Is Breeding Dogs Ethical?

We all know that it’s unethical to get our dog from puppy mills and other dangerous breeding situations, but is it ethical to breed puppies at all? Is there any such thing as safe and ethical breeding practices? In this article, we’ll explore how breeding and ethics go together and give you some tips to help ensure that your little furry friend comes from a responsible source.

A dog breeding favorite - labrador/retrievers
This litter of Labrador/Retriever puppies is the result of dog breeding, a practice all good dog owners should research before purchasing.

Breeding Terminology

The idea of breeding is actually quite simple (even if the practice is more complicated). A breeder is someone who takes two dogs, a male (called the sire) and a female (called the dam) and has them mate to produce a litter of puppies with specific desired traits. That’s pretty much it. A newborn puppy is called a whelp, the act of giving birth to puppies is called whelping, and dams typically give birth in something called a whelping box.

One of the biggest arguments against dog breeding is the dangers and ethical questions of inbreeding. Inbreeding is when parents are made to mate with their children, or puppies are made to mate with a full biological sibling, resulting in whelping an inbred litter of pups. This is…questionable for several reasons. It feels wrong to have family mate with each other, plus, inbreeding can definitely lead whelping a litter with increased genetic health issues. However, most dog breeders no longer use inbreeding practices, choosing instead to do line breeding. Line breeding is when the breeder has two animals from the same genetic line mate, but never parents and children or full biological siblings. This helps ensure the whelping of a healthy litter and avoids the many ethical qualms of inbreeding.

Why Do We Breed Dogs?

There are actually a lot of reasons to breed puppies. Breeding likely started during a time when humans were first domesticating them for use in hunting. Those early humans probably picked up on which dog was a better hunter than the others, and in order to create a litter of more efficient hunting dogs, they bred that dog with another successful hunter. This made it more likely that the traits that made them good at hunting would be passed onto their offspring than if they were matched up with a less successful hunting dog.

Through this process, distinct breeds emerged, many of which we know well today, despite all the time that’s passed. Even though hunting is no longer the primary use for man’s best friend, we continue to breed them today. Why is that? There are several reasons. One popular reason we currently breed puppies is for dog sports featured events, like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. These dog sports featured events often place a lot of emphasis on how perfectly the dog fits the specifications for its breed, and to get those perfect features, breeding is required. The second reason dog breeding is still popular today is for the aesthetics. Puppies are already incredibly cute, but some of the recent breed mixes, like Golden Doodles, Puggles, and more are even cuter than either original breed on its own. By combining two breeds, breeders create a whole new dog that appeals to many people aesthetically.

Finally, dog breeders who are especially well-trained in genetics may breed dogs in order to help prevent or reverse health issues that are common in that breed. Even though breeding started as a way to ensure more canines had desirable traits, in some cases, some undesirable traits also got thrown in. Today, breeding is sometimes used to counteract these problems.

A Little More About Kennel Clubs

When it comes to responsible breeding practices, kennel clubs were not always the biggest help to the cause. In an earlier time, the requirements for a dog to qualify as “purebred” led to more genetic health problems, not less. Now, most kennel clubs require the absence of many genetic health issues, to help counteract this problem from its past, but many still think kennel clubs encourage unethical breeding in order to produce the best animals for sports featured events; browse by popularity of event on various kennel club websites.

So what are kennel clubs exactly? A kennel club is an organization that keeps track of purebred dogs in a variety of breeds, maintains the standards of those breeds, and accredits judges for dog sports resources like dog shows. They started as a way to elevate purebreds over the common mutt and draw strict lines between the breeds. Because of this, many of them do not accept crossbreeds like the ones we mentioned earlier, like Golden Doodles. They are not considered “real” breeds by most kennel organizations, and thus couldn’t compete in various dog health training sports. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to cover everything you’d need to know about dog health training sports, but if you’re curious, you can find dog sports resources and sports featured events browse options at the American Kennel Club, or the Westminster Kennel Club.

Puggle
To learn more about how a dog breed gets recognized officially, check out the AKC Newsletters

A Little More About Crossbreeds

So as we just saw, many crossbreeds are not included as official breeds according to kennel clubs, which brings up a few ethical questions about their breeding. Unlike breeds monitored by kennel clubs, which use breeding to maintain purity in the breed, a dog breeder specializing in crossbreeds has a totally different goal in mind. Instead, this type of breeder wants to actively disrupt two separate breeds to create a whole different type of dog by whelping a litter of puppies with traits from two totally distinct breeds.

In some ways, this could be seen as more ethical than the breeding done by kennel clubs. When humans try to maintain consistent traits in a particular breed of dog, they can also cause certain negative health traits to be passed along as well. The most common examples of this are breathing issues in pugs and bulldogs and back problems in Dauschunds. Were these animals given a bit more freedom in their choice of mate, natural selection may have prevented such unnatural issues. Crossbreeds avoid this issue of compounding the likelihood of a dog inheriting its parents’ genetic predispositions, which could make it more ethical…but it could also create a problem.

