Purebred Dog Industry [Includes Video]
Humans have been selectively breeding dogs for thousands of years. The earliest humans prized dogs that were good at hunting and tracking. They found the best hunting dogs and brought them together so they could mate (engage in sex to produce offspring). The offspring of these dogs were naturally good hunters and trackers.
Later in history, humans began breeding dogs to perform other tasks. When people began herding flocks of sheep, they bred dogs to help them control their flocks. German shepherd dogs were bred to perform this job. To create the dachshund breed, dog owners bred the dogs with the shortest legs and narrowest bodies. These traits helped dachshunds pull badgers out of their underground dens during hunts. Dachshund means “badger hound” in German.
Dachshunds have a unique appearance. Their ancestors were not bred for looks, however. They were bred to be better badger hunters. Through most of history, people bred dogs to perform certain jobs. By the 1800s, some people had begun breeding dogs to make them look a certain way. This practice became very popular in England during the Victorian period (the years during which Queen Victoria ruled England, from 1837 to 1901).
According to Sean Kane of Business Insider, “In the rapidly modernizing world of Victorian England, designing dogs became a hobby of the middle and upper classes. Dogs were now something to be molded and shaped by humans, just like the railroad and industry had transformed the country (and its overseas colonies), and soon specific traits were codified.” 1 Those who bred dogs started forming kennel clubs. These clubs held dog shows and began keeping careful records called “stud books.” Stud books registered all known dogs of a specific breed.
In 1859 Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, hosted the first dog show that awarded prizes according to breed and appearance. The Kennel Club opened in London in 1873. The club created a set of rules for dog breeding and judging. In 1880 it began recording the names of individual dogs and their offspring. This record is called a pedigree. Purebred dogs have pedigrees that prove their ancestors came from one breed.
During the late 1800s owning a purebred dog became a status symbol, like owning fashionable clothes. Purebred dogs with pedigrees usually cost more than other dogs. Purebred dog breeding became a hobby for the upper classes. Those who owned and bred purebred dogs became known as “dog fanciers.”
Dog fanciers followed popular trends by breeding dogs to have desired physical traits. Very small “miniature” or “toy” breeds became popular during this period. These small breeds made ideal lap dogs. People bred other dogs, such as mastiffs, to grow as large as possible. Dog shows judged dogs based on how they measured up to the standards set for their breed. Prize-winning dogs represented the most perfectly formed specimens of each breed.
U.S. Kennel Clubs
The purebred dog craze quickly spread to the United States. Dog fanciers created the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1884. Like the original Kennel Club, the AKC established dog breeding standards and practices. It also maintained pedigree records.
Another group of dog fanciers created the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1898. They were unhappy with the AKC's focus on physical appearance. Instead, the UKC focused on the idea of the “total dog.” A total dog was intelligent Page 48 | Top of Articleand well-behaved. It was also good at performing tricks and tasks. The UKC maintained pedigree records and operated dog shows. The shows awarded prizes based on behavior and performance in addition to appearance.
Many purebred dog owners also belong to local kennel and breed organizations. These local groups usually follow the rules of the AKC, the UKC, or another national body.
The AKC and the UKC operate the two most popular pedigree services in the United States. Both keep records of dogs' family trees. They also document any prizes or other recognition the ancestors may have won. Dog fanciers consider dogs with longer pedigrees to be more valuable. They also place higher value on dogs from prize-winning families. Finally, they prefer dogs whose recorded ancestors all come from the same breed.
Pure Breeding Controversies
The purebred dog industry is not popular with everyone. Some critics believe the pedigree system encourages breeding based on looks alone. Animals bred only to look a certain way may suffer from health problems. For example, Page 50 | Top of Articlesome snub-nosed dog breeds tend to have breathing difficulties.
England's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals indicates that it “is extremely concerned that the welfare of many dogs, of numerous breeds, is compromised as a result of exaggerated physical features and/or inherited diseases in some cases for a large proportion or even all of their lives.” Furthermore, the society explains, “We believe that breeding for exaggerated physical features and the breeding of closely related dogs (for anything other than scientifically proven welfare reasons) is morally and ethically unjustifiable.” 2
Mixed Breeds and Hybrids
Kennel clubs and pedigree registries are still popular today. Some new organizations have arisen for owners of hybrid or mixed-breed dogs. Hybrid dogs have purebred parents from two different breeds. For example, when a purebred German shepherd mates with a purebred Great Dane, they produce hybrid puppies. Designer dogs are hybrids with carefully selected purebred parents. A mixed-breed dog has ancestors from multiple or unknown breeds. More dog shows now welcome hybrid and mixed-breed dogs.
