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The Traps of Dog Breeding

As a breeder with over-30-year experience and a dog show judge I have long been asking myself a question: when does running a kennel stop being a pleasure and hobby and starts being a nuisance or a business?

In Poland, there are many kennels providing great conditions for their dogs, ones that the Western countries should be jealous of. Side by side with ones that start resembling efficiently operating mills.

Where is the problem?

Dog breeders, chasing the idea of breeding the perfect dog get into the trap of letting only the best puppy stay with them - since it is so cute, so promising, and with such a wonderful pedigree.

Chasing the ideal, they often forget that a dog has a limited lifespan, requires proper feeding, grooming, healthcare, walks and the usual amount of love. In the beginning, the problem is hard to be seen, since two or three dogs at home are not a stumbling block yet. Years pass by though and surprisingly, we are now the proud owners of 8 or 10 dogs, or more.

We have less and less time for ourselves, we can lend less attention to individual dogs, and since there are so many, they are making our life more and more difficult. The neighbors like us less and less and home is now screaming for major renovation.

But do we love our dogs, do we care and treat each one in the pack evenly! We will sooner spend our money on their needs than admit that we have not bought decent clothes for ourselves for years, that our washing machine and TV are almost 20 and that we haven't had a vacation since forever.

Issues start multiplying

The other day one dog bit another, then a more delicate puppy had to be kept separate from the others, and there was no room. Now a bitch is pregnant and we must separate some space for her at home - yes, we would like to go for the show but there is nobody to stay with the pack - and finally there is an invasion of fleas brought by our dogs from the park and the annual tick problem is just returning with the spring!

The vicious circle closed, we don't see how stressed we are, how we let ourselves go, get discouraged and have no time for our home and children. The total catastrophe, though, happens when we get ill or have money issues.

How to deal?

At last, the time comes (or doesn't), when we need to ask the question: How do we deal with all this mess and not go insane, without giving up our passion?

1. Do not keep another puppy!

Each decision to keep another puppy must be made carefully. It cannot be done impulsively ("He is so cute!") or out of sympathy ("He is four months old and nobody wants him!"). We only keep the puppies which are really outstanding, with the most excellent pedigree and only when we really have the room and time for them. Sometimes, owners act egoistically without knowing it: they cannot bear the thought that the dog they sell to someone may grow up as better than one the ones that stayed with us!

2. Do not breed!

If we live in a small apartment, have a job and other duties, no guarantee that puppies will go early (8-9 week) - do not breed the dogs! A bitch does not need to have puppies to be happy! Let's not hope for big money. Big money is for puppy mills where the bitches mate twice a year, are fed with the worst food available, and puppies are sold before they are 6 weeks old, and unvaccinated. A true breeder is happy if they don't actually lose money and are left with some after they sell the litter.

3. Puppy joint-ownership

If we realize we have no room for another animal at home, but for various reasons decide to keep one, we can look for a person who will agree on joint-ownership. A joint ownership contract has the advantage of combining the breeder's knowledge and experience with freedom from having a large pack of dogs at home. At the same time, it still widens the genetic pool at our disposal.

Conditions of such contracts may vary from case to case:

- we can register the puppy as our own and cover all the costs connected with supporting it (food, vaccinations, healthcare, shows and contests); in return, all the profits from mating or breeding the dog are ours.

- we can register the puppy as our own, but we are not interested in any costs connected with supporting it, shows, and rearing puppies. Instead, we can choose to keep one puppy from each litter in the case of a bitch, or receive some money for each mating in the case of a littermate.
- we register a female puppy as our own, and reserve the right for choosing her littermates; the puppies will bear our kennel name.
- we joint-own an adult bitch or a littermate and negotiate the conditions of joint-ownership with the other party.

There are plenty of variants of such contracts available and each time the terms may be different.

Lending dogs

To make their life easier, breeders who live away from each other cooperate by lending littermates or bitches to each other.

It is much easier and cheaper to have the dog fly over than to have its frozen semen sent to us. Just like in the case of bitches - they can be sent over to mate. Animals may also be sent away for shows and contests.

For those who do not imagine separation from their beloved dog this is cruel and unthinkable, but kennels practice that a lot. Many show dogs are so submissive and friendly that they easily adapt to new places.

The elderly dogs' problem

That our dogs age sooner than we would like them to is a problem haunting the bigger kennels and though it may sound like a brutal truth they just get in the young ones' way. Having a pack of dogs from a few to a dozen or so, try as we might, we are not able to provide equal care and attention they all deserve.

I believe that in that case it is the most humane and best solution to look for a person among our friends to take such a dog in. It is the same with adult dogs who do not meet our standards (are infertile, give birth to malformed puppies etc.).

For people with a single, beloved house dog it may seem unethical and inhuman, but often the dogs taken away from a large group, even one that provided perfect living conditions for them, bond very fast with their new owners. On the other hand, people with jobs, small children and elegantly furnished homes would rather adopt a grown-up, predictable dog, well-behaved and socialized instead of a little puppy which pees around the house and damages furniture.

And this is where we get to the question matter: Does breeding dogs (which can also be asked about other animals) need to be cruel? You may ask yourself why keep so many dogs that it gets out of control or turns them into objects?

Does successful dog breeding have to be paid for with so much sacrifice? Does the chase for breeding the perfect super-winner justify all our decisions and make them right? Only few breeders are mentally strong enough not to experience the moments of doubt and remorse.

On the other hand, without passionate breeders there would not be any progress in breeding dogs. The times when the gentry would keep huge kennels of several hundred dogs and experiment with breeding are long gone.

Breeding dogs is a wonderful hobby which helps us make friends, but we must never lose what is the most important factor of this game - our feelings! Otherwise, it is bound to become a mere business - a more or less profitable one. At one point, the line between a true dog breeder and a common backyard one may become blurred.

Lastly, it happens that somebody pays their last penny to buy an international winner dog saying they are doing this for the breed. But if we look closer we will see something absolutely different: loneliness, inferiority, frustration - or perhaps snobbery?

Where is the "thin red line" between normalcy and exaggeration? Do you know?

Jadwiga Konkiel