The Case for Purebred Dogs from a different Perspective


Knob-notes-blog In keeping with our guest post theme this week, I'm sharing this thoughtful and well-written post from KnobNotes – a friend here in CO. We met with her over dinner awhile ago and we think there is an opportunity to open a dialogue about breeding with our readers.

To go on the record, I know a number of established, responsible, caring breeders and I can understand some people's desire to have a Great Dane, or a Golden Retriever. The people I know who are interested in purebred dogs or cats purchase them from responsible breeders – not puppy mills. But, some of us, some pet parents, some folks who are devoted to the mixed-breed dog and cat, and to obtaining pets from a shelter or rescue, have a skewed idea about breeders and their purpose in life.

I think this post will help people understand a bit more about the responsible side of breeding animals. We're hoping to begin a conversation so leave your comments but don't be rude, inflammatory, or insulting. It's a conversation, not a shouting match.

Now, on to the Case for Purebred Dogs:

The Case for Purebred Dogs From a Different Perspective

The Disney movie,"The Miracle of the White Stallions," tells the true story of the famed Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School and their escape out of Vienna during WWII. The cast of real life characters includes General George S. Patton, who helped save them from certain extinction, Colonel Alios Podhajsky, who disobeyed orders from the Nazis by fleeing with the horses, and ordinary Austrians who helped hide and feed the horses along the way. How you hide a bright white horse, let alone hundreds of them is puzzling enough, but that so many Austrians risked their lives to save them is especially mind boggling.
In my opinion, this is the important part of the story and one I think I understand. To explain it, I interject here with a personal anecdote.
I write from Littleton, Colorado where ten years ago, the Columbine High School shootings grabbed the attention of the nation while touching virtually everyone in my community. Shortly after the tragedy, the wife of a friend I was meeting for the first time shared a story about her horse, then the oldest equine known in Colorado.
The horse was pastured near Columbine and as the tragedy was unfolding in the school, the horse experienced his own crisis: he'd slipped into a pond and couldn't get out. Local Fire and Rescue teams were called in but recent rains had made rescue operations all but impossible. Efforts lasted for days. The men were tired. The horse was exhausted. The horse's owner, saddened but seeing the proverbial writing on the wall, told the crew that the horse was old and perhaps it was time to let go.
The crew chief wouldn't hear of it. He explained that his men, depressed that they'd been unable to help the students in the high school, were going to save this one horse because they needed to - for themselves. They needed to make a difference, to work towards something bigger than themselves.

Lipizzan horses were quintessentially Austrian and woven into the tapestry of the national identity.  The Austrians may not have been able to save themselves from the horrors around them, but they were going to save these horses to ensure that something of themselves would survive.

It occurs to me that every purebred dog is, figuratively speaking, a Lipizzan horse in its respective country.  A dog is as much a part of a people's culture as is its language, dress and art. I've always known what we as individual dog owners stand to lose if animal rights groups have their way, but I was struck by the bigger picture – the Lipizzaner parallel –  while participating at a recent event.
"SummerSet Festival," held next to Columbine High School in Littleton draws thousands of people every summer, many of whom bring their dogs along. Being a vendor at the fair allows me to connect with the folks in my community – a sort of neighborly "gossiping over the fence" with strangers that allows me to meet their dogs while gauging their level of awareness about dog-related legislation. I happen to have my camera with me that day and was able to take "visual inventory"  of some of the dogs I met that day, some of whom I did NOT expect to see at a fair. 

Above is "Harley," a Dogue de Bordeaux. The breed is a relative newcomer to the AKC, but it's been around for 600 years and, some believe,may have been developed over 2000 years ago. Also known as the "French Mastiff," a Dogue de Bordeaux appeared in the Tom Hanks movie,“Turner & Hooch,” but the breed played a more significant role in France where it was beloved by both aristocracy and common man. During the French revolution, the breed nearly died out because of the wholesale slaughter of dogs associated with the aristocracy. It fared equally poorly during World War II when Adolph Hitler demanded the execution of all Dogues de Bordeaux because of their devout loyalty to their owners.Were it not for the Dogues owned by butchers who used them to drive cattle, the breed very well might have died out once again. The French love this breed which survived periods of turmoil. Do you see a parallel to the Lipizzaners?

