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What does AKC registration mean?
We've all seen the pet advertisements in the local classified ads. Most of them read the same, and the majority of them are placed by unethical dog breeders. AKC papers simply mean that the dog is most likely purebred. I say most likely because there are some individuals who buy unused registration papers (or state that they had more puppies in previous litters and re-use papers), and claim that the litter produced goes with those fake papers.
Okay, so the dog is presumed purebred. Let's say it's a purebred Labrador Retriever. That still does not mean that it's a quality dog. You can place 10 purebred Labradors together, and some will look like Labs, others will look like a Lab mix.. and they all have papers. Why does this happen? Unethical breeders don't care about body structure, health, or temperament. What they do care about is money. If a person continues to breed dogs that are not of the proper type, you're not going to get a true Labrador type from that breeder. You're most likely going to get a dog that resembles a Labrador, but is much taller, or much smaller than it's supposed to be. The heads are also different. True Labs have a very distinct head shape.
This goes for all breeds, not just the Labrador Retriever. Some of you may not be as picky on the dogs structure since you don't want a show dog. Being a show dog has nothing to do with it, it's about getting a quality dog. AKC registration does not mean you are going to get a quality dog. A quality dog is not only correct in structure, but is less likely to have health concerns. For the Labrador Retriever, there are numerous health issues such as Tricuspid valve dysplasia (heart defect), Hip dysplasia (extremely painful joint disorder), Ectropion & Entropion (defect in the eyelids which can cause constant inflammation of the eye unless corrected by surgery. Often 1 surgery isn't enough). Reputable breeders check for these problems in their dogs before they are bred. Yes, usually puppies from reputable breeders are more expensive, but you can either pay a little more to get the dog, or pay your vet for numerous surgeries and medication to keep your pet healthy. Just the surgery for hip dysplasia alone runs around $1,500 per hip.
What should you look for in a pet ad? For large breeds, there are 3 letters you should look for
OFA. OFA is the Orthapedic Foundation of America. That means that their dogs have had their joint checked for problems, and they will not breed a dog who has a poor rating (this can be passed on to puppies). Another test for joint issues is Penn Hip. You should also look for CERF, which states that they have had their dogs eyes examined. Progressive Retinal Atropy causes blindness at around 7 years old, and this can be passed on to puppies as well.
To help weed out the bad breeders from the good ones, there are some questions you can ask the breeder to prevent yourself from being fooled.
• How many years have you been involved in the breed?
If they're fairly new in the breed, it's not real likely that you're going to get a good dog. Most who are truly interested in the breed have a long history of owning the breed, and have worked a great deal with their dogs prior to breeding (such as competing and testing).
• How long have you been breeding?
Let's say they've been involved in the breed for 2 years and been breeding for a year. That's not good. Dogs shouldn't be bred until they are at least 2 years old.
• What type of testing do you do on your dogs?
As I said above, joint and eye issues are the biggies. But there are other tests to consider depending on the breed. For instance, some breeds are prone to deafness, so your breeder should mention that.
• Do you compete with your dogs in any way?
If they say yes, ask what kind of competition and what titles they hold. Most who compete are proud of their record and will tell you all about it. If they haven't competed, be sure to ask why. I've heard several "breeders" state that they don't compete because AKC events are too political. That is an untrue excuse for them not wanting to prove their dogs are worthy of being bred. If a breeder feels that AKC conformation events are too political, why not try doing other events? There are agility trials, hunt tests, obedience, etc. Even mixed breed dogs can compete in agility.
• What age do they let their puppies leave?
A reputable breeder will not let their puppies leave until they are at least 8 weeks old. In fact, in most states, it's illegal to sell puppies earlier than 8 weeks old. Why is age important? The 6-8th week is when they learn the majority of their social skills. A dog who isn't properly socialized, is more likely to be a biter.