Why Health Testing Matters for All Dog Owners
By Gretchen Keim
In my time involved in exhibiting and breeding Labrador Retrievers, there is one phrase I've heard more than any other:
"Oh, I don't want a show dog. None of that stuff matters to me. I just want a pet."
I get it. Showing a dog in conformation or participating in other AKC events isn't how everyone wishes to spend their hard-earned dollars and free time. Most folks want a companion to hang out on the couch and watch TV with or to run errands with them in the car on the weekends.
What a lot of folks don't seem to understand is, most "show dogs" are pets first, and everything else second. My dogs and most other "show dogs" I know do all that stuff too. At night, I have dogs laying at my feet, next to me on the couch, and curled up on dog beds under the TV. Sometimes they ride shotgun when I run to town, despite the fact I drive a minivan all decked out for their comfort and safety.
People "In the Fancy" as we say, just happen to love spending time with their dogs so much, that dogs just take up more space in our lives. I'll be honest here, most of us like dogs more than people anyways. I am one of those folks. Dogs rule, people drool.
Now that I have hopefully dispelled a bit of the myth that "show dogs" are somehow drastically different from "pets", I want to point out why some things that matter so much to those of us in the Fancy should also matter to the average person wanting a pet.
Healthy Parents Equals Healthy Puppies
As a breeder, I spend oodles of money on x-rays and genetic testing on my bitches (my females) before they are bred. The same screenings and tests are run on the stud dogs I use. With advances in science, this field is ever-changing with new tests being added all the time. Each genetic condition is unique, and each breed has testing that is recommended to be done for them. Some of these conditions can be found in multiple breeds. Some are unique to that breed alone. Genetics is complicated like that.
Dogs don't always pass these screenings and tests. When that happens, a responsible breeder does not breed that animal. Dogs are only bred if they pass everything. Of course, there are lots of other factors too; temperament, pedigrees, etc. For this post, I am not going to go over all the specifics of the screenings, testing, and subsequent results. That's another topic and deserves its own discussion.
The point I want to make here is, responsible breeders do all these screenings and testing to ensure that our next generation of dogs is healthy and sound to the best of our ability. Once those puppies are of age, we do it all over again. It's repeated generation after generation. Some dogs move forward, leaving their genetic legacy in future generations. Others, don't. If we don't put all this effort into producing healthy dogs, future dogs are ultimately the ones that suffer.
So, why should this all matter to the person who wants "just a pet"?
A Labrador living its typical life as a pet, all these things come into play as well. It's not a unique "show dog" or "field dog" thing. It's a DOG THING. Your Labrador will have a hell of a time jumping on and off the couch if it has severe hip dysplasia. Your Labrador will have a hard time breathing during a game of fetch in the backyard if its heart is affected by Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia. Which when severe enough, can result in early death. Having a dog go blind at the age of 7 because its parents weren't screened for Progressive Retinal Atrophy, which is totally avoidable, is a damn shame.
All these screenings and tests we run on our breeding stock are done because a responsible breeder gives a damn about the dogs we produce and the breed as a whole.
We give a damn about the puppy we send home with you at 8 weeks, not just until the check is cleared, but for your puppy's entire life.
We give a damn that at the age of 5, that dog will be of sound mind and body to be able to play with your kids in the back yard.
We give a damn that at the age of 14, that dog can still jump up on the couch with you at night to watch TV.
We give a damn that the life you and your Labrador share will be the best it can be and hopefully spare your dog unneeded suffering and you needless heartache and vet bills.
Dog ownership comes with enough of that by nature, we don't need to complicate it further.
That is why responsible breeders spend oodles of money on the screenings, tests, and then breed responsibly, because, at the end of the day, it matters to the health of the dog and the quality of life a dog and a human share together. That's the simple truth.
This is why health testing SHOULD matter to you, even if you are only looking for a pet.
So, when you are looking for a puppy, look for a breeder who has ensured all proper health testing has been done on the sire and dam. Look for a breeder who understands the importance, not just one who has cute puppies in your price range. It will take an investment of time on your part to understand the screenings and testing and to find a breeder. The puppy may very well cost more than others. I PROMISE you, it will all be worth it. It's all a very small price to pay in the long run.
Now, I am going to go out and play with my dogs in the yard. They are all pets, as well as show dogs. They range in age of 7 months to 14.5 years. My old lady can still jump up on the couch with me at night if she wants, because her breeder, and those who came before her, gave a damn about producing healthy and sound Labradors.