What is a “pet quality” puppy?

Why buy “just a pet” from a show dog breeder?



A question for our dog breeder’s round table. . . .

Breeders participating in the round table have different levels of experience with different breeds, but have several things in common: they study their breeds, produce dogs that participate in dog sports and activities, protect breed health by using genetic screening for disease and structural abnormalities, and care more about the quality of the home for a puppy than for the money or prestige it brings.

What is a ‘pet quality’ puppy?

We often get calls or e-mails from people looking to add a purebred dog to their households. More often than not, the caller or writer specifies that he wants ‘just a pet,’ so he doesn’t want to pay a lot of money for a puppy. We know that the most reliable source of a puppy is a responsible breed enthusiast who does health checks, breeds for good temperament, and backs up his puppies with a contract and a health guarantee, so we decided to begin our breeder’s forum with two questions: (Answers in this column are in alphabetical order; future columns will rotate answers.)

Paula Drake, Akita breeder, Cincinnati, Ohio

“Pet quality” has a couple of definitions. A pet quality puppy is one that would not do well in the show ring or one that should not be bred according to the breeder’s best judgment.

Since conformation showing is judged on a dog’s appearance in relation to the written standard or description of the breed, flaws as simple as color, markings, coat texture and the amount of tail curl can prevent a puppy from being graded show quality by its breeder.

Performance events for the sporting breeds require keen aptitude which a good breeder can sense in a young puppy. The next definition is more subtle. Show dog breeders usually develop a certain signature look to the kennel. A kennel may be known for certain head type (style), certain colorations, builds, movement, performance ability, retrieving aptitude etc. A show dog breeder will be able to recognize, even in seven-week-old puppies, which puppies best represent the breeding program and therefore should be placed, if possible, where they will be shown and potentially bred, thus promoting the breeder’s program. The other puppies may be wonderful show prospects also, but not quite as good as their littermates. A breeder may choose to place those show quality puppies in companion homes.

What is most important, however, is that the correct puppy is matched with the correct home, be it a show home or a companion home. Both types of homes are equally important. The right home gives that puppy the best chance of a life-long loving relationship with its owner.

Show dog breeders take their breeding program very seriously. It takes a lot of time, energy, effort and money to breed dogs well. It is a labor of love, one that does not end when a puppy is sold, but continues when the puppy is placed with a family. Each puppy is a life-long commitment for the breeder. It will be backed up with the breeder’s written contract. That contract says the breeder will be there for that buyer, to answer questions or to assist in training. It says the puppy comes from parents whose health and temperament are sound. It says the breeder stands behind that puppy for all times, even if, God forbid, there is a problem.

Show dog breeders can’t afford to have anything other than a healthy, reputable breeding program. Most of their puppies are sold through word of mouth from satisfied customers, groomers, veterinarians and other dog people. Just as certain as the pet puppy buyer wants a healthy, happy, long-lived dog, the show dog breeder wants a healthy, happy, long-lived home for every puppy. Pet homes are every bit, if not more, important than show homes to the show dog breeder. How I wish every pet puppy buyer understood that!

Richard and Melody Greba, German Shepherd Dog breeders, Walton, Kentucky

Conformation quality is of little importance in pet homes. Short croups (1), steep front ends, etc. will be of little concern to a pet family. Our pet puppies are all sold with limited registration, but they are no less desirable than their show or performance counterparts. With both parents meeting their certifications for the standard, pet puppies will share the same genes for good health, temperament and longevity, as their show- and performance- oriented littermates.

Why should one purchase from a show breeder? A German Shepherd Dog breeder has taken on a great responsibility to educate himself on his breed. The intent of a good GSD breeder is to ‘better the breed’ and selectively place his puppies in quality homes. Utilizing available health certifications (OFA (2)for hips) for breeding stock; actively participating in breed shows and trials to proof their breeding stock; and reading, studying and learning pedigrees give great depth to the breeder’s love of the breed and lead to puppies of correct breed type and temperament. Shows and trials also give credence to the quality of the animal in comparison to general owner bias.

Good GSD breeders also offer a support base to new buyers, as homes for a lifetime are high priority for their pups. Of course, this is after a potential new owner gains a full understanding of the time, energy requirements, and training that are necessary to own a shepherd.

Irresponsible breeding by ignoring or denying the use of proper health certifications and failing to proof type and temperament has much greater risks of producing mentally and physically unsound dogs, especially in German Shepherds. Irresponsible breeding is destructive to the breed and harmful to the reputation of the GSD. The greatest motivation for breeding in this manner is to make money without regard to quality of dog or new home. Unless he buys from a responsible breeder, once the money has changed hands, the new owner is on his own.

