Use the Internet Wisely

by Nannette Newbury © 1999 AKC Breed Column

In my “non-dog” life, I am paid to spend many hours a day on my computer in the field of high tech. Many of these hours are spent “on-line” using the Internet to transfer files, upload and download software, create web pages and for research. The impact of the Internet on my professional life has been profound. The impact of the Internet in the sport of purebred dogs runs the gamut from frightening to opportunistic.

A remarkable phenomena that occurs on the Internet is that your physical identify can by easily changed (or disguised) to be whatever you want it to be in Cyberspace. Take for example a puppy mill. Many years have been spent trying to change the core values and belief systems of the general public in an effort for them not to buy a puppy from a pet store. Statistics indicate that over 95% of all puppies sold in pet stores come from a puppy mill. And quite frankly if a person purchasing a puppy from a pet store was made to visit the physical site where the puppy was born and raised, the sale would in all likelihood not occur.

In Cyberspace however, a puppy mill takes on an entire new persona; not unlike a chameleon. The background colors of the website are soft and pink; musical lullabies chime softly in the background while you survey the site; color pictures of huge homes dotting rolling green hillsides covered with shade trees litter the home page. You are led to believe that your puppy was born into an affluent, educated breeder’s home; was raised with human contact daily and fed the best food money could buy. Many pictures are available of wonderfully groomed, quality dogs and bitches who are producing these puppies in luxurious accommodations. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a puppy mill in cyber-disguise. Forget trying to fight puppy mills at the pet store front anymore…they now take major credit cards over the Net and can ship a puppy to your doorstep. They are using state-of-the-art technology to legitimize themselves, and it works!

Perhaps you aren’t someone who would fall for this slick Internet presentation. So how can the Internet assist you in finding a quality Australian Shepherd? One of the positive effects the Internet has had on the pet or show-quality Aussie market is that buyers are better educated before they buy their dog. Many Aussie breeders and owners provide a myriad of sites that abound with educational material such as an Aussie FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions); breed standards, clubs; articles; health and genetic information, breeder lists and rescue organizations. Many potential buyers take advantage of this information and when discussing a dog or puppy with a breeder, they know what to ask to determine the quality of the breeder and dog they are looking for.

Understand that many of the long-time, reputable breeders of Australian Shepherds do not have sites on the Internet or email addresses. Whereas it may be convenient, fast and fun to shop for your dog on the Internet, you may not be reaching the breeder’s you should be talking to. This is where the national breed club and their club magazine will come in handy.

Unfortunately, if you rely solely on a breeder search on the Internet, you could be reaching a puppy mill or a long-time reputable breeder. There is very little that distinguishes the two on the Internet. So how can one be truly prepared to use the Internet to your full advantage?

One of the interesting trends I find in the Australian Shepherd sites on the Internet is an explosion of sites from “newbies;” those breeders who have been in the breed less than five years. This is not to say they do not have quality breeding programs. Based on the experience of older breeders, there is a significant trend for new breeders to jump into a breed with much enthusiasm and be out of the breed a short time later—the so called the “five-year wonders.”

Some of the questions one could ask a breeder found on the Internet would include: “When did you acquire your first Australian Shepherd and from whom? When did you breed your first litter? How many champions have you bred? How many litters do you breed a year? How many titles have you personally put on your dogs and what kinds of titles were these (i.e., conformation, herding, agility, obedience, tracking)? Are you a member of any parent club for the Australian Shepherd? If so, what organization and when did you join? Have you served on any local or national dog club board of directors? What is your singular most important accomplishment in the breed? Do you have a “mentor” breeder who is working with you? If so, who is it? Do you attend any National Specialties? The answers to these questions will give you a pretty good idea as to where this breeder stands within the Australian Shepherd fancy. There are no wrong answers to the above questions, just information.

There can be no doubt that we live in a global community today, thanks to the Internet and the ability to communicate world-wide in an instant. This poses another area of concern in terms of the sale of Australian Shepherds. Electronic mail allows a potential buyer in Europe to discuss a purchase in “real-time” and the deal to be consummated in an afternoon. Along with the global technology come pitfalls both breeders and buyers should be aware of. Breeders need to educate themselves even further as to the country of destination’s medical quarantines; mandatory paperwork and even that country’s kennel club rules for dog breeding and showing.

For instance in the United States a missing tooth in an Australian Shepherd is not a disqualifying fault. The dog can not only be shown and possibly finish a championship, it can be used in a managed breeding program. In other countries around the world the missing teeth are enough to render an expensive show prospect to non-breeding status! Ignorance of international dog law on either party’s part is not going to be a good excuse, when issues such as this make a global deal go sour.

For those interested in importing an Aussie into a foreign land—avoid purchasing or shipping a puppy whose bite has not come in; import a puppy that is at least six months old (if the breeder will work with you on this) or an older, established champion. There are just too many things that can go wrong in raising out a show prospect—add to that the distances, time and costs involved in replacing or returning puppies internationally, and the potential for disaster increases dramatically.
The Internet can be an invaluable tool. It’s potential is just about limitless. It can also be the worst nightmare a breed club will deal with in the future. Use it wisely.