Pets - The Purebred Dog Industry

dogs puppies puppy breeders

Many animal welfare groups blame dog overpopulation in part on the purebred dog industry. Purebred dogs are those which have been bred from members of a recognized breed over many generations. This ensures that certain appearance and behavior traits are maintained within a breed. Breeding of this type has been practiced for centuries. During the Middle Ages, it was popularized by European monks who earned money by breeding dogs with particular traits for aristocrats and members of royalty. It resulted in breeds that were notable for a specific task, such as hunting wildfowl, or had desirable features in their size, shape, fur, ears, and so forth.

Maintaining desirable qualities in a bloodline requires careful choice of mating partners. For example, an excellent hunting dog mated with a poor hunting dog will likely produce offspring that are not good hunters, and so the desirable qualities would be lost. Mating together two excellent hunting dogs will greatly increase the likelihood that the offspring are also great hunters. This makes them much more valuable. Purebred enthusiasts are passionate about protecting certain qualities within a breed, and reputable breeders work to ensure that breed characteristics are maintained and that pure-bred puppies are placed in good homes.

The HSUS estimates that up to 500,000 purebred puppies are sold either in pet stores or directly by breeders each year. Purebred puppies and dogs can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Demand for pure-bred puppies and dogs has resulted in a multi-billion-dollar industry based on breeding, showing, selling, and registering these dogs. Some common terms used in the purebred dog industry are defined in Table 9.5.

Registration, Pedigree, and Papers

The American Kennel Club (AKC) was formed in 1884. It is the largest not-for-profit organization in the United States that registers purebred dogs. The second-largest registry is maintained by the United Kennel Club (UKC), which was founded in 1898. These are the two most respected purebred registries in the United States. For a fee they provide registration certificates or "papers" showing that dogs are recognized as belonging to a particular breed. These papers provide a written record of a particular dog's ancestry. Typical registration fees range from $15 to $45. As of February 2005, the TABLE 9.5
Terminology used in purebred industry
SOURCE: Created by Kim Masters Evans for Thomson Gale, 2005

Breed standard Set of detailed guidelines established to define the particular characteristics of a breed
Conformation points Specific criteria within the breed standard (e.g., fur color, shape of paws, size, etc.)
Consanguineous Descended from the same ancestor
Dam Mother dog
Fault A characteristic of a purebred dog that doesn't meet a conformation point
Inbreeding Breeding of immediate relatives (e.g., brother with sister, father with daughter, etc.)
Linebreeding Breeding of close relatives (e.g., aunt with nephew, grandfather with granddaughter, cousin with cousin, etc.) or of animals with many common ancestors
Outcrossing Breeding two dogs from different lines
Pedigree A listing of ancestors; the family tree
Sire Father dog
True to type Showing desired breed characteristics. Also desired characteristics are so ingrained that offspring can be certain to have them also
Type Overall appearance including characteristics important to the breed standard
Typey An adjective used to describe a dog that seems to capture the essence of the breed or closely meets the breed standard
Whelped Born

AKC recognized 153 dog breeds and the UKC recognized 308 breeds. Each organization is supported by hundreds of local and regional kennel and breed clubs around the country.

The registration papers for purebred dogs are based on information supplied by breeders who are members of their respective clubs. Breeders can register litters born to registered purebred dogs. The registration papers are then turned over to the puppies' new owners. Each owner chooses a unique name for a registered dog that cannot be repeated. Owners can also request a copy of a pedigree (a family tree) for their registered dogs that goes back several generations. The AKC Annual Report for 2003 reported that the club registered 915,668 individual dogs and 423,761 litters in that year. The UKC Web site as of February 2005 reported that the club registers 250,000 dogs annually.

According to the AKC, the dog breeds with the most registrations in 2003 were Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, beagles, German Shepherds, and dachshunds.

Purebreds and Genetic Problems

Dogs as a species are very prone to genetic diseases. According to Professor C. B. Chastain of the University of Missouri, "dogs are plagued by the greatest number of documented, naturally occurring genetic disorders of any non-human species." There are approximately 400 inherited disorders associated with dogs. As long as the breeding population remains large the chances of passing along a genetic disorder are small. This is because the dog blueprint is based on around 30,000 genes.

