I was inspired by this thread that happened on one of my Google+ communities. Started by a site called “Breeding Business”, it evolved into a conversation about dog breeding, business, and shelters. As comment sections are difficult spots to clearly communicate your feelings about a subject, I thought I’d write a post about the matter.

I have written on DOGthusiast in the past about my feelings about breeders and responsibility. I am not against responsible breeding, and I say this will full knowledge of shelter statistics and more. I have volunteered at a half-dozen shelters, including high kill ones. I am not an insensitive beast, I simply know why most pets end up there and it’s not because of responsible breeders. While I choose to adopt from a shelter or rescue and urge others to do the same, I also know that someone who bought their dog isn’t contributing directly to the death of another. A whole bunch of other factors and deficits are.

In fact, there are more than enough homes in our country for these pets and that is the primary reason I don’t oppose a responsible breeder. Shelter dogs simply don’t make it into these available homes for a variety of reasons, reasons we could solve. And again, it’s not from abolishing responsible breeders. It’s from abolishing puppy mills, backyard breeding, getting shelter dogs in front of the eyes of the general public, among other programs and policies.

In fact, responsible breeders have the opportunity to improve the overall health and temperaments of dogs in this country by selecting only the best dogs to breed from. And other countries have demonstrated that this can have a massive impact on the number of dogs who enter shelters in the first place. Responsible breeding – for health and temperament – could be a major contributor to emptying our shelters.

Responsible breeders: Can they be a business?

So I’m not against a responsible breeder. Why do I care whether or not they call themselves a business?

The word “business” is a loaded word that could mean many different things to different people, so please note that I’m acknowledging that this is my interpretation only. That said, the relevant definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows:

a : a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood : trade, line (in the restaurant business)

b : a commercial or sometimes an industrial enterprise; also : such enterprises (the business district)

c : dealings or transactions especially of an economic nature : patronage (took their business elsewhere)

As such, I do not see the word “business” as defined going hand-in-hand with responsible breeding. That is because, to me, business typically means a few things relating to the above:

  • being commercial and profitable. Responsible breeders are generally not in it for any kind of profit.
  • a plan to grow, exceed, and monetize. Again, not what responsible breeders are known for.
  • as a means of livelihood: something you earn money from.
  • primarily about the economic transaction.

The elements of business that responsible breeders should be known for – follow-up, a no-questions return policy, good communication – are usually there for the reasons in bullets. To grow, profit, succeed, earn a living (things that are important in business) – things that a responsible breeder is generally not too concerned about. And a responsible breeder would be hard pressed to earn a steady living from the act.

A business has a responsibility to sell goods to a consumer (and if not, that consumer has the right to complain). A responsible breeder needs to make a judgement call about where the puppies go. These two things are impossible to put together.

One could argue that there are many forms of paperwork and infrastructure that a breeder would need in place for operations (taxes, insurance and so on) – but this does not always fall under the label of “business”. Many non-businesses (charities, sports organizations, schools, etc) and individuals need these things in place.

So to me, a responsible breeder is not truly a business and more an act of love (a passion or hobby or calling).

Why is it important to differentiate? I mean, who cares?

Mort at Merced County Animal Shelter

Mort at the shelter.

While a label or term is usually not too important, it’s more about what the action is, I believe the label is worth a discussion in this case. Actual dog breeding businesses (who have traditional businesses goals) are known as “puppy mills” to many. As we all know, they are not responsible breeders, and these operations have a devastating impact on shelters and the overall dog “stock” out there. They have inflicted a lot of suffering on the dogs they use and produce, they are creating temperament and health problems that affect the overall genetics of dogs in our country, among other things.

I also dislike how people mix up the labels of “adoption” – I “adopted” this (mill) puppy from the store. I “rescued” him from a terrible place. No, that puppy mill puppy was purchased and supported a terrible trade and profiteer. Yes, labels can be important. If no one buys puppy mill stock, the trade will cease to exist.

Simply stating that a business can be “responsible” is one thing, but the issue is more fundamental than that. Can you operate a responsible breeding program and profit? So often I’ve heard the answer is “no”. There is simply too much labor involved, and too few puppies, to ever truly be profitable as a business.

Therefore, I suggest that responsible breeders do so as a labor of love, or as a passion or hobby or breed enthusiast or life’s work, and never as a true business in the sense of the term that’s most familiar.

What do you think about the breeding business?