In the twenty-first century, people have learned more about the differences between dog breeds. Scientists Page 51 | Top of Articlehave discovered that only a few changes to the genetic code of dogs can result in major differences between animals. This makes it easier to breed animals with different sizes, shapes, and personalities.
More is also known about health problems caused by dog inbreeding. This is the practice of breeding two dogs that are related to each other. Inbreeding is done when both animals have desirable traits. Inbred animals often develop more health problems.
Claire Maldarelli of Scientific American explains, “To foster the desired appearance, breeders often turn to line breeding—a type of inbreeding that mates direct relatives, such as grandmother and grandson.” 3 This type of breeding results in “purebred dogs [that] not only have increased incidences of inherited diseases but also heightened health issues due to their bodily frames and shapes, such as hip dysplasia in large breeds like the German shepherd and the Saint Bernard, and patellar luxation, or persistent dislocation of the kneecap, in toy and miniature breeds.”
Modern Purebred Industry
Breeding purebred dogs with pedigrees first became popular as a hobby among dog fanciers. Now, however, about five hundred thousand purebred dogs are bought and sold each year in the United States. Purebred owners also pay to train, groom, and feed their pets. This means Page 52 | Top of Articlethat Americans spend several billion dollars every year on their purebred pets.
Dog breeders produce puppies for sale by mating adult animals. The AKC, the UKC, and most other pedigree organizations certify breeders who follow specific standards. Most breeders focus on producing purebred animals. Many breeders sell their dogs directly to the public. Others sell to dog brokers, who then sell to the public. Finally, traditional pet shops also buy their puppies from dog breeders.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) establishes rules that dog breeders and brokers must follow. Page 53 | Top of ArticleIt inspects such operations and issues licenses to those who are in compliance with its rules. The USDA also investigates complaints against breeders and brokers. The agency designs its rules to protect animal welfare. It also protects consumers from the purchase of unhealthy animals.
The USDA imposes a number of requirements on dog breeders and brokers. The agency requires that animals must live in well-constructed, well-ventilated housing. Living quarters must be well-lit and clean. Breeders and brokers must provide adequate food, water, and medical care. They must also follow a strict record-keeping system. Those who repeatedly break the rules face fines or the loss of their licenses.
Stepping up Enforcement
The USDA has not always done a perfect job of policing dog breeders. A 2010 study found that more than half who broke the rules were repeat offenders. The same study found that the agency did not always report animal cruelty. Finally, penalties for violating the rules were light. Many breeders paid a small fine but did not change their behavior.
After the report became public, the USDA began enforcing its rules more strictly. Meanwhile, Congress closed a large loophole in the rules for animal breeders. Page 54 | Top of ArticleThe rules originated from the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966. This law was updated and renamed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1970. The AWA spelled out specifically who had to follow the breeder and broker rules. Pet shops did not have to follow AWA rules. Lawmakers felt that pet shop customers could see pets' health and living conditions firsthand.
Some dealers found a way around the law by selling pets on websites. They claimed the websites were the same as pet stores. This meant they did not have to follow AWA regulations. In 2013 the USDA announced that websites no longer qualified as pet stores.
State Dog Breeding Laws
About twenty-five U.S. states have their own dog breeding laws. Most of these laws apply to larger commercial breeders. Usually, state laws define commercial breeders as those who breed or sell about twenty animals a year. These states typically require breeders to obtain a state license. Breeders must also follow state animal care regulations and submit to state inspections.
Some states have revised their breeder laws several times. During the 1980s Missouri gained a national reputation as home to many inhumane breeders. The state had weak breeder laws and many small commercial breeders. It was also the home state of the Hunte Corporation, the world's largest puppy broker. Both Hunte and the smaller breeders faced repeated criticism for the treatment of their animals.
In 1992 Missouri passed new laws to fix the problem. By the early 2000s, however, officials admitted that the Page 55 | Top of Articlenew laws were not working. Inspections were too lax and penalties were too light. Some breeders faced no punishment at all for breaking the rules. In 2011 Missouri passed the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act, which made it easier to punish offenders. The law also increased penalties. During the first two years of the law, the state prosecuted nearly 40 breeders. It revoked licenses in nine of these cases. Many of the state's hundreds of small breeders began going out of business.
“Most people get into the dog breeding business to make a quick buck, which is why violations are so numerous,” notes Jessica Blome, a former assistant attorney general of Missouri. 4 “Most voluntarily go out of business simply because they cannot make money.” Bob Baker, the executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, explains, “When I started investigating puppy mills, many were farmers' wives who were supplementing the farm income by raising dogs in their spare time.” 5 Some in the state criticized the new laws for shutting down small businesses. Others welcomed the stronger legal protections for dogs.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) defines a puppy mill as “a large-scale commercial dog breeding facility where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs.” 6 Such mills Page 56 | Top of Articleoften crowd in as many dogs as possible. This results in unsanitary, stressful living conditions. Puppy mills tend to spend little on food, medicine, and proper care. They also breed female dogs constantly. The dogs have one litter after another with little time in between. This is bad for the health of both the female and her puppies.