Individual genes determine characteristics of a particular dog, such as hair color. Some genes can also carry the triggers for serious diseases and disorders. Two dogs can carry genes with these dangerous triggers but not suffer from the diseases themselves because the genes are recessive rather than dominant in their genetic makeup. However, if these two dogs mate with each other, there is a good chance that some of their puppies will inherit the problem genes from both parents and develop the disorder. At the very least, most of the puppies will inherit the recessive problem gene and later pass it along to their offspring.

In purebred dogs this inheritance problem is extremely aggravated because closely related dogs are bred with one another. This raises significantly the chances that problem genes will be passed on from parents to offspring. According to Dr. Chastain, "purebred dog breeds have a much higher incidence of genetic disease than mixed breed dogs."

Common genetic diseases within specific breeds include heart disease in boxers, bleeding problems in Dobermans, lymphomas in pointers, hip dysplasia in Labrador retrievers, and eye problems in Irish setters.

In 1964 a group of veterinarians teamed with representatives from the Golden Retriever Club of America and the German Shepherd Club of America to found the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). The OFA maintains a database of specific genetic disorders in individual purebred dogs. This information allows conscientious breeders to make informed decisions about which dogs should be mated. As of 2005 the genetic disorders tracked by the OFA were:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Patellar Luxation
  • Autoimmune Thyroiditis
  • Congenital Heart Disease
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease
  • Sebaceous Adenitis
  • Congenital Deafness
  • Craniomandibular Osteopathy
  • Von Willebrand's Disease
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Copper Toxicosis
  • Cystinuria
  • Phosphofructokinase Deficiency
  • Congenital Stationary Night Blindness
  • Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency
  • Renal Dysplasia

The OFA encourages breeders to submit health information for numerous generations so that trends in inheritance can be deduced. The OFA also issues health ratings for dogs in its database to provide potential consumers with important information. For example, the OFA can certify the condition of hips and elbows in particular dogs. This information can be included with the registration papers issued by the AKC. Another certifying organization is the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). CERF maintains a database on eye health and can certify that a particular purebred dog's eyes are free of genetic disorders.

Experts advise consumers buying a purebred dog to seek dogs whose hips and elbows have been certified "Excellent" or "Good" by the OFA and whose eyes have been certified by CERF to be free of genetic abnormalities. The same conditions should be met in the parents of purebred puppies that consumers consider buying.

Papers Do Not Guarantee Quality or Health

Neither the AKC nor the UKC guarantees the quality or health of a purebred dog. In 2005 the AKC Web site included the following warning: "There is a widely held belief that 'AKC' or 'AKC papers' guarantee the quality of a dog. This is not the case. AKC is a registry body. A registration certificate identifies the dog as the offspring of a known sire and dam, born on a known date. It in no way indicates the quality or state of health of the dog."

The AKC and UKC simply track ancestry records based on the information they are given by breeders. It is an honor system. Unscrupulous breeders can provide false information and register dogs that are not really purebreds, but mixes (or mutts). Such breeders can also purposely breed dogs with known genetic disorders just to achieve a look that is popular with purebred buyers.

During the late 1990s the AKC began random DNA testing to ensure that breeders were supplying accurate information about the purebred dogs they registered. On its Web site the AKC reported that, as of 2005, its compliance auditors had collected DNA at more than 7,900 kennels. More than 14,500 litters had been tested, resulting in 80,000 DNA samples that were analyzed to verify parentage. The AKC noted that in 2003 more than 93% of the litters tested had correct parentage. This value is up from 89% in 1998. The AKC also maintains a database of DNA profiles for breeders who wish to have their purebreds DNA-certified by the AKC. As of October 27, 2004, the AKC had collected more than 320,000 of these voluntary DNA profiles.

Purebred Dog Competitions

The AKC and UKC hold thousands of competitions each year in which registered dogs can compete. Some of these events are called dog shows or conformation shows and are designed to show off dogs that exemplify breed standards. These are basically beauty contests in which the focus is on distinctive features that characterize particular breeds. Other competitions highlight skills in hunting, agility, or obedience. In 2003 the AKC sanctioned and regulated more than 3,500 dog shows around the country in which more than 1.7 million dogs were entered.

