WHAT IS A BREEDER?
Written by Peggy Adamson
Adapted from text of a speech given before the Annual Symposium of the "National Dog Owners and Handlers Association" in Feb. 1969; and published in their newsletter.
The breeder is the mainspring of the dog world. Without the breeder, there would be no dogs. Without the dogs, there would be no kennel clubs, no dog shows, no judges, no handlers, no trainers, no dog food companies, no dog publications.
Despite their importance, breeders represent a very small segment of the dog world, which in turn, creates the dog business. Furthermore, they are the ones who seldom, if ever, make a profit, even in the most popular breeds; and since they cannot take a livelihood from their breeding activities, they must be able to rely on some other source of income.
Why then, do people ever become Breeders??
A breeder has, in her mind, a perfect dog that she someday hopes to create. She presses on to breed her ideal dog, unfettered by desires to be a conformist, or to pander to the buying public. Like the artist or sculptor, she is activated by a creative, inner drive which is totally unaffected by considerations of what will sell or what won't. Unlike the sculptor however, she is working with living flesh and is constantly fighting time. She can never put her work away and come back to it later. The raw material on which she labors is constantly changing - sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse; sometimes as a result of her efforts and sometimes in spite of them. Nature and Time are her greatest adversaries, yet when she least expects it, they may prove to be her greatest allies. The sculptor can use the chisel to chip away at her mistakes, but it may take years for the breeder to see where she has made a mistake - a mistake which in some cases may never be remedied.
True breeders speak the same language, whatever their breed. Without the slightest previous communication, they discover that they think the same way, they have the same ideals and goals and standards of behavior and the same awareness of responsibility. Like the Beautiful People in the social world, they immediately recognize each other - not because they know each other's names or who they are, but because as kindred spirits they realise what they are.
Just WHO and What IS a Breeder?
Technically, anyone who owns or leases a bitch and produces a litter out of her is a breeder of dogs. It is of no matter what considerations were involved in the choice of mate or what the puppies were like, or how they were disposed of--perhaps to the nearest pet shop. This person has bred a litter, the minimum requirement to becoming a Breeder. She is now on the lowest rung of the breeding ladder. How far upward she goes will depend on many factors, some of which are under her control, and some of which are matters of luck. Some people paint all their lives but never become real artists; some people raise hundreds of litters of puppies, but never become true Breeders. Let us consider how people buy their first pure-bred dog. It usually comes about in one or two ways. In the first case, the person passes a pet shop with a litter of puppies, frolicking in the window, lingers to watch and impulsively decides to buy one of them. Presto! She has now become a dog-owner. In the second case, a person sees a dog in the street, in the movies, or on television, likes its looks and makes up her mind to have one just like it. How does she go about it?
She picks up the newspaper, sees a litter advertised, goes to look at it, and comes home with a puppy. Few people in either group have ever seen a dog magazine or been to a dog show. They want to buy a dog (and I say this in quotes)"with papers" although they have only the foggiest idea what they mean. The dogs that these people buy are like children who grow up with no family.
A much smaller portion of pure-bred dogs are bought as a result of advertising in dog magazines and other trade publications. These are the dogs which form the bulk of our dog shows. For the most part, they are bought from Breeders. They are not usually the result of impulse buying, but of considerable searching, looking and even waiting. Many of these dogs are the second pure-bred dog for the owner, the first having come from one of the two groups first mentioned.
How does a dog-buyer move from the first or second group to the third? Some never do. But if, by sheer luck --and it is often just that--the buyer gets a reasonably good breed specimen, she may become interested in the breed and want to find out more about it. She may attend a dog show, read books and magazines, seek out training classes and dog clubs and by her own efforts become what the cognoscenti regard as a "Dog Person." But she has to do this all on her own.
Had she bought her dog from a real Breeder, everything would have been much easier for her. Just what does she get from the Breeder --or let us say, what can she expect?
First and above all, she gets a pride of ownership, not only in a breed but in a family. The pedigree she gets with her dog will mean something--the real Breeder will see to that. It will come alive to her --if not immediately, certainly eventually! There is magic in a name which stands for something, and it will rub off on all that possess it.
We see this in the case of our great families in the social and political world, the Rockefellers and Roosevelts, the Astors and the Kennedys. In the dog world we find it in illustrious kennel names. These names do not become illustrious overnight, nor are they illustrious merely because they are familiar to people through aggressive advertising. A name which is synonymous with quality in the mind of the public is that of a great store, "Tiffany's." How long would it retain its aura if we began to hear television commercials shouting its' prestige, or urging "Rush to Tiffany's this weekend for the greatest sale of the year"? Thus, because a name is known to the public is no assurance that it is a great name. Only years of high standards and good taste will create a name that is an asset to a human being, to a product, or to a dog.
