You might be absolutely convinced that you want a purebred dog. And on a website called yourpurebredpuppy.com, you would think I would be delighted about your decision.
But I'm a little concerned about it. Because my experience as a Dog Breed Consultant has taught me that people who want purebred dogs are often basing their decision on the positive things about purebred dogs – without considering the negatives.
And there are definitely negatives.
I believe that if you're going to choose a purebred dog over a mixed breed, you should make that decision after hearing the positives AND the negatives of purebred dogs. Too many web sites talk up the positives, but leave out the negatives.
I try to be much more balanced. I want to empower you with the truth about the traits and characteristics of purebred dogs – pros and cons, positives and negatives, advantages and disadvantages.
Then you can be more sure that you're making a wise decision.
Advantages of purebred dogs
Purebred dogs have many physical traits that are predictable.
Why do Lakeland Terriers look so much like each other? How come you can breed two Lakeland Terriers together and be sure the puppies will grow up to look like their parents?
Because each breed has its own unique set of genes that distinguishes it from every other breed. These genes produce the "wanted" traits for that breed, including size, coat, color, shape of the head, whether the ears prick up or hang down, and so on.
Since each breed was developed for a different reason (herding, guarding, hunting, etc.), the traits that are "wanted" are different for each breed.
Way back when each breed was developed, breeders determined which traits were wanted for a breed. Then they began selective breeding, which simply means that dogs with the wanted traits were bred, whereas dogs with unwanted traits were not bred.
Traits are carried on genes. So within each breed, all those genes with the wanted traits got spread throughout the gene pool of that breed.
So when you see a puppy who is a member of a particular breed, you have a pretty good idea which genes (and therefore which traits) he inherited. If you want a certain size dog, or a certain length of coat, you can choose a breed that has the genes for those traits. For many people, that's the biggest advantage of purebred dogs.
Purebred dogs have some temperament/behavior traits that are predictable.
SOME aspects of temperament and behavior are also carried on genes. If you want an energetic dog, you can choose a breed who typically inherits genes for high energy. If you want a dog for herding your cattle, or guarding your sheep, or hunting pheasants or rabbits, or pulling a sled, or doing police work, you can choose a breed that tends to inherit those kinds of behaviors.
However, other aspects of temperament and behavior are not inherited – instead, they're based on the dog's environment (how he is raised and trained, starting from birth). Some dogs are more affected by their genes, while some are more affected by their environment. Just be aware that if a particular temperament or behavior is "hardwired" into a dog's genes, it tends to be harder to change. Therefore, to minimize power struggles and stress, you should look for a breed with a temperament that already sounds very close to what you want.
DISadvantages of purebred dogs
Predictable traits means you're stuck with them.
The predictable genes of purebred dogs can work against you if you choose a breed that's not suited to you. In other words, too many people acquire a purebred dog, and then complain about its built-in characteristics. If you choose, say, a Labrador Retriever, you will need to accept his heavy shedding, his powerful body that could knock over small children if he gets excited, and his enthusiastic tail that will occasionally send breakables flying off your coffee table.
You have to research breeds. How much do they shed? How much brushing do they need? How much trimming or clipping? Flat-faced breeds (who can't breathe properly) and breeds with heavy coats need to be protected from the heat. And so on. Predictable traits means you're pretty much stuck with them.
Many purebreds have "working behaviors" that can be difficult to live with.
Flat-Coated Retrievers were bred to work all day in the water. Can you provide the exercise and mental stimulation that so many breeds require in order to feel satisfied?
Most breeds were developed to do some type of WORK – herding sheep or cattle, hunting pheasants, retrieving ducks shot down over a lake, hunting rabbits or raccoons, killing barnyard rodents, protecting livestock, guarding estates, pulling carts and sleds, and police and military work.
Behavioral traits that helped a breed do its work include:
- high energy level (herding dogs, hunting dogs, northern spitz-type dogs, terriers)
- deciding to do what they want, rather than what you want (many working dogs had to work independently)
- strong desire to DO things, not just hang around the house and yard (many working dogs)
- chasing, grabbing, nipping at things that move (herding dogs, some hunting dogs)
- aggression toward other animals (fighting dogs, guarding dogs, terriers)
- digging holes (hunting dogs and terriers, who both pursued prey into tunnels, and northern spitz-type dogs who dug sleeping holes under the snow)
- suspiciousness or aggression toward strangers (guarding dogs)
- baying, howling, barking (hound dogs, northern spitz-type dogs, terriers)
- putting their nose to the ground and taking off in pursuit of interesting scents (hound dogs, terriers)
If you just want a family companion and pet, working behaviors can be a real nuisance. The reality is that most breeds were never intended to be "just" pets.
Purebred dogs are not GUARANTEED to develop the traits you want.
Up to now it may have sounded like purebred dogs were robots who all look and act exactly the same. If that were the case, you could just decide which traits you want and choose a breed that's supposed to have those traits, and voila! As easy as ordering the right size and color of curtains from a catalog.
So here comes the other shoe dropping....
A purebred puppy can grow up to be different than what you expected.
It's true. All this purebred "predictability" that I've been talking about is TYPICAL – but not GUARANTEED. The reality is that some purebred dogs do not "conform to the norm" for their breed.
I've written a book, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, that explains why a purebred puppy may not turn out the way you expect – and how to choose a puppy with the BEST chance of turning out the way you expect.
Purebred dogs can have a lot of health problems.
- Crippling bone and joint disorders
- Eye diseases that cause reduced sight or total blindness
- Heart diseases that drastically shorten a dog's life
- Hormonal and endocrine system diseases like hypothyroidism and diabetes
- Seizure disorders such as epilepsy
- Skin diseases that cause frantic itching
- Digestive disorders that cause chronic diarrhea and vomiting
- Kidney and liver diseases
- Blood-clotting diseases
- Cancer – the number-one killer of many, many breeds
You're probably shocked by that long list of health problems.
And you should be.
Over 300 genetic health problems occur in dogs – all kinds of dogs, purebred, crossbred, and mixed – but the risk of health problems occurring in a purebred dog is higher than in a crossbreed or mixed breed.
Why are purebred dogs so unhealthy?
In my Dog Quest book, I explain the 4 reasons why purebred dogs have so many health problems – and more importantly, how to buy a purebred puppy with the BEST chance of growing up healthy. You'll learn all about inbreeding and how to avoid it. You'll learn how a dog's appearance – size, shape, type of ears, even color – affects his chances of developing health problems. You'll learn that you shouldn't buy a puppy unless specific health tests were done on the puppy's parents before they were bred.
To sum up, a purebred dog can be a good choice...
- if you know exactly which characteristics you want in a dog.
- if there is a breed that actually HAS all the characteristics you want (this is unlikely; compromise is almost always required when choosing a dog breed).
- if you're willing to accept whatever other traits that breed happens to have, including working behaviors that can be a nuisance to live with.
- if you're willing to accept the greater potential for genetic health problems (much worse in some breeds than in others).
- if you're willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a puppy – or else adopt an adult dog through an animal shelter or rescue group.
- if you acquire your dog from someone who is doing all the right things to produce good-tempered, healthy family pets.
There are 7 things a breeder should be doing in order to produce puppies who will grow up to have a stable temperament. There are 8 things a breeder should be doing to produce puppies who will grow up healthy. In Dog Quest, I'll tell you how to find breeders who are doing these 15 things RIGHT.
Read about crossbred dogs
Read about mixed breed dogs