Policy statement: Dogs

The ancient partnership between dogs and man has changed over the centuries, but the bond remains as strong as ever. Today's dogs seldom ply their ancient trades, but they have amassed an impressive new repertoire of skills. The most common career for dogs these days is "pet," but these remarkable animals also demonstrate an array of skills ranging from finding lost children to ferreting out contraband, tracking criminals, helping physically and mentally impaired people, joining owners in a variety of sports and games, and guarding livestock from endangered predators. The value of well-bred dogs as pets and partners is indisputable.

Responsible breeders maintain the health and integrity of ancient breeds and provide a wonderful variety of dogs so that millions of people worldwide can select a dog of the size, coat type, temperament, appearance, and character that will fit their lifestyle. Purebred dog owners, breeders, exhibitors, and clubs are primary sources for public education about dog care and they are the backbone of dog rescue efforts and advances in canine medicine.

Dog shows provide information on dog care, opportunities to see and compare dozens of breeds, and a venue to support canine education, health, and rescue efforts. Kennel, breed, obedience, and performance clubs provide forums for breeders, trainers, and exhibitors to share knowledge and improve methods of care and training. Such clubs are major contributors to community education about responsible dog ownership. They help local shelters through rescue programs and donations and provide aid to individuals who need help with pet dog training, locating a responsible breeder, or with other dog-related questions or concerns. Breeders work with scientists to reduce the incidence of genetic abnormalities in their breeds, and clubs donate funding for research through the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the Morris Animal Foundation to provide veterinary advances for all dogs - purebred and mixed breed.

NAIA backs the responsible breeding and showing of purebred dogs and opposes coercive legislation aimed at breeders. NAIA also supports participation in dog sports and other recreational activities that depend on canine working partners; the use of dogs in law enforcement and search and rescue missions; dogs as companions and helpers under the Americans with Disabilities Act; the voluntary sterilization and identification of pets, and reasonable efforts to rescue unwanted dogs for placement in new homes.

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Dog breeding

People have taken an active role in animal breeding for thousands of years. Maintaining these natural and long-standing associations with animals has become problematic only with the rise of our urban/suburban society and the dilemmas caused by surplus and nuisance pets. Because of these changes, however, today's breeders need to educate themselves about dogs, about specific breeds, and about socializing and training. They also need to plan each breeding decision to ensure positive outcomes for their puppies and must be prepared to take back dogs and offer advice on socializing, training and various other dog care issues in order to assure success. NAIA believes that those who are unable or unwilling to spend the necessary time and effort to make informed decisions, carefully place puppies, and maintain contact with puppy buyers should leave breeding to those who have the dedication to do so.

A puppy will live with a family for a dozen years or more, so selecting just the right breed and breeder can be critical to initiating and developing a strong bond with the dog. Although any dog may become a valued and well-loved pet, well-bred purebred dogs have an advantage over mixed breed dogs because of their consistency: their size, coat type, exercise needs, energy level, trainability, and temperament can be predicted within a narrow range, thus allowing prospective buyers to purchase a puppy that meets their lifestyle and living conditions. Well-bred purebred dogs are carefully bred to the standard of their breed. Dogs that do not meet the breed standard for these characteristics may not be suitable for individual situations. For example, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are often acquired because they are known for being easily trained, enjoying an active life, and loving children, but a poorly-bred dog of either breed may be hyperactive, bull-headed, and snappish, or have other inherited behavior or health characteristics that make it a poor choice for a family. Thus selecting both the right breed and breeder are crucial for success.

Once the breed is selected, the search for a puppy can begin. To recognize the differences among breeders and other sources that sell or place dogs with the public, the following categories may be useful. Like all attempts at labeling, the categories that are described below represent generalities that won't be true for every case. Puppy buyers are urged to do their homework and use a good measure of common sense.

Generally speaking, breeders can be divided into two general categories: non-commercial and commercial.

Non-commercial breeders fall into two additional categories: 1) breed enthusiasts, also known as breed fanciers or show breeders, including performance dog breeders who select dogs with the ability and temperament to participate in certain sports or to perform particular jobs; and 2) casual breeders who dabble in breeding.

