#91 – The Alternative to Regulation & Licensing for Dog Breeders

by | May 11, 2024 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management

Have you seen those DNA tests to see what dog breeds your rescue dog is made of? You know the ones where people get the data and it says a little Chihuahua, a little Beagle, some Great Dane, and 26% super mutt? I think it’s funny how no one stops to think, “Holy cow, this dog was created out of how many generations of oops litters.” If you have a rescue dog that has at least four breeds in it, then that’s at least 3 accidental litters. The original two dogs that were each oops with two breeds, and then the breeding those two dogs created to make the dog at hand. Three accidental breedings. Three oops litters … at least.

The Reality of Accidental Breeding

I find this irony in the whole situation: the adopt-don’t-shop movement is touting buying and giving preferential selection to the very dogs that are products of a broken system, the dogs that come out of these accidental breedings.

However, you’ll often hear breeders giving other breeders a hard time over having an oops litter. It’s unfortunate because here’s the truth: I’ve worked with a large amount of breeders, and nearly all have had oops litters. For those people in the world that suggest we are “forcing” dogs to breed and have puppies, well, I can tell you they’ve never tried to keep a stud away from a female in heat. It simply is not that easy. Obviously it can be done, but it’s much harder than people often understand.

Why am I bringing this all up? It’s because we first need to bring up the reality that it is very easy to have an accidental litter. In fact, I would suggest there is more work in preventing a litter than there is work in creating a litter.

What makes someone a dog breeder vs. an owner of a dog with an oops litter?

If you regulate and license breeders, then there have to be consequences for breeding without a license. So, what do you do with the people that have accidental litters? Should they incur the same fines and legal ramifications as people breeding intentionally without a license. While sometimes you know it was intentional, there are many instances where it’s hard to tell. Let’s look at some examples, and entertain if they happened in a place where they were intentional breedings or not, and therefore would be in violation of the supposed licensing and regulation.

  • Example 1: You have two purebred, health-tested dogs of the same breed. They breed, have puppies, and you register the litter. This is fairly obvious to be intentional. We could say it’s fair that this person should be licensed and incur consequences for not being licensed.
  • Example 2: Someone has an intact female dog, they’re waiting to get her spayed for health reasons, a stray dog from the neighborhood jumps the fence and breeds her while they’re at work. Weeks go by and they don’t even know she’s bred. This is fairly obvious to be unintentional. Should this person incur consequences from the regulating body because a stray bred her dog and now she’s technically breeding without a license?
  • Example 3: Someone buys a purebred female puppy from a breeder. Then they buy purebred male of the same breed from another breeder. Before the dogs are spayed or neutered they breed and produce a litter. Well, is this intentional or not? Most non-breeder owners with two intact dogs of the opposite sex find it difficult to keep them separated through her heat cycle. It’s understandable that an accidental purebred litter may have been born. Should this person be punished for having this happen? However, you could also see how it could be argued that this was intentional and they were trying to pass it off as unintentional to avoid the need for regulation. It would be hard to decipher their motive.
  • Example 4: Someone loves Poodles and Labradors and gets one of each. They breed and now there is a litter of Labradoodles. Was it intentional or not? It’s hard to say again.

These are a few situations where it’s hard to say if the person should be held to regulation and licensing requirements or not.

Let’s say you think that they should be held to licensing requirements because their dog was bred, regardless of the manner. What would be an appropriate fine or consequence? When they develop laws, they try to make the consequence enough that it will prevent people from intentionally breaking the law, but not so much that someone who accidentally finds themself breaking the law should be unfairly punished. Part of this formula would be based on how much intention would there need to be to make something happen.

For example, let’s look at traffic tickets. If you are driving and the light turns yellow, and you misjudge it and accidentally run the light more red than yellow, well that can happen to anyone. There might be a large truck behind you and you’re worried that stopping too suddenly might be more dangerous than running the light. That’s also a safety concern, so it makes sense that running a red light should have a consequence so people don’t do it all the time and make driving dangerous, BUT it also makes sense that it shouldn’t be too big of a consequence because it can happen easily, rather unintentionally.