I was pleased to see an Australian Terrier walk by my booth, a personal favorite because I showed one to a Best of Opposite Sex award the first time I showed a dog at Westminster Kennel Club.The Australian Terrier was the first Australian breed to be recognized and shown in its native land, and was also the first Australian breed to be accepted officially. The Aussies are pretty proud of this scrappy little dog.

The only South African breed used to defend the homestead has a long history of breeding in South Africa, the Boerboel which you see at the left.The word "Boerboel" derives from "boer," the Afrikaans/Dutch word for "farmer". Boerboel,therefore, translates as either the  "farmer's dog" or "Boer's dog." By any name, this was THE all purpose utilitarian farm dog in a wild land, and more than one historian has noted  the many characteristics the breed shares with the people who settled this untamed country.    
These two big critters at the right stopped traffic at the festival,if only because few people could get by them. Most folks knew they were looking at something special, they just didn't know what.

Tibetan Mastiffs  are considered by many to be the basic stock from which most modern large working breeds, including all mastiffs and mountain dogs, have developed. Though they are hard to find in present day Tibet, they are still bred by the nomads of the Chang-Tang plateau and live at an average altitude of 16,000 feet. The Mastiffs guarded not only the flocks of goats, sheep and yak,but the women and children, as well, and traditionally they protected the Jokhang Temple, the holiest temple for Tibetan Buddhists, The breed was so highly regarded by Tibetans that they made special collars for the dogs called Kekhors (see above) made of precious yak wool.Black-Russian-Terrier
A Black Russian Terrier (see right) visited my stand, a gorgeous creature whose breed has been recognized by the AKC since 2005. It was a breed that almost didn't happen since most purebred dogs in Russia had been slaughtered during the Revolution and additional depletion of pure stock occurred during the World War and economic disasters. Creating a new purebred dog, then, was initially daunting.
During the 1930's, a Moscow military kennel, the Red Star,  started working on a native breed that would be part of the national security force.  Some twenty breeds were used in the development of the BRT including the Airedale, the Giant Schnauzer, the Rottweiler, the Newfoundland, the Caucasian Ovcharka and the now extinct Moscow Water Dog. By 1956, it finally reached the point where the Black Russian Terrier bred true, and the Red Star Kennel released dogs to private breeders.  The first breed standard was created by the Red Army in 1958, which was revised several times before 1981.

As a dog show exhibitor, I get to see many breeds not generally recognized by the public, but even I was stunned to stunned to see a Finnish Lapphund of which there are only six in the entire state of Colorado. Lapphunds are still being bred in the Lap region by the Laponian people who've relied on these dogs to herd reindeer for a very long time; Archaeological digs in Lapland have unearthed skeletal remains of Laponian dogs estimated to date back prior to 7000 BC. Amazingly the skeletal remains of these ancient dogs are almost identical to the dog you see at below.

Finnish Lapphund
 These six breeds were developed on purpose and with purpose to perform a unique task in the environment in which they lived. These purebred dogs, when bred with their own kind, produced another generation of puppies reliably and uniquely suited to do a vital job to the people who bred them.The Lapphund was no more suited to rid an Australian homestead of vermin than the Australian Terrier was to herd reindeer. If we lose these breeds, as we could from canine legislation, we  lose cultural legacies, some of which are in peril (Tibet).
Do not think for a minute that mandatory spay/neuter laws, or breed specific legislation won't impact the dogs whose pictures you've just seen. The "bully breed ban" in Denver can easily mutate into a ban on dogs which remotely resemble them, i.e., the Dogue de Bordeaux. From there, could it be all big dogs? (Black Russian Terrier). How about dogs with "snipey" muzzles? (Australian Terrier). Where does it end?