Purebred Registries Compete

The AKC and UKC are recognized as reputable pure-bred registries in the United States. In addition, some breed clubs maintain well-respected registries—for example, the Australian Shepherd Club of America. However, a number of other registries exist that may operate for dubious purposes. Dog enthusiasts say that unscrupulous registries make money by issuing papers indiscriminately to dogs that are not even purebreds or for dogs that are not from recognized breeds. This allows breeders to sell the dogs for high prices to unsuspecting consumers. Many of these unscrupulous registries are believed to have been started by breeders that have been kicked out of the AKC or UKC for rules violations.

Alternative registries often allow crossbreeds to be registered. These are puppies resulting from mating two desirable breeds together. Usually the parents are AKC or UKC registered. However, the puppies cannot be registered by those agencies. Crossbreeds are popular with some consumers because they are novel. Examples include:

  • Schoodle—mix of poodle and schnauzer
  • Labradoodle—mix of Labrador retriever and poodle
  • Cockapoo or Spoodle—mix of cocker spaniel and poodle
  • Yorkiepoo—mix of Yorkshire terrier and poodle
  • Golden Doodle—mix of golden retriever and poodle
  • Bug—mix of beagle and pug

Puppy Mills

Puppy mills are facilities that breed puppies in inferior conditions and sell them in commercial markets. The HSUS says that puppy mills do not provide adequate veterinary care, food, shelter, and socialization for their puppies. According to the HSUS, thousands of puppy mills existed in the United States as of 2005. Animal welfare groups maintain that puppy mills cause suffering of mother dogs and puppies. Female dogs are bred too often and destroyed when they quit producing puppies. The puppies are often transported over long distances in cramped cages and frequently suffer from debilitating conditions and diseases.

All dog breeders meeting certain criteria must be licensed by the USDA. These licenses fall into two types:

  • Class A—Breeders who sell animals that they have bred and raised on their own premises. People with three or fewer breeding females that sell offspring for pets or exhibition are exempt. People that sell animals directly to owners are exempt.
  • Class B—People that purchase and resell animals, including dealers, brokers, and auction house operators. Retail pet stores selling non-dangerous "pet-type" animals are exempt.

Table 9.6 shows the number of Class A and B licenses by state as of July 2004. The states with the most Class A licenses were Missouri (1,358), Oklahoma (529), Kansas (431), Iowa (373), and Arkansas (272). Together these five states accounted for 72% of all Class A licenses. The vast majority of the licensed breeders in these states raise puppies for the purebred market. Breeders and brokers sell purebred puppies to pet stores, who in turn sell them to the public. Annual USDA license fees for Class A and B licenses are listed in Table 9.7. A $10 application fee is required for first-time applicants.

Puppy farming is big business in the Midwest. It was encouraged by the government following World War II TABLE 9.6
Number of Class A and B licensees by state, July 2004
SOURCE: Adapted from Facility Lists, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, July 2004, and (accessed March 17, 2005)