Is the label important? Does it matter? Have you met or are you a responsible breeder that considers yourself a “business”? Let me know in the comments!

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Great article!
    I haven’t known quite how to put this into words and I think you have done so beautifully.
    I can’t stand it when people compare purchasing a puppy from a responsible breeder to contributing to the deaths of millions of shelter dogs, it is simply not true.
    I am and will always be a rescuer, I can’t see myself ever purchasing a dog from a breeder but that doesn’t mean that they are all evil.
    One of my cousins raises, shows, and breeds bull mastiff’s. She breeds for health of the breed, and temperament. Her dogs are wonderful family companions, great around children, I haven’t seen any dog aggression issues (she is big into socializing them though and that certainly helps). And she makes sure her dogs go to wonderful loving families who will treat them with the love they deserve, she also has contracts signed to have the dogs returned for any reason that the owner can no longer keep them.
    She has only ever gotten a couple back – biggest reasons end up being moving, never the dogs fault though. Thus she doesn’t contribute to shelter populations.
    I can support responsible breeders because a good breeder is seeking to improve a dog, their health, and put out great temperaments. But I also am a huge supporter of mutts, mixes, and rescuing dogs within a person’s capabilities.

  • What an excellent post, Jen. You have really articulated the difference between a truly responsible breeder and a dog breeding business. Responsible breeders don’t make money. Period. In fact, they lose money. Sometimes a lot of money. But they do what they do, like you said, for hobby and love. My corgi breeder travels all over the country to watch the puppies she sold compete in various dog sports, especially herding. She simply adores watching corgis herd and got to a place in her life where she couldn’t do it anymore herself. She also sends each and every dog she has ever had at her home a birthday card each year. Healthy corgis are her passion and she had the means to make a money losing hobby out of helping to create some. I think she is awesome.

    I get just as enthusiastic about my dogs awesome, responsible breeders as I do about people who turn shelter dogs into amazing pets. I am proud of my relationships with my dogs amazing breeders and my fantastic shelter pets. Both responsible breeders and the rescue community are indeed two sides of the same coin. They all want every animal to be healthy and happy. Yet those who look into an animals eyes and wonder how much money it can make them… they turn my stomach. I just can’t fathom anyone who sends a puppy they raised off into the world, never knowing what happens to it. I wounded how dogs I walked only once at the shelter years ago are getting along. Anyways, there is indeed a huge difference among dog people and labels definitely matter. You have done a great job of putting a need for proper definitions into words here. Thank you.

  • Well written piece. I can’t wait to share it with my friends. There is a sector of animal rights activists who condemn all breeding, not realizing that someone must breed healthy dogs or the breeds we love will cease to exist. Dogs are not livestock and in my opinion cannot be humanely maintained, socialized, health tested and bred in a way that reaps financial reward. They do it out of love for their breed. My own dog is a rescue and having done rescue for many years it breaks my heart to see so many dogs tossed away when they develop health issues that require a lot of money to treat. Money the owners don’t have so they send them to the pound or a shelter hoping someone else will adopt them, not realizing many facilities will euthanize them. So many of these health issues as you pointed out are caused by irresponsible backyard and puppymill breeding.

  • Like you, I am in favor of responsible breeders. Those who have a passion, who breed to better their breed of choice. As you stated, well-bred dogs from responsible breeders do not end up in rescue.

  • Great article. I guess that the business part comes in because breeders still have to account to the IRS for any money they make when they sell puppies. Ah the long arm of the tax man. You are right that responsible breeders generally do not make a living off it. Most that I know use any money left over from a litter to invest in the next. Responsible breeders health test and/or put titles on their dogs to prove their stock. All of these things cost money. Most breeders I know also spend quite a bit just bringing the pups into the world. When it is all said and done, there is not much left.

  • Jane

    I love this article. So many people just assume that breeding a dog is contributing to the downfall of the animal kingdom. As a breeder myself I have run into many people who tell me what a terrible person I am for subjecting my momma dog to pregnancy and birth. But what they don’t understand is the time and effort into put into finding the right sire. Making sure he is healthy, checking his pedigree for relatives, meeting the dog when I can to see how his temperament matches my dogs. then there’s the sleepless nights waiting for signs of whelping then rushing to the vet and crying while holding the one pup that was born with a fatal birth defect as she crosses the rainbow bridge. There are absolutely bad breeders, however not all breeders should be painted with the same brush.