Beware AKC registration
by Charlie Petrizzo (Notes) on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 1:35pm

While watching the news this morning a segment came on about a woman who purchased a dog from an AKC registered breeder. The dog ended up having all kinds of health problems and the owner took it up with the AKC because the breeder from whom she purchased the dog was an AKC registered breeder. 

Let me address this issue from a couple of angles. First, the AKC is nothing more than an organization that documents and memorializes the birth of a litter of pups. They know absolutely nothing about the health of those dogs and while they do have "inspectors" who visit breeders that are AKC registered, some of the facilities they do register are what you would refer to as puppy mills, and backyard breeders. The first sign of such a place is a breeder that has puppies for sale every single day of the year. If you find this with a breeder you are considering, run as fast as you can in the other direction. 

Let me explain what the AKC is in another way. The AKC is the organization that prints birth certificates for pure bred dogs. Do you have a birth certificate? Where did it come from? What does it tell the person who reads it about you other than when and where you were born, a bit about your mother and father and perhaps a bit about your physical characteristics? Does your birth certificate attest to you being in good health, if your parents have good health, if your family has any genetic propensities that you might inherit? NO! Well neither does the AKC registration for a puppy. The only thing AKC papers tell you is that the parents were registered with them as pure bred dogs of a particular breed, who the breeder was, and again certain physical characteristics. 

Now, excuse my extreme bluntness here. Given the problem of canine overpopulation it is ignorant to purchase a dog simply because it has AKC papers. If you do this you are part of the cause of canine overpopulation. You are potentially supporting backyard breeders, puppy mills or a person who bred their dog because, in their words "she/he is the sweetest dog ever". "Sweetest dog ever"compared to what, and what credentials allow you to make that statement "she is the sweetest dog ever". 

There are many good reasons to own pure bred dogs. Chief amongst these reasons is that you know exactly what you are getting in terms of temperament and physical appearance. That is, if you purchase your pure bred dog through a responsible breeder. If you don't do the legwork to ensure that you are purchasing a puppy from a responsible breeder than you don't need a pure bred dog because it is highly likely that the pup you get will fall far short of the breed standard both in physical conformation and temperament. 

The Labrador retriever is the most popular breed the United States. When I take my 8 and 9 week old pups out to places like Petsmart people are amazed at their calmness. Why? My pups are nothing more than pups bred to meet the breed standard. Here's the answer, and excuse what will appear as a lack of humility on my part: Because most of the Labrador retrievers people are seeing these days are poorly bred, coming from people who have no idea how to properly assess a sire/dam cross or even whether the sire or dam should be contributing to the future gene pool of the breed. The labrador retriever is not a hyper breed, it is a gentlemen's hunting dog that is as happy at its master's feet while he is reading a book as it is out in the field hunting a game bird, when properly bred. The "hyper" stigma is the result of breeders who breed, not to the standard, but will breed anything they can because it breathes and has an AKC registration, or because, while the dog may look like a greyhound in physical appearance it will hunt like mad. It is those people who breed the dog despite it looking nothing like or acting nothing like the Labrador of the breed standard but simply because it hunts that perpetuate the hyper lab stigma. Heck a cocker spaniel hunts too, should I call it a Labrador retriever? 

The other question I get asked all the time is "what kind of dog is that"? This question really illustrates for me the depths to which this wonderful breed, the top breed for over 20 years, has been damaged by indiscriminate breeding or breeders who don't breed to the standard but simply because the dog hunts. The reason I get asked this question is because our pups have the hallmark "blocky" heads and thick bone, which, are all part of the Labrador retriever club standard and the AKC standard for the breed. If people have to ask what type of dog the pup is and the pup approximates the breed standard very well, and this is the most popular breed in the country for some twenty years running, what does that tell you has happened to this great breed? 

It tells me it is being seen more and more in a look that does not match the Labrador retriever standard. The reason for this is very simple. Again, it is because the purchasing public does not do its homework. They purchase pups that don't come close to what a Labrador retriever is in appearance or temperament. This perpetuates the continued breeding of dogs that minimally reflect what a Labrador should look and act like. 

