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Backyard breeding is a method of dog breeding that is named for being done “at home,” typically by regular dog owners with little expertise, experience, or instruction.
Many types of litters fall under this backyard breeding umbrella, generally categorized into passive and active-type breeders.
Passive breeders, while not going out of their way to breed their pet dogs, are still hospitable to litters without required provocation (somewhat typical of hobby breeders). These dog owners typically end up with litters out of negligence, with the mindset of “letting nature take its course” or play into the myth of dogs “wanting to have babies.” It is frequently done in part due to ignorance or carelessness; a pet dog might become pregnant by mistake due to the owner’s failure to have their dog spayed or neutered.
An active backyard breeder, however, is planning litters to meet their demands or sell pups via various outlets. They often has the primary goal to make money or entertain themselves through breeding their pet dogs. Unfortunately, this is often done at the cost of the dog’s health, cleanliness, and attention.
Puppy mills are an extreme version of active backyard breeding, in which a person may own several dogs rotating through pregnancies at severe cost of the health and quality of life to the breeding dogs and resulting puppies. A puppy mill’s primary goal is profit, and this typically results in especially poorly-bred dogs from a genetic perspective.
How to identify a reputable breeder
The difference between a backyard breeder and a quality, reputable breeder comes down to experience and knowledge.
A reputable breeder is usually an individual who has worked with dogs in some capacity for many years; they might have been a trainer, participated in competition or sport, handled working dogs, or been an assistant to another dog breeder in the past.
They have a knowledge of best practices in caring for pregnant dogs, whelping, and have a high standard of care for their breeder dogs. A reputable breeder will not over-breed their females and will ensure not only that their breeding females have time to live between litters, but also that they begin breeding at an appropriate age.
A reputable breeder usually will have one or two breeds they prefer and know very well, and will usually produce litters from those breeds exclusively. In breeders producing purebred dogs, they will strive to have dogs produced either to meet breed standard very well (for “show”), or to improve the health of the breed by breeding specifically to reduce common ailments, such as the longer-faced (but still purebred) French bulldog seen below.
A reputable breeder will provide early socialization for their litters to ensure their puppies go home well-adjusted. Puppies will go home at an appropriate age and not a day sooner, and owners will usually be screened or interviewed in some fashion.
A reputable breeder cares about where their dogs end up, both for the wellbeing of the animals and those around them, as well as for their brand’s reputation. They are called “reputable” for a reason, and a well-bred dog being ruined behaviorally by owners who are underprepared, neglectful, or abusive would certainly damage their name by example.
Mixed-breed dog breeders
Reputable breeders will usually produce purebred dogs, but this is not always the case.
A reputable breeder may be seeking to establish a new breed of dog, based on a specific purpose and template in mind for breed standard. This is not the same as designer dogs, such as your -oodles and -poos, which are typically a direct mix of two purebred dogs.
A breeder seeking to establish a new breed would do so over many generations, and the breeder themselves would typically have many years of experience working with and breeding purebred dogs beforehand, as creating a new breed is a challenging and usually collaborative endeavor that requires knowledge of genetic health and behavior, as well as how phenotypes will present based on genetics to eventually come to the desired goal.
New breeds are usually developed between several breeders working together towards the common goal, rarely just one individual on their own.
Another example in which a reputable breeder may produce mixed litters, is for a specific sport or task. These dogs are referred to as sport mixes, and will typically consist of dogs that tend to balance each other out and result in a dog that is more ideal for a specific task than any of the purebred dogs of which they consist.
An example might be a mix of a Greyhound and an American Pitbull Terrier, which may produce a lure coursing dog with the excellent drive for sight and sprint from the Greyhound, and the confidence, prey drive, and excellent musculature of the APBT.
This is not nearly as common as breeders producing purebred animals, but is worth mentioning to note that a breeder may still be reputable if producing mixed dogs, under specific circumstances.
A well-bred mix is not inherently a bad thing, but a poorly-bred dog of any type is always a concern.
Why is backyard breeding bad?
All types of backyard breeding pose very real threats to animal welfare, local economy, genetic health, and the safety and happiness of homes in which backyard bred dogs subsequently end up. We’ve compiled a list of the very real dangers of backyard breeding hoping that it will arm prospective dog owners with the understanding to make the best choices possible for their families, themselves, and the dogs they may encounter.
