The Truth About Purebred Dogs
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2016
You might be absolutely convinced that you want a purebred dog. And on a website called yourpurebredpuppy, you would think I would be delighted with your decision.
But my 35+ years 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 crossbreed or mixed breed, you should make that decision after hearing the pros AND cons of purebred dogs. Too many websites talk up the positives, but leave out the negatives.
I try to be more balanced. I want to empower you with the truth about the traits and characteristics of purebred dogs – the pros and cons, positives and negatives, advantages and disadvantages.
Then you can make a wise decision.
Advantages of purebred dogs
You can predict the physical traits of a purebred dog.
When you breed two Lakeland Terriers together, why do the puppies grow up to look like their parents?
Because each breed has its own unique set of genes. These genes produce the "wanted" traits for that breed, including size, coat, color, whether the ears prick up or hang down, and so on.
As each breed was being developed, its breeders decided which traits were "wanted" for that breed. For example, small-size was chosen for Cairn Terriers, while medium-size was chosen for Border Collies. Long-coat was chosen for Old English Sheepdogs, while short-coat was chosen for Rottweilers.
When dogs with the wanted traits were bred, the genes carrying those traits were 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, predictable appearance is the biggest advantage of purebred dogs.
You can predict SOME temperament/behavior traits in purebred dogs.
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 other dogs are more affected by their environment.
Just be aware that if a behavioral trait is "hardwired" into a dog's genes, it is often harder to change. Therefore, to minimize power struggles and stress, look for a breed with a temperament that already sounds close to what you can handle.
DISadvantages of purebred dogs
Predictable physical traits means you're stuck with them.
Too many people acquire a purebred dog and then complain about its built-in characteristics. If you choose, say, a Golden Retriever, he will shed heavily, he will need weekly grooming and some trimming, and his enthusiastic long tail will occasionally send breakables flying off your coffee table.
Before you bring home a breed, make sure you can handle its physical chararacteristics. How much do they shed? How much brushing do they need? How much trimming or clipping? If they're large, can you provide enough exercise? If they're tiny, can you keep them safe? Remember, you're stuck with a breed's physical traits.
Many purebreds have "working behaviors" that can be difficult to live with.
Most breeds were developed to do some type of work – herding sheep or cattle, hunting pheasants, retrieving ducks, hunting rabbits or raccoons, killing barnyard vermin, protecting livestock, guarding estates, pulling carts or sleds, and police/military work.
Behavioral traits that helped a breed do its work include:
- high energy level
- independent thinking (doing what they want to do, rather than what you want)
- strong desire to DO things, not just hang around the house and yard
- chasing, grabbing, or nipping at things that move (such as cats and other small animals)
- aggression toward other dogs
- digging holes
- suspiciousness or aggression toward strangers
- barking or howling
If you just want a family companion and pet, working behaviors can be a nuisance. The reality is that most breeds were never intended to be "just" pets.
Purebred dogs are not GUARANTEED to look or act the way you expect.
Up until now it might have sounded like all the members of a breed are robots who 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 a sofa from a catalog.
So here comes the other shoe dropping....
A purebred puppy can grow up to look or act differently 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
- 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 #1 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. More importantly, I explain how to buy a purebred puppy with the BEST chance of growing up healthy.
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 (and can handle) whatever other traits that breed happens to have.
- if you're willing to accept the greater potential for 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 puppy 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