Class A breeders Class B dealers
State Number Total Number Total
Alaska 1 0.02% 0 0%
Alabama 15 0.4% 7 0.6%
Arkansas 272 6.6% 33 2.8%
Arizona 4 0.1% 2 0.2%
California 18 0.4% 26 2.2%
Colorado 12 0.3% 13 1.1%
Connecticut 1 0.02% 4 0.3%
District of Columbia 0 0% 0 0%
Delaware 0 0% 3 0.3%
Florida 37 0.9% 93 7.9%
Georgia 31 0.8% 10 0.9%
Hawaii 0 0% 0 0%
Iowa 373 9.1% 60 5.1%
Idaho 6 0.1% 1 0.1%
Illinois 54 1.3% 45 3.8%
Indiana 47 1.1% 36 3.1%
Kansas 431 10.5% 62 5.3%
Kentucky 11 0.3% 6 0.5%
Louisiana 21 0.5% 9 0.8%
Massachusetts 9 0.2% 14 1.2%
Maryland 7 0.2% 15 1.3%
Maine 1 0.02% 2 0.2%
Michigan 19 0.5% 32 2.7%
Minnesota 76 1.8% 39 3.3%
Missouri 1,358 33.0% 168 14.3%
Mississippi 7 0.2% 2 0.2%
Montana 6 0.1% 1 0.1%
North Carolina 6 0.1% 31 2.6%
North Dakota 24 0.6% 4 0.3%
Nebraska 165 4.0% 14 1.2%
New Hampshire 2 0.05% 1 0.1%
New Jersey 4 0.1% 13 1.1%
New Mexico 3 0.1% 0 0%
Nevada 3 0.1% 4 0.3%
New York 31 0.8% 28 2.4%
Ohio 60 1.5% 38 3.2%
Oklahoma 529 12.8% 62 5.3%
Oregon 25 0.6% 21 1.8%
Pennsylvania 127 3.1% 48 4.1%
Rhode Island 0 0% 3 0.3%
South Carolina 5 0.1% 8 0.7%
South Dakota 105 2.6% 16 1.4%
Tennessee 22 0.5% 18 1.5%
Texas 109 2.6% 99 8.4%
Utah 2 0.05% 9 0.8%
Virginia 21 0.5% 16 1.4%
Vermont 0 0% 2 0.2%
Washington 14 0.3% 10 0.9%
Wisconsin 37 0.9% 39 3.3%
West Virginia 3 0.1% 6 0.5%
Wyoming 3 0.1% 3 0.3%
4,117 1,176

as a way for rural people to make more income. Many traditional farmers switched from raising pigs to raising puppies when market conditions were favorable. This was particularly true in Missouri.


As shown in Table 9.6, Missouri leads the nation in USDA Class A and B licenses. The state accounts for 33% of all Class A licenses and 14% of all Class B licenses. It is widely agreed that TABLE 9.7
USDA license fees
SOURCE: Adapted from "Table 1. Dealers, Brokers, and Operators of an Auction Sale—Class 'A' and 'B' License," in Title 9—Animals and Animal Products, Chapter I—Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Department of Agriculture, Part 2—Regulations, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, October 21, 2004, (accessed February 22, 2005)

Over* But not over* Initial license fee Annual or changed class of license fee
$0 $500 $30 $40
500 2,000 60 70
2,000 10,000 120 130
*Total amount received from sale of animals.

Missouri is the nation's top source for purebred puppies. In December 2003 radio station KMOX of St. Louis aired an award-winning series on puppy farming in Missouri. According to Missouri—The Puppy Pipeline, the state had an estimated 1,000 licensed puppy breeding facilities in 2003, far more than any other state. Experts estimated that as many as 1,000 additional unlicensed puppy farms were operating illegally. The state is home to the Hunte Corporation, the world's largest distributor of puppies to pet stores. Puppy breeding was an estimated $2 billion a year business in Missouri during 2003. The radio series reviewed the history of the puppy farming industry in the state and reported on problems revealed by state auditors.

In 1992 the Missouri legislature passed the Animal Care Facilities Act to establish minimum standards for businesses, shelters, and pounds dealing with dogs and cats. The Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) oversees the program, with regulations largely identical to federal USDA regulations for animal facilities. In February 2001 the office of the State Auditor released a report highly critical of the MDA's oversight of the state's puppy breeding industry. The auditors said that MDA facility inspections were "spotty" and resulted in few sanctions against violators. Problems were also cited with apparent conflict of interest, because the program coordinator and one of the inspectors were former commercial dog breeders and still involved in the breeding business. The report concluded, "commercial dog breeders have no incentive to comply with Missouri laws, leaving canines at risk for substandard care."