Breed enthusiasts

Breed enthusiasts (also known as show breeders, purebred dog fanciers, hobbyists and responsible breeders) who follow breed club guidelines and codes of ethics are NAIA's top choice as a source of pet puppies. Breed enthusiasts are motivated by several factors: Love of a breed; a desire to contribute to the improvement of breed health and performance skills; enjoyment of breed competitions and sports; and pleasure in the company of other breed and dog admirers. Breed enthusiasts who join dog clubs breed for health, temperament and breed type; screen their breeding stock for genetic abnormalities; become knowledgeable about breed history and bloodlines; provide appropriate health care and housing for adult dogs and puppies; raise, train, and socialize puppies in their homes; participate in dog shows so their dogs can be evaluated for adherence to specific breed standards of excellence and for performance ability; and help with public education efforts promoted by national and local dog organizations. Breed enthusiasts are sometimes called "responsible dog breeders."

The hallmarks by which these breeders can be recognized are:

  • They breed and raise dogs in their homes, typically keeping one or two (sometimes three) breeds of dogs in the house or in a clean kennel.
  • Their dogs appear healthy and well-socialized.
  • Their breeding stock meets the standard of excellence for the breed and is screened for genetic diseases and structural problems prior to producing a litter.
  • They study their chosen breeds and make decisions with breed structure, health, and temperament in mind.
  • They offer a contract that protects the puppy and the buyer as well as the breeder.
  • They participate in breed activities, including dog shows to assess the quality of potential breeding dogs and tests and trials to assess performance ability, and help puppy buyers get involved in these endeavors.
  • They join dog clubs and participate in club projects ranging from public education programs and dog training classes to dog shows.

Responsible breed enthusiasts producing animals for show, work, or pets as a hobby or an avocation are more than happy to oblige potential clients. Prospective buyers can see where litters are raised, talk to the breeder about health clearances and socialization, and meet the dam of the litter. Responsible breed enthusiasts also help buyers select the best puppy for their circumstances, often decline to place puppies of high-drive dogs in laid-back pet homes, and remain available to help buyers after they take the puppy home.

Passionate about dogs, breed enthusiasts take the time to learn everything they can about their chosen breed. They participate in kennel clubs that hold dog shows and educate the public about dog care in general and breed behavior, health, and dog sports in particular. They take part in breed, obedience, and field events to prove the mettle of their dogs and share the love of dogs with other breeders and owners; attend seminars to expand their knowledge of canine health and training; and serve as mentors to breed newcomers. They register their dogs primarily with the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club or a specific breed registry. They take back dogs if buyers can no longer keep them, and they keep retired breeding and performance dogs if they cannot find a good pet home for them. Many breed enthusiasts also help with rescue of their breed with donations of time, space, or dollars and contribute to research into inherited canine diseases personally and through their local and national clubs. The American Kennel Club, the organization that most responsible breed enthusiasts use to register their dogs, donates more than $1 million annually to promote canine health.

While responsible breed fanciers take pride in producing high-quality show and working dogs, they also desire to place healthy puppies and adult dogs as pets in suitable homes. The relationship doesn't end when the puppy goes to its new family; responsible breed fanciers keep in touch with buyers, answer questions about training and behavior, and enjoy the thriving relationship between the dog and the family.

Prospective buyers can find responsible breeders of show dogs, pets, and working dogs by contacting national or regional breed clubs or local all-breed kennel or obedience clubs. Lists of club contacts can be found on the AKC website. Breed clubs can also be located by browsing the web for breed-specific sites. Prospective buyers should also consider attending area dog shows to see good dogs and meet their breeders. Dog shows can be located by subscribing to the American Kennel Club Gazette or by browsing,,

Performance dog breeders

Performance dog breeders are hobbyists, sportsmen, or service dog organizations that breed dogs primarily to do a job or participate in a sport. They breed dogs for the temperament and ability to serve as working companions for handicapped owners, or produce hunting dogs, herding dogs, guarding dogs, racing dogs, sled dogs, and dogs with the temperament and stamina to participate in schutzhund and other sports. These breeders concentrate on health and ability in producing high-energy, high-drive dogs that are good at their jobs but which may not always be satisfactory as family pets because of their Type A, workaholic personalities. Therefore, responsible performance dog breeders take extra care in placing their puppies as pets.