Crossbreeding is typically done for aesthetic purposes. We’re always trying to create even cuter puppies. But this focus on aesthetics is what led kennel clubs to unhealthy breeding practices that increased genetic health issues in many breeds. Plus, because crossbreeds aren’t monitored by any kind of official council like the kennel clubs, there is no authority to restrict harmful practices unless they can be deemed outright illegal.

DIY Dog Breeding

Even though many crossbreeds are not recognized by kennel clubs, there are still well-trained, professional dog breeders who specialize in crossbreeds and take good care of the puppies, from whelping to homing. But there are also do-it-yourself dog breeding practices, which tend to either be very ethical or very unethical.

If someone is doing their own dog breeding, it is typically in one of two situations. Either they are a professional animal handler in some capacity (farmer, vet, etc.) and they know how to choose the best breeder dog to generate a healthy litter of puppies on a small and/or limited basis, or they are someone looking to make money through irresponsible breeding practices (which may even turn into a puppy mill).

Each situation is entirely unique, so we don’t want to say you should avoid DIY breeders entirely. We just encourage future dog owners to exercise caution before looking to get a puppy from a source that hasn’t been accredited by a kennel club. The trouble is, it’s incredibly difficult for buyers to know whether DIY breeders are following responsible practices. You can do your research, but these breeders, if they have some shady practices, will almost definitely go out of their way to hide them.

This is why the question of whether or not dog breeding is ethical has persisted for so long. The truth is, there are ways to breed dogs ethically, but it’s so difficult to be sure that breeders dog whelping practices are ethical and not mere inches away from essentially being a puppy mill.

Whelping box
These puppies and their parents are shown here in a whelping box, an important part of the breeding process.

Where Do Pet Stores Fit Into All This?

In nearly every case, pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills, commercial breeding operations that typically treat the animals very poorly and focus solely on making a profit rather than the health of the animals or ethical breeding practices. If you’ve decided it’s time to get a pet, we very much encourage you to avoid getting your puppy from a pet store.

But if you can’t trust individual breeders, and pet stores are out too, where are you supposed to get puppies nowadays?

Alternatives to Breeding

If you aren’t convinced that you can trust any breeder, then there are plenty of other options for getting adorable puppies that won’t weigh on your conscience. In most cases, this means you won’t be getting a purebred puppy, but if you’re looking for a particular breed, there are definitely a few responsible ways to make that happen without going to a breeder.

Animal Shelters

One of the best ways for future pet owners to find their furry friend is by visiting the local animal shelter. So many animals end up in animal shelters across the United States, and they’re all looking for a loving home. But how do those animals get there?

Some animal shelter puppies are strays that were picked up by animal control, others were dropped off at the shelter by owners who can no longer look after their pet, and sometimes a breeder will drop off puppies at a shelter if the litter was larger than expected or if they anticipate problems seeling one of the puppies. Many of the strays were abandoned by their owners as well, but instead of bringing their pet directly to the shelter, owners simply let them go on the street, and the animals make their way to the shelter over time.

This means that the vast majority of animals from an animal shelter have been pets before and are very keen to be pets again. You might even be surprised at the number of purebred puppies available in shelters. According to DoSomething.org, 25% of puppies in shelters are purebred. 25%! That’s a huge percentage, which means if you’re looking for a particular breed of dog, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one without getting it from a breeder.

Craigslist or Word-of-Mouth

Another great way to get a pet without involving a breeder is through Craigslist or just through word-of-mouth. Maybe your aunt’s neighbor’s cousin had a dog they never got spayed, and now she has a litter of pups and needs to find a good home for all of them. Maybe your younger cousin got a dog when she graduated college but she’s finding it hard to take care of it with her full-time job. People look to get rid of their dogs every day, that’s why we see so many strays and so many animals in shelters. If there isn’t a shelter near you, or if they don’t have what you’re looking for, try reaching out to the people around you. Just get the word out that you’re looking for a puppy and wait to see if anyone is looking to get rid of theirs.

If you don’t have many connections to other pet owners who might be looking to re-home their pet, you can also try Craigslist, although it is possible to accidentally get a pet from a breeder when you use an online service like Craigslist. It’s just so difficult to verify the sellers’ story of where the puppy came from, so use caution if you decide to go through this route.

Breeding May Be Ethical, But Adoption Is Better

Puppes in a shelter
Some breeders use responsible practices, but your safest bet is to get your new friend from your local shelter.

We hope this article provided you with a relatively unbiased, useful overview of the issue of breeding and ethics when it comes to man’s best friend. Although all pet owners are free to make their own choices, we like to promote adoption over breeding. Ethical breeding practices exist, but they are not the norm, and whenever you purchase your animal from a breeder, you are risking being involved in shady practices. Instead, we recommend finding a furry friend who would love to join your family. Check out AdoptAPet.com and search for shelters in your area today.

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