do suggest that people look at breed rescues first if they are looking for a specific breed and have no intentions of conformation handling, then a reputable breeder that you have researched (sometimes they have retired show dogs or puppies who didn’t turn out to be show quality available). If you just want a dog to love and as a companion and don’t care what the mix is, then go to the shelter. It’s the back yard breeders and puppy millers who are causing the over crowding issues at the shelters, not the responsible breeders who will take back one of their breedings no matter what.

  6. First, what ‘breed standard’ did you get that excerpt from for the Chi??? This is the actual AKC Breed Standard taken directly from the CCOA (Chihuahua Club of America, the parent club of the breed in the US) If you read it, it says NOTHING about a dog with a ‘saucy’ character or ‘purse dogs’ or references to any characture of the breed in a movie.

    I find it very misleading to say that quote is from the breed standard when it is not.

    I personally will always get my dogs from a reputable breeder because I want very very specific things from my dogs and it takes generations of careful breeding to create the right temperament and structure to produce a good herding or hunting dog. With that said, if you want to buy a dog from a shelter there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. Yuu should get a dog that matches your lifestyle and can do the things you will enjoy doing with a dog because happy owners mean happy dogs with a home for life! If a shelter dog or a dog from a rescue organization fits the bill great! If a dog bred for specific purpose with great care meets your needs that is great too! The important end result is that people don’t jump into dog ownership willy-nilly because THAT is the true reason for dogs in Shelters and rescue groups.

    General Appearance
    A graceful, alert, swift-moving compact little dog with saucy expression, and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.
    Size, Proportion, Substance
    Weight – A well balanced little dog not to exceed 6 pounds. Proportion – The body is off-square; hence, slightly longer when measured from point of shoulder to point of buttocks, than height at the withers. Somewhat shorter bodies are preferred in males. Disqualification – Any dog over 6 pounds in weight.
    A well rounded “apple dome” skull, with or without molera. Expression – Saucy. Eyes – Full, round, but not protruding, balanced, set well apart-luminous dark or luminous ruby. Light eyes in blond or white-colored dogs permissible. Blue eyes or a difference in the color of the iris in the two eyes, or two different colors within one iris should be considered a serious fault. Ears – Large, erect type ears, held more upright when alert, but flaring to the sides at a 45 degree angle when in repose, giving breadth between the ears. Stop – Well defined. When viewed in profile, it forms a near 90 degree angle where muzzle joins skull. Muzzle – Moderately short, slightly pointed. Cheeks and jaws lean. Nose – Self-colored in blond types, or black. In moles, blues, and chocolates, they are self-colored. In blond types, pink noses permissible. Bite – Level or scissors. Overshot or undershot, or any distortion of the bite or jaw, should be penalized as a serious fault. A missing tooth or two is permissible. Disqualifications – Broken down or cropped ears.

    Neck, Topline, Body
    Neck – Slightly arched, gracefully sloping into lean shoulders. Topline – Level. Body – Ribs rounded and well sprung (but not too much “barrel-shaped”). Tail – Moderately long, carried sickle either up or out, or in a loop over the back with tip just touching the back.
    (Never tucked between legs.) Disqualifications – Docked tail, bobtail.
    Shoulders – Lean, sloping into a slightly broadening support above straight forelegs that set well under, giving free movement at the elbows. Shoulders should be well up, giving balance and soundness, sloping into a level back (never down or low). This gives a well developed chest and strength of forequarters. Feet – A small, dainty foot with toes well split up but not spread, pads cushioned. (Neither the hare nor the cat foot.) Dewclaws may be removed. Pasterns – Strong.
    Muscular, with hocks well apart, neither out nor in, well let down, firm and sturdy. Angulation – Should equal that of forequarters. The feet are as in front. Dewclaws may be removed.
    In the Smooth Coats, the coat should be of soft texture, close and glossy. (Heavier coats with undercoats permissible.) Coat placed well over body with ruff on neck preferred, and more scanty on head and ears. Hair on tail preferred furry. In Long Coats, the coat should be of a soft texture, either flat or slightly wavy, with undercoat preferred. Ears – Fringed. Tail – Full and long (as a plume). Feathering on feet and legs, pants on hind legs and large ruff on the neck desired and preferred. (The Chihuahua should be groomed only to create a neat appearance.) Disqualification – In Long Coats, too thin coat that resembles bareness.
    Any color – Solid, marked or splashed.
    The Chihuahua should move swiftly with a firm, sturdy action, with good reach in front equal to the drive from the rear. From the rear, the hocks remain parallel to each other, and the foot fall of the rear legs follows directly behind that of the forelegs. The legs, both front and rear, will tend to converge slightly toward a central line of gravity as speed increases. The side view shows good, strong drive in the rear and plenty of reach in the front, with head carried high. The topline should remain firm and the backline level as the dog moves.
    Alert, projecting the ‘terrier-like’ attitudes of self importance, confidence, self-reliance.
    Any dog over 6 pounds in weight.
    Broken down or cropped ears.
    Docked tail, bobtail.
    In Long Coats, too thin coat that resembles bareness.
    Approved August 12, 2008
    Effective October 1, 2008