Performance dog breeders have contributed volumes of information to canine health and training and to an awareness of canine behavior and history. From the USDA project to determine the value of certain breeds as livestock guard dogs to the in-depth understanding about training and behavior from service dog organizations and the studies of structure and health in sled dogs and racing dogs, these breeders have coordinated efforts with veterinarians and other professionals and thereby greatly enhanced the base of knowledge about dogs.

Performance dogs love to do what they do. They run because they want to run, not because they are forced to run. They herd and guard livestock because they are suited for the work and naturally attracted to it. They help people because they are rewarded for their behavior, not because they are enslaved. They hunt because they are well-adapted to scenting and sighting game and would do so whether domestic or wild.

NAIA appreciates the beauty and splendor of dogs performing according to their nature and applauds those breeders and others who responsibly produce, study, and train these dogs.

A note of caution: NAIA recommends that potential puppy buyers use common sense when purchasing a puppy. If a breeder represents himself as being a devoted breed enthusiast but his dogs are ill kept and poorly socialized the buyer should question whether the breeder is truly what he represents himself to be, and he should look elsewhere.

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Casual breeders

Casual breeders are the other non-commercial breeders who raise dogs in their homes and sell directly to the public. Known pejoratively as "backyard breeders," casual breeders breed litters so children or other family members can witness a birth; because they believe that a female dog needs a litter to be 'fulfilled,' because they hope to earn a little extra money and haven't yet learned that litters often cost more than they bring in; and because they did not neuter their pets or keep them properly confined.

These breeders produce both purebred dogs and mixes. They also raise their animals in the home where a puppy purchaser can see the dam and the conditions under which the litter was raised, but they generally lack the knowledge and experience necessary to make prudent breeding decisions. They almost certainly lack in-depth knowledge about breed conformation, temperament, and training and are often uneducated about general health and inherited diseases, normal and abnormal puppy and breed behavior, and training techniques for instilling good manners or correcting unacceptable behaviors. They are extremely unlikely to join clubs, participate in dog sports, attend seminars, help with public education efforts, contribute to breed rescue efforts, or take back dogs if placements don't work out. For these reasons they usually cannot offer sound advice to their puppy buyers.

These amateur breeders are often disparaged by both anti-breeding activists and show breeders because they can unwittingly contribute to irresponsible dog ownership. Because producing healthy, well-bred puppies requires in-depth knowledge and a professional attitude, NAIA urges casual breeders to increase their knowledge of breeds and breeding so they can make good decisions or to leave breeding to those who have the desire and understanding to pursue it as an avocation.

Commercial breeders

Commercial breeders sell dogs as a business through large kennels, pet stores, national magazine ads, newspaper ads, and over the Internet. Commercial breeders may be regulated or non-regulated. They may produce a single breed or multiple breeds, including crossbreeds. They may keep as few as three breeding females or as many as several hundred. They may sell to pet stores for resale or they may sell directly to consumers from their kennels or through magazine, newspaper or Internet ads.

Commercial kennels that sell dogs for resale in pet stores are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture under the federal Animal Welfare Act.(Links to the AWA and AWA regulations can be found at the APHIS publications page found here) These kennels are inspected annually for compliance with a set of housing and care standards, including a plan for veterinary care. They can be fined or lose their operating licenses if they do not abide by these regulations. Further, puppies sold in pet stores possess AWA kennel license numbers that enable consumers to report problems to USDA if they exist.

Commercial kennels that sell directly to consumers from their facilities or through magazine ads or the Internet are not always required to be federally regulated and may avoid oversight altogether.

