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Buying a Puppy? – Code of Ethics Breeders and Other Considerations

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

I found this photo on a Google search. Not my kind of dog or breeder, but the pup might grow up to be a fine property manager. Who knows.

Deciding where to purchase an LGD pup can be a confusing process. A prospective buyer encounters conflicting information, and if you are new to LGDs it can be particularly difficult to know where to find answers you can trust. Here are my thoughts on a little of this.

Let’s start with the Code of Ethics contract. Both the MSCA and the United Kennel Club offer this distinction to a breeder who makes a contractual agreement with that organization to abide by their terms of breeding practices. A goal of creating this distinction among breeders is to help define what ethical breeding practices are from that organization’s point of view.

I am new to the United Kennel Club, but I am very familiar with the Code of Ethics contract terms as defined by the MSCA. When I became a member of the MSCA in 2014, there were three Code of Ethics breeders; when I stepped down from my Board of Directors position there were twelve. I considered that progress in the right direction, in part because I believe in the value of hip testing for breeding dogs as a minimum requirement.

In one of my early conversations with Debi Reid, then the president of the MSCA, she let me know that only about 5% of the registered Maremmas in the US and Canada had had hip testing. I know that figure has changed substantially; I have had PennHIP certification completed on at least 100 pups myself. Many other breeders do hip testing; some are Code of Ethics breeders, but not all. There are breeders out there who are just quietly doing a very good job as breeders without calling attention to themselves through the Code of Ethics public status.

Being a Code of Ethics breeder provides that breeder with a marketing advantage; I have appreciated that benefit. Many prospective puppy buyers sought me out because of my breeder’s listing among the other Code of Ethics breeders.

I also think that one of the ways to mentor change is through transparent high standards. My own expectations of myself as a breeder far exceed what either Code of Ethics contract stipulates. Being a Code of Ethics breeder has allowed me a forum to promote the breed through ethical practices.

For a prospective puppy buyer, I think there may be a perception that a Code of Ethics breeder is “better” than a breeder who isn’t. This is a dangerous conclusion to draw, because I know there are “bad” Code of Ethics breeders (in my opinion) and some very “good” breeders out there who are not Code of Ethics breeders. The lesson here, I think, is that the Code of Ethics distinction provides one more piece of information about that breeder, but much more scrutiny is warranted on the part of the buyer.

I was very excited to become a Code of Ethics breeder myself. I felt proud to be listed among other breeders with high standards, as was my interpretation of the situation, but that just isn’t the whole truth now. I resigned from the MSCA in 2021 and gave up my Code of Ethics listing with the MSCA. I thought that would bother me, but it hasn’t, because what it means to be a Code of Ethics breeder now isn’t as pure a thing as it used to be.

Here are a couple of things that bother me about the current situation with the MCSA’s Code of Ethics. There is no mechanism in place to sanction members who break their contract with the club. In 2021 I had personal experience with three Code of Ethics breeders who broke their contact with the Code of Ethics contract and the basic rule of the club. They bred two of my dogs with Limited registration status. Wow.

These breeders are still listed as Code of Ethics breeders on the club website. There were questions about breeders and Code of Ethics situations in my time on the BOD, but no action was taken. So, these breeders look great on paper, or on the Breeder’s Listing, but I know a little more about their business ethics than that.

The other issue I think is important is that neither the MSCA COE nor the UKC COE can help a buyer define what the standards of that breeder are beyond the contractual aspect. For the owner of an LGD, the quality of their life in living with the dog they purchased is at the forefront of importance. Defining what makes a great LGD great cannot be defined by a Code of Ethics contract, and it shouldn’t be.

As a breeder, it is my prerogative to select as breeding dogs those individuals that I feel exemplify what is best in the Maremma breed. My interpretation of this may be VERY different from that of another breeder; that is a GOOD thing. But it is the responsibility of the buyer of a Maremma pup to have a clear goal in terms of the job they intend to ask of that pup and then find a breeder who produces that type of pup.

Here are three examples to consider.

I know an MSCA Code of Ethics breeder who actively uses her dogs to protect her flock of sheep and cattle. They have a big job! She prefers to live with LGDs that check in and go back to work rather than be social with her. She is an experienced breeder in every way I can think of, including having a solid understanding of canine conformation. In my opinion, she produces dogs that are the real deal; they are beautiful and trustworthy around livestock. Buying young pups from her is a good idea, but buying more mature dogs from her has a trade-off because socialization isn’t much of a goal for her. She would NOT like to live with my dogs because they seek a strong social connection with their owners; that would not be desirable to this breeder. I admire her dogs but seek different temperaments in my breeding dogs than she does.

I count on my Maremmas to protect my livestock, so I produce solid working dogs. I also want a deep relationship with my dogs, and I am a professional dog trainer. Buying mature dogs from me is a very good idea IF you want social dogs. My dogs transition into new homes very well at any age.

There is an MSCA Code of Ethics breeder who uses her dogs primarily as property guardians. I have read that they also guard a sheep, a horse, and a chicken (I think), but I have never seen photography showing her dogs in pastures with livestock, except behind the occasional electric netting temporary fencing. She places great value on imported “champion” dogs. I don’t. But my dogs would not be a good choice for her living situation because they are selectively bred to work with livestock. I don’t know if she has ever seen pups who know how to work like the four-month-old pups in the blog link below.

The Language of Animals - New Home, New Sheep - Katie S.:

When you are shopping for a pup, look for breeders who use their dogs similarly.

Listen closely to the breeder’s stated priorities in advertising. I want to hear a breeder talk about how much she trusts her dogs rather than what country they came from or how many ribbons they won.

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