Backyard Breeders: How did they breed dogs before the advent of the kennel club?

As long as man and tamed canis lupus  have been in association, which association appears to go back to the mists of antiquity, dogs have bred freely, even promiscuously, without human intervention. We all know that, if anatomically possible, any dog will breed to just about any dog with no encouragement. Anyone whose has raised natural dogs knows that bitches often evade all reasonable human precautions against being bred, short of a locked cage.

Humans have ‘always’ tried to interfere with dog breeding in one way or another. In fact, anything a human might do today to prevent or encourage a breeding of their own choice has always been done, since those earliest associations, (except possibly, spaying). Human interventions in dog breeding are limited to a few choices and one has to be very careful to actually control the bitch’s choices. Otherwise, nature takes its course.

Generally, today, the results of unrestrained breeding in a population of dogs can be seen in populations of village dogs or pariah dogs around the world. Village dogs are not claimed  by anyone. they are strays to our way of thinking. They wander freely, breed and eat, opportunistically. The dogdom consensus is that this village type dog is very similar the world over and is basically a medium to smallish dog with droopy ears, though variation in ears coats, tail sets and body types  and coat colors and types can be seen within populations and between populations. These dogs comprise the basic local dog genome and should be very heterogeneous.

As soon a bitch moved into a human family, her people could have tried to provide a suitable mate now and then, though if you are a group of people with useful dogs,  it is hard to restrict thier breeding opportunities without strong restraints and the restraints make the bitch less useful -or of no use during her heat.

Whatever range of ideas you can imagine to control this situation have already been used, but let us imagine some of them. Generally, over the eons, dogs have been unrestrained. The good ones stay home or close to their family and know the property lines. They leave on their own, only for breeding. Bitches have a strong urge to wander during the crucial days; the males all know where she is. Even the claimed dogs in bands or villages of people wander when trying to breed. this behavior is so strongly built in that it is all a human can do to cope with it without quitting too soon. This urge of dogs has not been tamed out at all.

The only way to assure a particular breeding or no breeding is to restrain the bitch during the crucial period of time, either alone or with a chosen male. Without going into detail, this is easier said than done, though it is the usual solution other than allowing free wandering to breed. Often, the bitch settles down so much and it has been at least the prescribed number of days, so the guard is let down and the bitch escapes a locked pen, so briefly unlocked.

Humans and dogs always live in societies, so there have always been other dogs in other families. since the groups tend to be somewhat distinct, because they marry within the group for the most part, the dogs also become distinct types for whatever reason the local people chose. My guess is the best dogs, by whatever the local definition, were well known to all and their breedings were orchestrated, if possible and their puppies were popular. It would be similar to the stud effect as seen in the AKC today, but because the dogs were not inbred by design, the ripple effect was much diluted. Although the local dogs may lose a little heterogeneity over being a semi-local gene pool, it is only enough loss to develop a local type of useful dog. Those desert sight hounds come to mind. They are a very ancient type with several local variations, but a generally exceedingly strong type, even when not inbred at all. This strong local type of dog was termed a “landrace” dog before the kennel clubs got hold of them and started keeping the lines separate and “pure”, even though they all come from similar very ancient stock and all the variations are superficial.

The ancient landrace dogs are the forerunners of today’s purebred dogs who were mostly selected out of some local “type” and inbred for generations to decrease variations in the looks. As a rule, around the world,  local populaces developed and maintained their lines of dogs as a group cultural activity. As civilization got more complex, types of local dogs proliferated as different peoples chose different aspects of the dogwolf genome to emphasize, but pure breeding dogs was not even a concept before the 1850’s and the advent of the now dominant kennel club model.

In what is now known as Mexico and the Southwestern US, if one had a good dog, the pups would be kept and even bred. Any pups or older dogs who were deemed not good enough to keep, were eaten. There is a good paper in it for anyone who does the research on the many, many dog-loving cultures around the world, who also ate dogs. In the examples I know of, the eaten dog and pups were the culls. In Mexico, dogs were even raised for food on puppy farms, but if an unusual dog  showed up in a litter, such as a totally hairless one, it might not be eaten, but kept as a special kind of Medicine Dog. The hairless gene usually shows up as incomplete hairlessness, so even among the dogs with that gene, full hairlessness was not the rule. The partially hairless dogs were especially popular for food, so the gene was kept going for more than one reason. As an aside, the Mexican food dogs were often bred to have extra short legs, or at least, short legs were not discouraged. From a food raiser’s point of view, this makes sense.  Less exercise and easier to keep fenced or penned.

Now, how has the kennel club concept improved on these basic, ancient breeding methods? The answer is, they have not. By closing the registries and forcing all the animals registered to breed only to others of its own class, the kennel club is losing heterogeneity by the generation. As heterogeneity decreases, homogeneity increases and many bad genes that should have stayed buried, instead come together with the tragic result of rising disease incidence in almost all breeds. In a closed gene pool, when you reject a dog for breeding that has genetic fault, you also lose its good genes and further restrict the gene pool of the breed. Kennel clubs are in desperate straits over this foolish, easily changed, policy.

My approach is to advocate the return to local landrace types of dogs who can breed to another similar dog without worrying about its genetic purity. That concept is a old, shopworn hack, racist in its very nature and not meant to be applied to dogs. The closed registry is science gone bad.  this is why I advocate a registry for all dogs, no matter the breeding and believe kennel clubs should be restricted to sponsoring appropriate activities and have no teeth to force anyone to follow their dictates of a closed registry.

I advocate turning culls (killed dogs) into food, if not for people, for other animals. Not all dogs are good dogs, nor should most genetically diseased dogs born, be expected to find forever families. Maybe their greater good is to be food. The current rush to save dogs who need expensive medical interventions in order to rehome them, is not sustainable by the average person. It only benefits  the whims of people asking others to pay for it. it is completely out of alignment with every dog concept and precept in the history of the world. No one has even done the math of this point of view, let alone the quality of life or the extended implications of trying to save every dog with a serious chronic disease. For all the thousands, borrowed and begged, and left unpaid, for sick animals, perhaps a better use of the funds wold be to rehome only healthy dogs and lower some of those exorbitant rehoming fees.



The term "back yard breeder" is not new. It referred to someone who was breeding dogs that are technically pure-bred and registrable, but of low quality due to carelessness/ignorance. I breed to my neighbor's dog even if he's the litter brother of my bitch. I breed to my neighbor's dog if he's a "champion", etc. I might even be dumb enough to think I'm breeding good dogs. "Champion sire. $600."A breeder of a few carefully bred dogs was called a "small breeder", never a "back yard breeder". The term "back yard breeder" was an insult then as now.There was no term for the kind of breeder you are describing – the small breeder of land-race dogs or talented mutts. There could not be because the land-race as a concept had not been invented, or at least not applied to dogs.Personally, I think these land-races must be preserved, best by preserving the breeding customs of the folks who developed and preserved the land-race in the first place. So, I'd encourage small-time breeding of land-race chi's in Tucson, by whatever criteria these breeders want to employ, but I'd never insult these breeders with the term "back-yard breeder".Kathy


Caitlin Williams

Thanks for your comments! I think it is time the phrase backyard breeder was reconstituted, or at least, expanded a little. I am a bit tongue in cheek when I use this kind of perjorative.


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