Breeders' Ethics: Myth and Legends
The Myth of Breeders' Ethics
Often in dog-related fields one hears or reads about "working to improve the breed". What this means to fanciers is that the breeder is working to produce a dog that most closely meets the Breed Standard used in that breeder's country. One would think that a breeder's ultimate goal is to produce healthy, structurally sound, temperamentally stable dogs. Unfortunately, this may not be true. Breeders focusing only on producing a certain morphology might ignore critical health and temperament issues, and breeding for a structure which is popular in the show ring does not necessarily produce a working athlete. In some sighthound breeds, this has resulted in a dog that is ill-suited for life beyond a show ring. Unfortunately, the same trend has shown up in Ibizan Hounds. All breeders have an agenda for breeding: it may be to produce quality dogs and place them in caring homes, or it may be a scheme for self-promotion within the fancier community.
While the popular portrait of a breeder is someone who cares about the dogs brought into the world by his or her efforts and placing them in responsible homes, there is pressure on the ambitious breeder to keep producing more show-quality dogs. This can result in overbreeding, which triggers a cascade of disasters: poor quality facilities, poor socialization, poor health assessment, poor care, and desperate schemes to get rid of the unwanted puppies.
When searching for a dog the potential buyer must be aware that this is a "buyer beware" market. The breeder may or may not care about producing healthy, temperamentally stable dogs. The breeder may or may not care about conducting business honestly. The consumer protection laws of each state and the local animal control statutes remain the consumer's only protection if one deals with an unscrupulous breeder. There is no other agent overseeing the conduct and business practices of breeders.
Every national breed club has a Code of Ethics which outlines its ideal of responsible breeding standards and a standard of conduct among its members. The quality and specificity of the code vary among the clubs, ranging from vague and elastic to a precise checklist of actions. Due to the highly litigious nature of ethics violations, the Code of Ethics must function as an educational tool rather than an enforceable set of rules. National breed clubs and the American Kennel Club cannot police individual members. The best any breed club can do at this time is to educate and appeal to its members. The AKC may launch an investigation, but the basic scope of this is confined to records violations. It does not involve itself in owner or contract disputes, and refers animal cruelty issues to local law enforcement officials.
Do not assume that membership or status in a national breed club or any other dog-related organization is an assurance of ethical business conduct.
For a fuller discussion of what to look for and ask about when interviewing breeders, please go to the Find a Good Breeder page. Below you will find some popular claims made by breeders, and how to interpret them:
Legends: Some Impressive-Sounding Claims
Breeder of Ibizans for # years
The implication here is that longevity is a measure of success. On the contrary, it is possible for a breeder to breed for decades, winning no respect from peers, and producing poor specimens. As long as there are buyers, the breeder keeps going. Using the Internet and magazines to advertise, the dogs can be sold sight unseen, and it is a mess for the buyer to attempt to return the dog. Selling to the uneducated public is very easy, especially in rural areas.
Home of # Champions
This interesting claim must be considered within the context of population. The best way to evaluate a claim like this is to examine the point system in dog shows for your regional area. If it requires many dogs to win a point, then there are other breeders and exhibitors in the area bringing their specimens to compete. In that case, a claim like this would be worthy of respect.
However, if there is only one breeder of Ibizan Hounds in the area, it is easy for the breeder to fill the Ibizan Hound ring with one's own dogs, thus building points for "big" wins. It is the exceptional judge who will withhold ribbons for poor quality. The norm is for the judge to award the best example of that breed in the ring on that given day. If poor and mediocre stock are all that is ever shown in an area, it is probable that poor and mediocre stock will win Championships. An AKC Championship is relative to its competition. By itself the title means little.
A further consideration of conformational quality is to know how many litters it took to produce the given number of Champions. Ten Champions out of three litters is impressive; but if it took ten litters to produce ten Champions, the quality of breeding is not as good.
Breeder and Trainer
Just as anyone can breed, anyone also can claim to be a trainer. There have been many laudable efforts to establish standards by responsible training organizations, but there is no way to enforce these efforts. Books and resources may prompt you at some point to consult a qualified trainer. Good luck figuring out what that is. The training field is in a flux, and uniform standards do not exist.
The status of a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluator falls into the same category as the trainer. Many evaluators run classes, then pass all class participants, whether the dogs are worthy of the Title or not.
An exception must be made for Competition Obedience, as rules are very strict. If a breeder has put Obedience Titles on his or her dogs, especially Open or Utility Titles (CDX or UD), or has students who have achieved this, then you are dealing with a known (and high) standard.
Home raised or Family raised
This means the dog or puppy is kept on the property, not necessarily in the house or in contact with people. Remember, social contact and frequent handling are critical in the early developmental stages. Keeping the puppy in a pen in the barn or kennel is not preparing him to be a good companion.
"I can't afford to feed all these dogs. "
The responsible breeder only breeds after there is a demand for puppies and prospective homes are lined up. The ethical breeder is prepared to make a firm financial commitment to the lives brought into the world from a breeding, and will insure that resources are available before breeding. The person who kind-heartedly assists a breeder desperate to place or euthanize his or her dogs because of the sheer volume of breedings only perpetuates irresponsible, cruel behavior. A responsible breeder does not need to appeal to organizations for rescue funds to salvage puppies from his/her own breeding, with rare exceptions. (Here it is very important to distinguish between a single instance and a pattern of behavior on the breeder's part.)
Free of Hereditary Defects
Remember Biology 101? Scientists can only track what is known, not what is not known. It is mystifying that a breeder will make this claim about the breed when it cannot be a scientific truth. Health problems appear in the breed, and they may or do have a genetic component. They include:
axonal neuropathy, a genetically-acquired, degenerative nerve disease
impaired immune response or anaphylaxis: autoimmune disease, food or contact allergies, vaccination and bee sting reactions
Von Willebrand's Disease, a blood-clotting disorder
Most of these conditions are rare, but they are of concern, and certainly point to the need for the prospective Ibizan Hound owner to learn as much as possible about different breeders and their lines.
To date, research for objective data on overall health problems of the breed has not been done. While there may be claims that the breed is suffering from health problems in the United States, there is no scientific data to support or disprove these charges. The genetic health of this breed remains a question until the parent breed club or some other responsible party conducts the research that will provide objective, scientifically verifiable conclusions.
The really great news is that there are fantastic, ethical breeders breeding this wonderful dog. Be educated, be wise, and you will find them!