Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Breed Information, Pet Topics > When Dog Breeding Goes Bad

When Dog Breeding Goes Bad


Two things happened yesterday that left me sad and wondering the following… Why do breeders breed dogs that have known personality issues or temperament defects? And, why do they sell their offspring to people knowing that these defects could be passed on to their puppies?

The first thing that happened was a meeting with a friend at our local dog park.

It is an absolutely heartbreaking story.

While Daisy, Jasper and I were out on our walk yesterday, we ran into a friend and her dog. We often see them in the mornings, and since our dogs get along so well with each other, we often walk together. Her dog is a white Golden Retriever puppy (some breeders call them English or Creme colored retrievers) and her name is Sally (name changed).

Sally is 11 months old and she is funny and goofy (as puppies often are) and she loves to play. Her mother is a lovely woman. I have always enjoyed walking with her and sharing our stories and love of dogs. But yesterday when we ran into her and Sally, she was crying. My heart sank. I don’t know how I knew what was coming, but I did , and I started to cry too.

You see a couple of months prior, Sally’s mom had confided in me that she had become a little frightened of Sally after she had attacked her when she tried to retrieve a bone from her. The aggression that Sally had shown had left her frightened and unsure, and this was not the first time it had happened. I admit that I was concerned. It is not normal for a dog as young as Sally to be showing the type of aggression her mother described at such a young age, but I had hoped it was simply a case of resource guarding. I recommended she call a trainer friend of mine to see if she could help.

After speaking with her, my trainer friend recommend that Sally’s mom set up an appointment with a veterinarian animal behaviorist at the University of Minnesota. Sally’s mom made the appointment as soon as she could get in – in late March.

Meeting with a veterinary animal behaviorist is not cheap nor is it just a simple appointment. It requires a lot of work up front. Owners must complete a large amount of paperwork identifying the concerning behavior(s) and describing in detail the incidents or behaviors they have witnessed in their pet. Usually, the whole family attends the appointment, including the other family pets. This was the case with my friend. She attended the appointment with her two small children and their other family dog. It was a four-hour appointment.

Sally’s mom expected to receive advice on how to work with Sally, a behavioral action plan of sorts, but instead what she received was something she had not expected – advice that Sally should be euthanized. Shocked? She was too. It’s not something veterinary animal behaviorists recommend very often, but in Sally’s case there were two of things that deeply concerned them: 1) Sally showing such serious aggression at such a young age (she was only 11 months old), and 2) that Sally’s aggression was unpredictable (it didn’t always have a known trigger) and could occur at any time with no precursors to indicate it was coming (I am sure that having two small children in the home also played a role).

The animal behaviorist explained to Sally’s mom that her aggression was not the result of something she and her husband had done or not done. In fact, both had been good pet parents. The diagnosis was that Sally’s aggression was genetic in origin and not something that could be addressed via behavior modification. In essence, she was dangerous and could, and likely would, hurt someone seriously at some time in the future. It was devastating news.

It was made even more devastating when the breeder refused to take Sally back and then blamed Sally’s mom and dad for her aggression (and this was after she spoke with the animal behaviorist herself!). Despite trying to find someone or some place that would take Sally, there just were no other options available. So, yesterday was Sally’s last visit to the dog park. It broke my heart to see her having such a good time knowing all along that it would be her last. I cannot imagine how awful it must have been for her mom and the rest of her family to say goodbye to her. She was way too young. She was just a puppy.

The second incident actually happened to a friend of mine. She works at an animal care facility that cares for people’s dogs while they are away. I happened to speak with her yesterday, just after she had returned from Urgent Care, where she had received several stitches for a dog bite that had occurred while she was working. I won’t go into the specific details of how it happened, but I will say that the dog bit her hard enough to cause blood to start gushing out of her hand. The kicker is that she learned that the dog who had bitten her had bitten a family member in the past AND that he also came from a lineage where the father and grandfather had been known to have issues with aggression as well. Geez! Seriously?

I cannot say for certain that the first breeder knew there was an issue with her dogs. Maybe Sally was an aberration. A one in a million. All I know is that her family is devastated. They are left to grieve for a puppy they had fallen in love with and adored.

In the other situation, the breeder clearly knew there was an issue. She told the owner for God’s sake! Why the owner chose to buy a dog with a history like that I cannot even venture to guess, but my friend is left to suffer through the pain, discomfort and the limited use of her hand, all because a breeder chose to breed dogs known to have temperament/aggression issues.

I admit that the breeding industry is completely foreign to me. I have never chosen my dogs based on a particular breed, but rather on their temperament and demeanor. To me, temperament matters so much more than looks. If a dog looks good but is flawed beyond belief, what is the point? If a dog looks good, but has aggression issues, what is the benefit?

So I ask you… Why do breeders breed dogs that have known personality issues or temperament defects? And, why do they sell their offspring to people knowing that these defects could be passed on to their puppies?

