I always hear dog show people raging on and on about AR fanatics being the biggest threat to purebred dogs. They go on and on about how people shouldn’t put down any breeders, even the worst of them or that will give fuel to the AR movement. About how people using terms like “fur baby” or “adoption” are the problem. Guess what? We don’t need the AR movement to create issues for us, we are doing a fine job of that on our own.

The very same people who scream from the rooftops about the AR movement are frequently the same ones who talk about how we need to encourage new people into the world of showing and breeding dogs. How we must be welcoming and encouraging and help people. They gasp and clutch their pearls at the thought of being unkind to newcomers. Who in the world would be unkind? We are the wonderful, welcoming world of showing and breeding dogs. I call BS.

I was just talking to a friend. Someone with a long and impressive history of working with dogs professionally. They have a degree in animal science and extensive experience in working with and breeding horses. A smart person with the experience, critical thinking and knowledge to back up an informed decision and opinion. They were put through the ringer with not one, but TWO “breeders” who tried what many others have tried before them, pushing around someone new the world of showing their dogs.

Imagine getting a new show prospect. You have literally waited YEARS for a puppy from this “reputable” breeder with a long list of accomplishments. You finally get your dream puppy and start to train him and show him yourself with some nice success. Then, as the pup gets older you realize something is wrong. It turns out the dog has a genetic structural condition rendering him not a candidate for showing or breeding. You have spent over $10k with numerous veterinarians and specialists who all agree with the diagnosis.

Devastated and needing some support and compassion, the breeder blames you. You should have done this type of exercise or that type of conditioning. It is YOUR fault this dog has a known genetic disease.  They have never ever had this issue in any of their dogs, it simply isn’t there. This disease is recessive. This means that in order for a dog to get it, both parents must carry a gene for it. The owner of the dog is understandably crushed that their dog has this condition, but is blamed and unsupported by their breeder and told to just send the dog with a handler and they will get it finished. Because a championship is apparently the most important thing in this scenario. Seriously?

The owner is sad, but determined. They decide to try another breed. They get a lovely puppy and think, this is it! So, they start off with a bang. Big winning out of the puppy class owner handled. With a major and several points put on by the owner, the dog ends up having a testicle go back up inside. The dog is cryptorchid. Another dream smashed. Another breed, another issue, another breeder and again, no compassion or support. Illegal prosthetic testicle recommended to get the dog finished. The owner declined and now has two wonderful pet dogs, neither will be shown or finished further.

Now, you might say, well, if this has happened with two breeders, maybe this person IS the issue. Except that the only thing this person did wrong was not crumble and bow down to being accused of being inept and negligent. This person stuck to their guns, wouldn’t be pressured into hiding genetic issues or sweeping them under the carpet.

And, these aren’t isolated incidents. I know many people who were blamed, not supported, pressured and in some cases run out of the sport because their breeders were not there for them. It has even happened to me. My vet doesn’t know anything, this has never been in their lines and on and on. Professionally, I work with breeders, owners, trainers, handlers and I have seen it in many breeds and all over the world.

This, THIS is the kind of thing that gives the dog fancy a bad reputation. Blaming someone else, failing to understand that breeding IS a gamble. You may get something you didn’t expect, there is NO shame or no one to blame in that, but hiding it, ignoring it or blaming an innocent owner, that is the part that is not okay.

It could have been handled differently. For instance, my current show prospect is reactive to people. He is worried and doesn’t trust them. I showed him once and pulled him to work on his behavior issue, not just so I can get him into the ring, but so he can live a quality life where he feels comfortable with people. His breeder has been nothing short of amazing. She is supportive and compassionate. She compliments me all the time on the progress we are making, despite the fact that he is not ready to be shown and may never be. She could have blamed me, she could have said to just make him do it and he will get over it. She could have said I didn’t know what I am doing. Instead, she tells me how proud she is of us. Oh how I wish my friend had gotten a dog from her.

Years ago I had a dog that we absolutely adored. A friend had wanted to send me a longhair Dachshund to go with growing group of smooths. She had a litter coming up, but I was in love with a 2 year old female she had, so she let me have her. About a year later she lost a litter that were very closely related to my girl from auto immune disease. My dogs littermates were infected also and some had died. She contacted me and said she found where it came from and she was basically shutting down her breeding program. She suggested we spay our dog so she didn’t trigger a health issue.

Some may say that was overboard, the whole you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but this was a lot of dogs and I wholeheartedly appreciated the sacrifice she made. She had beautiful dogs with wonderful temperaments and hunting ability. It was heartbreaking. She didn’t hide it, she didn’t sweep it under the carpet. She couldn’t have been more transparent. I appreciated that. It was hard, but she wanted to be ethical, she wanted to protect the breed and protect people from the pain of losing a dog to a disease like that.

The moral of the story is, please don’t assume that the dog show community is golden. Don’t assume that because you would be ethical, honest and responsible others are the same way. If we want people to be in this sport, we have to stop talking about how great we are and recognize that there are some big issues. As a breeder your job is to not only breed to better the breed, however that may be, but also to be honest about dogs you produce.

There is NO shame in producing a dog that has issues, but trying to blame the issue on someone else or sweeping in under the carpet IS shameful. Do we want this sport to die or to flourish? In many respects it is up to us.


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.