As breeders of combination show and performance German Shepherd Dogs, we consider ‘pet quality’ to be a puppy that has a lower energy level and drive in addition to less-than-perfect conformation. Our high-drive, high-energy puppies are directed at homes desiring strong instincts for tasks such as search and rescue, narcotic and patrol canines, Schutzhund, German-style shows, tracking etc.

Dr. Tracy Leonard, Basenji breeder and veterinarian, Dayton, Ohio

Different breeders have different lines that they draw when separating pet quality from show quality. The breed standard of one breed may list faults or disqualifications that would keep a puppy from being able to enter the show ring. This often can involve color or size. For example, white is not an acceptable color for the show ring in Boxers so a breeder would know at birth that any white puppy is a pet.

Personally, I breed for myself and to continue my own lines. I have placed many a ‘show quality’ Basenji into a pet home. I would rather see them have the good life of a family of their own. Rather then say a puppy is show or pet, I rank them and keep the ‘best’ for myself. Like I tell all interested buyers, I am not breeding Basenjis for them but for myself, but I have ‘leftovers’ and they can be really great!

Which comes to why buy from a breeder. One of my dear friends told me he figured out from me how to tell ‘good’ breeders: Ask them if they make money breeding dogs. If the answer is “no,” (or better yet, “no way”) they are a good breeder. Why? Because a good breeder has poured time and money into his breed that can never be recovered. A good breeder knows the health screenings that are necessary for his breed and is spending the money to have them done.

I am a veterinarian and with my discount, I recently spent over $2000 on one of my dogs at a veterinary specialist. Why? Because I love the breed and I love my dogs. A puppy you purchase from a reputable breeder comes with a loving, caring dedicated person that will stand behind your new best friend forever. What will a pet store puppy come with? A teenager that knows how to ring up your purchase and a piece of paper that says if something is wrong, we will order you a new one. A pet store puppy probably has parents that are not screened for health problems such as hip and eye abnormalities. I have yet to see a pet store puppy whose parents were screened and certified by OFA (hips) and CERF (3) (eyes).

You may have to wait for that puppy in order to get her from that reputable breeder but let me tell you, it is worth the wait.

Gale Snoddy, Borzoi breeder, Milford, Ohio

Just what do show dog breeders consider to be a pet quality puppy? Well, you’ve just opened up a can of worms...no two people will agree on this!

In shows, dogs are judged against a written standard that describes the ‘ideal’ specimen of that breed. Standards describe proportions, angles, coat, size, etc. which best enable the dog to perform the required task. Cosmetic requirements, such as coat color, markings, eye color, are also part of most standards.

Theoretically, ‘pet’ or ‘companion’ quality refers to dogs who vary from that standard in such a way that it would be difficult for that dog to finish its championship. ‘Pet’ or ‘companion’ quality does not, and should not, refer to structural, health, or temperament problems that would impact the dog’s quality of life.

Many standards contain words such as ‘elegant’ that leave room for interpretation. And as in so many things, no two people will agree on an interpretation of ‘elegant,’ so what one breeder considers a show quality dog, another would consider a companion. Some breeders will not show dogs that vary from the standard in minor ways, while some other breeders routinely show dogs that vary significantly from the standard.

2) Why should a pet owner seek out a show dog breeder when purchasing ‘just a pet’? Responsible breeders, who may or not be show dog breeders, are knowledgeable about their breed, perform applicable health checks and certifications on their breeding dogs, socialize and evaluate their puppies, and stand by the dogs they sell. Dogs are chosen for breeding based on their genetic compatibility, not because “I have a female Golden, you have a male Golden, so....”

Responsible breeders will be there as a resource to the new owners, supplying information and general guidance if it is needed. They will be concerned about the welfare of that dog for the rest of its life, so they will want to be sure it’s the right home for that dog. Getting money for the dog, and getting it out of their house is not their priority as it is with pet shops, brokers, or un-responsible breeders. Good breeders ask potential companion buyers lots of questions, and may even require references.


  1. The croup is the top of the dog’s rump between the loin and the tail. The loin is the muscled ‘shelf’ along the spine between the end of the ribs and the croup.
  2. OFA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, a non-profit service that diagnoses hip dysplasia by reading hip x-rays of adult dogs.
  3. CERF is the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, a non-profit service that diagnoses eye disease in adult dogs.

For more information on each participant follow the name link.

(Breeder's Round Table)

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