Some people question the ethics of anyone who would breed pit bulls when there are so many wonderful, temperament-tested pits waiting in shelters, desperate for a loving home. But those who care about the future of our breed know that there is a place for ethical breeders.
Before we discuss how to spot an unethical breeder, let's spend a moment talking about what constitutes ethical pit bull breeding in today's world. Ethical breeders breed dogs for one reason and one reason only: the betterment of the breed. Ethical dog breeding isn't something undertaken casually, nor is it a money-making venture. Responsible breeders are lucky to break even after costs for veterinary care, health tests and certifications, and puppy rearing have been deducted. And puppy prices don't even begin to cover the expenses incurred by showing and trialing potential breeding stock in order to establish superior conformation, temperament, and working ability.
Ethical breeders have extensive knowledge of the breed, its standards, health, and genetics. Breeding decisions are based on several criteria:
- Health - Potential breeding stock will be screened for hereditary conditions affecting pit bulls such as hip and elbow dysplasia, von Willebrand's Disease, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, thyroid imbalances, Spinocerebellar Ataxia, and heart problems. Additionally, responsible breeders will not select dogs with allergies, chronic skin or gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune disorders, or a weakened immune response for their breeding program.
- Temperament - Sound temperament is imperative, and pit bulls considered for breeding will be temperament tested and carefully evaluated to ensure they possess the temperament the APBT or AST Standard calls for: Highly social, stable, confident, good-natured, eager to please, responsive, optimistic, enthusiastic, and never aggressive toward humans, even during times of great stress or high arousal.
- Conformation - Pit bulls selected for breeding should conform to the physical standards established by the recognized breed registry (UKC, ADBA, or AKC for AmStaffs) as closely as possible. To demonstrate that their dogs are exceptional representatives of the breed, many ethical breeders will be show their pit bulls, and it is common not to breed dogs until they have earned their championship.
- Working Ability - Ethical breeders are frequently active in performance events in order to establish their dogs' working ability, athleticism, and intelligence. In addition to conformation championships, pit bulls in ethical breeding programs frequently have obedience, agility, or weight pulling titles. Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog certifications are also common.
- Impact on Future Generations - When making breeding decisions, a responsible breeder will carefully consider what an individual dog and his/her pedigree offer to the future of the breed.
An ethical breeder will only consider breeding a pit bull who is outstanding in all five of the above areas. Since responsible breeders have puppies available only occasionally, there may be a waiting list for a pit bull puppy from such a breeder. Typically at least half the litter has already been spoken for at the time of conception.
Uunethical breeders fall into two broad categories:
- Puppy Mills - These are large-scale commercial operations that breed dogs--usually multiple breeds--for profit. While the squalid conditions we have come to associate with the term "puppy mill" are not present in all commercial breeding establishments, it is nonetheless unethical to crank out litter after litter of untested, unscreened puppies, particularly when there are already so many unwanted dogs dying in shelters every day.
- Backyard Breeders - These breeders range from individuals who intentionally bred the family dog in hopes of producing another just like her to people whose unspayed female came home pregnant after they let her out unsupervised during her heat. This group also includes individuals breeding pit bulls for nefarious purposes (e.g., dog fighting) and people hoping to make a quick buck by advertising pit bull puppies for sale.
Spotting Unethical Breeders
Fortunately it is easy to spot unethical breeders if you know what to look for. The following are signs that you are not dealing with a responsible breeder:
- No health certifications and screening for genetic diseases. Unethical breeders may give you a blank look when you ask if both parents are OFAd and CERFed or claim that "this line is free from hereditary disorders, so there's no need for testing." Ethical breeders will be happy to present you with certificates from the major canine health registries to prove that their dogs have been screened for hereditary health issues.
- Neither parent has UKC/AKC/ADBA titles. While titles and championships aren't always signs of an ethical breeder (sadly some people care more about winning ribbons than their dogs), the absence of any conformation, performance, or working titles is an indication that you are not dealing with a responsible breeder. Be careful about the claim that the puppies are "from championship lines." If you go back far enough, most purebred dogs will have a champion somewhere in their pedigree. Make sure that your puppy's parents have proven themselves in the show ring and/or performance events. Ideally you'll want to see several generations of titled dogs and champions in your puppy's pedigree.
- No temperament certifications. Responsible pit bull breeders will have most, if not all, of their dogs certified as Canine Good Citizens (CGC) or Temperament Tested (TT) by the American Temperament Test Society. Some of their dogs may also have Therapy Dog International (TDI) certifications.