Speaking of "ends," I conclude here with one more "culturally precious" breed you've not yet met. I didn't see one of these at the festival, but I came home to several of them: the Puli. I'd grown up with stories about the Pulik my mother had as pets in Hungary, and knew that because of the breed's protective nature, German and Soviets soldiers shot them on sight during the war, including my grandparents' dog.  It was years before I could find  a Puli puppy in this country, but I finally found  "Makos,"  in 1978 and remain good friends with her breeder to this day. I'll forever remember the first time I showed my mother my new Puli – the first time she laid eyes on one since escaping out of Hungary.  She hugged the puppy and cried.

Lipizzaners.  Remember them when you hug your purebred dog. I guarantee that their breed has a story that's enough to make someone cry.

As for anyone who wonders about that horse, it ended well. He was ultimately rescued and restored to his place in the sun, chomping on hay contentedly.

  • Eric Goebelbecker

    What would those French butchers or nomads of the Chang-Tang plateau have done of their dogs faced the issues with displaced hips and elbows, rampant cancer, and other health issues the purebred dogs of today have faced? Would they run more genetic tests? Flown you-know-what across the country to avoid *gasp* breeding their dog with a dog that didn’t look right?
    Do those Tibetan nomads have “stud books?”
    Is there a straight line of lineage for for 2000 or even 600 years of French mastiffs?
    There’s really no comparison between the working dogs of the past and the purebreds of today. Those dogs worked, and were bred based on performance, and no one agonized over purity. They had work to do.
    I understand the desire to preserve tradition, but after a while, the tail wags the dog. Literally.

  • Yvonne DiVita

    Eric, are you saying we have no use for Goldens, Shepards, Old English Sheepdogs, etc? Many purebred dogs still work, today. Maybe not the ‘pets’ some people keep, but the breed is not diminished because it no longer works for a living.
    Good point about the tail wagging the dog. I hope others join this conversation.

  • Talonvaki

    Abyssinian cats are another breed like this. They almost died out in Europe during WWII and only through cats that had been sent to the US and Canada during the previous 20 years kept the breed alive.
    From “Journey from the Blue Nile – A History of the Abyssinian Cat” by Aida Bartleman Zanetti:
    During the Second World War English breeders were compelled by food shortages and the constant threat of being “bombed-out”, to drastically cut their stock in Abyssinian cats. Some were exported for safety to America. A nucleus of their fine stock however has been preserved and is once again a matter of great interest to all breeders everywhere.
    More info here:

  • Hawk aka BrownDog

    Many of these breeds still work for a living.
    Many people who show working dogs, also use them for work. Many hunting breeds double as show and hunting dogs. Others who may not have the drive to hunt, do other jobs to which their breed is uniquely suited.
    Perhaps these early breeders did not have the veterinary tests and ability to ship their animals long distances for breeding. However, they were just as selective. Animals which did not fulfill the pupose of the breed, no matter a lap dog or herding dog, was not used in breeding.
    Breeds were developed by selectively choosing animals whose characteristics fulfilled the working needs.
    For a less ancient breed, look at the history of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever’s development. While there may not have been an “official” stud book, records were kept.
    Reliable Chessie breeders breed a dog that maintains its working ability. Reliable modern breeders of any breed also breed for good temperment.
    Breeds should not be banned; it does everyone a disservice. People who run puppy mills or owners who do not train and exercise their dogs should be banned.
    If a person is guilty of a serious crime we do not ban all people that look like that person and put them in jail. We put the guilty person in jail. By banning a breed you are banning everyone who “looks like”…
    Think about it.
    BrownDog’s Momma