I’d like to know what you think.

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  1. April 7, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    The only answer I can give you to that question, Mel, is that they are irresponsible breeders who should not be breeding dogs. Ethical breeders do not, in my opinion, breed dogs with bad temperaments. In fact, ethical breeders not only allow but encourage potential buyers of puppies to visit with the mom and also with the dad, if he lives with them. If a breeder won’t let see and visit with the dam of the puppy you are considering, don’t even think about purchasing from that breeder. There’s something amiss.

    While I feel for your friend with the injured hand, my heart really goes out to Sally’s family. I can’t even imagine the pain they are going through!

    • Mel
      April 7, 2011 at 5:46 PM

      Thanks Lorie. I agree with you. The good breeders take temperament into consideration along with the other features of a dog.
      I feel for both friends as well. Although my one friend’s flesh wounds will heal, it will be quite some time before Sally’s family will be able to come to terms with what happened to them.

  2. April 7, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Golden Retrievers are a breed that has been damaged beyond repair by breeders. Agression issues in this breed are NOT uncommon, and it’s sad that a dog has to be destroyed for this reason. I highly doubt that this is a one in a million occurance with Sally’s blood line, but with some breeders, once the puppy is gone, it’s not their problem anymore.

    On a happier note, I have a Vizsla friend that has been involved with the breed for over 25 years. She had a really good study that delevoped entropion around the age that she planned to breed him. She took him out of her breeding program because of that. Most breeders might say “bah, it’s just an eye lid” But kudos to my breeder friend for doing the right thing!

    • Mel
      April 7, 2011 at 5:44 PM

      I agree V.V. It’s sad what breeders have done to the Golden Retriever.

      I must say I am quite impressed with your Vizsla friend! Wow! I agree that most breeders wouldn’t have cared and gone ahead and bred him. The fact that she didn’t is quite amazing and should be honored. Kudos indeed!

  3. April 7, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    Fantastic post, We have three Boxers myself.

  4. April 7, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    This is truly a sad story, but there is one nagging question I have and only based on what was posted. Did they seek a second opinion regarding Sally. If not, this would be the first thing I would do. I would go further and find a third opinion as well.
    I’m not a trainer or behaviorist, but the first person to say euthanize my forever dog is not going to convince me without further investigation. I owe that to a dog I brought in my home.

    That’s just my two cents 🙂

    • Mel
      April 7, 2011 at 5:42 PM

      Thanks Sisko. Great question. I can’t say whether or not there was a second opinion given. Veterinary Animal Behaviorists are a somewhat unique position and there are not a lot of them out there at this time (hopefully this will change with time). I believe there are only two currently working at the U of M.

      But, you make a good point. I know that Sally’s mom did check with a few different resources to see if anyone could take Sally (vs. having to euthanize her), but I don not know if she got 2nd opinion. The U of M Behavioral Sciences department is kind of the “place of last resort” for most pet owners with pets who have behavioral issues.

      All I can tell you is that my trainer friend is also trained in animal behavior, and the fact that she referred my friend’s dog to the U of M before seeing Sally was a sign to me that she had a sneaking suspicion that this was more than just a resource guarding issue. 😦

  5. April 7, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    Poor “Sally”. Poor family. If I had to guess why breeders do such things, it would be money. How many people check breeders for ethical breeding practices or do a lineage check? How many breeders would be upfront about it?

    One of the dogs I had very briefly 20+ years ago was a rottweiler. He was a purebred, came from a supposedly good lineage and cost a pretty penny. By 3 months old, he was already exhibiting signs of aggression. He wouldn’t let My Other Half or myself near his feeding bowl and would growl and snap at us. Of course it worried us but, as fate would have it, we didn’t have him long enough to endure a “Sally” situation. He came down with parvo virus at 6 months, and despite a valiant effort by the vet, he died. It just broke our hearts, but I think, if he had grown up, he would almost certainly have been a “bad” dog.

    We constantly read and hear these days of how breeding has created some totally incomprehensible traits in dogs, often for the purpose of the showring. And often debilitating for the dog. Sadly, until WE question these breeding practices and are more selective in our choices, I don’t really see the situation improving.

  6. April 7, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    I don’t think I ever heard of a case where euthanasia was recommended out right. How bad was that bite ? I respectfully disagree with Lorie and as a matter of fact it is a side of behavior that I see a lot. I see breed people and golden people are maybe what I see the most, with gorgeous con formation dogs who want to point out no matter what. Who want their blood lines out there no matter what. While I am not privy to bite histories on show line breeding dogs, I am often hired to work on various fears. Really can you imagine people breeding goldens who have fear of people? My point is even some good breeders loose sight.