However, murdering someone with a knife, well, that’s not very easy to do unintentionally. It makes sense that this would have more severe consequences, since it’s nearly impossible to do accidentally.

Which brings us back to dog breeding. Dog breeding can happen very intentionally, BUT it can also happen very unintentionally. If you write a law that places the fine at $200/litter, for unlicensed breedings, well then that might be an arguably fair consequence for the person who has the stray dog come in the yard. The legal system could argue that she waited to spay and assumed the risk. Although that fee could go to the owner of the male dog who bred her. Too bad no one knows which dog did it. Is it fair? It doesn’t feel fair.

What about the puppy mill who breeds a lot of dogs and doesn’t want the attention licensing brings. If the consequence was $200 per litter, would that stop them from breeding? My dogs aren’t terribly expensive and yet, I think $200/litter to me is an acceptable cost added to my litters to make it still financially worth breeding. I’m running my business with care to spend money on food and vet care for my dogs, more care than what would be considered a puppy mill. So if my breeding program could absorb the cost of a $200/litter fine, then surely a puppy mill would be willing to take that risk. It doesn’t feel like a high enough consequence to prevent puppy mills from breeding.

Say we bump it up to $5000. Would that work? It might deter the puppy mills, and certainly encourage breeders to get a license so long as it’s cheaper, but it will create a new problem: the accidental breeder, the lady with the dog who was bred by a stray. How would she deal with a large fee of $5000. Not only does that seem horribly harsh for the situation, but it might also be motivation to dispose of the puppies and prevent anyone from ever knowing it happened, avoiding the risk of having a large fee she couldn’t pay. Now the very laws that were meant to protect dogs are encouraging their potentially inhumane euthanizing.

You could try and split the consequence so that it was based on motivation or intention, whether accidental or planned, making the consequence higher for planned breedings. However, I have a feeling that will lead to more people having ‘accidental’ litters, and this will place a high burden on the system to go through the court proceedings to determine whether it is intentional or not.

At the same time, this extra work to be licensed may discourage breeders from entering the market, knowing they’ll need to breed a certain number of dogs to cover the cost of licensing and make it worth it.

As you can see, licensing, regulation, and the consequences that will be required are difficult to lay out in a way that seems fair.

Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program!

An Alternative to Licensing & Regulation for Dog Breeders

I believe there is an alternative. It’s going to take your help. My belief is that, instead of regulating and licensing, which only keeps honest people honest and removes many of the good breeders for the annoyance that comes with licensing, we need to educate breeders, owners, and buyers.

I find that many of the breeders who come across as a puppy mill actually didn’t set out with the intention to do things poorly and inhumanely. They got in over their head and they get stuck in a trap of needing money and not being in surplus to fix their problem. This might seem hard to believe, but here are some common situations that occur:

  • A breeder wants to have their puppies have a lot of fresh air and fun playing outside. The rain hits, there are puddles or wild animals outside and the dogs are exposed to giardia or other parasites. These pups go home with a mild giardia infection that gets worse with the stress of the move to their new home. The breeder looks like they don’t care because the puppies went home with parasites.
  • Let’s say that breeder finds out they have this giardia problem so they decide to err on the side of caution and don’t allow the puppies to go out and get fresh air because of the risk of infection. Now the dogs are trapped in a tiny pen in the house because it’s safer. This confinement can come across as a puppy mill because as the puppies grow it feels like they no longer have adequate space.
  • That breeder may then look at the mess the puppies are making, feces and urine everywhere, and think, gosh this is not safe and is unsanitary; so they opt for putting the puppies on a wire floor so it can drain, not knowing there is an option for litter box training.
  • They might struggle to market their puppies so they opt for expensive marketing tactics or they may drop their price to sell puppies, not knowing there’s a better way to organically market. This leads to a lower profit margin. They might determine that having twice the number of puppies going home is what it will take to cover costs, so they increase the number of puppies they produce by doubling their breeding dogs.
  • They might then realize that this is too much to have in the house, so they keep their dogs outside to keep their family happy, as trying to keep the mess in the house and also keep the puppies clean is just too much and they don’t want to stress their spouse anymore, as he’s already irritated that the dogs are taking up too much time and not bringing in a lot of money. Now the dogs live outside in the old chicken coop since there isn’t money to put up a facility.
  • Then they end up in a situation that is overwhelming and difficult. They’ve dug a hole, they have mouths to feed, and are at a point where they aren’t sure if they should cut costs with cheaper dog food, not knowing the impact it’ll have on moms, the puppies, and the ability of both to maintain health. The alternative is continuing to spend money on the dog food, but taking the excess money from the family budget.

