To breed or not to breed?

The fact that I work with a bunch of editors sometimes makes me take a closer look at the English language.  I used to think that the word ambivalent meant that you didn't care.  Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines ambivalent as "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action."  I saw in some movie somewhere (the movie Girl, Interrupted maybe?) a psychiatrist saying, "On the contrary, being ambivalent means that you care very much and have very strong feelings in both directions."  With that in mind, I have to say that I am ambivalent about purebred dogs (and cats, but I'm going to focus on dogs today): breeding them, owning them, showing them, the whole bit. 

Dog breeders and breed advocates are a passionate bunch. I'm sticking my neck out and I will probably get a lot of... feedback from this blog. My mom has had 3 Newfoundlands in a row, my step-mom, 2 Labs. One of my best friends breeds Australian shepherds. I know several veterinarians that get quite a bit of business from dog breeders. TWO veterinarians here at the office just got purebred Labrador puppies and I know they care a passionately about adoption of homeless animals. Surely we can say that of the entire veterinary profession and much of the general population. So that (and my last blog post) got me thinking... what exactly IS it about purebred dogs that appeals to us?

Let me first say that I LOVE watching purebred dogs doing and enjoying what they have been bred for centuries to do; pointers pointing, JRTs tunneling, Border collies herding, greyhounds running.  I think it's really cool to see genetics at work. I GET the appeal of having the same breed as the Obamas or the Hiltons or just a breed that you really love around the house. I understand it.

One important thing purebreds have to offer is supposed predictability. You know what kind of personality a Labrador will have, you know what its exercise needs will be and what types of activities it will like to do. You get a good idea of what some potential health issues might be. You darn-sure know what a pug is going to look like. You theoretically know what you are getting into, whether that animal will be a good fit in your family, right?

I do think that to a certain extent that is true, but sometimes I wonder. I can't begin to tell you the vastness of the variations I have seen within a lot of different breeds.  From landsharks to couch potatoes, from collie-nosed to blockheads, from otter-tailed to "that tail looks like it belongs on a whippet": Labradors I have known, all. 

You might argue that picking Labs was not the best choice as they are the most popular breed (therefore bred more often and less discriminately) and that if you look at the dog show Labs, there is much more conformity. And you might be right.  I'm all for conserving breed characteristics (although I'm not sure why), but my point is that vast majority of people don't get their animals from show-quality breeders.

Then you might argue back that the best predictor of a puppy's behavior and appearance is the parents and with mutts (I call them that lovingly), the parents are rarely, if ever, around to be observed.  Mother Nature does have some... interesting combinations out there, true. But maybe that's where puppy personality testing plays an important role. And surely it would be pretty easy to tell if an adult dog was a good fit or not.

Part of me thinks that the overpopulation problem is SO bad that the emotional benefits to the owner of owning a purebred dog should come secondary to the greater good of all Dogdom. Dogs (and cats!) are pretty efficient breeders when left to their own devices. Is it really even ethical to breed them on purpose? Plus, the desire (demand) for purebreds leads to dog smuggling its horrors (as detailed in this article) and puppy mills needing to be heavily regulated (as detailed in this article) as the supply chain. I can't help thinking that people are spending money for these purebred pooches that could have been spent on obedience training or donated to a shelter. Have you read that the creator of the labradoodle (spawning the designer dog phenom) now regrets it?  Here's that article.

I'm not trying to bash all purebred owners or breeders, just putting my thought-process out there. So let me hear yours. As with ALL complicated issues, surely there has got to be a compromise somewhere in the middle... doesn't there?


  • Adopt.  PAWS down, it is the right thing to do!

    kzac, 4 years ago | Flag
  • I think breeding should be stopped except for working breeds. Most breeders ive seen are in it for the money and let the puppies go to new homes too young even though there is a law against that. Over breeding has produced a mountain of breeds that have medical challenges due to over breeding. even though i work in veterinary medicine i woudl never get a pure bred because of all the rpoblems they have. They need the vet more often than mutts! so thats my take. cindy

    cindy landy, 4 years ago | Flag
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4 years ago

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