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Dog Breeding: Two-Way Street and An Ethical Conundrum


 

 



In an ever-confusing world of pet propaganda and propagation; puppy mills, designer dogs, and rescues are pit against purebred preservation breeders who tout themselves as being the ethical and responsible choice for acquiring a puppy, denigrating all others to the category of mutts. Designer breeds and rescues tug in opposing directions on our heartstrings.

What makes a breeder ethical? National and breed clubs, like the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) have codes of ethics that members are required to abide by to maintain good standing within their club(s). The PUPS Act (2024) sets out legislation in Ontario to thwart puppy mills. In good conscience, the measures are barely above minimum.  However, CKC successfully negotiated a loophole that now allows inbreeding “in such circumstances as may be prescribed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council”, merkying the waters of ethical breeding standards.





Canadian Breeders were shocked and caught off-guard by The US Centre for Disease Control’s (CDC) new legislation, set to take effect on August 1st, 2024, whereby dogs entering the US will have to be 6 months of age, amongst other things. Canadian breeders have long-standing relationships with US clients, breeders, co-breeders, co-owners, and have enjoyed the ability to participate in American Kennel Club (AKC) shows and use US veterinarian.  People and dogs on both sides of the border stand to be greatly affected by the new legislation. A glimmer of hope came across my desk that alludes to the possibility of pups being able to enter the US at a younger age under commercial export.

Otherwise, keeping a pup until 6 months of age requires extra resources, not limited to nutrition, vaccinations, training, and socialization. Dedicated breeders will do the extra work to ensure the best outcome for pups going to great homes, with a silver lining.

Puppy millers operating in Canada rely heavily on the US market to dump their product into sketchy pet shops and sham rescues. Soon they will find keeping pups to 6 months, or needing to jump through the hoops for commercial export will put eyes on them and be non-conducive to their bottom line, hopefully putting them out of business. If the inconveniences created by the CDC legislation result in the eradication of puppy mills, then it will be well worth everything responsible breeders need to do to satisfy the law.

The two-way street here means that when ethical breeders do more work they can help put puppy mills out of business.

Crating

Many European countries such as Sweden and Finland have banned the use of crates for dogs other than for a very specific reason such as travel or medical need. There are stiff penalties for confining dogs in cages. That said, it doesn’t mean a den cannot be offered for the dog to use of their own accord. This would not have a door that locks.

Dogs may be descended from wolves but are the first animal domesticated by humans and are far removed from their noble ancestor. To use the comparison would mean noting that wolves build a den for nesting and to provide a safe place for their pups. That den does not have a locked door on it and they do not spend hours per day in it doing nothing. In fact, many of their habits are nomadic. The comparison falls short of reality.

This brings us to the two-sides of the breeder-buyer relationship which includes considerations on how and where puppies are raised and how each pup will fit into the live of their new owners. It’s important for both parties to be on the same page, considering matters from the breeder’s perspective and the buyer’s vision of their future with a dog. Crate training is culturally set into the North American dog community psyche but, there are alternatives and many who do not agree with this common practice. 

As Becky says on “Cruelty Free Soul”,  crating becomes a contentious issue when dogs are left for eight to ten hours per day when their owners are at work. She says animals, especially a pack animal as dogs are, should not be left locked in a cage for long periods of time. One must question themselves if crating is a normalized practice and how quality of life is affected by doing so.

 

Cosmetic and Elective Procedures

Breeders have routinely cropped ears, docked tails, and removed dew claws. There is a litany of common practices depending on the breed in which a given condition is prevalent; tacking eyelids and surgical repair of entropion, ectropion, and distichiasis, juvenile and early sterilization, routine artificial insemination and caesarian section on breeds that have lost the ability to achieve coitus or deliver pups vaginally, various surgeries to treat brachycephalic airway syndrome (BAS) and gastroplexy for breeds predisposed to bloat.

The problem with elective and cosmetic procedures is the reasoning for doing them in the first place. Also, these surgeries mask the underlying issues in affected breeds. Most European countries have banned ear cropping and tail docking for decades and the general population increasingly views cosmetic amputations on dogs as cruel and unnecessary, promoted by an archaic show dog culture that promotes breed standards as a pinnacle of perfection in dogs.

The two-way street would require ethical breeders to follow the laws where they live and hopefully the CKC will amend breed standards to accommodate an evolving world view. Anyone truly concerned about animal welfare, as the CKC should, would advocate against unnecessary cosmetic procedures. However, as Ontario is the only province that has not legislated a ban on ear cropping and tail docking in Canada, CKC remains pro-choice on the issue of cosmetic procedures. Breeders who continue to adhere to the breed standard will sometimes perform docks and crops illegally or travel with their pups to Ontario or the US to have it done.

The big picture uncovers an alarming trend towards accepting the status quo of debilitating and sometimes lethal conditions that exist in purebred dogs. Because there are medical ways to deal with problems, this is too often the way the problems are being dealt with, instead of breeding better, healthier, more sound dogs that are not born with inherent traits that affect their quality of life.

Breeding away from things like bloat, BAS, or entropion, for example becomes a complex issue when working within a closed gene pool, which is what purebred dogs are stuck in. Thinking outside the box quickly becomes labelled as taboo by purists with a eugenics mindset. But there is another two-way street ahead.

This involves opening of stud books to outcross programs, in this case, more accurately referred to is crossbreeding. Norway has banned the breeding of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the English Bulldog, deemed too unhealthy to ethically propagate. Examples of outcross or crossbreeding programs include; The Norwegian Lundhund outcross project, Finnish Kooikerhondje , various other breeds accepted by the Finnish Kennel Club for crossbreeding including Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, French Bulldog, Pinscher-Schnauzer, and the Swedish Kennel Club has also approved an outcross program for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

In a progressive move to turn the tides of Low Uric Acid (LUA) in Dalmatians, back in 1973 the AKC approved cross-breeding of Dalmatians to Pointers. For more information on this groundbreaking early example of out-of-the-box breeding methods, see The Dalmatian Backcross Project . CKC has yet to embrace such game changing ideas.

Health Testing

The two-way street means that both breeder and buyer are responsible for being transparent and diligent in research and ethics. It is a personal choice to choose a homeless dog from a shelter over a breeder’s pup. Be sure to investigate your shelter or breeder exhaustively. Breeders and rescues can be fronts for puppy mills.  If you suspect a puppy mill, please report your findings to the proper authorities.

Health testing should include access to documentation, not just a statement that it’s been done. When possible, visit your breeder and the puppies to see where and how they are raised. Do not bash a person for where they adopt their puppy.

The conundrum is that dogs are part of society and humans can’t live without them. They provide a connection to nature and our shared evolution. Because we love them, we hurt when we see them ruthlessly exploited and seek to lay blame for overflowing shelters on breeders. The truth is that most shelter dogs have been surrendered or rescued from inhumane conditions that are not the result of responsible breeders who always take back a dog they’ve bred for any reason, no questions asked. Without breeders who are committed to improving the quality and health of dogs people would be left with nothing but the clean up from backyard breeders and puppy mills. 

No matter what, dogs are living sentient beings and humans are responsible for their domestication. That’s the two-way street that matters most. The one between the person and their charge. Choosing to share your life with a dog(or dogs) is a lifestyle and privilege that encompasses over 34,000 years of history. Let’s treat this legacy with respect.





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