    As a “breed blogger”, I’m not unfamiliar with the voices on both sides of the purebreed issue.
    I believe the choice to select a purebred dog is a very personal one. Bringing ANY dog or other pet into your life is a very personal issue. As a breed enthusiast, I am partial to Welsh Corgis, and I’m not alone in my conviction that this breed chose me, not the other way around.
    There, I (almost) said it: love. It’s not a rational thing, it’s a human thing. We run on emotions and intellect, both.
    There is a consistency of character, temperment and behavior in this and other purebreds. While most Corgis longer spend their lives as “working dogs” per se, this is partly due to the rapid changes in our (Western) society in the last one hundred or so years. Make no mistake, however: that working instinct, and the intelligence, liveliness and tenaciousness that go along with it, are put to good use. The Corgis themselves make sure of it. Just ask anybody who lives with one!
    Like any dog bred for specific purposes, they’re not for everybody. Welsh Corgis are generally smarter than the average dog, they tend to be vocal, and they’re headstrong. Those suited to life with a Corgi consider these things a part of the whole package, or should before they decide to adopt or buy one. A good breeder will place to homes s/he has judged suitable, because they genuinely care.
    It’s not unethical, or irresponsible, to have a preference for a dog with certain behavioral and physical characteristics. So long as we’re honestly willing and ABLE to acccomodate ourselves happily to the genuine needs of that breed, it’s not inherently bad to choose a purebred. Or be chosen by one. (That pesky love thing again).
    Beyond that, I don’t think purebred vs. “mutt” or mix is an either-or issue, and time spent in heated argument about it is ultimately not helpful to anybody — canine or human.
    Neither purebred dogs, nor those who breed them responsibly, are the enemy: the root causes of pet overpoulation are. Puppy mills, widespread failure to spay and neuter, the llimited availability of affordable spay and neuter services in many areas, the lack of public education on these issues, and sometimes just plain carelessness account for the majority of pets who end up in shelters. Yes, even purebred dogs.
    Too many of them have their lives ended pitifully, because humans have failed them. It’s cold comfort for these poor souls who gave much and asked little, to say the very least.
    When we domesticate an animal, and moreso for the purposes (in part or whole) of companionship (which seems inevitable, given the nature of both the dog and the process of domestication), we take on a serious responsibility for lives not our own.
    There’s a falling down on that responsibility, on a grand scale. It’s long past the hour for turning the tide on it.
    Many good people are working at just that, and actual progress is being made.
    Many of those people also happen to own purebreds.
    There’s room for all of us who care deeply about these animals. We cannot afford to alienate one another, we must try to keep the lines of communication open, because our numbers are still yet too small.

  • Yvonne DiVita

    Thanks for posting, everyone. I’m learning a lot from this conversation.

  • Ashley

    I started writing a comment to this but realized that it was turning into a post of its own so I put it up over on our blog at I Love Rescue Animals:

  • Eric Goebelbecker

    The word “ban” does not appear in my comment anywhere. Questioning how dogs are bred today – especially as compared to how they were bred before the Victorian era kennel clubs emerged – does not make me anti-purebred.
    Of course there are still responsible breeders, and there are still working dogs. But if it’s fair to point them out, is it not fair to point out the dogs bred for looks? What kind of purebred is the average pet owner likely to end up with? Can you grab a random purebred whatever from someplace and guarantee me what the temperament will be?
    Go take a look at real working Border Collies (“my breed” if I have one) and compare them to what you see in shows. Two working BCs can actually be recognized as different dogs at a distance by a casual observer. Go to a show. They all look like stunt doubles from “Babe.”
    Take one of those working Border Collies home for a weekend. I dare you. Dogs bred for that work are *not* pets.
    100 or so years ago, the idea of a purebred was very different, and a breeder that needed a dog to herd, retrieve, hunt, or whatever would not have been booted out of the country club if he dared to take two dogs that weren’t already first or second cousins and breed them, especially if he had a reason to believe that doing would result in a litter that did the job better.
    Remember, Lord Tweed (I think it was?) created the Golden in a few generations, using Labs, Flat-coats, and something else – I can’t remember. He mixed breeds! And the world stayed on its axis.