There are millions of dogs in the United States, and it’s estimated that two-thirds of them result from backyard breeding methods. They are a huge factor responsible for the present dog overpopulation issue in the United States.
The overpopulation issue tends to be worse in some areas of the country; we at Lugaru K9 Training are located in Washington State, and we regularly work with rescues taking in hundreds of dogs from California and Texas due to the overwhelming numbers of strays and owner surrenders. If you think animal overpopulation is not a “real” concern because you don’t see the issue on the daily, it is because shelters and rescues around the country are working hard to keep up with it.
One female dog can produce a litter before even turning one year old. With litter size averaging 5-6 puppies but easily reaching 10 or more per litter for some breeds/sizes, one female dog can easily produce hundreds of puppies in her lifetime. Female dogs do not have a menopause or equivalent of, and can continue to produce puppies even into her more advanced years.
Each of the female dogs she produces can also begin to produce puppies within one year. If each of those puppies is permitted to breed, that means that one female dog can be responsible for thousands of puppies in a few short years.
This means that even backyard breeders who simply also allow their dogs to reproduce naturally can be contributing significantly to pet overpopulation.
You may be certain of your ability to ensure 5-10 homes for a litter; can you guarantee homes for the subsequent litters, or ensure that your puppies go to homes that will absolutely spay and neuter? The sum of individuals that can be produced by one “for fun/sentimentality” breeding can quickly escalate into hundreds if not thousands.
Too many puppies become too many adult dogs, complete with their own health problems and behavioral tendencies. Many end up surrendered to shelters or rehomed because backyard breeders will not take the same precautions to ensure a quality animal from a genetic perspective, and the owner was underprepared for a dog with genetic behavior problems or health conditions. This huge population of homeless animals in limbo endangers the rescue system and kennel standard as a whole and offer too many dangers since kennels have a finite amount of space and resources and do not have a the means to house so many abandoned dogs.
This is why there are so many “kill” shelters. Space is finite, and animals who can not find a home swiftly simply take up the space that could be used for the overflow of new animals. It’s an inconvenient and unfortunate truth that animals are killed in shelters in order to save more animals. The prevalence of backyard breeding guarantees it.
Genetic Health and Care
Puppy mills and backyard breeders generally do not provide good medical care to their animals since profit is prioritized above animal welfare. Animals may seem in good condition at first but subsequently develop problems such as congenital eye and hip deformities, parasites, or even the fatal Parvovirus.
A reputable breeder is going to be doing genetic testing (like the at-home options from Embark) on their dogs to ensure that their breeders are healthy and not at risk of passing down genetic diseases to the litters produced. A backyard breeder, on the other hand, rarely cares to do the work or put down the money for testing, which can have catastrophic results on the puppies.
A pair of dogs may seem healthy at the time they are mated to produce puppies, but develop poor health after the fact, when it is too late to make a wiser choice in allowing them to breed.
In addition, there are many diseases that will not physically manifest in a dog, but are carried in the dog’s genetics and can affect their offspring very significantly.
One great example of this is resident dog Tanuki, who belongs to Lugaru K9 Trainer Khayl. After getting him from a rehoming situation, Khayl was diligent to get a testing kit from Embark Vet to check on his genetic health. Because he came from a rehome and not from a breeder, his genetic background outside his obvious breed was a mystery.
Luckily, Tanuki came back very healthy as an individual. He does not have any genetic health concerns that impact him as an individual.
However, Tanuki is a carrier for degenerative myelopathy (DM) and could pass this on to offspring if he were ever bred. Degenerative myelopathy can be extremely debilitating. It causes weakness, paralysis, and eventually death; dogs with DM generally live with it from between 6 months and 3 years.
DM is a great example of a disease that can be carried genetically by healthy parents, but it is also a great example of a disease that doesn’t always physically manifest early enough to detect without dog dna testing. Breeding a dog with DM (or other genetic diseases) before the disease manifests just allows the disease to carry on, and unfortunately this practice is very common in backyard breeding.
