Alienating the Customer: Why the Dog Fancy Doesn’t Do Good Business

Dec 9, 2014 by

Alienating the Customer: Why the Dog Fancy Doesn’t Do Good Business

A year ago, I purchased my first DSLR camera on a whim and decided that I was going to be an amateur photographer. I ordered the camera and a few interchangeable lenses that had decent reviews on Amazon. It took a minimal amount of research for me to figure out how to get everything I needed to take the first picture, and when I finally had it all together I started snapping photos.

Anyone who knows anything about photography can probably guess what happened next: I discovered there was a lot more to taking good pictures than pointing the camera and pressing the button. It took me six months and a DSLR class to figure out how to start using manual mode instead of the “point and shoot” auto. (For those who don’t know photography, manual mode allows the user to adjust their settings in a more specific way, usually resulting in better photos. Auto mode is exactly what it sounds like: the camera takes control of the settings, which is easier. However, in auto mode, you only get “good, not great” pictures.)

In a way, dog ownership is a lot like buying a DSLR camera. Though it’s easy to forget when we’re knee deep in an internet debate about whether dogs should be bred for sport or show and why it is or is not okay for breeders to make a profit, we all started at the starting line. As a learning photographer, I was offered classes and books on how to be a good photographer. The photography groups welcomed me with open arms because they wanted me to learn and share their passion for photography. These are things that you don’t really see in the dog fancy. Save for the events offered at big box stores, training classes tend to be more suited for people wanting to compete later on with their dogs. And yet, mention taking a training class at Petsmart or Petco, and it seems that most dog trainers will scoff and say, “Don’t waste your money!”


Half of photography is having a super cute subject. :)

The problem with my comparison of dogs to digital cameras, however, is that dogs are alive. The room for error when buying a dog is significantly smaller than it is when buying a digital camera. If I bought my photography equipment and decided immediately after giving it a try that it wasn’t right for me, I would have been out a significant amount of money, but I wouldn’t be abandoning a living animal because I had made my initial purchase on a whim. This, of course, is something to take into consideration while exploring the points that are about to be made in this blog post. The aspect of ethical retail that muddies the waters a bit is when you’re buying and selling live animals.

With all of that being said, I’d like to discuss a crime that even I am guilty of committing: talking down to the “average John” dog owner.

Breeders and rescues usually share a common goal of placing their dogs in the best homes possible. For this reason, both avenues generally have an application and interview process during which the breeder gets to know the buyers to gauge what kind of dog owner they will be. This application process weeds out buyers that are considered unworthy of owning an animal. The problem here is that rather than educating ignorant owners, we are casting them aside, telling them they aren’t good enough to have one of our precious pooches.

With this in mind, it is becoming imperative to recognize that the family dog is an icon of domestic status in Western culture. Most of us grew up with at least one dog who taught us how amazing it can be to share our lives with a pet and how rich life can be when there’s a furry partner in crime to turn to. For a lot of us these weren’t show dogs or working dogs, they were just regular companions whose main function was to accompany us through our family shenanigans. Some were purebred, others not. Some were from breeders, others from rescues, and many from friends or family that had a litter. They were accessible and our parents didn’t have to get on waiting lists or jump through hoop after hoop to get them for us.

Those days of just being able to get a family dog are becoming more and more scarce. As a person who is a proponent of dog fancy I am seeing fewer and fewer families, or individuals for that matter, being able to add a furry friend to their lives because they quite simply are not being served by either the dog fancy community or rescue.


The “puppies for sale” sign: a relic of the past?

This act of exclusion is what drives people to buy a Craigslist puppy. Dog fanciers talk down to “backyard breeders” (breeders that have no vested interest in showing their dog in any venue, but breed to produce pets), holding themselves on a pedestal because they “breed with a purpose”. But the problem is that the purpose fanciers breed for almost never caters to the general public.

“But ILRDB! I produce plenty of puppies that go to pet homes in my litters. Not every dog can be a show dog!”

To whom are you marketing? When John Smith, if he is able to find you, an inexperienced dog owner who intends to feed Ol’ Roy and wants a dog that will tolerant being trampled by his well-meaning albeit boisterous children, do you send him packing because you know from personal experience that trying to educate people can end up biting you in the butt?


Not a place where you would expect to find John Smith looking for puppies.

Or there is the potentially more important part about Mr. Smith even finding a breeder that the fancy would consider “reputable”. With all the rumors about advertising being irresponsible, dogs breeders tend be terrible at marketing themselves. As a matter of fact, breeders who do market on sites like Craigslist or Puppyfind, where breeders are actually making connections with potential John Smith-esque dog owners, are shunned and called “puppy mills” because the suspicion is that their intent in marketing their dogs is to make as much money as possible off of their breeding stock.