Breeder Education

There are so many places where better education for breeders can help prevent puppy mills. The breeder situation above is unfortunately not uncommon. Some of these breeders in this place have gone to Facebook groups reaching out for help and have been harassed for not knowing the very things they came into the group to learn. They feel isolated and out of options.

There is also a greater group of breeders who take great care of their dogs and puppies, but because of a failed system either through business management, customer management, or marketing, they’re left financially tapped out, robbing family finances and time to keep the breeding program going. I know this place, I’ve been there.

So often things are messy and we live in a state of transition, believing if we just get through this problem, then it’ll be better, only to find that you never get through that problem, rather you dig yourself deeper in a hole. You might find that your goal seems to keep moving farther and farther away. Or, if you are lucky enough to get through it, then, as soon as you do, you find that wasn’t the only problem, now you have a new one.

My goal with this podcast, and especially the Dog Breeder Society, is to help breeders find a balance in their breeding program, a balance in life and finances, so you aren’t finding yourself in that dark place that can occur in dog breeding.

I’m not saying I’m the solution, but I do want to be a part of it. I want to encourage you to be a part of it also. As we learn and do right by our dogs and families, we can take better care of our buyers and make the world of dogs better.

Buyer Education

The last piece of the puzzle, which you’re also involved in too, is buyer education and culture.

If I could change one thing in the dog buying world, I would change the culture from “I want a dog now” to “I want the right dog.” If people knew how much getting the right dog impacts their experience with their dog, I think many more would be careful about the process. Unfortunately, explaining that not all dogs are the same is bad for marketing with rescues and shelters, since so many of their dogs come from unknown origins, with unknown breeding; it’s too hard for them to accurately place a dog in the right family. Therefore, they have to gloss over the fact that dogs are different beyond size and color.

This is the beauty of what breeders bring: we bring predictability. We can tell our buyers what to expect with our dogs, not just size and coat texture, but we can help them understand their quirks, their drives, and we know their temperaments.

If buyers knew to ask the right questions to find a breeder who not only knew their dogs, but would be a supportive person in their dog ownership journey, someone they could call and talk with over the years when they had questions, then they would most certainly search for the right breeder with the right dogs. They would naturally move away from buying dogs and shelters and rescues because they wouldn’t want to accept the risk of those dogs.

At first this might create a longer time for dogs to be at the shelter. But over time these owners who are responsible, because of the shift in culture and the support from their breeder, would reduce the overpopulation problem because it was no longer tolerable to get a dog with a mysterious past. And their dog will be less likely to produce an oops litter because the breeder helped them figure out a way to manage a heat while waiting for spay.

When I look at the big picture, the burden that unintentionally-bred dogs place on the system, I always conclude that more education is the answer. Breeders who better understand how to run and manage a breeding business, and buyers who understand the benefit of buying from an honest breeder.

If this were the norm, the standard culture of buying dogs—that it was all about finding the right dog, the right dogs for you and your lifestyle—then there wouldn’t need to be any conversations around regulation and licensing. Those who are not doing it right simply would need to exit the industry, as it wouldn’t be profitable, nor rewarding.

Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. Thank you for being a part of the solution, for taking the time to reflect and be better, and your willingness to learn. You have grit and it’s making the world of dogs better and better.

Show Notes

Referenced Links
Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!