Commercial breeders seldom participate in dog shows and other events or belong to breed or kennel clubs. However, they may join local, regional, or national trade associations that have a code of ethics and a set of kennel standards and many work to upgrade the welfare of the animals in their industry. Many commercial breeders and pet stores belong to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, an association that conducts animal care seminars and other events and works for reasonable animal welfare laws at the state and federal levels. 

Commercial breeders register their purebred dogs with several organizations. The American Kennel Club is the best known of these registries and the only one that conducts a large number of in-kennel inspections (approximately 4000) each year, which are aimed at improving breeding and care standards. AKC also conducts DNA screening to confirm dog identity and requires DNA identification of dogs that sire more than three litters in a year or seven litters in a lifetime.

Some people use the term puppy mill and commercial kennel synonymously implying that all commercial breeding is conducted in filthy, substandard facilities where animal health and well-being are neglected and breeding stock is abused. That is not the case. NAIA notes that some commercial kennels are state of the art facilities producing healthy, well-socialized puppies to sell to pet stores or directly to the public.

There are two major animal welfare issues that surround commercial dog breeding. One deals with the need for minimum standards of care and conditions for animals in breeding kennels. The other deals with the question of whether or not it is ever appropriate for animals to be sold in pet stores. Activists and breed enthusiasts alike may oppose the sale of puppies in pet stores, but the myth that all pet store puppies come from "puppy mills" misdirects energy, attention and resources away from the truly bad operations that need to be closed. This same energy would be better spent promoting reasonable, enforceable kennel standards and gaining improvements at the retail level rather than painting the entire industry with the same brush. Doing so has slowed animal welfare improvements by blurring the issues.

Puppy buyers should carefully evaluate the dogs and husbandry practices in any kennel whose dogs they are considering. Buyers should do their homework before purchasing puppies from large commercial kennels selling over the Internet or through advertisements in national magazines. Buyers who purchase dogs through ads cannot see the kennel, the parent dogs, or the litter and cannot select their own puppies. If these outlets sell exclusively through ads, they are not required to be federally inspected to assure compliance with minimum husbandry standards. If they are not registered with AKC, the only registry with a significant kennel inspection program, these breeders can avoid oversight.

NAIA also cautions buyers to be wary of a variation on pyramid schemes that make novice puppy buyers part of the kennel breeding program through contracts that require a bitch puppy to be bred once or twice to a stud of the kennel's choice and make puppies available for sale to the public. Such contracts allow the breeding kennel to expand its business at the expense of the buyer and his dog. Breeding stock should be carefully evaluated and breedings carefully planned, not required of novices by contract when a puppy is purchased.

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Designer dogs

Some breeders produce crossbreeds and advertise the pups with marketing labels that include the names of the parent breeds. Many of these dogs are Poodle crosses, Maltipoos (Maltese-Poodle) and Labradoodles (Labrador-Poodles) for instance, but other breeds are also used. A Puggle, for example, is a cross between a Pug and a Beagle. Breeders often promote these crossbreeds as having the best traits of the parent breeds, but without the drawbacks. In asserting this, they benefit from the parent breeds’ popularity while disparaging them at the same time. But regardless of the marketing claims that are used to sell these puppies, i.e., that they are hypoallergenic, don’t shed, or that they are otherwise superior to one or both parent breeds - designer dogs are brands, not breeds, and therefore they are not predictable in type, temperament, size, activity level, health or trainability. The progeny of two distinct breeds can vary greatly.

Designer dog breeders produce puppies for the pet market, not for a particular job or performance activity or for consistency in physical and mental traits. They can be large or small commercial breeders or home breeders producing an occasional litter for pocket money. Like any mixed breed, a designer dog can be a wonderful pet, but buyers contemplating acquiring one should heed the same cautions offered when choosing a breeder of purebred dogs: look for someone who pays attention to the health of parent dogs, takes advantage of genetic screening for common inherited diseases, provides references, answers questions about the puppies, begins a vaccination and worming program, and does not make extravagant assertions about puppy health.