The thing about a less scrupulous breeder that encourages people to purchase from them is that it’s easier to find them and get a dog from them. No home visit, no contract, no problem! Many pet owners are simply unaware that there is value added to the multiple step application process. Those of us in the dog fancy community simply aren’t doing a good job of showing them the benefits because we are often too busy explaining that we don’t even breed dogs for people like them.

To be completely fair, many of the people reading this blog post are going to say that they don’t breed for the pet market and only have a litter every x years and all puppies are already spoken for by the homes before they’re even conceived. And that is fine. There is nothing wrong with having standards and we aren’t telling you to lower those standards to cater to Mr. Smith and his unruly children. But the point is that somebody is going to supply that demand.

While the dog fancy is an incredible culture full of knowledgeable and ethically aware people, there are many people not in the dog fancy that wish to purchase a dog while we completely ignore that they exist. If we are going to cry foul every time somebody breeds litter for the sole purpose of producing pets, don’t you think we should start paying attention to what the general public is looking for, rather than sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that everyone wants the same things we do?

The creation of this blog post was a collaborative effort between Farm Dog and Toy Maker.  

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  1. I agree totally. And breeders love to throw around the term backyard breeders at whomever ticked them off at the last show. Really?!? And every breeder has a different idea of what makes a valid breeder or not. I am a person, by appearance, many breeders have and would immediately judge to be a non desirable dog owner. My breeder knows different after giving me a chance 14 or so years ago and she so trusts me she let me have a pick of litter that she wanted to keep originally last month. Many, though not all, breeders are so anal and controlling with contracts that essentially control every decision the subsequent owner should have that they put off puppy buyers with their frenzy. I don’t blame people for not wanting to go through all of that. And with the rabid push by many to alter everything in site- by force if necessary (except their own dogs of course) they cut off potential new competitors and possible eventual breeders to the dog show world who would continue their breed. Whose going to bother to try when they have the thought then realize their dog is altered and not appropriate to show. Then they wonder why the dog show world is not looking too good lately. They are killing off the next generation before they start.

    Then there is rescues who have a whole host of stupid reasons not to adopt to someone….even if it is proven to them that the particular concern isn’t a concern. To a perfectly good home…oh no, you don’t live locally, to a decent couple oh you came in wanting a little dog but now you like a big dog and have two rotties at home…nonono for you. I once took a client to look for a guide dog prospect. One rescue wouldn’t adopt to her because she didn’t have written landlord permission…thing is the LAW here says she doesn’t need it for a service dog in training. We showed them that and still they gave no quarter. So we moved on and the rescue that did let her adopt ended up with a guide dog with honors among their lineup of success stories. And what if someone doesn’t want a puppy that has been altered at 8 weeks because of the problems early altering can cause a dog’s health and working ability…they are out on their ears.

    Where is a puppy buyer to go? To a more sensible and moderate show breeder or to a backyard breeder who has good stock and does health clearances and all of that and only has limited numbers of puppies. The general public knows that if they simply want a great looking, healthy pet that a person’s participation in shows doesn’t somehow make their dogs better pets, and in some cases more beautiful to that person.

    Puppy mills are another whole thing altogether…I agree. My parents responsibly bred and showed Airedales when I was a small child and the changes I have seen in the show/breeding world since then… wonder the AKC world is threatening to crumble under our feet…

  2. Cynthia

    Many years ago, when my husband and I decided we wanted an American Staffordshire Terrier for a pet, I did my research and started calling breeders. We had a couple of Breeders discourage us from the breed, and one was incredibly rude, but I was persistent and found a breeder kind enough to sell us a pup. I started obedience and started showing in obedience and my dog hobby sort of blossomed from there. Yes, it took persistence to get a dog from a breeder. Yes, I was fortunate to find several reputable breeders. But a lot of it was research and persistence on my part. There are still breeders who consider themselves high caliber and would charge me a lot of money for a dog, but I have found you don’t need to pay a lot of money for a good dog, if you know what you are looking at. Persistence. There are a lot of Breeders and if you try hard enough, you’ll find somebody willing to work with you.

  3. AMEN! People want dogs for their families. People have a right to have healthy, happy puppies from parents who are good representatives of the breed without having to put up with an endless, convoluted process of applications, a gazillion requirements etc, etc, in order to be “approved”. It’s absurd.

    Don’t people know how to have a simple conversation to determine if the home would be acceptable? Show breeders and rescues seem to think their way is the ONLY way and have absolutely no tolerance for different lifestyles. Elitist is right on the money.


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