The Purebred Perception Problem

Purebred dogs and dog breeders are often seen in a negative light. Here's how you can change that perception.

The general public is being assaulted from all sides with negative propaganda, from the animal rights legislative organizers who want public support in their efforts to eliminate purposeful dog breeding in this country, to groups that believe dogs that come from a dog breeder will “take away” homes from deserving shelter dogs. The activists use tear-jerking commercials about sick and abused dogs, and the media grab on to anything “shocking” — a favorite word in advertising these days. As a result, the public is being brainwashed into thinking that all dog breeders are money-grubbing cousins of Cruella De Vil, who pop out puppies with no regard to their health or well-being. Dog breeders are now faced with new regulations that limit established breeders to selling puppies only to people that they can meet face-to-face, the reason ostensibly being the number of sick and dying puppies sold over the Internet. The only problem with this is that there are no statistics to prove it! No verifiable data — not even in the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report quoted by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) when proposing the new regulations. But it was posted on the Internet, so it must be true — right? WRONG!


Misinterpretations and Misrepresentations

The most obvious attacks on breeders of purebred dogs have come from the media — any news story that you can read online and that allows comments can be scary to read! How many comments are from actual believers and how many are written by paid hacks, we have no way to know — but either way, it is not good news. Then we have TV — the hatchet job in the UK “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” and the latest here in the US on HBO Real Sports [Go to for more information — Eds], both carefully edited to preserve the “shocking” material while leaving the positive pieces on the cutting room floor. The poor public is led to assume that purebreds are all “inbred” and grotesque examples of their breeds that will have a lifetime of problems resulting in huge vet bills for their unfortunate owners.

I like to go to the source of knowledge — and who would know better about the health of new puppies than a local general practice vet clinic? I called a few out of the phone book, and they were surprised at my questions. What percentage of puppies that came from out of the area were sick? There would be a pause — none! What about congenital deformities? Outside of things like umbilical hernias and missing testicles, such problems are rare. And lifetime health issues? No more than would be expected, nothing like the media portrays.

So why do so many people assume that there is a problem and that purebreds are not as healthy as mixed breeds? Are we an unwitting partner in creating this? Sometimes it is all a matter of how information is presented and the way some people write these days. Outsiders could easily get the wrong impression. In any discussion on the Internet, we see references to testing and getting “clearances” before even planning a breeding. We do have the benefit of modern technology: DNA testing in some breeds and phenotypic examination (e.g., eye checks and hip X-rays in others), and many of us do make use of these tools. The question is — how are we presenting it to the public? Does it sound as if the tests are being done to find something worthy of breeding because they might just as easily have a hereditary problem, or do we do it so that we can prove that our dogs are in fact healthy? I look at it as getting the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and not like taking the car into the shop, afraid it will not pass the emissions test, and heaving a sigh of relief when you leave! Are we implying that breeds are in such bad shape that without these tests, puppies are inevitably going to be born with defects, or to show that they have a family history of good health?

There is another issue right now:  a movement within the show dog world to doubt the safe future of closed stud books all based on what might happen, implying that all breeds are at risk. People who believe this use words like “inevitable” instead of “hypothesis,” and apply their theories to all purebred dogs. These comments can, of course, be snatched up by the media and given the required “spin.”


What We Can Say

So how do we fight this? How do we get the word out that Mixed Breeds are not healthier than purebreds? What are we doing to bring the word “breeder” out of the shadows and given back the respect it once enjoyed? We may not have the opportunity to tell our story to millions on morning TV, but we can always talk to the people we meet, just one at a time.

Remember the story of the starfish? A man walking along a beach was tossing stranded starfish into the sea, and his companion asked why he was doing it. It didn’t matter because he couldn’t save them all. His answer was that it mattered to the starfish! If we all spoke to one person per day or one person a week, how many people would that be? If one in 10 of those people told his or her friends, who told their friends — how many more would there be? We do have a story to tell, and the important thing is to spread the word. Purebred dogs have predictable personalities and come in predictable packages — there are no guessing games as to what size or coat or abilities they might have, and they have known parentage with known health histories. If you convince just one person, remember the story of the starfish…


From the October 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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