Pet stores

Pet stores sell about a half million puppies per year according to Patronek and Rowan’s dog population compilation in Anthrozoos magazine in August 1996. These retailers fill a niche for buyers who cannot find a private breeder with puppies available in their community or surrounding area and those who do not want to wait for a puppy from an in-home breeder where they could see the puppy’s dam and view the conditions under which the puppy was raised. Wherever they buy, consumers should always assess the overall health and fitness of the puppy they are considering.

As with all sources of pets, pet stores are not all the same. Some do an excellent job, purchasing only from breeders with proper management, husbandry and animal welfare standards, while others do not. Prospective pet buyers need to evaluate the practices that are being utilized in any pet store they are considering before finalizing a purchase.

Until a few years ago, it was nearly impossible for consumers to determine whether or not a pet store puppy was from a humane breeder or from the sort of breeder shown in TV exposés. It was also very difficult for conscientious pet stores to distinguish themselves from irresponsible ones. But that has been remedied to some extent during the last few years. In 2009 USDA started publishing inspection reports on their website for all USDA licensees. Because most pet store puppies come from USDA licensed breeders, this gives consumers a tool for helping them to evaluate the source of the pet store puppy they are considering.

USDA issues citations for both indirect and direct violations. Indirect violations are issued for small infractions, while direct violations are serious ones that indicate a situation that could harm an animal, such as unsanitary facilities, untreated wounds, lack of proper veterinary care, and other shortcomings that put animal health and welfare at risk. In the years since USDA began publishing this information, some pet stores and middlemen have begun using these reports to guide their buying decisions. Some pet store owners take it a step further and routinely visit the breeders they work with. Prospective puppy buyers should seek consumer Information about the source of any puppy they are considering, including the USDA inspection report.

In addition to USDA, many states have enacted their own laws to regulate commercial breeders. AKC puppies are further protected by AKC’s kennel inspections program and AKC’s Care and Conditions policy which raises minimum standards of care in kennels of all sizes, and helps breeders stay current with best practices.

For information on a specific breed, consumers should visit the AKC website. AKC national breed clubs set the breed standards for their breeds and maintain useful information about the character, exercise requirements and health issues relevant to each breed. This information can help prospective dog owners determine if the breed they are considering is a good match for their lifestyle and family. If a pet store advertises that its puppies are capable of being registered with AKC, consumers should specifically demand AKC papers at the time of check out – and make sure the papers they receive are not from a substitute registering organization. Otherwise, they could lose the many long-term benefits associated with purchasing an AKC dog.

Some pet stores provide educational and behavioral material to potential buyers and pet owners, and many offer limited warranties that provide medical care and protection and are willing to take back puppies that have health issues. Some pet stores belong to PIJAC and send their employees to the association's animal-handling seminars. Most pet stores adhere to some if not all of these practices. But there are also pet stores that pay little attention to social problems that relate to pet breeding and pet population trends, and provide few educational resources or recommendations to puppy buyers about training or veterinary after care. And they offer little if any support to purchasers once the sale is complete. Consumers need to evaluate each store based on its practices.

NAIA supports reasonable efforts to hold all breeders and sellers responsible for the health of the puppies they offer to the public and recognizes that a key component of reducing animal shelter populations, dangerous dog problems, and neighborhood nuisances is helping people choose the right dog in the first place. Thus we encourage potential buyers to do their homework before the purchase.

When pet buyers investigate breeds, breeders and any retailer they may be considering and prepare themselves to accept a new puppy, they are more likely to provide proper housing, training, and medical care for the pet; understand the unique nature of the dog they have chosen to share their lives; recognize and avoid unreliable and unscrupulous breeders and retailers; hold realistic expectations of the pet they purchase; and recognize that even carefully-bred puppies can develop health and/or temperament problems.

No matter how progressive and socially responsible a given pet store may be, anti-pet store activists will continue to oppose all of them categorically. NAIA believes that a more responsible position, and one that encourages improvement, is one that urges potential purchasers to do their homework as suggested above and in our other position statements before buying a dog from any particular source. NAIA believes that it is best to purchase a dog from a responsible in-home hobby breeder where purchasers can see the parent dogs and the conditions in which the puppies were produced and reared. When that isn’t possible, choosing a conscientious pet store that operates transparently and with good disclosure and warranty policies can be a good second choice.