What is a repsonsible breeder? First, their dogs will definitely be AKC registered, but that is a bare minimum. They are AKC registered because the AKC is the largest breed registry in the world and the public has become familiar with the organization. However, its not the AKC registration that will tell you the quality of the dog. 

Information about the quality of the dog comes from a variety of sources. Some of them include the breeders facility and how the dogs are housed and maintained, the breeders experience and knowledge of the breed, the breeders purpose for breeding and the pedigree. 

The pedigree is among the most important pieces of information the breeder can provide. Why? The pedigree will reveal how many of the pup's ancestors are champions. A champion dog is a dog that has been evaluated relative to its breed standard by professionals. At conformation shows judges, who are experts in a breed, evaluate each dog relative to the standard. They then choose the dog in the ring that most closely reflects a dog's exactness to the breed standard. A dog that becomes a champion has to win many shows. 

Some may say " but that doesn't tell me anything about the dog's temperament or intelligence. Oh, no? If a complete stranger (i.e., the judge) walks up to a dog and sticks its hands underneath the dog to ascertain if both of its testicles have descended and then grabs its mouth, opens it and checks its teeth for a correct bite and the dog stands quietly while allowing this, I would say that dog is exhibiting an intuitive intelligence and great temperament. 

Every breeder, even the most responsible will have pups that develop health problems. Breeders are not God. However, good breeders take measures to minimize the incident of known genetic problems that the breed may encounter. Recently one of our dams had her second litter of pups. One of the pups in the litter had a heart murmur. The owners decided that they wanted to keep the pup. Several weeks later the murumur had gotten worse. It turned out the murmur was a grade 5-6 murmur and that the pup had Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia, a heart defect that is seen more often then others in Labrador retrievers. This despite the fact that both the sire and dam had hearts that were clear by auscultation. I as the breeder was heartbroken that this family had to deal with this pain from a pup I brought into this world to bring joy to another family. 

When we offer a pup for sale to a qualified home we tell the owner to take it to a vet immediately to have it examined. If there is anything wrong with the pup, as much as a sniffle, we will take it back, no questions asked and return the purchase price. That means pup's with health problems must come back to me, the breeder. Therefore, I must have the facilities, the space and the financial wherewithal to be able to care for this pup that I brought into the world for as long as it may live with this condition. It also means I have to be able to care for any other pup that might encounter a medical problem that a family cannot handle. Does the breeder you purchased your dog from have the facilities and finances to care for sick pups he may breed or, will he pawn them off on shelters and humane societies asking taxpayers to bear the burden of his inability to do so? This is what backyard breeders do. Ask the breeder you are considering if they take back any and all pups that have medical conditions or behavioral problems that an owner cannot deal with. If they say no, run the other way. 

Thankfully, the help of a great mentor, our research and breeding practices have resulted in very, very few problems over the years. We are also very "picky" about who we will sell a puppy to. This ensures that our pups are going to good homes. 

Please do yourself and everyone else in society a favor if you are going to buy a purebred dog. Do not purchase a pup simply because it has AKC papers! Do not purchase a pup because it is the breed you want at the price you want. That is a problem waiting to happen. Well bred dogs cost what they do for a reason and much of it has to do with the genetic testing that the parents undergo to minimize potential health problems in a litter. For the most part it is wise to stay away from the pups advertised in newspaper ads. Be extremely wary of the internet. Its very easy to make yourself look like a great breeder on the internet. If you can't travel to the facility or get a video of the dogs out and about at the facility do not purchase a pup from the breeder. Do not purchase a pup from a breeder that just wanted to have a litter from their girl because she was so special. Do not purchase a pup from a breeder if you cannot see the mother and if possible any other pups she may have had. You do not have to physically see the sire ( shipped semen is now common among responsible breeders) but you should be given the owner of the sire's information so that you can make an inquiry about him if you want to do so.

The problem of canine overpopulation and unhealthy pure bred dogs is not the fault of the AKC. It is the fault of the public. No where is the old latin adage "caveat emptor" more appropriate than in the purchasing of a pure bred dog. Be part of the solution to end canine overpopulation and indiscriminate breeding, not the problem. Do your homework, ask probing questions of the breeder, do not have a puppy shipped to you, visit the breeder. If the general public would follow this advice slowly but surely puppy mills and backyard breeders will go the way of the dinosaur.