The Influence of the Real Breeder is Far Reaching
She invests the people that buy her dogs with the desire to become breeders themselves and an appreciation of all this entails. From her, they learn a philosophy of showing, a code of ethics in sportsmanship. They learn how to train their dogs, or where they can be trained, how to handle their dogs and where and when or whether to show them. The breeder encourages them to go to training and handling classes, read books and dog magazines, advises them how to breed their bitches, raise their litters, take care of their old dogs. She answers innumerable questions and gives out emergency advise when they can't get a veterinarian. All this, a good Breeder attempts to do. Unfortunately, as the years go on, she realises she has created a Frankenstein, which grows constantly bigger and threatens to devour her. For this reason, all Breeders eventually reach a point where the more conscientious they are in recognizing the demands on them, the more difficult they find it is to take care of all of them.
The Breeder is Like the Head of the Family
She gives those who buy her dogs a sense of "belonging." This is of the utmost to people with their first or second dogs. They develop an interest in the dog's ancestors, about which the breeder can give them a wealth of information, and in the dog's relatives. Thus is built up a great family pride--in their own dogs and in all the other dogs that carry the same kennel name. They learn from the breeder more about their breed and what constitutes a good specimen of it than they could ever find out from any book. The breeder, in a good many cases, is also a specialist. This is to say, she is an authority on her own breed and can be expected to know more about it than any judge who is not a specialist. She teaches those to whom she sells her dogs to evaluate their own dogs, many times encouraging and training these people so that some day they may be able to become specialists themselves.
The real breeder disciplines herself not to expect gratitude or appreciation for her services-- which is well, because those who benefit most will rarely give public recognition to the fact. The real breeder does what she does because of what she is. She can not do otherwise.
Breeders have a great deal to say about their Breed Standard. They give generously of their time to the national Breed organization and it is through a consensus of the breeders that the Standard is arrived at, or changed.
The Breeders are the Adminstocracy of the Dog World
If there is a caste system, they are at the very top. Each breeder has a great sense of her own worth. Individually, that is. She is proud to be what she is and what she stands for. However, she rarely thinks of her worth collectively with other breeders. That is because Breeders are independent and individualistic. Therein lies their strength - and also their weakness. It is why their importance as a group is constantly overlooked in the hierarchy of the dog world. There are many more women Breeders than men Breeders, yet the American Kennel Club, which could not exist without breeders, allows no women to be a part of it's governing body. (NOTE: Remember, this was written in 1969. Women are now represented through the AKC.) Even an all-woman club which is a member of the AKC must be represented by a man. Obviously, this discrimination on the basis of sex is a matter which advocates of equal rights for women have not as yet taken notice of!)
The great advances made by any breed--and I am not here referring to registration increases - have all been brought about by the Breeders.
In distinguishing between the Breeders in the best sense of the word and those who fall short of it, I shall refer to these people as "puppy raisers."
The "Breeders" and the "Puppy Raisers"
The primary difference between the Breeder and the puppy-raiser is the awareness of responsibility; responsibility to her breed, to her goals, to the dogs she has bred and to the dogs she hopes to breed. She also has a never-ending responsibility to the people who have bought her dogs, to the people who are about to buy her dogs and to the public image--not only of the dogs she has been producing but of the breed itself.
The Breeders are essentially givers. They give to their chosen breed much more than they will ever receive. Their rewards are intangible rather than financial. Here again is the great difference between the Breeder and the puppy-raiser. The latter produces puppies in order to sell them, getting them off her hands as quickly as possible before their cost has eaten up her hoped-for profit. The breeder, on the other hand, has an entirely different motivation. She breeds a litter only when she can devote the necessary time, money and work to it. She never breeds when she knows she will be up against a deadline; that is to say, a time when she knows all her puppies must be sold.
Never, never does she breed a litter unless she plans to keep something from it, which hopefully will bring her one step closer to producing her ideal dog. If the litter is disappointing, she may sell the whole litter; but the better the breeder, the less often she will find it necessary to do this. The Breeder is constantly selecting and pruning her stock, sometimes because she no longer needs it, and sometimes because she has discovered a reason why she does not want it. The two reasons are very different. In the case of a dog she no longer needs, the reason may be that she has gotten from that dog what she wanted in order to further her breeding plans. In the case of the dog she no longer wants as breeding stock, she may have uncovered a reason why this dog would be detrimental to her breeding program.
The Breeder is Constantly Faced with Difficult Decisions
Actually, the latter are her breeding cast-offs. Yet they may be delightful as individuals. They are not so faulty that they should never be bred, yet they fall far short of the Breeder's standards. They are like the so-called "seconds of sheets and towels by Famous Makers" that stores advertise as "slightly irregular."
The breeder does her best to put these dogs in the homes of people who are not primarily interested in breeding, but all too often they turn up later with litters advertised in newspapers and magazines, trading on her name and reputation to help sell the puppies. Though the dam and/or sire may carry her kennel name, the puppies are not of her breeding, a distinction that the dog buying public seldom realizes. Sometimes this causes the Breeder embarrassment. Much more often, it fills her with annoyance. Many years ago, this situation occurred in one of the dog magazines with a Collie Breeder, who proceeded to feature the following statement in all her advertising: "The purest water is at the well."
The Breeder's Greatest Problem is to Hold Down Her Dog Population
The better the breeder, the more difficult this becomes and each time she breeds a litter, she increases it. For this reason, the breeder does not, and cannot, breed often. She keeps more dogs than she should, not because she wants to but because she will not part with a dog unless she is sure it will be for the dog's best interests. As a result, many of these dogs live in her house to the day they die, as treasured pets, even though they are no longer used in the breeding program, either because they have already contributed or because they can not make the contribution she wants. Occasionally, in the case of the one who has already contributed, she may either sell or give this dog to someone else, who will indeed be fortunate and can thus benefit from the Breeder's handiwork. This person may be another breeder, or she may be a novice. In the case of the dog she does not wish to use in his breeding program, it may be sold or given to someone who is not interested in breeding and who wants just one dog as a lifetime companion.
The one-dog owner who gives a dog her individual attention for the duration of its life, loving it, training it, perhaps showing it, can do for the dog what no Breeder ever can. Because the breeder is so well aware of this she sometimes parts with her very best dogs, often to the surprise of others. If this dog happens to be a male, there will be no loss to her breeding program unless the dog goes to a distance place, but in the case of a bitch, she usually reserves some breeding rights. Where a sizable sum is involved, this usually is a right to select the stud and chose a puppy from the first litter. In this case, the Breeder is taking a calculated risk, and one which she frequently finds disastrous; namely, the gamble that there will be a bitch in that litter that she can select to carry on with. If there is not, she has lost far more than the one fine dog she has sold, and there is really no way of estimating the full extent of her loss.
The breeder is always thinking in terms of the past and the future, while the single dog owner is concerned with the present.
The Puppy-Raiser does not Care to Whom She Sells Her Dogs
The important objective for her is to get them sold, and as quickly as possible. She is like the gardener who scatters her seed all over the ground with little regard for its subsequent growth and cultivation.
The breeder, on the other hand, has deep concern for the ultimate destination of what she has produced. To her, a dog is not an over-the-counter commodity to be sold to anyone who wants it and has the money to pay for it. This matter of attitude is another one of the great differences between the breeder and the puppy-raiser.
When the Breeder sells or disposes of a dog, whether very young or grown, she is parting with something that is much more than what it looks to be in the eyes of the prospective buyer. The buyer sees a beautiful specimen of the breed- -healthy, sound and a look of quality. The breeder sees all these things, but a great deal more. To her, the dog represents years of hard work-- often menial work-- years full of excitement, exultation and disappointments. She does not merely see the beauty in the individual dog before her, but a long line of ancestors, dogs that she knew and loved and that went into the making of this particular individual. When the Breeder looks at an animal she has bred, her view has an extra dimension-- she sees that dog in DEPTH.
The Breeder Carefully Screens Prospective Buyers
She knows that changes of ownership can have a traumatic effect on a dog, especially if there are several of them. The dog becomes confused and loses his sense of security, an absolute necessity if he is to have confidence. This situation is as disastrous to a dog as it is to a child, in fact more so because there is no way to explain to a dog what is taking place.
From the standpoint of the breeder, the ideal one-dog owner is a pearl beyond price. The more such people she can enable to possess her dogs, the more successful she will become as a Breeder, and the more successful she is as a Breeder the more likely she is to have more good dogs than it is practical for her to keep. Unlike the puppy-raiser who breeds her bitches every season and often has several litters at a time, the breeder rarely breeds her bitches more than three or four times in a lifetime, and some times not even that many. The expenses of maintaining her dogs year after year are exorbitant, and coupled with this never-ceasing drain on her resources is the gnawing awareness that even though they get the best of food, veterinarian care, and love, she cannot possibly give them the advantages which would be theirs in the case of the ideal one-dog ownership. For this reason, she is usually reluctant to sell to other breeders, feeling that the dog would not be bettered by the change of homes where it would still be one of many. She can give each dog she owns everything that money can by and her limitations of space can allow - she can literally give the dogs her entire house, and all her furniture - piece by piece! But the only thing she cannot give is the important feeling of being # 1 dog in the household, and the chance for constant exposure to the outside world.
The Puppy-Raiser Rarely Asks Questions
If the buyer wants a dog and has the money to pay for it, she has met the only requirements necessary to take possession of the dog.
