I was chatting to an acquaintance recently when they mentioned that they were collecting their new puppy in a few days time.
In the course of the conversation it came out that they had not asked the breeder about health certificates, nor had they any idea that they should have done so.
This was a well educated, intelligent person with a fully functioning computer in their living room.
This information was available to them at the flick of a search button, yet they had made no attempt to find it. Not because they are lazy, but because they did not know there was any grounds for concern.
It occurred to me that all the information in the world, information of the kind available on the Labrador Site, for example, is no use to a person that has no idea they have need of it.
So how do we get around the fact that there are still people out there, that think choosing the right puppy is no different from choosing the right fridge?
In fact, I suspect that most people would search the internet for reviews if replacing the fridge was on the agenda. So why do they not do their research before bringing a dog into their hearts and homes?
There is a real problem
Information of the kind I conveyed is often not received well. Once people have made their mind up to do something, they are not necessarily grateful to be warned of a potential problem. Such advice may even be viewed as scaremongering.
And this is a great shame, because there is a very real problem out there, and it is not being effectively addressed.
Most weeks I hear from people who live with a pedigree dog that has a largely avoidable health problem, hip dysplasia (HD), elbow problems, and so on. If you visit any large dog forum you will find literally dozens of threads from people that have bought puppies with no health checks and ended up with a dog that has HD, or some other common inherited disease.
Not only can these conditions empty your wallet in a heartbeat, they are often devastating for the families and cause pain and suffering for the dog.
The dog my acquaintance was intending to purchase was from a breed that is prone to HD and also suffers from aortic stenosis. This is a heart condition which can lead to exercise intolerance, fainting and in severe cases, death. Screening has reduced the incidence of the disease, and every bitch and dog from susceptible breeds should be tested before breeding.
For some time I have felt that it was the buyer’s job to do their research before purchasing a puppy. That there is only so much that the ‘authorities’ should be expected to do, in order to protect people from themselves.
I felt that if the information was out there, and easy to find and understand, people would become better educated as to how they should go about finding a puppy with a good chance of a long and healthy life.
Providing this kind of information was one of my aims when I set up The Labrador Site
Right now, I am not so sure that relying on dog enthusiasts like me to provide information to the puppy buying public is sufficient.
Proof of quality?
Part of the problem seems to be that a Kennel Club pedigree is regarded as an endorsement of the puppy by this generally respected organisation.
My acquaintance knew that the dog he intended to buy had a pedigree. He had seen the papers. I believe that the reason he and his family did not do any further research was because in their minds, this pedigree, was proof of a quality dog.
Whilst I am sure that there is no intent to deceive or mislead people, there is no getting away from the fact that the Kennel Club issues pedigrees and the public reads far more into them, than is there.
A pedigree is a statement of ancestry. A family tree. Nothing more. It tells you that the mother of your dog and the father of your dog, both belong to the same closed register of dogs of that breed.
Yet clearly the general public believes it means more. They believe that it is a stamp of quality. It makes them feel safe and instils confidence in their choice of dog.
The Kennel Club’s responsibility
The question is, does the Kennel Club have a responsibility to improve this situation?
Should the KC be making it clear on the pedigrees themselves, that a pedigree is not a guarantee of any kind of health?
Should the KC even be registering puppies from breeding stock that have not been given even the most basic health tests?
Is it negligent of them to do so?
On the Kennel Club’s website there is a page entitled ‘Finding the right dog breeder‘ and there is plenty of useful information there for the would-be puppy buyer.
I do feel that the following is a little confusing. It is part of a list of ‘information to ask the breeder for’
- A pedigree detailing your dog’s ancestry – this could either be hand-written or a printed pedigree from either the breeder or an official one from the Kennel Club.
- Copies of any additional health certificates for the sire and dam.
Additional to what?
To me the use of the word ‘additional’ (their emphasis not mine) rather implies that the pedigree itself is a health certificate of some kind.
Under the heading above on that same page ‘What to expect from a breeder’ I would have expected the very first priority would be that the breeder will have carried out the relevant health checks on the parents of the puppy and that the results will be acceptably good. But this is not mentioned until the ‘information to ask for’ section that I have quoted.
What do you think?
I don’t have the all the answers to the questions I have raised in this article, but if I know one person that has been misled by a piece of paper with pedigree written on it, there must be others like him.
I should probably point out the Kennel Club do run an assured breeder’s scheme, under which members undertake to carry out the necessary health checks for their breed. However, if the average man or woman on the street is not even aware that there are problems to look out for, they are hardly going to search for a breeder that undertakes to try and avoid those problems.
The issue must surely lie with the pedigree itself and the trust that people are placing in this document.
What do you think?
Should the KC make puppy registration dependent on adequate health checks? Does the information they provide need revising? Should a pedigree state clearly ‘This is not a certificate of health’?
Or should people be left to make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences?