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The Breed Spotlight - What Does Well-Bred Mean?

Updated: Jun 25

Here at Windsor Animal Hospital, we obviously love dogs and cats. And according to polling, so do most Americans! With this in mind, and considering we see clients bringing in new puppies and kittens each week, we thought it might be fun to start The Breed Spotlight, a bi-monthly blog post that will focus on a particular breed and cover important information on temperament, health, and typical care so that people might have a bit of help making sure a breed they’re considering is right for them.

In these blog posts there will be certain terms used frequently. Let’s take the time to go over a couple of those terms now, and what we mean when we use them.

Well-bred. This is the term that you’ll likely see the most. When we use this term, we are referring to the collective effort by a breeder to produce the most temperamentally and physically sound representatives of the breed. This should include performing all recommended health testing on the parent dogs for their breed (as recommended by the breed club), potentially genetic testing on the parent dogs, performing on activities that “prove” the form and function of the dog (this can include conformation showing, field trial titles, obedience titles, temperament assessments, etc.). This is all done with the goal of eliminating (or at the very least limiting) high and moderate risks for common genetic issues, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, heart disease, eye anomalies, etc. To that end, breeders of well-bred examples of their breed strictly adhere to the official breed standard as outlined by the national breed club and endorsed by the American Kennel Club (for reference, you can view the Afghan Hound breed standard here and see that it is very detailed and even stipulates the types of acceptable colors and coat types).

To better illustrate this, we’ll use the Golden Retriever as an example. The health testing recommended by the Golden Retriever Club of America is Hips, Elbows, Eyes, and Heart. Hips and Elbows require imaging to be done at your veterinarian, and then those images are submitted to the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation of America) for certification. Eyes are evaluated by a Canine Ophthalmologist (if you are in South Carolina, we recommend Animal Eye Care of the Pee Dee in Mount Pleasant), and then the results are sent to OFA for certification. The Heart is usually evaluated at a Canine Cardiologist, and results submitted to OFA for certification. At our hospital we offer OFA hips, elbows, and thyroid. It is also encouraged to get genetic testing done through a company such as Embark, which is done at home and submitted by mail.

But that’s not all. The parents should also be demonstrated to meet the breed standard in function. This means you don’t only want good scores from the OFA concerning the above testing, but you want the parent dogs to be able to function adequately in the intended function for the breed. This is important because it helps ensure the appropriate temperament and physical health of prospective puppies. In the case of a Golden Retriever, they should have the physical ability to retrieve game in the field and follow basic commands. This not only demonstrates health and temperament, but obedience. Ways in which these aspects of the parent dogs can be demonstrated (often referred to as “proving”) is by competing in conformation events, field trials, and rally events, or even titling in obedience from classes given by an AKC certified trainer.

If a puppy is produced from parents who do not have any of the above, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a cute puppy or that it shouldn’t be loved just as much as a puppy whose parents do have all of the testing and titles. It does, however, means there is a statistical probability of certain issues cropping up as the puppy matures. Things like early developing hip dysplasia or temperament issues are much more prevalent in dogs who did not come from a well-managed breeding program that incorporates health testing and ethical selection of breeding animals. Which actually takes me to our next topic. Ethics.

A good breeder upholds strong ethics, even if it costs them money. In fact, money isn’t much of a concern with breeding programs because it isn’t a reason to breed. Ethical breeding isn’t profitable. After considering all the money that goes into raising the parent dog(s), paying for vet care, getting health testing on prospective parents, the money that goes into showing and/or titling in various events to prove your dogs, and the proper care for the puppies once they arrive, you’re lucky if you make any money at all. On top of that, litters are often infrequent for these types of breeders.

In contrast, unethical breeders tend to prioritize profit over ethics. They often have multiple litters a year from a single bitch, do no health testing, do not show or compete to prove their dogs, and often scoff at or speak ill of the breeders who do put all that work and money into their program.

A tremendous amount of time and money goes into producing a well-bred litter, and not much money is usually made. A miniscule amount of money goes into producing a poorly-bred litter, and a much higher profit is typically made.

Some key things to look for when trying to determine whether or not the breeder you’ve found is ethical would be verifying the health testing that is described above (this can be done by the AKC registration number of the parents on the OFA website), checking the breeder’s website for records of titling and/or showing/competing, requesting a reference from their veterinarian, making sure they have a well-constructed contract that prioritizes the puppy’s wellbeing over profit, etc.

Flea Markets

Finding a good breeder can be tricky sometimes, but there are some reliable hard and fast rules that you can be pretty sure will steer you away from at least some of the not-so-good for-profit breeders. Avoid purchasing a puppy from the flea market, pop-up markets, people set up in parking lots, and gas stations. While some of these may seem obvious places to not purchase puppies, many people do so anyway. The choice to purchase a puppy from a place such as the flea market is sometimes made by someone who doesn't know any better, especially since sometimes the seller sounds relatively knowledgeable. Sometimes the decision is made knowing it isn't wise, but out of pity for the puppy being sold. Unfortunately, both scenarios give further incentive to the unethical breeder to continue their questionable breeding practices. It is highly advisable to keep on walking by when you see these sellers, as hard as that is to do. Otherwise, you're highly likely to get a cheap puppy with massive veterinary bills, or worse.

Further Tips:

~ Any breeder should be more than willing to share health testing records with you, even if it’s just them giving you their dog’s registration number so that you can look it up with OFA, because breeders are proud of the hard and expensive work they put into doing those types of things! Any breeder who is hesitant to share this information with you may be worth looking at with a suspicious eye. So don’t shy away for asking about the health testing!

~ Countless people say something like, “oh I don’t care about papers, I just want the puppy,” without realizing that those papers (registration, health testing certification of parents, good contract, etc.) are what you are actually paying for. Those papers represent countless hours of hard work from the breeder to ensure you have the healthiest puppy possible so that it may grow up to be the healthiest adult dog it can be. You may think to yourself that you don’t care about the papers, but you certainly want the healthy puppy that comes with them. So, make sure those papers exist, and check to make sure they are accurate!

~ To help you understand what you will see when you verify OFA health testing, I'll leave an OFA link to the testing for one of my Afghan Hounds here. If all recommended health testing has been completed, an animal will have a conclusion certification of "CHIC" somewhere on their OFA summary page, which you can see on the OFA page for my dog. And not only that, you'll be able to see generations of previously tested dogs so that you can verify a long history of effort to produce the healthiest possible dogs!

A word to current and future breeders about OFA results

I am of the opinion that nobody should have to ask me if I health test, nor should they need to request health testing results from me. I post all of this openly on my website, and I encourage every breeder to do the same. If you do not have a website, I encourage you to get one. This ends up being a comparatively small expense that goes a long way to help your buyers. If you opt to not have a website, having an available link-hosting-website such as Linktree (this is free) on your social media profiles that has all of the OFA test results for your dogs is a great idea.

You can view all of our Breed Spotlight posts here.


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