You are walking through town and you come across a window with cute little fur balls of fun staring out at you. Their tails are wagging. Their begging you to come in with their eyes. So, you walk in to hold that cute little puppy. You’ll just hold him for a minute. While you are playing, the pet shop associate explains to you how their puppies came from local breeders. They may even throw in that the breeder is USDA licensed. They go on to explain the health guarantee, but you are only paying half attention to what they are saying. Your attention is otherwise occupied. As you are walking up to the counter, puppy in hand, think about what the sales associate told you. What does it all mean?
Let me start this off by saying, any pet shop that is selling puppies for profit is doing it for just that, a commercial profit. When dog breeding is done properly with all the parental, genetic testing and proper Pre-natal care, a reputable breeder makes little to no actual profit from the puppies they sell. With that being said, you remember that the associate told you all their puppies come from breeders. This sounds pretty good. Right? Not exactly. What they really mean by “breeders” or “local breeders” (which may or may not be local in reality) can be one of two things. At best, your puppy could be coming from a back yard breeder and at worst it would be coming from a puppy mill.
A backyard breeder is basically a person who breeds their dog just for the heck of breeding their dog. You will see backyard breeders advertise in newspapers a lot. Some backyard breeders like to specialize in “Designer Dogs” such as Puggles, and Schnoodles, also known as mutts. They glam the name up and tell you they are rare to make a few extra dollars. You could go to your local animal shelter and help a dog in need for a lot less than this person will try to sell a designer dog to you. The good news is the puppy’s parents are probably well loved. Most likely, they wanted to breed their little Sassy to the neighbor’s dog Rufus because she was a female poodle and Rufus was a male poodle and wouldn’t it be just wonderful if they had babies? The bad news is there was no genetic testing done on the parents to see what hereditary diseases they may be passing on to their puppies. Also, Rufus has a tendency to nip at people, but Sassy’s owners did not know that because they only saw him when he was out playing in the yard by himself. There has been no temperament testing on either of the parents.
A puppy mill is a commercial dog breeding facility that often breeds more than one breed at mass quantities in horrible living conditions for the sole purpose of making a profit. Some may also dabble in the designer dogs. There is absolutely no genetic testing. No personality testing. No socialization. The dogs are malnourished and kept in unsuitable and often hazardous living conditions. Pet shops will often buy through brokers who in turn purchase puppies at wholesale prices from puppy mills.
A reputable breeder will never allow their puppies to be sold in a pet store. They care too much for the individual puppies and the breed (whatever their particular breed may be) as a whole to let a stranger sell off their puppies to another stranger. Keep in mind, some “reputable breeders” are not what they seem, but that is a whole other article.
The pet shop associate tells you that he is AKC registered and the breeder is USDA licensed. A registration on a dog, whether it be AKC, UKC, etc. is as good as a title on a car. A title tells you the car is a car. Well, a dog registration tells you a dog is a dog. And just as a car title has the make, model, and year, a dog’s registration will tell you the breed, gender, and birthday. The registration does not tell you anything about quality, but it sure sounds good for the sales associate to be able to tell you they are selling you a “registered puppy”. If a breeder is USDA licensed, run! This means that they are purely into breeding dogs to make money. There is no other reason for a breeder to be USDA licensed.
Most pet shops offer health guarantees for any puppy sold in their store. This guarantee does expire, and often problems arise after that expiration date. Most genetic issues do not show up for several months to several years after you have purchased that puppy. Some diseases require on going medications, while other conditions may call for surgery. This starts to add up. Even if they offered lifetime guarantees, would you really want to turn over your beloved dog back to the pet shop in exchange for a new puppy? You know your dog would probably get a veterinary appointment, but it probably would not leave alive. Whether the puppies are obtained from backyard breeders or puppy mills you can rest assured that the dogs being bred are continuing the spread of genetic faults and defects and are harming the breed as a whole as they populate more and more.
So, just how much IS that puppy in the window? A pet shop usually sells their puppies for around the same prices as you will pay for a reputable breeder that performs all the necessary testing. You can expect to pay close to a thousand dollars for a pet shop puppy. What do you get in return? You may have the perfect pup! Or you may have a puppy that is cute and cuddly for the first few months and then he may start to show some temperament issues. He growled at little Suzie Anne the other night when she sat next to him on the floor. Three years down the road he may start to have seizures. The pet shop had no records of the puppy’s parents. You never even saw a picture of them. Most pet shop puppies grow up to have a variety of problems that develop as the dog matures. In general, the cheapest part of owning any dog is the initial purchase price, so a little research before purchasing a puppy can save some expenses and heartache later.
Photo Credit: Tony Pham