In the Puppy-Producing Business: Commercial Breeders
You’ve pulled up a breeder’s webpage. Everything on the website looks right. The dogs are titled both in working and in show venues. The dogs have health certificates, and may even have been breed surveyed in Germany. The full registered names are listed, and pedigrees are either posted or are linked to an online database where prospective buyers can search them. The information on this breeder’s dogs is visible, posted, and verifiable. The breeder sounds like they have a lot of experience in the breed. They definitely are not a backyard breeder, but something seems off, and you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Perhaps you clicked on the “Upcoming Litters” page, and saw many different litters all due in the same three-month window. Or perhaps you saw that one stud was being used for six of the breeder’s females, all bred around the same time. Or perhaps you are reading through their puppy information, and are seeing prices in excess of $2500 for an 8-week-old puppy, with the price rising ever higher depending on the “level” of puppy you want: “first choice”, “premium”, “ultra-premium”, etc. There is even a convenient “Pay Now!” PayPal button, where you can put a down payment on a puppy, sight unseen. These signs indicate that you may have stumbled upon the website for a large-scale or commercial breeder.
Commercial and Large-Scale Dog Breeders
What defines a commercial breeder? This definition varies by state, with some states saying as little as three breeding females makes one a commercial breeder, with other states saying 30 or more breeding dogs makes one a commercial breeder. In the vernacular, the term “commercial breeder” is used to designate a breeder who houses large numbers of dogs (often in USDA-approved kennels, keeping them compliant with animal welfare laws), breeding litter upon litter of puppies to sell across the U.S. These are the puppy mills that typically supply pet stores with purebred papered puppies, but they also sell their puppies to buyers through the Internet. The conditions in which these dogs are bred and raised are deplorable, and little concern is given to the breeding dogs themselves, nor to the puppies. Indeed, the issue of purchasing a pet store puppy has been covered in detail from multiple reputable sources, as well as by the standard animal “rights” groups. Commercial breeding operations should be avoided if you want a healthy, carefully bred, properly socialized German Shepherd puppy! Similarly, purchasing a puppy from a pet store should never be an option, as no reputable breeder sells their dogs to a pet store!
Then there are the large-scale dog breeders. These breeders do not supply puppies to pet stores, but still use puppy-producing as their sole income. They often have huge kennel facilities to warehouse all their dogs, but some only keep a small number of kennels and dogs on their property, and farm out their females to their “associates”. They stick to one specific breed, rather than multiple breeds like many commercial breeders. While the definition of large scale breeders is somewhat nebulous, a large-scale breeder is generally characterized by the following:
A large number of active dog breeding females (usually 10 or more).
Many of these females have been ‘farmed out’ to other people (friends, family, associates, other breeders), who then whelp the litter for the breeder. Having such a large number of breeding females allows this breeder to produce puppies year round, thus ensuring a very steady and lucrative flow of income. If you pull up the “Females” page of the website and see a dozen active breeding females, then you are most likely looking at the website of a large-scale breeder.
A large number of puppies produced every year.
This begs the question of “what is a large number of puppies?” Many states mention “in excess of 30 dogs produced annually” in their definition of commercial breeder. But for prolific GSD females, this could be three litters of 10 puppies (from three different females), which is an acceptable number of litters and puppies for a breeder. But if the breeder has, say, six litters over a three-month period, this could produce in excess of 50 puppies in that short period, which can translate to over 200 puppies in a year! This is excessive.
Many large-scale breeders now only list their litters by a seasonal period, to make it look like they have a smaller number of litters per year. But if the website lists multiple litters of puppies all due within the few months, then the breeder may be a large-scale breeder (unless these are the ONLY litters they are producing at all this year; some breeders do “group” their litters, but still only produce a few litters per year.).
Main income and livelihood is provided by dog breeding and selling puppies.
Good breeders generally do not use their breeding program as a money-maker. The true cost of breeding, whelping, and raising a litter is astronomical when done correctly. The only way for a breeder to actively make money off of their breeding program is to turn it into a full-time breeding operation that produces puppies year round. And this is exactly what large-scale breeders have done in order to turn a profit and make a living from their dogs.
Lack of involvement in a legitimate training club.
Good breeders are actively involved in their local Schutzhund club. Very few large-scale breeders are involved in a local Schutzhund club, nor any other kind of working dog club. Their goal is simply to breed dogs and produce puppies for sale, not to actually be involved in the training, titling, and working of the dogs. They pay other people to do this for them, so that they can then breed the finished product.
One of the benefits of titling a dog is getting to know and understand who this dog really is and what he brings to the table genetically in terms of temperament, working ability, and drives; this is then used to make informed breeding decisions. By not being involved with their own dogs, large-scale breeders bypass this entirely, and are producing puppies by relying solely on their observations of physical appearance and on others’ second-hand observations of their dogs.
These are the breeders described in the opening paragraphs. The websites look fantastic. The dogs are titled, and typically are imported from Europe. Most tend to be black-and-red German show lines, produced by the large kennels in Germany that breed prolifically in their aims to produce, use, and sell top VA-rated dogs (although large-scale working line breeders do exist). The large-scale breeder’s website may triumphantly proclaim the various accomplishments of the parents, and it often does sound quite impressive to see all those titles and breed surveys and show ratings on their breeding animals. The puppies are numerous, and you can almost order one to your specifications given the sheer number of litters they have available over the year. There often is very little wait, and very little screening, because this type of breeder needs to move puppies, and move them fast!
While this type of breeder does use titled, tested dogs, there are still some serious pitfalls that come with supporting a breeder whose entire livelihood centers around making and selling puppies, especially since good large-scale breeders are few and far between. We will look at these pitfalls if purchasing a puppy from most large-scale breeders in our next blog, while also addressing the characteristics that those few good large-scale breeders have in common. In the meantime–Buyer Beware!