With his new owner, Tanuki is scheduled to be neutered, but his original owners intended to backyard breed him. Had Tanuki’s original owners gone through with backyard breeding him for the sheer sentimentality of cute little Pomeranian puppies, they could have caused some very significant pain and heartache for a litter of puppies and the families with which they went home.
Knowing this information is so crucial, and one of the reasons we love Embark and dog DNA testing in general. This information arms you with the information you need to make responsible choices and give your dog the best care for their individual needs.
No matter what anyone on the internet tells you, there is absolutely and definitively a genetic component to behavior. I like to joke about Grimm, who was my first dog as an adult and came back as mostly Chihuahua and Italian Greyhound: that his breed mix makes him a dog that wants to attack everything he sees, and sees everything.
While this is really just a joke I like to tell people, it does have its roots in fact. Your dog’s breed and their more immediate lineage will have a significant influence on their behavioral predispositions. My beloved boy Grimm, plain and simple, has “bad genetics,” and is predisposed to aggressive behavior and a type of alert barking that could make a scarecrow jump. I combat this with training and he generally behaves to the standards I give him, but the truth of his genetics is still valid and very real.
This genetic inheritance of behavioral predispositions is why reputable breeders give tours of their facilities and usually allow prospective buyers to meet the parent dogs; they are a reflection of what the pups are likely to be like as adults.
Of course, as much as there is a “nature” component to behavior, there is also a “nurture,” and the two work together to produce the end result, the actual animal. When clients ask me about genetics and expectations during training, this is the advice I give them: Genetics is something, but it isn’t everything. And genetics isn’t everything, but it is something.
Backyard breeders don’t take this advice into consideration. Puppies go home, and several months later come out of their juvenile stage with problems like biting, excessive barking, unmanageable energy levels, and sometimes even more significant and difficult to handle problems like neurotic anxiety and other neurological issues.
When these problems start coming up, overwhelmed dog owners inevitably end up rehoming or surrendering their backyard bred dogs, resulting in the aforementioned pet overpopulation problems.
Early Development Needs
One more crucial area in which backyard breeders fall tragically short is understanding and providing the care and early developmental needs of young puppies. Most reputable breeders work with dogs in some capacity for a long time before becoming a dog breeder; backyard breeders are just regular folk, dog owners like any other person.
Puppies start learning the moment they’re born. They go through fear stages, need to be socialized to different sights, sounds, people, and animals, all while staying safe from contagious disease before becoming fully vaccinated.
During their time with the breeder, puppies can already begin working on several things they will need to be able to do to thrive as adults. Unfortunately, most backyard breeders don’t have the knowledge or experience to give puppies what they need to truly thrive upon going home.
This is how the cycle continues. Reputable breeders keep an eye out for incompatible dog owners. A reputable breeder for American Akitas is not going to hesitate in telling the 17-year-old first time dog owner who wants one to get lost. A backyard breeder, however, is unlikely to care where the puppies go after the transaction is made; the money in their hands is all that really matters.
This is how you get dogs rehomed a year later, or dumped at a shelter. When a breeder sells to just anyone, they put people at risk and the animals they create in jeopardy. The dog could be an incompatible breed for their lifestyle, have behaviors that put them at risk, develop an expensive genetic health condition, or hurt or be hurt by the owner’s other animals. While a reputable breeder usually has a contract stating that the dog should be returned to the breeder instead of rehomed, a backyard breeder’s motto sounds clear: not my problem!
Off to the shelter.
And with no health guarantee or spay/neuter contract, puppies that are kept turn into adult dogs that also end up in backyard breeding scenarios themselves, and the cycle of poor breeding continues, becoming worse with each generation of dogs.
Look out for red flags, and find a reputable breeder.
Backyard breeding is bad for a host of reasons. It can lead to poor genetic health, unwanted behavioral tendencies, pet overpopulation, and ultimately puts fleeting sentimentality and the almighty dollar over the wellbeing of people and animals. At Lugaru K9 Training, we always encourage prospective dog owners to look out for the red flags of backyard breeding when looking to purchase a puppy, and either put the time and money into purchasing quality or go with a rescue.
It is through information and awareness that we stop irresponsible backyard breeding and ensure that each generation of dogs is healthier, happier, and homed.