This is a hard article to write, but I believe it’s important. Because I coach people in the sport of conformation it allows me to work with many different people across many different breeds. I am constantly coming up against something that is disheartening and painful for me to witness. I think it’s important that I first point out that I am a breeder. I have been breeding dogs since the mid 1990s and have bred Dachshunds as well as Löwchen and have been involved in the breeding program of many friends and clients.

Some breeders may not be aware of what they’re doing which is why I’m going to talk about this here and be very public about it. I’m saddened by how many of my clients are choosing to walk away from this sport of conformation. These are people that were excited to be involved in breeding, showing, and promoting their breed. People that are dedicated, hardworking and have done their very best to do right by their dogs and by their breeders. Yet time and time again they are let down in ways that just don’t make any sense. Before anyone says “not me, I would never behave like that” or “it’s not this way in my breed”, I am going to stop you and say that this is a legitimate problem across the board in many breeds.

What’s happening is that a breeder agrees to sell someone a dog and then they retain so much control over that dog that the person is left frustrated and feeling hurt and feeling used. You might say,  “Well, if someone’s going to get a dog from my breeding program they’re going to have to agree to some things and I suppose that’s fair. However, it is very important if that’s how it’s going to be that you are up front with that before the person takes home their dog. People just getting into showing and confirmation need to have a very clear understanding of what’s going to happen if you are going to retain so much control of their dog that they are not even allowed to show when they want, that they are going to have no say in the photos that they share of their dogs that they’re not going to be allowed to enjoy this process of learning how to show a dog and becoming successful in the show ring. If you think I’m being dramatic I’m not. I work with client after client who purchased a show dog paying full price in the hopes of getting involved in this sport and learning how to do this sport only to be told that they’re not allowed to show pictures of their dogs that the breeder doesn’t approve, that they’re not allowed to enter the dog in shows if the dog if the breeder doesn’t think the dog will win or be highly competitive. This is extremely frustrating to someone who wants to learn how to do this sport. Mentoring people and helping get people involved in their breed is not just about moving your breeding program forward and promoting your kennel. It’s about helping people to develop an eye, learn how to show their dogs, learn how to handle and learn how to look at dogs. I am so sick of breeders who are so wrapped up in their own egos that all they care about is just showing the dogs that are going to win right now. What about the person whose dog is not really going to be fully competitive until it’s two years old but looks appropriate for its age? Why shouldn’t this person be able to be out in the ring with their puppy who looks great for it’s age so they can to learn how to do this sport? Why should they not be allowed to enter their puppy for their own education and to get their puppy used to showing when they paid full price for a show prospect because the breeder doesn’t want their dog out there not winning every single time? Why is someone not allowed to brag about their wins or share photos because their breeder won’t approve it?

I am being honest when I say that I am currently working with multiple clients who are dealing with situations like this with their breeders. Often times these people are terrified that their dogs are going to be taken away from them because they’re in a co-ownership with the breeder. They feel forced to agree to things that they don’t feel comfortable with or that they’re not happy about because the breeder acts as though they can take the puppy away at any time. I’m not talking about people that are mistreating their puppies or doing anything wrong. I’m talking about people that are being completely controlled in every decision that they make with their own puppy because they have a breeder that is overly controlling and cannot bear to allow their puppy people to have an opinion or a say in anything?

If we want this sport to thrive and we want good people to get involved in breeding and raising amazing puppies this has to stop. Here is what I’m proposing, if you are going to have over the top strings and rules with every puppy you sell, tell these people this before they buy the puppies and bring them home. To charge someone full price for a puppy, make them responsible for raising this puppy, for all of the financial responsibilities of their puppy, training their puppy for the show ring and paying for the entry fees and then not let them have any say in anything about their puppy, is just plain wrong. Many of the people that I work with had no idea that this would be the case. They thought they were getting a puppy that they would be showing and raising, and they would have the breeder’s support and blessing.  They did not understand that the breeder was actually going to put their own ego above the individual and their puppy. selling someone a puppy and then adding in all these rules after the fact is not ethical. If someone is so concerned that they don’t think somebody can make reasonable decisions about their puppy, why on earth would you trust a puppy of your breeding to go to that home? Choosing someone to have one of your puppies means that you’re putting some trust in that person.

I hope this gets shared far and wide because I’m so afraid that the people who need to see it won’t see it. The people that are chasing people out of conformation and chasing people out of becoming fabulous breeders need to see this. You think people are leaving because of “politics” or “not winning”? I promise you, this what I am sharing is a big part of it that needs to be discussed. You are making this sport you are making breeding dogs a negative no win situation for these people and it’s not right.

If you can’t bear to let people just do what they want to do with their dogs don’t sell dogs. If you can’t let people wanting to get started in conformation make their own decisions about where they’re going to show and when they’re going to show, don’t sell them a dog. If you can’t stand not to have complete control over all of these dogs, maybe selling show dogs is not for you.

To all of you fabulous breeders who are out there supporting your puppy people in a way that allows them to feel heard and respected good for you!  You are the ones who are keeping people in this game and for that we should all thank you.

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Vicki Ronchette is the founder of Show Dog Prep School and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Vicki has been working with dogs professionally for over 30 years as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, groomer and veterinary assistant. She is the author of Positive Training for Show Dogs, From Shy to Showy and Ready? Set. SHOW! Vicki presents workshops and seminars all over the country on how training show dogs.