NAIA opposes pet store bans. There are good and bad pet stores just like there are good and bad operators in all other professions and businesses. Instead of banning pet stores, laws should be passed to prohibit unacceptable conduct and require proper care standards and business conduct. Bans do not improve animal welfare. They simply create black markets, underground sources of dogs sold by unaccountable operators.

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Puppy mills

The term puppy mill is a term of disparagement originally used to describe a specific kind of large, substandard breeding operation run by people with little concern for the welfare of their puppies or their breeding stock. Dogs found in these facilities were in poor health, living in filthy conditions without adequate medical care, nutrition or socialization. Such operations are the black sheep of the dog-breeding family, something the overwhelming majority of breeders abhor just as much as the general public.

Unfortunately, with the growth of animal rights extremism and organizations that earn fundraising dollars by exploiting the public's love of animals, the meaning of the term "puppy mill" has been expanded and applied to almost everyone who breeds dogs.

Most breeders do a good job, but like all other human activities, dog breeding includes some bad actors and black sheep. Due to animal rights activism, the sophistication of "cause marketing" campaigns by fundraising groups and the media's desire for ratings, the black sheep of the dog breeding family have come to represent most dog breeders in the public's mind. This is especially true for commercial breeders, the most common targets of anti-breeder campaigns and rhetoric. These are now perceived by the public to be "puppy mills." This is true even if they have state-of-the-art facilities, provide excellent care for their dogs and provide the public with healthy, well-adjusted puppies for appreciative owners..

Before the federal Animal Welfare Act and the AKC Care and Conditions Program were initiated, there were significantly more substandard breeding operations than there are today, so the activism aimed at cleaning them up was reasonable and even helpful at the time. But huge improvements have occurred since then, making the current level of fervor against "puppy mills" out of balance with reality. Today, when USDA inspectors come across substandard kennels that sell puppies to pet stores or to other commercial kennels, they use the federal Animal Welfare Act to suspend or revoke licenses and assess fines. When AKC inspectors find such kennels, they suspend the owner's registration privileges and report the conditions to area authorities. Although some of these operators continue to operate illegally by moving underground and/or to other registries that do not enforce standards of care, the improvements in dog breeding since the 1980's are so dramatic, the activism being spent on this issue, and the fundraising dollars being raised on it would better be spent on other animal welfare issues.

(Links to the AWA and AWA regulations can be found at the APHIS publications page found here)

The entire commercial dog breeding industry and even hobbyists are tainted by the existence of substandard kennels. Anti-breeding zealots find kennels with squalid conditions, get the media interested, and paint all commercial breeders and pet stores that buy from commercial kennels with the same brush in press releases, articles, and fund-raising campaigns. Anti puppy mill campaigns target all commercial breeders regardless of their standards. They use the existence of such kennels to promote mandatory spay and neuter bills and other anti-breeder legislation. They also use these campaigns to promote shelter dogs instead of well-bred and well-socialized puppies.

NAIA joins those who condemn substandard kennels and urges that they be reported to the authorities when they are located. If these kennels sell AKC-registered puppies, they should be reported to AKC. If they sell puppies to pet stores, they should be reported to USDA. If they are present in a state that regulates commercial kennels, they should also be reported to state officials. NAIA works for the closure of all such kennels.

Few states have kennel licensing and inspections programs because few states are home to large numbers of commercial kennels that produce a high volume of animals for sale as pets. NAIA notes that states without such programs can nonetheless protect the well being of animals in large kennels by judicious enforcement of reasonable animal welfare laws and by prohibiting habitual offenders from owning large numbers of animals in the future.

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Be sure to see these additional NAIA policy statements
Pet Ownership / Dogs / Pets and the Community / Guardianship / Animals in Entertainment
Animal husbandry / Animal Careers / Agriculture / Research / Wildlife / Mandatory Spay/Neuter Legislation