For most people, being a responsible dog owner takes the form of caring for our dogs. That means socializing them to become good canine citizens, cleaning up after them, and ensuring they have good veterinary care, nutrition, a warm bed — if not the couch — and toys and treats.
But for purebred dog breeders, this sense of responsibility has a ripple effect. We keep tabs on our extended generations, taking back dogs years after the fact because their circumstances have changed, fielding ’round-the-clock questions, and mentoring those who come after us. And so through our actions and our intentions, we take responsibility for our own family of dogs, and also for the breed as a whole.
It’s our bond with our chosen breed, strengthened by the experience in the whelping box, which makes breeders feel this overarching responsibility. And sometimes our varying demands compete with one another, much to our frustration. We want our dogs to be beautiful and healthy and have good temperaments, too — the whole package.
We want to retain the physical and behavioral traits of our breed’s original function — which is why the breed evolved, to begin with — but we want them to be compatible with our increasingly space- and time-squeezed society. We want to share just how special our dogs are, but we don’t want them to become too popular.
We acutely understand the importance of representing our breed. And so our responsibility widens even more. We support breed rescue, participate in getting-to-know-you events like Meet the Breeds, contribute to research initiatives to find genetic markers, redouble our dedication to health testing and breeder education, and so much more.
Breeders of “new” breeds feel their responsibility especially heavily. Though dogs like the Sloughi and Cirneco dell’Etna and Nederlandse Kooikerhondje have existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, they are relatively new to our shores. So their pioneering American breeders take great pains to make a proper introduction — going far beyond the immediate challenge of how to pronounce their names.
And then there are the breeders of rare breeds, whose responsibility is to deal with small numbers, tiny gene pools, and low demand. There’s a reason why many purebred breeders have embraced the term “heritage dogs.” Every breed is the living embodiment of a place and time that in many cases now exists only in history books and long-faded memories.
And in the end, that’s where the motivation for stewarding our breed lies. Yes, all dogs are special. But for reasons that are as difficult to explain as why one falls in love with one person and not another, a particular breed has simply stolen our hearts. Actually, we gave those hearts willingly. Our breeds are unique to us — nothing else can replicate the feel of their coats beneath our hands, their lively eyes reflecting back our love and affection, their presence echoing dogs that have come before, and hinting at those still to come.