  7. Mary Sue
    April 7, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Responsible breeders track their puppies for physical, emotional, and behavioral issues in order to stop breeding problems. Unfortunately there are very few breeders that do. We had a neighbor some years ago with an aggressive chocolate lab. He bred her. The litter, to my relief, were all stillborn. He bred her again. Sold all but one female pup that he kept. Like mother, like daughter. Now we had two aggressive dogs running free in our rural neighborhood. Thankfully, they eventually moved. We could not walk, jog, ride a bike, etc. past their house safely.

  8. Terry Cunningham
    April 7, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    Hi Mel. One thing I would add is that responsible breeders will take a pup back for ANY reason and feel a life long commitment to their pups. I can’t help but wonder if a breeder that wouldn’t take back a pup, might know there was a problem and one she had seen before.

  9. Kate Anders
    April 7, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    Mel – Sad stories but great post. Wonderful food for thought and a great reminder to everyone that we need to learn to look past the “cute” factor and, if we breed, breed for temprament and health above all else!

  10. April 8, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    Responsible breeders take temperament into consideration and do mental tests with their dogs before breeding them. This was yet another example of a bad breeder. Not taking Sally back is another indication this person doesn’t take his/her responsibility as a breeder serious and should not be allowed to breed dogs in the first place.

    Poor Sally and her mom, I do not know a lot about legislation in US, but I hope she doesn’t let the breeder get away with this. She did report the breeder to breederratings.com ?

    • Mel
      April 8, 2011 at 5:46 PM

      Thanks Leo. I agree. Or at least I would hope they would do that. I think I was just as disappointed in her blaming the owners as I was by the fact that she wouldn’t take her back. I did not tell her about breederratings.com – although I wanted to I felt it wasn’t the right time. 😦

  11. April 11, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    What a sad story.

    Protecting the temperament of a breed and managing genetics is such an awesome responsibility. I’m always appalled at how casually people can be about breeding dogs.

    And it makes me so thankful for Honey’s breeder who works so hard to breed healthy and friendly dogs (on a very limited basis). Wouldn’t it be great if dog shows were about rewarding people who are doing the best for dogs instead of just breeding for looks?

    • Mel
      April 12, 2011 at 5:44 PM

      Wow. Great insight and thoughts Pamela. I agree that protecting the temperament of a breed is so important. I wish people would stop breeding dogs casually as well. You found an awesome breeder from everything I’ve read. The bad ones give the good ones, like your breeder, a bad name.

  12. April 12, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    That kind of story leaves me really shaken up. I have three little girls, and it took at least two trainers to assure me that Our Best Friend’s initial aggression issues (based on fear from an abusive owner) were entirely fixable. Thankfully they were right.

    While many “dog bloggers” are ardent dog people who will spend anything, do anything, to rescue dogs others might not bother with, the vast majority of dog owners are not willing to spend the money or take the chance that their dog might bite someone. I know I couldn’t have afforded an animal behaviour expert, I am very grateful I haven’t been through something like that,and yes, having small children does change everything.

    • Mel
      April 12, 2011 at 5:40 PM

      Thanks for your perspective Lori. I so appreciate you sharing your experience. I am sure it was just as scary for you as it was for this mom.

  13. Alex
    August 1, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    I had a puppy (half blue heeler half black lab) that had to be put down at the ripe age of 7 months. I had gotten her and her sister from a friend, and as they got older one puppy got sweeter and the other got meaner and unpredictable. It was heartbreaking, but after she attacked my 2 year old (Luckily I was literally right there) I couldn’t keep her around any longer in good conscience and I couldn’t pass her on to another family, either.

    The question about breeders probably has more than one answer. Some breeders may continue to breed certian dogs because of their show quality with no regard to temperment. Other breeders are just plain irresponsible. It is a crying shame that people act so ridiculously with their pets.

    I have a pair of shih-tzus that I breed. Neither have any known health or temperment problem. I never ever breed my female more than once per year, and every litter I have I am prepared to keep all the puppies if I can’t find suitable homes. In my opinion, that is the only way to do it. It’s not a money making scheme, at all. A lot of people don’t understand that. I’m home 24/7 with my dogs and puppies (when i have them). I spend a lot of time working with them with socialization and housetraining from 5 weeks of age. When my puppies go to new homes I know they are ready, I know the new parents are ready, and I know they are healthy. It takes a lot of time, energy, and money to do it the right way. I enjoy it more than anything and the pleasure that the new owners get from their new fur babies is quite rewarding. I think it’s ridiculous to condemn all breeders and slap them in the “Irresponsible Pet Owner” category. It’s like saying all gay people have AIDS. Such a generalization. I’m not saying that I got that message from this article, I’m just commenting with my opinion.

    I enjoyed this article and encourage every prospective pet owner who is purchasing from a breeder to educate themselves on the breeder’s practices and the parentage of their puppy. If the breeder seems to be irresponsibly breeding their animals then do not buy from them!!