The ASPCA suspects that there could be up to 10,000 puppy mills in the United States. Puppy mills often sell purebred animals. Besides overcrowding and poor care, animals in puppy mills face other troubles. Puppies from puppy mills are born with more health problems than typical dogs. Disease and parasites spread rapidly in puppy mills. Puppy mill puppies may also have more behavior problems.
Paul Solotaroff of Rolling Stone magazine describes a raid by sheriff's deputies on a North Carolina puppy mill in 2016:
Page 58 | Top of Article Page 59 | Top of Article
A cinder-block kennel, hidden from the street, housed the bulk of this puppy-mill stock: 50 or 60 more parent dogs who'd likely never seen sunlight or spent a day outside this toxic room. They wept and bayed and spun in crazed circles as we toured the maze of cages. Some went limp as the rescuers knelt to scoop them. Each was photographed, then carried downhill to the giant rig at the curb. There, teams of vets from the Cabarrus Animal Hospital worked briskly to assess each rescue. Once triaged and tagged, they were loaded into crates on the Humane Society's mammoth truck, an 80-foot land-ship with clean-room conditions, and taken to a staging shelter. One hundred and five dogs came out of that house, many of them pregnant or in heat. 7
Sick Animals and Pet Lemon Laws
Dogs from puppy mills are not the only ones prone to health problems. Many other purebred dogs have their own health issues. For example, Doberman pinschers often develop hereditary blood illnesses and dalmatians tend to suffer from deafness.
Purchasers of purebred dogs from puppy mills or elsewhere may wind up with a sick animal. Responding to this issue, twenty-two states have passed so-called pet lemon laws. These are named after the laws that allow consumers to return faulty cars, or “lemons.” In most of these states, customers who receive a sick pet have several choices. They may return the animal for a refund. They may exchange the pet for another one. Or, they may keep the pet and receive reimbursement for vet bills.
Pet Shop Laws
Concern about puppy mills has caused some U.S. cities to regulate retail pet stores. Pet stores usually get their dogs from breeders. Some breeders may operate puppy mills. In Los Angeles, California, pet stores may only sell dogs that have been rescued from animal shelters. Miami, Florida, passed a similar law in 2014. The number of pet shops in the city then dwindled from nine to two. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, did the same in 2016. Some critics felt these laws had the effect of driving traditional pet stores out of business.
Most of these state pet shop laws passed with the help of animal welfare groups. Members of the groups attended public meetings and helped raise public awareness about puppy mills. This is true of most other laws that regulate pure breeding and the treatment of dogs.
Since the nineteenth century, groups such as the ASPCA have pressured lawmakers to protect purebred animals. One way they do this is by providing information to the public. They may release disturbing videos or photos of puppy mills. They may also publish pamphlets or websites that explain particular animal welfare problems. These actions help educate the general public and create support for new laws.
Animal welfare organizations then lobby lawmakers. This means they contact lawmakers with their concerns and propose new laws. If the organization is large and has enough public support, lawmakers may vote to pass the laws. Often, several national, state, and local organizations join forces to lobby for a new law.
Many people regard purebred dogs as superior in some way to dogs without pedigrees. There are, however, many reasons for concern regarding the health and treatment of purebred animals. These include medical problems caused by inbreeding and the negligent practices of some puppy mills. Even so, purebred dogs remain quite popular as pets. Animal welfare groups have helped create laws that protect their health and safety.
1 . Kane, Sean. “Most Dog Breeds Emerged from a Shockingly Recent Moment in History.” Business Insider, February 25, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/dog-breeds-victorian-england-origins-2016-2
2. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Our Position on Pedigree Dog Welfare.” https://www.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232734722231&mode=prd
3. Maldarelli, Claire. “Although Purebred Dogs Can Be Best in Show, Are They Worst in Health?” Scientific American, February 21, 2014. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/although-purebred-dogs-can-be-best-in-show-are-they-worst-in-health
4. Quoted in Benson, Josh. “Commercial Dog Breeding in Missouri: Part 1—What a Difference a Law Makes.” Missourian (Columbia, MO), September 2, 2014. https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/commercial-dog-breeding-in-missouri-part---what-a/article_befcce1e-b719-5e60-98f1-748bf7e761df.html
6. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “What Is a Puppy Mill?” https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/puppy-mills
7. Solotaroff, Paul. “The Dog Factory: Inside the Sickening World of Puppy Mills.” Rolling Stone, January 3, 2017. http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/the-dog-factory-inside-the-sickening-world-of-puppy-mills-w457673