KMOX investigative reporter Megan Lynch found that the MDA inspection organization was changed as a result of the unfavorable audit in 2001. Lynch interviewed the MDA's new director, who instituted standardized procedures that inspectors followed, including a checklist to use during inspections. However, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation said that the MDA's improvements were "on paper only" TABLE 9.8
Violations observed by Missouri auditors at puppy breeding facilities
SOURCE: Adapted from text in Follow-Up Review of Animal Care Facilities Inspection Program (Report 2004-91), Office of the Missouri State Auditor, December 16, 2004, (accessed March 17, 2005)

Inspection type Violations observed by auditor at puppy breeding facilities Response of inspector
Pre-licensing Cages with inadequate flooring
Accumulated fecal material
Multiple shelters in poor condition
Improper food storage
Operator selling puppies prior to obtaining license
Did not observe
Did not observe
Did not observe
Did not observe
Observed, but did not report, told operator "you really shouldn't be doing that"
Annual Pens with large amounts of fecal accumulation
Housing facility that did not protect dogs from weather
Observed, but did not report
Observed, but did not report, decided to revisit facility before winter to ensure building was completed
Annual A piece of unsecured metal covering a drain channel inside the outdoor runs Did not observe
Pre-licensing No veterinary care available
Fecal accumulation under and in pens
Dirty water or no water in bowls
Gave applicant up to 30 days to correct, but did not reinspect for 138 days
Re-inspection of above facility Fecal accumulation under and in pens
Dirty water or no water
Pens with no shelter or shade
No food or moldy food in feed bowls
Dogs with skin problems
A puppy that had been dead for several days in pen
28 new violations
Gave applicant time to correct
Re-inspection of above facility 14 violations still existing from previous inspections, plus 7 new violations Gave applicant time to correct
Re-inspection of above facility 15 violations still existing from previous inspections, plus 11 new violations Gave applicant time to correct

and did not actually bring about change in the industry. She also criticized MDA's policy of letting breeders with problems make improvements rather than face administrative hearings for noncompliance. The MDA noted that their policy saves time and money.

In December 2004 the Missouri State Auditor released a follow-up report on MDA's oversight of puppy farms. The report was highly critical of the agency, noting that "most" of the problems cited in the 2001 audit had not been corrected. The problem areas cited by the auditors are as follows:

  • Inspectors did not always observe all violations or record all the violations they observed.
  • Some inspectors did not believe it was necessary to report all violations or conduct a complete annual inspection.
  • Some facilities with chronic poor performance were never penalized.
  • State inspectors were duplicating federal inspection efforts.
  • Inspections were not conducted annually at every facility as required by law.
  • The MDA was reluctant to use the administrative hearing process or confiscate animals from repeat violators. For example, one facility had been cited for eighty-three recurring violations since December 2000, but had never been penalized.
  • Fines for violations were rarely assessed. Those fines that had been assessed were never collected.
  • Poor record keeping made it difficult to determine which facilities had paid their licensing fees.
  • The MDA's nine inspectors were so overburdened with other tasks that they did not have time to conduct their inspection duties properly.
  • The MDA allowed unlicensed operators to continue to operate and sell dogs in violation of state regulations. The report warned, "These problems have eroded the integrity of the inspection program which is designed to help ensure canines are safely and humanely treated." Auditors accompanying MDA inspectors observed unsanitary and unsafe conditions at some puppy farms. A listing of the most serious problems is provided in Table 9.8. In addition, the audit mentions numerous problems with record-keeping, both by inspectors and facility operators.


In response to negative publicity about puppy mills, several states have passed "lemon laws" to protect consumers who buy puppies at pet stores. Such laws typically enable consumers to be reimbursed by pet stores that sell them puppies that turn out to be in poor health. The HSUS says that seventeen states had puppy lemon laws or regulations as of August 2001 and hopes that such laws motivate pet stores to pressure breeders to improve the conditions in which puppies are raised. Table 9.9 shows HSUS tips on how consumers can identify a good dog breeder.