  • Lorie Huston

    Thank you for posting this. It is a well-written and very thoughtful post and offers a valid viewpoint, IMHO.
    Though I favor rescues myself, I do believe there is a place in the world for purebreds. I’ve seen purebred dogs make wonderful pets, including my brother’s purebred Golden Retriever, Tucker.
    I understand the rescue issues and I support pretty much any and all legitimate rescue activities. However, I also see nothing wrong with breeding purebred dogs and cats as long as the breeding is done in a responsible fashion. However, I think that’s where things start to get “sticky”.
    There are so many potential pet owners out there who know nothing about what makes a breeder responsible. Many people make no distinction between puppy mill puppies, those bred by so-called “backyard breeders” and those bred by truly responsible breeders. Buying a purebred puppy is truly a buyer-beware type of situation. And so many buyers are totally clueless.
    In my experience, the responsible breeders are far fewer in number than the not-so-responsible ones. But they do exist. And, in my opinion, it it these people who are best suited to look to the future of their given breed.
    Remember, responsible breeders are going to be producing quality, not quantity. They’re also going to make every effort to ascertain that the puppies and kittens that they place with new owners will remain in that home and be properly cared for throughout their life-time. In my opinion, that’s one of the big differences between a responsible breeder and one that is not.
    So, from my perspective, the question becomes how can we allow responsible breeders to continue their activities while curbing the activities of those that should not be breeding animals? I wish I had a good answer to that question!

  • Two Little Cavaliers

    Dogs showing signs of disease like hip dysplaysia would not have been bred back then because they would not have been able to function properly. Its true we can test for more diseases now then they could have seen or known about then but isn’t it better to ensure the health of a dog through some testing so they don’t have to suffer then to ignore something that can be avoided?
    I can speak for one breed of lap dog and I know many others were the same way. A Cavalier had two completely separate functions they had to perform in order in life and if they couldn’t or didn’t perform one of them they would not have been used to breed. Cavaliers had to be lap warmers and entertainers for the ladies and had to be able to go out and hunt with their masters for small game and birds. If they could not hunt they were not used.
    No one is saying many of our favorite breeds today weren’t created. What is said is that they breed true to a specific set of standards. That means they look and act a specific way.
    “Remember, Lord Tweed (I think it was?) created the Golden in a few generations, using Labs, Flat-coats, and something else – I can’t remember. He mixed breeds!” Yes you are right and all the breeds he mixed had the same or very similar job he didn’t take a hunting dog and mix it with a working dog. The dogs he chose were wired the same way. He created the dog in a few generations meaning Goldens bred true Goldens and you didn’t need to take the original dogs and breed them together to produce the Golden anymore.

  • Kyla Duffy

    I appreciate this post as it certainly presents an interesting angle on purebred animals. As a volunteer with Boston Terrier rescue, I often struggle with hypocrisy. My dilemma is that I feel like as an American, an individualist, I should want a dog who is an individual – a mixed-breed one-of-a-kind. However, I’ve fallen in love with Boston Terriers, as I find them very easy to foster, good with cats and other dogs (usually), easy to clean up after, and resilient. I find this to be a dilemma because if someone said to me I’m German and I’m reproducing with Germans to make more Germans, we all know what we would call them. But when we say, I love Bostons and I want them to reproduce with Bostons to make more Bostons, many applaud. Here’s the thing: whatever breed, mixed or pure, there are currently too many dogs needing homes. We need to do something about it. Additionally, inbreeding is rampant and is causing significant genetic deficiencies. What I can’t understand is why GOOD breeders are not more outspoken against puppy mills. If pet shops stopped selling dogs, and people became more educated about puppy mills, it’s possible we wouldn’t even have this overpopulation problem. Can anyone explain this to me?

  • Miss Kodee

    I am all for reputable, ethical breeding. Like many I support legitimate rescue when the dog is placed in the right home, note not just any home but a good matching home. Mixed breed dogs I have known to have some of the best personalities.
    What I do not get is this constant desire for people to pit one side against another. I will continue to dream that one day as a society, we will learn to stop judging others for their choices. Cliques are so passe.

