For most of my adult life I have considered it virtuous to rescue a mutt and selfish to purchase a full-bred dog from a breeder. The popular "Adopt, don't shop" slogan of the shelters was one I preached everywhere. I have since learned the error of that thinking. While it is true, there are an endless number of rescues that need good homes, I only recently started thinking about the reason for this problem. The problem is two-fold. Over breeding low quality dogs combined with a shortage of good dog owners are the two ingredients to this disaster. Low quality genetics and poor early handling often creates challenging dogs with behavior problems that require a professional trainer or an experienced owner to end up with a well-behaved dog. When people don't invest in these tools, they are left with dogs that have anxiety, aggression, and and endless list of behavior problems. If people would consider the cost of a dog to include a puppy trainer or puppy classes, ongoing training, hiring a walker or paying for doggy daycare, and ongoing vet care to be included, people would realize dogs are almost as expensive as children and would consider a purchase more carefully. This is not likely to change any time soon. Dogs are viewed as property and most people are selfish.
How do fullbred dogs vs mixed breeds factor in to the problem and the solution?
"A groundbreaking shelter study released today by the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) reveals that U.S. animal shelters are reporting an all-time low in the number of purebred dogs available. The study finds that only about five percent of the dogs available in U.S. shelters are purebred; a significant departure from the 25% figure commonly assumed. If pitbulls (a commonly misidentified dog) and Chihuahuas (which are the leading import dog for relocation programs) are removed from the purebred total the percentage drops to closer to 3%.
This survey shows “tremendous progress in eradicating dog overpopulation and substantially reducing the number of shelter deaths which occurred in the past due to indiscriminate or accidental breeding,” said Patti Strand, president of NAIA.
Strand credited animal sheltering groups and national dog organizations like the American Kennel Club (AKC) for launching ongoing campaigns encouraging pet owners to select their pets more carefully, neuter dogs not intended for breeding programs, and understand the lifelong commitment that responsible dog ownership requires. She also commended the AKC breed rescue groups that work directly with shelters to save purebred dogs suitable for adoption.
The study is also significant because it reveals common misconceptions about purebred dogs in shelters and exposes the fallacy that pet purchasers who prefer a purebred pet or one from a documented source somehow hurt a dog in a shelter through their choice of pet. “The best way to prevent pets from being in shelters is to be a responsible pet owner”, said Sheila Goffe of the American Kennel Club. “There are a variety of sources from which you can get a great pet. But responsibility starts with carefully selecting the right pet for your lifestyle so that you can care for it appropriately and have a rewarding lifelong relationship.”
Why do people prefer full bred dogs? There are many possible reason. Status being one. Just like people who are seeking to gain status prefer to wear brand names, status can be attained by owning an expensive full bred dog. However I tend to think that status is one of the lesser reasons. I believe people develop a preference for a dog breed in a similar way they develop a preference for favorite foods or genres of music, because of numerous interconnected unidentified experiences that stem from our genetics, physiology, psychology, and experiences. Sometimes there is an obvious reason, like it was our first dog as a child, but more often than not we just like how the breed looks and/or acts and we don't know why. With a mixed breed, you don't have any predictability for how the dog will look or behave. They are wild cards with many breed characteristics impacting their behavior and appearances. I think people prefer the degree of predictability that having a full-bred dog offers. They know how the puppy will look when it gets older and what general traits it will have. While some people love the unexpected, a preference for the predictable is is a quality inherent in humans that is unlikely to change. So, full-bred dogs aren't going to disappear.
As long as there is a demand for full-bred dogs there will be backyard breeders churning out low quality versions. A high quality breeder tests their stock for many genetic conditions that their breed is prone to pass on. They will only breed a dog who is genetically clear of any of these predispositions. Hip dysplasia, urinary bladder stones, epilepsy, heart disease, degenerative myelopathy, brachycephalic syndrome are some of the more common genetic predispositions that dogs can have. For many years I assumed that mixed breeds were necessarily healthier because they had a more diverse gene pool. While it is true that diversity in genes can reduce the concentration of problematic genes in the offspring, the best dog breeders ensure healthy diversity in genes by tracking bloodlines. It is not simply a matter of full-breed dogs vs mixed-breed dogs. It's a matter of well-bred dogs vs poorly-bred dogs. Dogs breeding accidentally are more likely to happen when a low quality dog breeds with another low quality dog. The reason is that backyard breeders spend less money to breed their low quality dogs and are able to sell them far cheaper. Then these dogs are purchased by irresponsible dog owners and allowed to breed, sometimes on purpose and sometimes because of carelessness. The temperament of the parents is also something a quality breeder considers. They will not breed anxious, stubborn, aggressive dog. However backyard breeders frequently only consider whether a dog looks to be full bred. Mental illness, bad temperament, and health problems are being bred into dogs by inexperienced breeders.
There are many factors that contribute to the problem of too many dogs in shelters. High quality dog breeders are not part of the problem, but instead are part of the solution. You can still adopt a full-bred dog. There are groups that are dedicated to re-homing full breeds. But if you go this route, realize that a full-bred dog isn't necessarily a well-bred dog. You can order a genetic health test, look over the dog to make sure it doesn't have any skin conditions and request a trial period to see what kind of behaviors the dog comes with. Some behavior problems are easy to fix with training, others are very hard. Know what you are getting into before you fall in love with a potential new family member!