- Tries to sell you a puppy. Ethical breeders will be asking you a lot of questions to determine if they want to sell you one of their puppies. They will want to know about your experience with the breed, your home environment and lifestyle, why you want a pit bull, and much, much more. You may feel like you are interviewing to adopt a child. They will also be upfront about the challenges the breed represents. Unethical breeders, by contrast, will try to convince you to buy one of their puppies, and their main concern is that you have the money to pay them.
- Sells "pet quality" puppies without a spay/neuter contract. Even two champion American Pit Bull or American Staffordshire Terriers will produce many "pet quality" puppies. These puppies are healthy and beautiful with solid temperaments, but they lack that special something that can enhance the breed for generations to come. An ethical breeder will sell these puppies only with spay/neuter contracts and limited registrations (you'll receive your puppy's papers after you present proof that the puppy has been spayed/neutered) to ensure that they won't be bred. Show quality puppies, on the other hand, are typically sold with co-ownerships or contracts that give the original breeder the right to determine if and when the dog will be bred. The contract may also stipulate that the dog must have earned her championship before she can be bred.
- Sells puppies of more than 1 or 2 breeds. It takes an enormous amount of time, experience, and dedication to become knowledgeable enough about a breed to be an ethical breeder. Occasionally someone will have gained the necessary expertise about two breeds, but most responsible breeders have their hands full with one breed. If a breeder advertises puppies from four or five breeds, that's pretty much a guarantee that they are not an ethical breeder.
- Advertises pit bulls as guard dogs. Be very careful about any breeder who focuses on the dog fighting history of the American Pit Bull Terrier or boasts about the man-stopping ability and protectiveness of his dogs.
- Advertises puppies as gifts or special deals. Run from any breeder who advertises puppies as Christmas, Valentines, etc. presents or offers 2-for-1 deals and other discounts. Ethical breeders are concerned with placing their puppies into the best possible homes, and would never sell a puppy to someone planning to give the pup away! Nor are ethical breeders preoccupied with the amount of money they can get for their puppies.
- Not active in breed rescue. Ethical breeders are concerned about the overall welfare of the breed. As such, they are active in pit bull rescue and will do what they can to find homes for abandoned or abused pit bulls.
- Always has puppies available. Ethical breeders will breed a litter at most a couple of times a year (sometimes only once every few years), and the majority (sometimes all) of the puppies will already have homes waiting for them when the litter is born.
- Breeds dogs too young and too often. Another hallmark of unethical commercial breeders is the breeding of very young females. These dogs are typically bred as soon as they come into heat and then every heat thereafter (i.e., two litters a year). Ethical breeders, by contrast, wait until a dog is at least two years old before they breed her, and the same female will be bred at most once every 2-3 years.
- Won't allow you to inspect the premises or see the pups with their mother. Ethical breeders will be proud to show off their facilities and introduce you not only to the puppies' mother, but other adult relatives as well. Don't worry if the sire (that would be the puppy daddy) is not on the premises, as he may belong to another breeder.
- Sells puppies under 8 weeks of age. Puppies separated from their mothers too young are prime candidates for behavioral problems. That's why ethical breeders will wait until puppies are at least 8 weeks old before sending them to their new homes. Unethical breeders, on the other hand, try to reduce costs by selling puppies as soon as possible.
- Puppies have not been socialized. Puppies bred by unethical breeders typically spend all their time in a kennel, while responsible breeders begin a comprehensive socialization program as soon as the pups are old enough.
- Won't take the puppy back if you can't keep him. Ethical breeders will do their best to ensure that you are well equipped to raise one of their puppies, but sometimes circumstances change due to unforeseeable events (BSL being one of them). If, for any reason or at any time, you are not able to keep your pit bull, an ethical breeder's contract will stipulate that the dog be returned to them rather than taken to a shelter or placed up for adoption. With an unethical breeder, you--and your dog--are on your own.
It probably goes without saying that you should not buy a puppy from an unethical breeder. While it can be tempting to rescue an innocent puppy from deplorable surroundings, the only way to do that is to pay money to the individual responsible for creating the situation, and by doing that, you encourage them to continue breeding dogs.
If you want to rescue a pit bull (and if you don't care if your new companion has papers, I recommend you do exactly that), please contact a breed rescue group or visit your local animal shelter where many dogs bred by unethical breeders eventually end up anyway.