Tips from the HSUS for picking a good dog breeder
SOURCE: "How to Identify a Good Dog Breeder—Tips from the Humane Society of the United States," in How to Find a Good Dog Breeder, Humane Society of the United States, 2005, (accessed March 17, 2005)

Keeps her dogs in the home and as part of the family––not outside in kennel runs.
Has dogs who appear happy and healthy, are excited to meet new people, and don't shy away from visitors.
Shows you where the dogs spend most of their time––an area that is clean and well maintained.
Encourages you to spend time with the puppy's parents––at a minimum, the pup's mother––when you visit.
Breeds only one or two types of dogs, and is knowledgeable about what are called "breed standards" (the desired characteristics of the breed in areas such as size, proportion, coat, color, and temperament).
Has a strong relationship with a local veterinarian and shows you records of veterinary visits for the puppies. Explains the puppies' medical history and what vaccinations your new puppy will need.
Is well versed in the potential genetic problems inherent in the breed––there are specific genetic concerns for every breed––and explains to you what those concerns are. The breeder should have had the puppy's parents tested (and should have the results from the parents' parents) to ensure they are free of those defects, and she should be able to provide you with documentation for all testing she has done through organizations such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).
Gives you guidance on caring and training for your puppy and is available for assistance after you take your puppy home.
Provides references of other families who have purchased puppies from her.
Feeds high quality "premium" brand food.
Doesn't always have puppies available but rather will keep a list of interested people for the next available litter.
Actively competes with her dogs in conformation trials (which judge how closely dogs match their "breed standard"), obedience trials (which judge how well dogs perform specific sets of tasks on command), or tracking and agility trials. Good breeders will also work with local, state, and national clubs that specialize in their specific breed.
Encourages multiple visits and wants your entire family to meet the puppy before you take your puppy home.
Provides you with a written contract and health guarantee and allows plenty of time for you to read it thoroughly. The breeder should not require that you use a specific veterinarian.

Hunte Corporation is the nation's largest supplier of purebred puppies to pet stores and also ships them internationally, primarily to Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Spain. During her December 2003 investigation, Lynch interviewed the chief veterinarian for Hunte Corporation. The company is headquartered in Goodman, Missouri, and employs about 200 people. According to the veterinarian, the company holds breeders and pet stores to high standards and uses state-of-the-art transport vehicles to ship puppies. Incoming puppies are subjected to a veterinary exam and checked against breed standards. Hunte also says it tracks sires and dams with a database to screen out genetic problems. The company's puppies come with a three-year guarantee for the absence of hereditary and genetic disorders.

Kim Townsend operates an anti-puppy-mill Web site ( She also offers information to people who are thinking about purchasing or have purchased a puppy from a pet store. Consumers who purchase pet store puppies can determine where the puppies came from by researching the supplier (breeder) and distributor (broker) numbers that should appear on the paperwork supplied by the store. These seven-digit alphanumeric codes are USDA registration numbers (for example, 43-A-0123 or 43-B-4444).

Consumers are urged to contact the USDA and ask for copies of federal inspection reports conducted on the breeder and broker of any puppy they purchase. Backyard breeders and hobby breeders do not have to register with the USDA. Townsend claims to maintain a database of information on thousands of private breeders and brokers that people can research.

Dog enthusiasts encourage consumers to buy only from reputable local breeders and to ask to see the sire (father) and dam (mother) of the puppy they are interested in purchasing. A personal visit ensures the consumer that the breeder is operating a clean and well-kept business with healthy, well-adjusted dogs.


All major animal welfare organizations are opposed to commercial puppy breeding because of the severe pet overpopulation problem. They do not believe that puppies should be commercially bred because millions of unwanted puppies and dogs are euthanized at shelters every year. The HSUS estimated on its Web site in 2003 that approximately 25% of the dogs that wind up in shelters are purebred. Purebred dogs can generally be identified by their coloring, fur, and characteristic appearance.

The AKC does not support random large-scale breeding of dogs for commercial purposes. The organization conducts inspections of breeders who use the AKC registry and breeders, retail pet shops, and brokers who conduct twenty-five or more registration transactions per year or breed seven or more litters of puppies per year. According to the AKC, in 2003 thirteen inspectors visited 4,814 kennels, 461 pet shops, thirty-nine puppy brokers, and fifty-nine auctions.

There is some indication that demand for purebred dogs is declining. In its 2003 annual report the AKC mentioned a "continued decline" in registrations. Revenue from registration activities was down by 2.5% in 2003 compared with 2002.

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