  14. Vivi
    November 18, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    The major breeders breed dogs to do well in the shows. Dogs who are “up” show better. This means breeding Goldens who are more and more high spirited. The amount of inbreeding is incredible and many breeders have no understanding of genetics. The breeder of my last dog tried to distinguish between line and in-breeding. There is no difference. I chose a dog who had a relatively low in-breeding score. When I told the breeder she said she wold try to breed more closely in the future. (!!!!) Breeders will brag that their kennel produces dogs who are champions at 9 months. It is more important to breed a dog who is still doing well at 9 years. Goldens now have the highest cancer rate of all breeds. It is my beloved breed. Just seeing one makes my heart go pitter pat. Breeders rail against “backyard breeders” when in fact it is the pros causing the problem. So sad what is happening to these wonderful dogs. .

  15. Erin
    May 19, 2014 at 9:38 PM

    I am currently in a similar situation. My 10 month Golden retriever has become very food aggressive and has gone after both my husband and myself. She bruised my arm and broke skin. We are currently seeking help from a behaviorist but I am worried as I have two children (4 and 6). I hope she can be helped but I am not sure I will ever be able to trust her with the kids.

    • Mel
      May 20, 2014 at 6:39 AM

      How frightening Erin. I am so sorry this is happening to you, especially when you have little kids. I hope the behaviorist can help you address this issue. Food aggression can be managed, but you have to be consistent. Sometimes it will fade over time. I wish you much luck and that you can keep her.

  16. Trish
    July 11, 2015 at 1:15 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am so devastated. We lost our Black Lab of almost 14 years in March. We recently decided to get another puppy. Mind you I purchased my first lab in Germany, I was living there at the time and she was 10 weeks old when we picked her up.
    I went to meet a breeder – in a parking lot (I know now – his is 3 hours away – thought he was doing me a favor) and purchased a beautiful girl. She was kinda small – but I did not have my brain turned on at the time – I just saw my next dog who I was going to love for the next 15 or so years.
    Turns out the dog was not 8 weeks old yet. She was sweet the first couple of days – ate and slept and was lots of fun. As she grew she started biting me – not nipping – I could not make her stop – and when I would yelp or put her on the ground to try a time out – 20 seconds of ignoring her – she started barking at me aggressively (I now know that this is because she was not socialized – she and her siblings were taken from their mother after they were weaned – here in Colorado dogs are not supposed to be sold before they are 8 weeks old) or I had not considered this – the problem may be genetic – I simply don’t know). I tried everything – she was attached to me – I could not move without her by my side – which at first I thought was great – but it was not her hanging out with me she was clingy – I would pick her up and pet and cuddle and she continued to bite me. This went on for about two weeks – I consulted trainers – nothing worked.
    We ended up returning her to the breeder. After this experience I started doing research on the development stages of puppies and breeders and puppy mills and what behaviors are exhibited by dogs that were taken from their mothers before they are socialized.
    Even though I know I did not do anything wrong – I feel horrible that I could not help that dog. I did not know her situation and now the breeder is selling her again – I pleaded with him to let her spend more time with her mother and other dogs – the only thing he seems to be interested in is the all mighty dollar.
    I do not want to become jaded – in my heart I am still a little girl when it comes to dogs – I have never had a problem with a dog before – mine or other people’s – The breeder knows what he is doing – and doesn’t care.
    I am so sad and frustrated. This is absolutely unnecessary – if they had just left the puppies with their mother until they were 8 weeks old – none of this would have happened (unless the origin of her aggression is genetic – I had not considered that). I am grieving for this poor puppy – I just hope and pray that she finds a home where the owner knows how to help her – maybe a home with other dogs.

    I now wonder what percentage of dogs that end up in pounds and shelters end up there because they were not afforded the opportunity to be socialized by their mothers – the period from 6-8 weeks is crucial.

    I adore dogs!!

  17. Tali
    November 2, 2016 at 11:41 AM

    Temperament is determined by genetics and environmental factors. If you keep a dog in a stressful environment they can become aggressive. If you don’t give them solid leadership and rules, they can turn aggressive. If they have bad experiences, they can turn aggressive. A breeder can only guarantee temperament up until the new owner takes possession. How can a breeder be responsible for the choices the owner makes? If the new owner has kids who scare the dog, can you logically blame the breeder? If the new owner fails to provide leadership, can you logically blame the breeder? There’s only so much a breeder can do, unless you are willing to take only adult dogs, and pay around $10000 for all the training…but even that wouldn’t guarantee that the new owner couldn’t accidentally screened the dog up. Obviously, this woman should have gone to a trainer who knew how to work with dogs like this, and get them back to a respectful state of mind. If that fails, then you put the dog to sleep. You just can’t blame everything on the breeder, even the most perfect dog in the world has both his breeder AND his owner to thank.

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