  • Kristine

    @Miss Kodee, I am right there with you.
    This post has certainly got everyone talking! I am all for mature, responsible breeding. As long as the humans bringing these lovely animals into the world are doing it for the right reasons, ie. because the two dogs have stellar temperaments, are incredibly healthy, and it would be a shame if their line wasn’t passed on, then I am certainly not going to judge them. Or anyone for wanting to bring a pure-bred puppy from such a caring background into their lives. Just as I won’t judge anyone for adopting a mixed breed mutt.
    There are some issues with certain breeds, health issues, that I question the ethics of continuing the line, regardless of history. But I can appreciate how a breed fits into the greater culture. As a historian, I understand the importance of recognising all aspects of a society’s past. I also understand wanting to keep as much of it around in the future as possible. But a dog isn’t a piece of architecture. As humans responsible for bringing these animals to life and into existence, we have to also weigh the pros and cons of continuing to do so. I just don’t know sometimes.

  • Miss Kodee

    @Kristine Bottom line for me, is as responsible human beings we do everything we can to purchase or rescue a HEALTHY DOG.
    It still comes down to respecting the choice to support RESPONSIBLE breeding or ETHICAL rescue.
    The third situation would be those who choose to not support pet owership. I can respect their choice. I also expect my choice to be respected. If not its easy enough to walk away from the conversation.

  • Affenage

    Another perspective on the value of purebred dogs. There is no other species on earth that is so genetically similar yet so phenotypically diverse – there are breeds of cats, they all look like, cats. There are breeds of cows, and they all look like, cows. The difference between a Great Dane and a Chihuahua is amazing – and to think that genetically those two are more closely related than I am to you is equally amazing.
    The “doggie” Genome project is underway at several universities. It is well known that when breeding dogs for different types of work, breeders are selecting for personality traits, behaviors and temperment. This is so very useful for brain research – and the genetics involved.
    What humans achieved over thousands of years by breeding dogs is more than amazing, it is unique and valuable. I know some cannot get past the amount of disease found in puppy mill dogs, and I agree, it is horrible. Unfortunately, there have never been enough caring, responsible dog breeders to come close to meeting the supply needed to satisfy the demand. Bashing us, and demonizing us does nothing to discourage the puppy mills – but it does diminish the amount of good breeders out there. If anything the negative image of the dog breeder is accelerating the downfall of the health of the purebred dog, not improving it.
    Is there a need for purebred dogs? I dunno, but really, is there a need for Picasso? :-)
    The Affenage, current home to one gorgeous, HEALTHY unneutered purebred Affenpinscher, one neutered rescue Affen/JRT mix and one neutered rescue Iggy.

  • Camila

    Why on Earth would you say that the mixed breeds are htlaehier? Based on what, exactly? the fact that they are never health tested? The fact that their parents, or grandparens or greatgrandparents or ANY dogs in their pedigree are never health tested? If you do not test for health problems, of course you wont know they are there!!! And yes, PM do sell mixed breeds..things such as cockapoos, morkies, labradoodles, and too many more to even bother listing. Bottom line, they are all MUTTS, you are correct, but no, they are absolutely NOT heartier, htlaehier nor do they live longer than purebreds, just based on the fact that they are mixed. The very idea of Hybrid Vigor is nothing more than a ridiculus old wives tale. I test my purebred dogs for everything I can so yes, sometimes something may show up but thats WHY I that I can be assured that if I breed, then I am only breeding the very best, and most healthy animals, resulting in genetically clear offspring what mixed breed has that behind it??NOTE: To the folks talking about how CHD is passed on before it has crippled the parents, thats true, BUT only in BYB’s and just ignorant folks in general who are not waiting until the dog is 2 years old, then performing the OFA xrays and waiting to the results before breeding the animals can and is caught early, then those animals can be spayed or neutered so as to not be passing that on That is how health testing works but it only works if you do it.

  • escorovicle

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