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Dreaming of Simpatico Pups

What’s the best way to get a new puppy?”

It was this simple question, which I heard frequently when I was in private veterinary practice, that started me—a total technophobe—on the unlikely path of trying to create a database of information about companion dogs and their sources. The standard answer to the question, “Find a responsible dog breeder, or consider adopting a shelter dog,” seems inadequate. There is no easy way to distinguish the dog breeders who carefully and responsibly produce puppies that have excellent health, temperament, and early socialization from those dog breeders who say all the right things but are motivated strictly by profit or are focused solely on other breed-related traits. As a veterinarian, I witnessed many situations in which dog owners end up struggling for many years to manage dogs that they loved, but which had serious behavioral or health problems that largely could have been avoided by a careful and responsible breeding program and good early socialization.

Our companion dogs deserve a better start in life than many of them get. It is unacceptable that many of our family pets are created by a network of largely unregulated and often anonymous dog breeders with questionable motives and absolutely no accountability. As positive as shelter adoption is, shelter adoption should not be the long-term goal. Even the best shelters can be stressful environments. Our ultimate goal must be to decrease irresponsible breeding and minimize the number of dogs that have to pass through shelters in order to find their forever homes.

At the same time that our companion dogs deserve a better start in life, dog lovers who make the big decision to adopt a new dog into their family deserve a better chance of finding dogs with the good health, temperament, and early socialization that will allow them to develop into the simpatico type of companion that we are all looking for. Many of us take our commitment to a new dog very seriously, and we want to include our dogs in almost every aspect of our lives. It can be difficult to identify which dog breeders are actually putting top priority on producing puppies with the good health, temperament, and early socialization that allow them to develop into this type of companion.

So at the same time that we support shelter adoption for those individuals who are willing to take a leap of faith on a dog that has fallen on hard times and needs a second chance, we also need to focus on developing a better paradigm in which companion dogs are created responsibly by breeders who put top priority on responsibly producing puppies with excellent health and temperament and who provide those puppies with optimal early socialization and training. Truly responsible dog breeders simply do not allow the dogs that they breed to end up in shelters: Most responsible breeders are willing to provide ongoing support and ultimately a safety net for the puppies they produce, in the event that the dog needs it. If dog lovers had a tool to help them identify dog breeders with track records of responsibly producing puppies that develop into excellent companion dogs, they could not only maximize their chance of finding the best dog possible, they could also collectively decrease the demand for puppies that are irresponsibly bred by anonymous breeders and sold for exorbitant prices online or through pet stores. And this could decrease the number of irresponsibly bred puppies that are produced and then dumped by breeders into shelters when they outgrow the cute puppy stage of development and become “excess inventory.”

Technology gives us the potential to collect information from dog owners across the country and to compile this information into a meaningful and searchable database. The popularity and success of user-generated content sites such as TripAdvisor.com or RateMyProfessors.com is a testament to the power and value of this type of crowd sourced, user-generated information, and the willingness that people have to contribute information about their own experiences to databases in order to help others make more informed decisions. For the past couple of years I have been developing a website, SimpaticoPup.com, which is designed to create a database of information about companion dogs and their sources that will make dog breeders accountable for the dogs they produce, make it easier for dog lovers to make better choices when they purchase puppies, and decrease irresponsible breeding by decreasing the market share for irresponsibly bred dogs.

On this website, everyone who owns a pure bred dog (or one of the popular cross breeds) is encouraged to take just a couple of minutes to enter information about their own companion dog and to state its breed and the dog breeder or kennel from which they acquired it. They will provide information about their dog’s overall health, the level of support provided by the dog breeder, and some basic information about their dog’s behavior: for example, its trainability, social behavior with people and other dogs, its energy level, and its overall simpatico or compatibility rating as a companion dog. The resulting database of information will be searchable, and dog breeders will develop a track record with respect to the health and behavior of the dogs they have produced. The database will also be searchable by dog breed and by geographic location, so that people looking for a new dog could compare average ratings of different dog breeds and find a breeder in their area with a track record of producing excellent companion dogs. Dog lovers everywhere can provide information that would collectively shine more light onto the places where our canine family members are produced. The best measure of a dog breeder and the quality of the companion dogs they produce can be made by dog lovers who have visited these breeders’ homes or kennels, have taken puppies into their homes and families, and have seen first-hand what type of dogs the puppies mature into.

This free, easy-to-use website will not only benefit puppy seekers and responsible dog breeders; it will also benefit our companion dogs as well, because well-bred dogs with good genetics, health, temperament, and early socialization have a better quality of life than poorly bred dogs. They are more treasured by their human families and can participate more fully in their lives. Ultimately, we can even help move the needle to further improve desirable characteristics in future generations of companion dogs by supporting and encouraging the efforts of careful, knowledgeable breeders who are prioritizing good health and temperament in the puppies they produce.

Creating a website where large numbers of dog lovers contribute user-generated content about their dogs can ultimately empower all of us to serve as the eyes, ears, and conscience of the dog-loving world and can give us a tool that will help us shine more light into the places where our companion dogs are being produced.

But a crowd-sourced database of information is worthless without data. I hope that dog lovers everywhere will check out SimpaticoPup.com, and I welcome your input about how to make it better. If you agree that this database has the potential to benefit both dogs and dog lovers, please help spread the word and contribute to this database for the same reason that I have been driven to develop this concept: I simply believe that it is the right thing to do, and I would like to pay it forward in gratitude for all of the simpatico dogs that have shared my life and enriched it so.

Linda H. Sanders, D.V.M., received a master’s degree in zoology with an emphasis in animal behavior and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of California, Davis. She has worked in small-animal private practice and as a shelter veterinarian and currently teaches biological science at Diablo Valley College. In spite of her enthusiasm for creating a website to collect feedback on dogs acquired from different sources, Sanders can barely find the power button on her computer. If you would like to contribute your ideas or talent to help develop her website, email her at SimpaticoPup@gmail.com.

Main article photo by: James White-Creative Commons