    • Karyn,

      I got this directly from the breed page of the AKC website. Here is the link to it

      I will correct the main article to reflect the exact location of the quotes i pulled.

      As I said in the article I don’t mean to simply single out Chihuahua’s. I think they are a fantastic companion. I merely mean to point out that in my opinion, marketing dogs in this way is not responsible.

  7. Elizabeth, I too recommend people to the many rescue groups I know and nearby shelters and I help them find a dog that is right for them. Matching character and traits. Some people do want purebreds, but are not picky so rescued dogs from rescue societies, are often a good match. If they insist on a purebred and depending on their reasons, I help them find a good breeder that they can get a healthy dog and who will help them throughout the life of their dog. If I don’t think they should have a dog due to maybe not being prepared for the commitment, I teach them what owning a dog means and make sure they know. I just spent 4 months saving my oldest dog from certain death more than once and I do know what commitment is.

  8. A breeder at Westminster last year put it very well. She explained that careful breeding (including taking care that the health and level of reactivity – nervousness, friendliness, specific fears – are taken into account) is actually creating living works of art. She said that many of the breeds can be traced back for thousands of years, to civilizations and cultures which no longer exist.

    What we have left of them is documents, architecture, etc. and their dogs. The dogs are living, breathing creations of those times in addition to being sentient beings who need what all dogs need: a stable home and lavish attention to their physical and mental health (my definition of love).

    If we do not continue responsibly breeding (and supporting the breeding by purchasing) at least a small population of each of the hundreds of breeds that we have today, these precious lineages will be lost, some forever. I realize that not everyone values this. So long as the dogs are physically and mentally healthy (which is granting a lot in some cases), I am in support of continuing to breed, raise, purchase and love purebred dogs.

    As a dog trainer, I have done some reading on the subject of why families relinquish dogs. Very often the reason is traced to a behavior problem which could have been prevented by early training or by a dog training intervention. The problem appears to be not one of overpopulation but more one of undertraining.

  9. I’ve never gotten a dog from a breeder, but I think that as long as it’s a responsible breeder, it’s a perfectly good choice. People who spend the time and research identifying a particular breed and finding a responsible breeder usually have very specific needs or wants that a rescued dog isn’t likely to fit. Maybe they want a show or agility dog, maybe they’re in love with a specific breed and want a dog that exemplifies that breed. Maybe they want the chance to socialize a puppy themselves.

    The primary reasons that I would get a dog from a breeder, personally, would be a desire to make sure the dog gets proper socialization as a puppy and a desire to have as healthy a dog as possible. I’d go with a breeder who was committed to thoroughly socializing their dogs, and when I got the puppy at 8 weeks or so, I’d be committed to continuing the process. As far as health, I know there aren’t any guarantees, but I think that a breeder who does serious pedigree research and health testing has a better than average chance of producing sound and healthy dogs.

    Another thing with either breeders or rescues is that some, but not all, of both, take responsibility for the dog for its lifetime. That is, if you can’t care for the dog for whatever reason, you aren’t supposed to give it away or turn it over to a shelter–it has to go back to the place you got it from. In some cases, that safety net can be really useful. For example, I can easily see a military family getting stuck in a situation where they can’t keep their dog–maybe they have to move to an area with BSL, maybe the servicemember gets injured badly, maybe the only apartment they can find doesn’t allow pets. (My cat, Tom, actually came from a similar situation. Guy was in the Navy and had a six-month deployment, wife was moving to be near her family and her new apartment had a limit on how many pets she could have, and she had to scramble to find a home for one of her cats.)

    So if I were in a situation where I thought I had a better than average chance of being forced to give up a dog, I’d consider getting the dog from a person or organization that would take them back if need be.

  10. Also, I placed my vote for “too complicated to answer yes/no” because buying from an irresponsible breeder is never okay, buying from a responsible breeder is a good thing, but not necessary all the time, and rescuing is an awesome thing, but not always the right fit.

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