But the Breeder's attitude is very different. The Breeder not only asks many questions to which she must get the right answers or she will not sell the dog--she must also know something of the buyer's background. What dogs did he have before? How old were they when he got them, and what eventually happened to them? What were the things that he liked about each one and what were the things that annoyed him? From these answers, the Breeder will have to determine what kind of dog-owner this buyer has been, and what kind he is likely to be. Did he have only one dog who lived to be 13 or 14 or more, or did he have several dogs, each of which he disposed of for a variety of reasons. Obviously, the latter buyer is going to be a bad risk. He is like the car driver who has many accidents, none of which he believes to be his fault.
When considering a buyer, the breeder must project her thinking into the future. She must decide whether the germs of future trouble are lurking in the buyer's present situation and thinking. If a young man, is the buyer likely to go into the Army, or to college? If an older man, does his wife want this dog? If a bachelor, who will care for the dog if anything happens to him? What attitude does the buyer have toward his past disappointments? Does he blame everyone except himself? Is he the type of person who is always trying to get as much as possible for as little as possible? Would a really good dog be wasted on him?
To the extent that the breeder can make these evaluations successfully, she will save herself many future complications. No matter how many dogs she has, as long as her money and health hold out, her dogs are a problem to him, but only a problem. The problems of keeping them well fed and comfortably housed may seem difficult at times, but they are not serious. In the hands of the wrong buyer, however, the dog becomes a hostage. Why?? Because the breeder cares. It could not matter to the puppy-raiser because she would not concern himself about such matters.
Regardless of how carefully she screens the buyers, the Breeder will still have occasional disappointments. Human nature being what it is, this is inevitable. Dogs will be returned to her-- and she will accept them-- not because of any fault in the dog, but because the buyer himself, or the conditions of his life, have changed.
What happens to These Dogs?
Few people realize the number of older dogs that live to the age of 13 or 14 in the homes of Breeders. In the business world, these dogs would be considered obsolete equipment and destroyed. But the Breeder's world is different. She recognizes a responsibility toward anything that she has brought into the world and takes care of it it until the dog is dead-- or she is. If she can find the right person to sell or give it to, she does; but if she can not, she continues to keep it herself. The drain on the breeder's strength and finances is merciless. Occasionally, when faced with severe illness or drastically reduced income, she may have to decree that some or all of her dogs be put to sleep. And even this costs money. When a breeder makes this decision, few people understand it.
The general public and those who have never known the responsibility which goes with more than one or two dogs will probably regard this as cruelty. But, as previously stressed, the Breeder has a responsibility for whatever she brings into the world until it goes out of it. If the dog is in the wrong hands, she must try to get it back, and then either keep it or see that it is put into the right hands. If the Breeder is no longer able to do this, there is only one way she can be sure her dogs will never know hunger or abuse. That is euthanasia. To the breeder who loves her dogs, there is no more tragic decision she will ever have to make. When she herself is faced with incapacitating ill health, or even death, she must recognize the cold hard facts regarding the future of her dogs. Without her guiding hand and sense of responsibility, the dogs are much better off dead. A breeder will make any sacrifice to avoid this situation, but when it Adminses, she will do what she knows is necessary. Why? Because she is a Breeder and feels responsibility towards her animals.
Now, what of the Breeder's Responsibility to Her Breed?
A successful breeder usually becomes something of a public figure. She may be requested to write about her breed, to speak about it, to judge it.
Her relationship to her breed is something very different. As a judge and as a writer, she must be completely objective. Indeed, she must bend over backwards to achieve this impartiality.
The breeder's responsibility to her breed does not permit him to use opportunities either in judging or writing to exploit her own stock. She is abrogating this responsibility to the breed, not to mention considerations of good taste, if she uses a magazine's breed column to promote her own breeding, or in judging to favor the same. She can make known her bloodlines and her winning through the paid advertisements, providing they are honest and factual, but never uses the public space to get free publicity. When the breeder writes for the public, she is representing her breed, not herself or her stock, and it is this broader perspective that sets apart the true Breeder with a sense of responsibility from the commercial one whose only consideration is to promote her wares.
A Breeder has Great Care for the Public Image of Her Breed
She tries to inoculate these values in the people to whom she sells her dogs, and in everyone with whom she comes in contact. She is reluctant to criticize what he considers the shortcomings of other Breeders, or to fault the products of their handiwork. She scorns high pressure salesmanship and the advertising techniques of Madison Avenue. Giving straightforward answers to the people who have bought, or are about to buy, her own stock, she neither glosses over the faults nor makes exaggerated claims or predictions. She is forthright in her thinking, her talking, her actions. People instinctively trust her, not because she asks for their trust (which she does not), but because of what she is.
The real Breeders are the heart and soul of the dog world. They stand proud and often alone, resisting commercialism, undeviated in their search for perfection and idealistic in their code of ethics
Where Even A Small Star Shines In The Darkness